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The Editorial

It was 50 years ago today...

In June 1967 there was an electric atmosphere in the Sixth Form common room.

John Benton, Editor

Figure Image

The Beatles had just released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Who would be the first to get a copy, bring it in and play it?

Half a century later it is still seen as perhaps the most influential rock album ever made. During the coming year there will be many column inches written and documentaries broadcast celebrating the anniversary. But, while standing in awe of the power and artistry of the fab four plus their genius producer George Martin, the underlying themes of the songs bring a certain sadness. Hailed as the first ‘concept album’, George Martin rejected the idea. ‘The songs, if you listen to them, have no connection at all’, he said.* But, though there may be no conscious connection, the songwriters could not help but convey the spirit of their times.

Alternative visions of life

Probably the most accessible track is She’s Leaving Home, based on a story Paul McCartney found in a newspaper. It tells the tale of a sixth-former running away from the claustrophobically ‘loving’ home of her middle-class mum and dad. ‘She’s leaving home, after living alone for so many years.’ The gap between her values and those of the joyless marriage of her well-off but dreary parents had widened into an unbridgeable and unbearable chasm. It was a common experience for that generation. ‘Fun is the one thing that money can’t buy’, said the lyrics.

With the rejection of the cosy but dull materialism of post-war Britain, the album goes on to explore ‘alternative’ visions of life. There has always been dispute about which songs relate to drug taking and which don’t. But it’s certainly there. George Harrison’s interest in meditation and Eastern religion surfaces in Within You Without You. (Though a comment of his wife, the model Patti Boyd, is interesting: ‘When I first met George in 1963, he was Mr Fun. Then all of a sudden he found LSD and Indian religion and he became very serious.’ Fed up, on one occasion she simply disappeared to the pub!) Then there’s Paul McCartney’s Fixing a Hole, inspired by getting away from it all and renovating a semi-derelict farmhouse he had bought on the West Coast of Scotland. It all adds up to disappointment and a turning away from the society of the time.

Lonely people

But listening to the album again it is very poignant that, after She’s Leaving Home, the only fun offered is that of the next track, Being for the Benefit of Mr.Kite! It seems that there’s nothing but the grease-paint façade and ephemeral thrills of fairground feats and theatri-cals. So the great album finishes with A Day in the Life. ‘He blew his mind out in a car, he didn’t notice that the lights had changed…’ The man in John Lennon’s mind as he wrote those words was Tara Browne, a 21-year-old Irish friend of the Beatles and a well-known socialite, who, connected to the Guinness family, would have inherited £1million had he reached 25.

There’s such an emptiness in the album that the delightfully jolly When I’m Sixty-Four and Lovely Rita are simply overshadowed and overwhelmed. It indicates that the Lonely Hearts were the Beatles themselves. For all their fame, fortune and talent, they too were among ‘all the lonely people.’

Britain remains an island of lost and lonely people until we rediscover Christ’s gospel. As we start another year, let’s pray afresh for our nation.

*A Hard Day’s Write by Steve Turner, Carlton, 1995.