THE BEATLES AS A GROUP—as a rock & roll-based pop band—are an example of a gestalt, as the abilities and the accomplishments of the group far outstrip what could be expected of the four members knowing their individual skills and talents. This is not belittling their skills, which are many, but as their solo careers made too evident, each on his own wasn’t even close to what he had been as a Beatle.
The album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is also an example of a gestalt: any attempt to dissect the album into its component parts (the thirteen individual tracks, the performances on those tracks, etc.) will fall far short of the overall effect of hearing those thirteen tracks as an album.
There were good reasons for it being the Greatest Rock Album of All Time for years, even if they are forgotten now.
Manager and mentor Brian Epstein was the glue that held the pieces of the Beatles gestalt together.
The word gestalt is German and simply means “form or shape” (even if it sounds nasty: “He was sentenced to five years hard labor in the gestalt mines”). In popular use in the English language, a gestalt is defined by Merriam-Webster as “something that is made of many parts and yet is somehow more than or different from the combination of its parts.”
In common parlance, that’s the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
There is also Gestalt psychology or gestaltism, which is a philosophy of mind of the Berlin School of experimental psychology but that’s not what we will be looking at today.
Peter Blake’s outrageous three-dimensional, Pop Art construction was used as the front cover for the Sgt. Pepper album on every jacket in every country in which it was distributed. This was most unusual for the ’60s when some countries altered or replaced cover art for often inexplicable social, religious, or political reasons.
Guaranteed to raise a smile
On June 1, 1967, Parlophone Records introduced Sgt. Pepper and his band—apparently made up exclusively of unattached men—to the Western world with its official release of the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album in the UK.
On June 2, 1967, Sgt. Pepper was released in the US and other major markets.
On June 3, 1967, it seemed that everyone in the Western world who owned a turntable had purchased a copy of Sgt. Pepper and was playing it around the clock, often with their windows open so they could share it with their neighbors.
Sgt. Pepper was reviewed in The New York Times, which was a major step forward in that a major media was treating a rock album as a legitimate form of artistic expression!
The effect of that album was unlike anything anyone had seen or heard before and was an immediate sensation in almost every country in the industrialized world.
Within a week (or so it seemed at the time), the Beatles conquered that part of the world that had fended them off for the previous four years (the intelligentsia). The album’s flamboyance, its joie de vivre, and its sheer over-the-top energy and good good good vibrations exhilarated millions of listeners!
Everything the Fab Four were doing was coming up roses: even the less than stellar review of Sgt. Pepper by Richard Goldstein in The New York Times (“There is nothing beautiful on Sergeant Pepper, [it] is busy, hip and cluttered”) was a major step forward in that the “newspaper of record” was reviewing a rock album as a legitimate form of artistic expression!
This is the picture sleeve for the “All You Need Is Love” / Baby You’re a Rich Man” single issued by Odeon Records in West Germany. It was arguably the most attractive sleeve for this single released anywhere in the world in 1967.
Learn how to play the game
On June 27, they followed this major triumph with another when they performed their new single, “All You Need Is Love,” on the Our World television special which was the first live, international, satellite-beamed television production.
These two events—the release of a new and oh-so-groovy Beatles album and single—coincided with the Summer of Love in San Francisco:
“The ‘Summer of Love’ refers to 1967—not so much because that year saw a revolutionary new movement, but because that was when the media came to identify and focus on the hippy phenomenon, the underground alternative youth culture that had been brewing in America and Europe for several years.
“The focus was San Francisco, where young people travelled from across America and beyond, attracted by the promise of the chance to cast off conservative social values and experiment with drugs and sex.
San Francisco attracted young people with the chance to cast off conservative social values and experiment with drugs and sex.
“The Human Be-In rally in San Francisco on 14 January is considered the starting point. Beat Generation speakers and poets gathered in Golden Gate Park to celebrate key ideas of the 1960s rebellion: communal living, political decentralisation, environmental awareness and ‘dropping out’. Jefferson Airplane played and LSD was distributed amongst the crowds when a power failure led to a break in the music.
“The Haight-Ashbury district, where disaffected student groups gathered, became the focal point of hippy counterculture, and 100,000 young people arrived there over the summer. The local council supposedly came up with the title ‘Summer of Love’ to put a positive spin on the druggy, hairy, hippy gatherings that were portrayed negatively by the media.” (The Guardian)
Despite the Beatles’ endeavors and those of the planners of the Human Be-In and the Summer of Love festivities, having nothing whatsoever to de with one another, for many the two are inextricably linked in their memory spools.
If it can be said that there was a time when the Beatles were sitting on top of the world, it was during June and July 1967. John, Paul, George, and Ringo were no longer merely the biggest pop stars in the world, they were now among the most important and influential people in the world!
The group’s future looked greater than ever.
Whatever would they do next?
Magical Mystery Tour in this medium. The format was considered a joke by collectors for decades but have been items of interest for years. Shrinkwrapped copies such as this are rather rare; these are usually found without any box and in well-used condition.
