It Was 50 Years Ago Today!: Documentarians Look at The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper & Beyond

Written by Tristan Olav Torgersen
Originally Posted on IndieEntertainmentMagazine.com
September 9, 2017

The date was May 26th, 1967. The United Kingdom awoke to a new album fresh off the presses in their local record shops. It was being played on their radio stations. The Beatles had not kept their project a secret by any means, but the world wasn’t prepared for the success that would follow Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Emmy nominated director Alan G. Parker brings The Beatles of 1967 back from the past in this documentary. The history and their story are combined with numerous pieces of original film from that year along with audio, photographs, and interviews.

It should be noted up front though: this documentary did not have any of The Beatles original music. It does hurt it throughout knowing that you’re not listening to the album being discussed throughout the documentary. This was, in my opinion, the biggest fault in the production.

The interviewees include their associate Tony Bramwell, The Beatles’ original drummer Pete Best, manager Brian Epstein’s secretary Barbara O’Donnell, and many others who provide unique insights, personal stories, and reflections on this pivotal year and album for the iconic band.

I myself was surprised at how little I knew about The Beatles story. I had misconceptions about the band’s creativity and interplay. Especially noteworthy is the notion that Paul was the more avant-garde one, musically speaking. He lived in the heart of London unlike John out in the suburbs. He spent much of his time around experimental musicians, and in the clubs and pubs listening to the newest sounds and ideas across the city.

Things I had assumed were disproved throughout the documentary consistently. The Beatles had a great knowledge of Shakespeare, classic novels, and poetry, all which influenced their music. They were not the uneducated pop chart boys from Liverpool. They were a special combination of interesting people making groundbreaking music.

In fact, they were more artists than just simple musicians. They expressed their boredom with tours remarking that, “no one could hear them” at their shows due to the screaming and hysteria. They believed so much in their music that they postponed tours to create a musically superior album: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

The Beatles Documentary "It Was 50 Years Ago Today" poster.
I could try and give you some sarcastic comment, but they’re The Beatles. They are sacrosanct to any respecter of music.

From the lens of 2017, it is astounding the sounds and complexity they pulled out of a 4-track recording machine. Such simple technology, yet such a magical album. Just amazing.

Through the documentary you learn about their personal lives and the inspiration for the album. “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” was not written on a whimsy or an LSD trip, although both played great roles for The Beatles in 1967. Rather, the song follows a poster announcing a show of the same name was found at a small boutique Paul visited.

Even Sgt. Pepper’s cover selection was more intricate, mysterious, convoluted, and ambitious than so much of what is released today, or in 1967. “The cover was an event, a huge presentation” as the documentary puts it. Ideas from personal heroes, to Ghandi, Hitler, and even a brown paper bag were tossed around. Finally, the design mimics a photograph of Paul’s father in the 1920s and his big band, yet it encompasses so much more than that.

The documentary fits into The Beatles style almost accidentally, yet masterfully all the same. The interviews and remarks rarely agree completely, and often disagree with the previous comment. The watcher contemplates the double entendre and red herrings in “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” all while trying to understand which story being told is most correct from those interviewed. Well played Mr. Parker, well played.

Whether it was their interest in Indian mysticism and spiritualism, the backlash of John Lennon’s “more popular than Jesus Christ” comment, or their failed Apple Boutique, you won’t be able to pull yourself from the Beatlemania that is It Was Fifty Years Ago Today!.

There has never been, nor will ever be, a band like The Beatles.
Not because innovation and musicianship has declined. It’s not that their songs are not covered. It’s not that bands cannot rise to similar popularity.

There will never be another band like The Beatles because they set the stage. They had the screaming fans, sold out shows, and absolute hysteria following them.
And then they weaved together masterpieces like Sgt. Pepper that proved that the four boys from Liverpool were musicians at heart. First and foremost masters of their craft, second performers.

Alan G. Parker brings new stories to the audience in It Was Fifty Years Ago Today!, so give it a watch!

The all new highly anticipated Beatles documentary IT WAS FIFTY YEARS AGO TODAY! THE BEATLES: SGT. PEPPER & BEYOND was released on VOD & DVD across the USA on September 8th 2017.

From the Emmy nominated director of Monty Python: Almost The Truth, Alan G. Parker (Rebel Truce: The Story of The Clash, Hello Quo, Never Mind the Sex Pistols, Who Killed Nancy) and produced by Reynold D’Silva and Alexa Morris, the film features incredible rare archival footage unseen since the 1960s. The film also features rare interviews with The Beatles’ original drummer Pete Best, John Lennon’s sister Julia Baird, Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein’s secretary Barbara O’Donnell, Steve Diggle of the Buzzcocks, Beatles associate Tony Bramwell, Pattie Boyd’s sister Jenny Boyd, Hunter Davies, Simon Napier-Bell, Ray Connolly, Bill Harry, Philip Norman, Steve Turner, Andy Peebles, Freda Kelly and The Merseybeats.

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