Archive for December 6th, 2008


Sgt. Pepper’s Endlessly Touring Band

paul-tug-of-war-liner-notesDid Paul McCartney record a follow-up to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band? He didn’t ever say so, at least to my knowledge, but his 1973 album Band on the Run could be seen as a continuation of the Sgt. Pepper story.

McCartney was the one who came up with the original idea to have the Beatles record an album as another band. Sgt. Pepper is credited as the first concept album: an album that is not simply a collection of songs but a thematic whole. In this case, The Beatles became Sgt. Pepper and his Lonely Hearts Club Band. The songs they played were not Beatles’ songs, they were Sgt. Pepper songs. I’m not sure how much differently the songs would have turned out had they simply recorded “another Beatles album.” With the exception of the first two tracks and the closing Sgt. Pepper’s (Reprise), there isn’t much inherently different from songs the band was playing already. What the heck, it was the first concept album, they were allowed a little leeway.

McCartney was the driving force behind the idea of playing as Sgt. Pepper, so it would be natural for him, of all the former Beatles, to do a sequel of sorts.

Band on the Run begins with the title track about an unnamed band. They first become bored within “these four walls.” Could this be the studio in which the Beatles trapped themselves for the second half of their career? Then, the unnamed band apparently gets tangled up with the local law and have to make a run for it. Sgt. Pepper’s band is no doubt an unruly group of miscreants, so it wouldn’t be hard to imagine them being pursued right after a gig (kind of like a psychedelic Blues Brothers).
There are more echoes from Sgt. Pepper’s to Band on the Run. Mrs. Vandebilt is a character sketch in a similar vein to Lovely Rita. Picasso’s Last Words (Drink to Me) uses a cut-and-paste technique that reminds me of Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite! Bluebird…well, okay, that one sounds like Blackbird, from the White Album. Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five is an exercise in forward-thinking, a funky (and, admittedly, not very successful) version of A Day in the Life. While Day in the Life was (and still is) a singular, masterful song, 1985 sounds like the disco that was becoming more and more popular through the 70’s. Sgt. Pepper lost a few of his key bandmates between the two albums, and while they’re still trying, the sound just isn’t quite the same. One thing to note about 1985, though, is that, at very end of the song in the fadeout, it cuts back to Band on the Run, giving the album a circular feel. Also, and important to my theory, it closes the album in the same way that Sgt. Pepper’s (Reprise) did for its album. It’s like a band closing a live show with an encore of their big hit.
In my mind, Sgt. Pepper fronts a jokey road show band. They travels from town to town, endlessly touring, losing and gaining members as they roll down the road. It makes me happy to think Sgt. Pepper and his friends are still playing somewhere, maybe getting enough money together to record another album from time to time. That’s why, flaws aside, Band on the Run is special to me. Sgt. Pepper resurfaced, however briefly, in 1973.