In 1967, The Beatles released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, changing the landscape of music and popular culture forever. While the project signified major developments in the world of pop music and the legacy of the band as a whole, John Lennon would, of course, tear the LP to pieces at a later date.
The album has experienced a rollercoaster of appreciation in recent years. While it still holds an affection among fans of the Fab Four, the record has seen a recent downturn of adoration. Some find it on the flimsy side of whimsical and as indulgent as deep-fried ice cream. Still, there is no doubt that, as the execution of a colourful concept, there is simply no better moment in The Beatles discography. The main reason Lennon didn’t like Sgt. Pepper? Well, largely, because it was Paul McCartney’s favourite album.
In the years that followed The Beatles, Lennon seemed to grow hatred for individual tracks on the album more and more. As the years went on, and the relationship between the band’s principal songwriters became more fractured, he seemed to fall out of love with certain aspects of the album even further.
Sgt. Pepper may well be viewed as one of The Beatles’ masterpieces, but it was primarily Paul McCartney’s baby. The singer and songwriter delved into the world of psychedelia and conceptual recording with his own perspective of music hall pop, and it influenced the album greatly. While it is often cited as The Fab Four’s greatest creation, there are facets of that album that, if it were down to Lennon, would have never made it on the final cut.
During one of his final ever interviews before his untimely death, Lennon sat down with Playboy’s David Sheff and didn’t hold back with his analysis of the record, a conversation in which he claimed Sgt. Pepper was not on the same level as The White Album and labelled one song on the record “garbage”.
When picking The White Album as the superior record, Lennon revealed his theory as to why: “[Paul] wanted it to be more a group thing, which really means more Paul. So he never liked that album. It’s a record that is full of hits, from ‘Back in the U.S.S.R’ to ‘Blackbird’ to ‘Helter Skelter’ and beyond, it’s an undeniable powerhouse of an album.”
He continued with a swipe at Paul’s favourite Beatles record Sgt. Pepper: “I always preferred it to all the other albums, including Pepper, because I thought the music was better. The Pepper myth is bigger, but the music on the White Album is far superior, I think.”
Surprisingly, the song that he labelled as a “piece of garbage” was one that was actually his own creation and seemingly one that had very little creative process behind it. The track in question is ‘Good Morning, Good Morning’. “‘Good Morning’ is mine,” Lennon later commented. “It’s a throwaway, a piece of garbage, I always thought. The ‘Good morning, good morning’ was from a Kellogg’s cereal commercial. I always had the TV on very low in the background when I was writing and it came over and then I wrote the song.”
In the very same interview, Lennon also didn’t hold back in his assessment of another track on the record which he wanted no association with saying it was “Paul’s completely” — which is ‘When I’m Sixty Four’. It was a comment which left no guesses in what Lennon’s true opinion of the song was despite using just a few devastating words, noting: “I would never even dream of writing something like that.”
Equally, in what appears to be a running theme, George Harrison was also not a fan of Sgt. Pepper. He felt the concept album had turned the band into a puppet worker bee, and with dreams of performing live once more, it was not a pleasant experience. “It became an assembly process—just little parts and then overdubbing,” he felt they had lost the edge that came with live performances.
On the contrary, McCartney later discussed why he thought it was his favourite piece of work by The Beatles, with the bassist stating: “I’d pick Sgt. Pepper’s, meself, because I had a lot to do with it.” He confirmed similarly in an interview from 1990, in which he said: “If records had a director within a band, I sort of directed Pepper.”
The album is undoubtedly a masterpiece of the highest calibre and a worthy inclusion on anybody’s desert island records. Perhaps Lennon’s comments were more a case of him having a bit of fun at his former bandmate’s magnum opus than him genuinely hating parts of the album.