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The New “Sgt. Pepper” Box Set Is Truly Super-Deluxe

After months of hype, the Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band super-deluxe 50th anniversary box set is upon us. Hard-core fans have eagerly awaited this set, which boasts a brand-new stereo mix of the album, 5.1 surround sound, oodles of alternate mixes and studio outtakes, and some primo video content. But could EMI and The Beatles possibly bring anything new to the experience of Sgt. Pepper, an album that for half a century has been studied, over-analyzed, deconstructed, and covered song-for-song in every conceivable musical genre? And would it be worth the $100+ price tag? The answer is a resounding YES.

For die-hards, the super-deluxe set is an essential item in their Beatles collection. But you already know that. And perhaps, you already own it. But casual fans too will be delighted to re-discover all of the joyful music contained in this landmark album. As for the skeptics, purists and critics of the group and this album, the newly released box-set will force these folks to re-evaluate their positions. (More on that later.)

Lets start with the new stereo mix. Its astounding. Giles Martin and the team at Abbey Road utilized the source material of the multitrack tapes, before they were bounced(the combining of several tracks onto one, freeing up more tracks for additional overdubs). Having regained full control of each individual track, they have miraculously brought the 50-year-old Pepper to life in this modern recording age, while respecting the sonic intentions of the original recordings without being too reverent or precious about it. The mix theyve done is huge, bright, fat, powerful; its not quite like hearing the album for the first time, but its damn close. 

Unearthing the original sounds from multi-track purgatory has revealed something else: The Beatles were still a kick-ass rhythm section in 1967, and they laid down some no-nonsense grooves on Pepper. Especially revelatory is Ringos superb, powerhouse drumming, previously buried in the mix out of necessity but now in full rocking bloom. Its fitting that one of the primary visual images on this album is a bass drum, because Ringos right foot is stomping all over this mix!  

Hip critics and music snobs who have dismissed Pepper as lightweightthrough the years will be humbled to hear the Fab Four throwing down so hard and heavy. The title track smacks you upside the head, and so does its reprise. Good Morning Good Morningis relentless, like a Mack truck bearing down on you. The Yardbirds, Cream, and the Jimi Hendrix Experience would have all packed up their gear and gone home if The Beatles had played these songs live in 1967.  

The studio outtakes are mainly for die-hards, but they are generally enjoyable and give a great insight into the making of the album. But for surround sound fans, great news: the 5.1 mix of Pepper is a real treat. Standard placement for most of the songs is band in front, and background vocals and extra overdub stuffcreeping up behind you, but thats okay: theres enough ambience to glue it all together, as if everything is still happening in the same room. Again, the intent and spirit of the original are respected, and nothing is done thats gimmicky or inappropriate.  

 

In short, theres just the right amount of delicious ear candy. The whirly bitson Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kitecircle the room, because of course they should. Within You Without Youenvelops the listener in a swirling cloud of droning tambouras, dilrubas, violins and cellos; you can almost smell the incense. And I dont care how old you are and/or how many thousands of times youve heard this album over the years: in 5.1, the final chord of A Day In The Lifewill shake you. I submit that The Beatles would have mixed in 5.1 if it existed in 1967. 

Strawberry Fields Foreverand Penny Laneare also included here, revealed in all their sonic glory with splendid new stereo and 5.1 mixes. The DVD also contains the full Making of Sgt. Pepper documentary from 1992, revelatory in its time and still enjoyable today, plus the promotional videos for Strawberry Fields,” “Penny Laneand A Day In The Life.The 1967 Beatles were apparently the original hipster snowflakes: riding horses, pouring paint over an old piano, and dancing around the recording studio blowing bubbles and conductingthe studio orchestra. 

But theyd earned it by then, because theyd spent the previous four years working their asses off in the studio and onstage. Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band is the sound of The Beatles re-inventing themselves at the peak of their artistic and commercial powers, and 50 yearstime has not dimmed this albums spirit of adventure and creative mastery.  Whether youre a die-hard Beatlemaniac, a casual fan who wants to dig deeper, or simply a curious musical soul looking to expand your own horizons, the Sgt. Pepper deluxe box set is a worthwhile investment of your time, money and attention. A splendid time isyou know.  

John Montagna

Photo: John Pratt/Stringer (courtesy Getty Images)

PS. As we celebrate this 50th anniversary, you may also enjoy our post on how Sgt. Pepper got its cover. Plus, where do our readers rank the album among their favorites? Check out Your Top 5 Beatles Albums to find out.

3 thoughts on “The New “Sgt. Pepper” Box Set Is Truly Super-Deluxe”

  1. Rick Rice says:

    $100? I don’t think so.

  2. David Lee DiBernardinis says:

    Excellent review I got the original Pepper on my 18th birthday in 1967 and got the boxed set for my 68th birthday on June 2nd from my wife and love it ????????????

  3. Old Fruit says:

    Thanks for the cool review. I’m not sure the Beatles would have recorded in 5.1, though. The whole reason the new stereo mix exists is that the Beatles spent their time on the most common format of the day (mono), the one their millions of fans were going to buy. They left it to the producer and engineers to mimic what they’d done on their mono mix in the new-fangled stereo format, a less detailed mix that was put together in just a few days “without a Beatle in sight.”

    Plus EMI was chronically laggardly about introducing new gear into the studio… so even if 5.1 existed, they wouldn’t have been allowed to use it, as happened to them with new tech like the 8-track recorder.

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