Turn on and drop in
Afterward, they held an impromptu press conference where it certainly sounded like they were denouncing the use of mind-manifesting chemicals.
George declared, “LSD isn’t a real answer. It doesn’t give you anything. It enables you to see a lot of possibilities that you may have never noticed before, but it isn’t the answer.”
Paul added, “You cannot keep on taking drugs forever. . . . It was an experience we went through. Now it’s over and we don’t need it anymore.”
John appeared to be in accord, although his statement was rather vague: “Don’t believe that jazz about there’s nothing you can do, and ‘Turn on and just drop out, man,’ because you’ve got to turn on and drop in or they’re going to drop all over you!”
This apparent denunciation of what everyone else seemed to be doing regularly received widespread media attention.
Brian Epstein with John and Paul in the studio on June 25, 1967, as they worked on the preparation of their presentation of “All You Need Is Love” on the Our World television spectacular.
He was one of us
On August 27, 1967, Brian Epstein died from an overdose of prescription drugs. He had been the group’s manager, mentor, and friend. Caught off-guard by journalists at their TM seminar, John told the press, “He was one of us.”
Brian was also the glue that held the pieces of the Beatles gestalt together.
Nothing about the Beatles was ever the same again.
This is the poster used by New Line Cinema for the presentation of Magical Mystery Tour in selected theaters around the country in 1974. Very few fans saw this poster in the ’70s; fewer still saw the movie on a big screen in the ’70s.
Dying to take you away
On December 26, 1967, the Beatles’ mock-psychedelic extravaganza Magical Mystery Tour was broadcast on British television. It was a homemade-type film inspired by the LSD-fueled shenanigans of Ken Kesey and his band of merry pranksters and their garishly hand-painted bus Further.
Response to the show from fans to casual viewers to critics ranged all over the place, which of itself was unprecedented for a Beatles project: the Fab Four were used to immediate and sustained applause. While there were certainly those who enjoyed the show without reservation, many viewers were baffled by the affair and even others thought the whole thing was a pile of poo.
Whatever the actual numbers of positive to negative ratings among British viewers, scheduling it for broadcast in the US was pooh-poohed. It found its way to US fans in a few indirect ways:
• In 1968, it was first shown in the US on August 11 at the Fillmore East as part of a fundraiser for the Liberation News Service.
• In 1974, New Line Cinema acquired the rights for limited theatrical distribution and it played in a few cities.
• In 1985, an edited version was broadcast on the cable TV series Night Flight.
• In 2012, it was finally broadcast in its entirety on US television as a PBS special!
In the UK and most of the rest of the then-civilized world, Magical Mystery Tour was issued as a 7-inch albumin a gatefold jacket with two pockets for two 45 rpm records with six tracks. The jacket also included a 24-page booklet affixed to the inside. As clever a piece as it was, Capitol deemed it unsuitable for release in the US as the EP was a defunct format by 1967.
The soundtrack EP and LP albums
The Fabs recorded six new songs for the soundtrack to the movie and they were issued as the 45 rpm, seven-inch, mono-only, two-record EP album Magical Mystery Tour in the UK and elsewhere. Needless to say, it was a huge hit and sold over 600,000 copies in a matter of weeks.
In the US, the EP album format had been commercially dead for several years and as clever and enticing a package as the EP was, Capitol wisely opted not to issue it that way in the States.
This LP was an even bigger success, selling 2,000,000 straight off in the US. Over time, most of the countries in the world deleted the EP album from their catalogs and replaced it with the LP album.
Whereas Sgt. Pepper had been perceived as a “whole” and (erroneously) judged the first “concept album,” Magical Mystery Tour was a compilation from four separate sources, a psychedelic potpourri of sorts.
Magical Mystery Tour the movie and television special was the Beatles’ first real failure since becoming the Fab Four.
It would not be their last.Manager and mentor Brian Epstein was the glue that held the pieces of the Beatles gestalt together. Click To Tweet
FEATURED IMAGE: The photo at the top of this page was taken from the article “The Beatles — Their Ashram and Their Cathedral” on the Travails and Travel blog (March 23, 2015). The correspondent Sajish GP remarked, “I had four days to kill in Rishikesh before the start of a trek up in the snowy hills. On that particular day, I decided to roam around a bit on foot and explore Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s abandoned ashram more popularly known as the Beatles’ Ashram because of its one-time residents who were here in the late ’60s.”
The units that the Beatles, their entourage, and other celebrities occupied in 1968 have been left to the ravages of time and tourists, who have covered the exterior and interior walls in messages and art. Sajish posted more than 80 photos of the ashram and the graffiti within and without. To see these photos, click on over to “The Beatles – Their Ashram and Their Cathedral.”
The Beatles ’68 (Tetralogy)
Here are the four parts of this not-particularly-deep look at the Beatles and The White Album:
• Sgt. Pepper on Blue Jay Way (Beatles ’68, Part 1)
• In Search of the Lost Mentor (Beatles ’68, Part 2)
• Unplugging the White Album (Beatles ’68, Part 3)
• We’re All Getting Back to Our Roots (Beatles ’68, Part 4)