Keith Richards Knocks Sgt. Pepper, This Beatles Fan Thinks He’s Partly Right

sgtpepperEveryone’s talking about an interview published in Esquire this week where Keith Richards calls the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper album “a mishmash of rubbish”. Predictably, social media lit up in righteous indignation – or antagonistic agreement — over Richards’ comments, despite the relative insignificance of this throwaway, one-sentence remark buried within a wide-ranging interview.

I understand that indignation and antagonism are the most commonly-spoken languages on the internet, but as a huge Beatles fan myself, I say this to other Beatles fans: Grab a hold of a piece of furniture, take a deep breath, and consider His Wrinkled Highness’ comments carefully, and with a grain of salt too.

The Stones Have A Long, Documented History Of Respect For The Beatles

Sponsored link (story continues below)

People say all kinds of shit in interviews, especially people with rock-modified brain synapses like Keef. But the truth is that the Rolling Stones have expressed well-documented respect for the Beatles throughout the past 50 years. Although they were once considered rivals, the Stones have generally conceded the Beatles stand alone in the Rock pantheon, even though everyone acknowledges they couldn’t touch the Stones when it came to live performance.

In 2005, when asked who were the five greatest bands of all time, Keith Richards said “The Beatles, obviously, I throw them in. Obvious.” In 1995 Mick said that:

The Beatles were so big that it’s hard for people not alive at the time to realize just how big they were. They were so big that to be competitive with them was impossible… They were this forerunning, breakthrough item, and that’s hard to overestimate.

So let’s get this notion out of our heads about Keith or the Stones disrespecting the Beatles in any way. Do some digging, it’s just not on.

What Exactly Keith Richards Said

But what about these Sgt. Pepper remarks, you say? Let’s look at the full comment:

No, I understand—the 
Beatles sounded great when they were the Beatles. But there’s not a lot of roots in that music. I think they got carried away. Why not? If you’re the Beatles in the ’60s, you just get carried away—you forget what it is you wanted to do. You’re starting to do Sgt. Pepper. Some people think it’s a genius album, but I think it’s a mishmash of rubbish, kind of like Satanic Majesties—”Oh, if you can make a load of shit, so can we.”

First of all, I found the comment about “roots” pretty interesting. It’s like an unintended compliment. The Stones have always been about “roots”, even to this very day. The Stones spent a career building upon the foundation of blues and rhythm & blues (except when they were trying to mimic Sgt. Pepper on Satanic Majesties).

The Beatles, on the other hand, built upon a wider range of influences than the Stones. The Beatles drew from R&B, but they were also informed by country & western, traditional English Music Hall, American showtunes, folk music, Buddy Holly, the avant-garde, and plenty more. By the late 1960s, Richards was right, there wasn’t a lot of “roots” in Beatles music, mostly because they were inventing musical forms of their own.

Sounding Dated Doesn’t Necessarily Mean It’s Rubbish

But let’s get to the “mishmash of rubbish” comment. Here goes nothing. I have to admit that I partly agree. I believe that Sgt. Pepper is an overrated album. I personally wouldn’t place it among the top three Beatles albums. I think its importance as a cultural artifact, representing the beginning of a massive societal shift, has been conflated with the music inside. And I just happen to think that, if not a “mishmash of rubbish”, at the very least the album suffers from a smaller measurement of the stuff.

Sgt. Pepper was a McCartney concept through and through, and in my opinion there weren’t enough contributions from Lennon and Harrison to balance out Sir Paul’s emerging control freakism. The whole “band within a band” conceit was weak, inconsistent and not fully realized. I find the title track and its reprise to be relatively unsophisticated by Beatle standards, and I don’t think it stands the test of time.

To me, there are three other tracks on Pepper, three good songs that I wouldn’t call “rubbish” but I would certainly call “dated”. Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds doesn’t translate well to today’s ears, and neither does Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite. A Little Help From My Friends was greatly improved by another artist, how many Beatle songs can we say that about?

George’s only contribution, Within You, Without You, isn’t nearly as compelling or powerful as his Indian raga track on Revolver, Love You To. It’s a beautiful track, but if we’re going to consider how well a song has aged, I’d argue that someone listening to a raga-based song on a rock album is probably even less likely today than it was in 1967.

But There Is SOME Genuine Rubbish On Sgt. Pepper

In my view there are two tracks that count as bonafide rubbish on the album, which is a pretty high percentage for any Beatles record.

Seriously, did the Beatles ever record a stupider song than When I’m Sixty Four? How did that one ever get past John. George and Ringo? I know McCartney claims it’s supposed to be satire, but it was a buzzkill in 1967 and it remains a buzzkill today.

And then there’s She’s Leaving Home. This was was a lovely song that got ruined when Mike Leander stepped in to produce it during a dispute between George Martin and McCartney. Leander turned the thing into a syrupy, goopy mess. What was supposed to be social commentary turned into shameless melodrama. It likely would have turned out much better if McCartney hadn’t pulled rank and had the track produced behind George Martin’s back.

Look, I love the Beatles as much as anybody. They have been a major influence on my life. But in the spirit of honesty and candour, I think Keith Richards is at least partly right. There was definitely some rubbish on Sgt. Pepper. But enough to count as a mishmash? Only a Yiddish linguist knows for sure.

7 comments to “Keith Richards Knocks Sgt. Pepper, This Beatles Fan Thinks He’s Partly Right”
  1. This is an old argument….but for the sake of those who haven’t heard this album or done their homework, if Strawberry Fields and Penny Lane had been added to the list instead of forced out as a double A-side 45…they could’ve dropped When I’m 64 & She’s Leaving Home..and this album would ‘ve really kicked ass….but it is what it is….as with all music, you should consider the era in which it was created…it is a little bloated and I get what Keith is saying.

    • I agree 100%, Gerry. The White Album had some dreck on it too, like “Why Don’t we Do It In The Road” and a couple others, but being a double album it had way more classic gems to outweigh the crap. Although “Not Guilty” and “Junk/Jubilee” could have easily replaced the clunkers to make it an even better album.

  2. Pingback: Keith Richards slams Black Sabbath, Metallica, rap music | Rocknuts

  3. Pingback: Keith Richards criticizes Led Zeppelin, Keith Moon, Roger Daltrey | Rocknuts

  4. Love Keith. The man is rarely wrong, when it comes to this stuff. I completely agree that it wasn’t a fully realized concept. Its not one of those albums that flows from song to song like you would here on a fully realized pink floyd album like Darkside, but nevertheless I enjoy the collection of songs.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *