Review By Mark Merrell
It was fifty years ago, May 26, 1967 in the United Kingdom, and latter on June 2 in the United States, that the Beatles released their eighth album, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The album was a cornerstone in rock music for several reasons. It had a conceptual thematic feel. The ever evolving music style of the Beatles was expanding exponentially due to multiple influences, including other forms of art. The result is reflected in all of the tracks. Along with the ingenious innovation and experimentation by their producer, George Martin, they pushed the boundaries of the limiting mechanics of the time creating a kaleidoscope of innovative original music. The album featured a vessel of timeless songs from all four Beatles on vocals, along with tracks written by John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison.
Fifty Years Ago Today, takes a look back on the Beatles, starting after the release of their sixth album, Rubber Soul, in December of 1965, and their subsequent final tour the following year. The group dropped their seventh album, Revolver on August 5, 1966. Their final stadium, or true live venue concert occurred August 29, 1966 at Candlestick Park, in San Francisco (the groups final live concert took place on the rooftop of the Apple office building in London, January 30, 1969).
With recent interviews from insiders that were part of the Beatles business, financial, musical side, or friends of the group, they lend their insights to a, behind the curtain look. Interlaced with file footage interviews from the time, we witness the setup for the birth of Sgt Pepper. Touring was a hassle. The screaming fans were so loud the guys couldn’t hear themselves on stage, let alone anyone in attendance, and the logistics were becoming a nightmare.
Not finding growth musically by playing live, the Beatles decided to stay in the studio producing music there instead. Finding more studio time, without the pressure of a constraint by the record company, allowed the group to explore new avenues, experimenting as they went.
It Was Fifty Years Ago Today was directed by Alan G. Parker. He gives Beatle fans additional insight to the group. Although it’s packed with insiders, and the Beatles themselves through old interviews, the true star of the show never appears; the music from the album. While some of the songs are touched upon, others are never given a mention. Chronologically, the movie is fine, but it’s subject seems to meander off the topic at times, loosing its focus; the Sgt Pepper album and its musical contents.
Nevertheless, Beatle fans may well find some cool nuggets in this film from the very knowledgeable group assembled.