It was twenty years ago today
Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play
They've been going in and out of style
But they're guaranteed to raise a smile
June 1st, 1967 in the UK and June 2nd in the US, after having retired from touring in 1966, The Beatles released something a departure album for them. Up until that point, they would take a few days to lay down each track, and in three months, they'd have another record ready. But, finding live performances stifling, they decided to make an album of music that wouldn't have to be performed live. Tracks took entire weeks to create (orchestrate!), and the album was received by an eager public, debuting at #8, then going to #1 for the next 23 weeks.
There were no singles released with the album, so DJs had to play album cuts, if they were going to play anything off the album at all. Many DJs were worried about references to drugs in the lyrics.
It can be claimed that this was the advent of "serious rock" and the "concept album". (Although McCartney likened it to Frank Zappa's "Freak Out!" album, which may be a better candidate.)
The album cover was unique, too - having the lyrics printed on the back cover, which had not been done before on a pop LP. The front had over 70 figures, largely inspirations to the band. The collage cost nearly £3000 to shoot - around 100 times what a typical album cover cost. After the cover art was created, EMI's legal department sought permission from those pictured. Mae West balked at first, but was convinced by a personal letter from the Beatles. Mohandas Gandhi was part of the original artwork, but was decided to be too risky, so he was covered up by a palm tree.
The album was certified gold within two weeks, and remains a landmark of contemporary culture.