It’s 100 percent true that Sgt. Pepper’s was one of the first records my mom played for me as a kid. I don’t think that’s a weird thing, that a bunch of other people my age haven’t had that exact experience. Despite the psychedelic language and undertone, the record is amazingly kid-friendly – it sounds like a parade or a circus a lot, and sentiments like “I get by with a little help from my friends” is straight-up Sesame Street in its youthful enthusiasm. We didn’t dwell on the “get high” line right after that one, of course. There was no point in going down that road.
Maybe Joel Jerome Morales’s mom played him Sgt. Pepper’s as a kid. It’s likely – what other reason could there be for the erstwhile DIOS mastermind to have internalized the record so much that he felt compelled to release a tribute album of his own to it on the fiftieth anniversary of its release? Or maybe Joel’s a baby boomer and was around when it was released. I don’t know! What, do you think I have a copy of his birth certificate or something? (I don’t, just to clarify.) I just assume everybody’s my own age until they prove me otherwise. So yes, Joel’s mom played it for him as a kid, just like mine did. (Again, I have no idea if this is true.)
Back on track – has it really been fifty years? I mean, surely, it’s not been fifty years since my introduction, but still, fifty’s an awful lot of years to be separated from anything. And there are only two surviving members of the Beatles at this this point – Paul and Ringo, in case you’ve been suspended in cryostasis for at least thrity-seven years – so a fiftieth anniversary only really gets half the enthusiasm from the album’s originators that it should. But don’t be too sad, because there are millions (probably) of people like Joel who feel such an affinity for it that it will be embraced with the proper amount of love and admiration for its milestone. And also, fortunately, Sgt. Papa’s Lonely <3's Club Band is such a loving and spirited rendition of a few of the record’s tunes that hearing them in a new context just injects an extra amount of joy into the whole celebration.
Besides reworking these songs a bit to give them the Joel Jerome stamp of identification, what he really wanted to accomplish was a production ideal that would pay homage to the original’s genius. Because of 1960s technological limitations, Sgt. Pepper’s stands as a masterwork of studio manipulation. It sounds amazing still, and for Joel to even scratch the surface of that document would be a triumph in and of itself. But guess what? Sgt. Papa’s actually sounds like there’s someone pretty proficient behind the boards, and there is! It’s Joel!
It’s not hyperbole or blasphemy to suggest that Sgt. Papa’s Lonely <3's Club Band could stand as an alternate-reality version of Sgt. Pepper’s that would have been just as good upon its release in 1967 if Joel and his crew had released it instead of the Beatles. It’s period-specific, spot on. Maybe it’s a little too “LA” and not as much “Liverpool,” but hey, this is my alternate reality I’m imagining, and logic will get you nowhere. Suffice to say, Joel and his band capture the essence of the album while putting their own indie-psych spin on it, such as the sped-up “Strawberry Feels” or the stretched-out Beatles-meets-Cocker boogie of “Billy Shears” (a version of “With a Little Help from My Friends”). (And notice the cheeky retitling going on here, too.) Maybe the disco wiggle of “Sgt Papa’s Reprise” or the “Space Oddity”-esque “A Day and a Life” would be a little ahead of their time, but hey, isn’t that what Sgt. Pepper’s was anyway, a musical document on the absolute frontier of composition and recording in pop music?
So let’s all raise a glass and recall where we were the first time we heard Sgt. Pepper’s, celebrate it for its longevity, and use it as inspiration to press ever forward in our artistic endeavors. You don’t have to be as literal as Joel in your homage to inspiration, but it’s a nice reminder of what you can do to honor something that means a lot to you. Joel’s love for Sgt. Pepper’s is clear, and Sgt. Papa’s Lonely <3's Club Band is a nice addition to its mythology.