Beatles Scholar Analyzes 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band'

Jun 8, 2017

In this June 1967 file photo, Paul McCartney, from left, George Harrison, Ringo Starr and John Lennon of The Beatles appear backstage during a break in rehearsals for the live broadcast on the "Our World" program at EMI studios in London.
Credit AP Images

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the Beatles album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” To celebrate, Van Buren District Library is bringing in Beatles scholar Aaron Krerowicz to analyze the album on Monday, June 12th at 6:30 p.m. at the Antwerp Sunshine branch in Mattawan.

Beatles scholar Aaron Krerowicz
Credit courtesy of Aaron Krerowicz

What Is A Beatles Scholar?

"I conduct academic musical analysis of Beatles songs and then I use that analysis to inform presentations that I give throughout the country,” says Krerowicz.

Krerowicz is a classical musician with degrees in music composition and musical theory. Now he uses those classical skills to analyze the Beatles. He's written six books on the Beatles and gives presentations on the musical group across the country.

As far as he knows, Krerowicz says, he's the only Beatles expert who devotes himself to the study full-time - and unlike many of those scholars, he focuses on the music more than the history of the Beatles. 

Sgt. Pepper Turned Pop Into Art

Krerowicz calls "Sgt. Pepper" the Beatles’ “cultural pinnacle.” 

“You know pop music is often dismissed as you know kid stuff, not real serious music in the 50s and into the 60s - and the Beatles helped change that," says Krerowicz.

Unlike their previous albums, the Beatles took big musical risks with "Sgt. Pepper" - both in how the album was produced as well as the Beatles' decision to become what Krerowicz calls a "studio band."

"George Harrison famously said when they stopped touring in ‘66, ‘That’s it - I’m not a Beatle anymore.’ And he had every reason to believe that was true at the time because no pop music group had ever tried to sustain a career without backing their recordings with live tours to help promote and gain momentum for it," says Krerowicz.  

Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite

"Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite," "A Day in the Life," and Within You Without You" are just some of the songs where the Beatles showed off the band's creativity.

In "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite," there is a audio collage of calliopes at the end of the song. A calliope is a type of steam organ you might hear at a circus. Why add this instrument? Krerowicz says the band wanted to create a circus-like atmosphere. After all, the song is said to have been inspired by a vintage circus poster John Lennon saw in an antique shop.

But Krerowicz says, for whatever reason,  the Beatles' could not do their own recording of a calliope. 

“What they ended up doing was taking other people’s recordings of calliopes, but then there are copyright problems. You can’t borrow other people’s recordings, you have to pay royalties," says Krerowicz.

"So what they did - and it’s quite ingenious - was take little snippets of other people’s recordings. So rather than using 45 seconds of one recording of a calliope, they used roughly 45 one-second clips from a variety of different calliope recordings."

With today's audio software, creating this collage would have been easy - but back then, Krerowicz says, it required painstakingly stringing together the clips of tape. 

A Day In The Life

The Beatles also took orchestral instrumentation to a new level in the song “A Day in the Life.” Krerowicz says the Beatles not only used a full 40 person string orchestra, but they manipulated it in a unique way. He says the band recorded the orchestra a few times and then overdubbed the recording so that it sounds more like a 160-piece orchestra instead. 

Krerowicz says the song also blends a lot of different styles:

“It’s a Western pop song but it uses a classical orchestra, but they ask that orchestra to play in a rather avant-garde way using this giant sound mass. You’re rising from the low register up to this glorious high note at the end and then of course they tack the piano part on the end of that to kind of ‘bring it back down to Earth’ as George Martin once said.”

Within You Without You

The Beatles had used sitar before, but Krerowicz says for the first time George Harrison had made a song that was a lot more Indian and a lot less Western. 

"So it is a landmark for George and it anticipates where he was going on subsequent recordings," he says. "In other words, I don’t believe George could have written ‘Here Comes The Sun’ or ‘Something’ on ‘Abbey Road’ without first having written ‘Within You Without You’ on ‘Sgt. Pepper.’”

Krerowicz says “Within You Without You” has strong pitch unity - a popular thing in traditional Indian music - and you can see that in Harrison's later works.