What’s in a Name?
How the Beatles became Sgt. Pepper’s Band.
by Dr. Spin
April 5, 2004
Dear Dr. Spin,
I’ve heard a lot of good things about bands like Phish and Wilco, but it seems I barely hear them on the radio. If these bands get such great praise and have strong cult followings, why aren’t they more popular?
In some ways you answered your own question. Despite having critical claim and a base of devoted listeners, bands like Phish and especially Wilco don’t get much radio play because their music is not “radio friendly.” This means that while they play good music, it is hard for them to fit into a “genre” or playlist. They are not “Top 40” material, not quite “light rock” or “adult listening.” They are not what “alternative” stations consider “alternative.”
The documentary “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” is an excellent example of difficulties of bands like Wilco face in today’s market; Wilco was dropped by their label because the executives at that label felt Wilco’s latest album wasn’t “commercial” enough, and therefore wouldn’t sell. The irony of the movie (and today’s record industry) is that Wilco was eventually picked up by a smaller subsidy of the same label, and therefore, the company had to pay for the recordings twice.
I’ve often heard “Sgt. Pepper” described as the first “concept album.” What is the concept and why did the Beatles choose the name “Sgt. Pepper?
Naïve about Pop Culture
The idea, according to the Beatles, behind Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band, was that the Beatles could record a “non-Beatles” album by assuming a different identity. This is concept is furthered by the crowd surrounding the band, checking them out. Notice the Beatles themselves (or at least their wax replicas) are in attendance as well. By “becoming” Sgt. Pepper’s Band, the Beatles could create very “non-Beatle” music, and include things such as harps, calliopes, and Eastern instruments. The Beatles chose Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band as the name of the “new” group to reflect some of the wild names real bands were coming up with at the time.
Also, the Sgt. Pepper cover was later thought to have many “clues” to the “Paul is dead” hoax. On the front cover, there is a left-handed guitar made of flowers on what some though looked like a grave (Paul is left-handed). There is also supposedly the “hand of death” above Paul’s head (it actually belongs to one of the figures). On the inside picture of the old gatefold, Paul is wearing an O.P.D. patch meaning “officially pronounced dead” (it was actually an Oxford Police Department patch). Finally, on the back cover, Paul is the only member with his back to the camera, and George is pointing to the words “Wednesday morning at five o’clock,” the time Paul allegedly died.
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