Today marks the 46th anniversary of The Beatles quintessential "summer of love" album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, which means it's also yet another golden opportunity to remind you that the NY Times was a hater from the start. Writer Richard Goldstein wrote a relatively scathing review in June 1967, calling the album "busy, hip and cluttered," and comparing it to a spoiled child: "There is nothing beautiful on 'Sergeant Pepper.' Nothing is real and there is nothing to get hung about." Rolling Stone would spend the next 46 years vehemently disagreeing with that assessment.
Goldstein's review wasn't all negative: he spent a good chunk of it praising "A Day In The Life" as "a deadly earnest excursion in emotive music with a chilling lyric. Its orchestration is dissonant but sparse, and its mood is not whimsical nostalgia but irony." His review didn't affect album sales, but it did inspire an outcry from other critics, as Robert Cristgau recounted: "Paul Williams, of Crawdaddy, complained that Goldstein "got hung up on his own integrity and attempted to judge what he admittedly [sic] did not understand." (What have you done for rock this week?) And the Times was deluged with letters, many abusive and every last one in disagreement, the largest response to a music review in its history."
Less than a month later, Goldstein was already (kind of) walking back his own review with another piece in the Village Voice in which he sought to clarify his views (the piece was titled, "I Blew My Cool Through The New York Times"). Really, it sounds like Goldstein was a victim of overhype (it was 10 whole months between Revolver and Sgt. Pepper's, for crissakes), giving a knee-jerk reaction to an album he expected to hold the secrets of the heavens (that is what "Fixing A Hole" is about, right?)—something that a lot of fans of Arrested Development can probably relate to about now, we're sure.
It's very easy to pinpoint all the things Sgt. Pepper's isn't: it's not a concept album (it's not even the first pseudo-concept album; credit The Pretty Things with that), it's not a rock album (as Mark Prindle put it, "It's cabaret music! Horns and violins and bouncy little pianos create this crazyass mood of a big band pop explosion parade"), and it's not the Beatles best album (Revolver, Abbey Road, even The White Album are better).
But Goldstein got one thing very very wrong: there is a lot of beauty spread out on this record. There's the sitar on "Within You, Without You," the lovely chorus of "She's Leaving Home," the psychedelic mellotron on "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds," the guitar solo sound on "Fixing A Hole," the unabashed, unashamed sentimentality of "When I'm 64," the horny piano in "Lovely Rita," the warmth of the vocals on "With A Little Help From My Friends," and everything about "A Day In The Life" (especially that lonely little shaker who keeps chugging along).
For more Sgt. Pepper's goodies, check out the five-part documentary on the making of it below:
Previously: The NY Times calls Abbey Road an "unmitigated disaster."