The Beatles are once again in the upper reaches of the Billboard 200 albums chart as the 50th anniversary edition of the group’s 1967 classic, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” jumped to No. 3 a week after the release of the new stereo remix.
In terms of total equivalent sales factoring in streams, “Sgt. Pepper” logged 75,000 sales last week, behind only rapper Bryson Tiller’s “True to Self,” which tops the chart with equivalent sales of almost 107,000 copies, and Kendrick Lamar’s “Damn.,” at No. 2 on sales of 84,000 copies.
On Billboard’s sales-only ranking, however, “Sgt. Pepper” is No. 1 with physical and digital sales of 71,000, compared to 47,000 for Tiller’s “True to Self.”
Billboard is treating the new stereo remix as an extension of the original 1967 release, and lists total sales in the Nielsen era dating to 1991 at 4.89 million copies.
Two other Beatles collections also still make the Billboard 200: “The Beatles 1” hits compilation from 2000, which is at No. 119 on total Nielsen-era sales of 12.8 million copies, and “Abbey Road” from 1969, ranked at No. 129 and sales of almost 5.4 million over the last quarter-century.
For the 50th anniversary, surviving members of the group, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, joined with John Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, and George Harrison’s widow, Olivia Harrison, in authorizing producer Giles Martin, son of their original producer George Martin, to go back to the original multi-track tapes for a new mix of the album that Rolling Stone magazine ranked as the greatest album of all time in a 2012 poll.
The project is the first remix of an entire Beatles album and was taken on because in 1967 the Beatles and George Martin focused almost entirely on the monaural mix of that album, leaving the stereo mix to other engineers at London’s Abbey Road studio, who spent considerably less time on that version than was devoted to the mono edition.
The remixed “Sgt. Pepper” has been the focus of a flurry of activity, a full slate of different versions of the album, including CD, vinyl and digital in various packages, a new PBS TV special “Sgt. Pepper’s Musical Revolution” that premiered on June 3 and the arrival of a dedicated Beatles radio channel on SiriusXM satellite radio service.
On the album’s original release on June 1, 1967, in Britian and the following day in the U.S., “Sgt. Pepper” reached No. 1 in Billboard and remained in the top slot for 15 weeks. It stayed in the Top 200 for 175 weeks, more than three years.
Chris Carter, host of the long-running “Breakfast With the Beatles” radio show on L.A. rock station KLOS-FM (and just expanded with a daily edition for SiriusXM satellite radio’s new all-Beatles Channel 18), says: “In general, I was blown away. Not to sound overly dramatic or corny, but in a lot of ways it was like hearing the record for the first time. What really struck me is that the Beatles intended to be perfectionists on this record.”
What does this music say today?
PBS is getting in on the “Sgt. Pepper” 50th with a new documentary, “Sgt. Pepper’s Musical Revolution,” premiering June 3 and hosted by composer, music historian and documentarian Howard Goodall.
“I know it’s a landmark in terms of pop culture, the Summer of Love, youth culture, the ’60s,” Goodall said, “but really what I’m interested in is: What does this music say today? Why has it been treated with such respect for 50 years?”
Goodall, who like many Beatles fans said he might cite “Revolver” or “Abbey Road” rather than “Sgt. Pepper” as his favorite Beatles album, nonetheless unhesitatingly calls “Pepper” “their most important album.”
Said Goodall,“When someone 20 years old says, ‘Why do people your age think it’s such a big deal?’ I would say that in our modern musical world, the eclecticism of ‘Sgt. Pepper,’ the broad expanse of styles, genres and sounds, is not such a big deal.
“But,” he continued, “for those of us who listened to it when it came out … it was a big shock to the system.”
Most elaborate reissue yet
“Sgt. Pepper” represents the most elaborate reissue yet of an individual Beatles album. It’s being offered in several configurations: on CD, digital and on vinyl — the last in a half-speed mastered pressing that ups the audio fidelity one more notch and is accompanied by a second LP containing alternate mixes of all 13 “Sgt. Pepper” songs as selected by Giles Martin.
A six-disc deluxe set includes the new stereo mix and the mono mix of the album on CD with two more CDs containing dozens of outtakes, alternate versions and studio chatter, plus a Blu-ray and DVD including a 1992 documentary on “The Making of Sgt. Pepper” created for the album’s 25th anniversary but never released commercially.
It also comes with a 145-page book with artwork, handwritten lyric sheets, essays, photos and detailed session information on each of the “Sgt. Pepper” songs.
Songs are enhanced with touches such as the dead center placement of Starr’s lead vocal for “With a Little Help From My Friends.” The background singers’ questions and answers are then split into left and right channels, which sonically surrounds him with his friends.
The gorgeously spacey keyboard introduction to “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” moves gracefully left, right and in between in sync with the surreal nature of Lennon’s lyric.
What even casual listeners are most likely to notice is that “She’s Leaving Home” is faster and higher pitched — and therefore emotionally more urgent — than the version on the 1967 mix.