By ALAN SMASON
For those of a certain age, it was 50 years ago today that The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” was released in both Great Britain and the United States, heralding the legendary “Summer of Love” and forever changing the musical landscape.
The release of this album with its unusual cover art featuring the band members costumed in military wear amid a sea of faces drawn from entertainment, pop culture and literature, became a defining moment for most of the Fab Four’s fans. It is against this backdrop of fan appreciation that renowned Beatles expert Bruce Spizer again found the need to document and expound the phenomenon in a book, his latest self-published volume titled “The Beatles and Sgt. Pepper: A Fans’ Perspective.”
Spizer, a local tax attorney by day, has just published the 170-page work, which includes a number of remembrances and essays by himself, noted Beatles authorities and other fans. The cover includes part of the artwork used in the interior sleeve that protected the original albums and the font is designed to emulate that found on the drum where the album’s title appears. It was selected by Spizer’s graphic designer, Diana Thornton, with whom he has worked on every one of his previous books.
“She and I both have a view that we like to have a simple design that is not overly cluttered,” he stated. “Having worked together for many years, she kind of anticipates what I’m looking for.” Spizer is comfortable with having her layout the entire cover design and allowing him to add a “tweak” or two afterwards.
Spizer’s photo of his own stereo Capitol Records release serves as part of the design work Thornton used for the book, which is published through his 498 Productions company.
Among the cardboard cutout figures seen on the album cover are several wax figures including all of The Beatles as they appeared in their early careers with mop tops and boxer Sonny Liston and British actress Diana Dors, whom some fans confused with the more well-known luminaries Cassius Clay and Marilyn Monroe.
While Spizer doesn’t have a key to the cover figures in the book (“It’s been done many times.”), he is so well-informed that he can rattle off a number of facts or point to figures who are partially obscured without so much as looking at the cover.
“Shirley Temple is on the cover three times,” he noted, adding that in one case she appears as a doll. “Albert Einstein is on the cover, but John’s left shoulder blocks him, so you really don’t see Einstein.”
Not only does he know who is in the eclectic group. He knows who didn’t make the cut. “It’s not so much who was included. The most controversial figures were excluded,” he pointed out. “That was Gandhi, because EMI was concerned that their Indian affiliate would be offende; and Hitler was excluded. There are pictures where you can see the cutout of Hitler off to the side.”
The project began last year when Spizer prepared an essay on the effect the album had from the perspective of American fans. He had initially considered sending it in to a magazine, but because he was afraid that it might be edited in a way that might diminish it and that it might not have the right images to accompany it, he thought instead about publishing a 40-page magazine of his own. That project became much larger when he asked several of his friends and fellow Beatles authorities to contribute their own articles or essays about their Sgt. Pepper’s experiences.
Both Bill King, the editor and his associate editor Al Sussman of Beatlefan magazine were asked to contribute their thoughts. Piers Hemmingsen, a Canadian Beatles authority, provided a Canadian perspective Noted Beatles discographer Frank Daniels added his collection of rock groups and solo musicians who through the years in interviews had claimed direct influence from the “Sgt. Pepper” album.
Then, Spizer decided to expand the book even more and open it up to fans from all walks of life. “On my website I asked for people to send in fan recollections about ‘Sgt. Pepper,'” he said, indicating the response was almost crushing.
“Where I was expecting a few dozen, I ended up with over 80 fan recollections in the book,” he continued. While many of the responses were from unknown fans, Spizer was taken aback that other Beatles authorities like authors Mark Lewisohn (a renowned Jewish-British Beatles expert), Jude Kessler and Chuck Gunderson wanted to add their reflections to his work.
But it wasn’t long before other well-known musicians like songwriter and rocker Billy Joel, Monkees bassist and keyboardist Peter Tork and Wings drummer Denny Seiwell joined in the procession of fans sending in submissions.
“The interesting thing is there were a lot of different themes that did crop up such as people who recalled listening to the album with one or both of their parents or a relative going out and getting the album for them and that this gave more meaning to the album,” Spizer elaborated. “In many ways ‘Sgt. Pepper’ was bringing the generations together…in contrast to song ‘She’s Leaving Home.'”
Spizer said many fans had deeply-felt reactions to the song “When I’m Sixty-Four” because of the connections it registered with them as teenagers and how they regard that song in many ways. In some cases, the song represents their parents and in other cases, the song reinforces the notion as to the length of years they now own.
Because very little of the book has to do with the documentation of the recording sessions or the famous musicians themselves, but refers instead as to how the album affected popular culture and individuals, several graphics choices proved daunting. How would he document the fans and their connections?
As it turned out, several fans also sent in photos of them holding the “Sgt. Pepper” album in a variety of locations and situations. “But there were not a lot of pictures with them and the album cover,” he noted. Another reason that so few were around is that photos 50 years ago required camera and film that needed to be processed or an instant photo process like a Polaroid.
Spizer did manage to collect about a half-dozen photos, which he considered essential. “I think they add a lot to the book,” he reflected.The book came together very quickly. He describes the work as being in three sections: the first section is comprised of essays about the effect the album had on fans in America, Canada and Great Britain. The second section contains over 80 fan recollections from as far away as Russia by someone who had listened to a copy that had been smuggled behind the Iron Curtain. The final section contains a breakdown of the album and goes song by song detailing the personnel on the recordings.
Spizer began executing the publishing phase in February and the work was finished in short order. Initial copies of the work began to be released in late May with a targeted release date of the anniversary of the release of the album. “I had this book done in Canada and so it took about a month from the time I sent it in,” he said.
Spizer was invited this week to appear in Los Angeles at the Grammy Award Hall of Fame in ceremonies to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the release of the album.
After each of his most recent books were released, Spizer has steadfastly maintained he does not plan to release any future books. And then something happens and he is deep into yet another project. “If I find the project worthy of doing, then I probably will do it, but I don’t have any plans to do any additional books at this time,” he deflected.
Meanwhile, he continues to act as a consultant to both Apple Records and Universal Music Group, quite the acknowledgement that he has grown from an admiring fan into a formidable source of information.
Who knows? When he’s 64 – in two years – he may be ready to release yet another book. But as for now, he is happy to release this, his ninth detailed work on The Beatles.
“The Beatles and Sgt. Pepper: A Fans Perspective” is available in two versions. The standard version is the book by itself for $30.00 (digital copies as PDFs sell for $20.00), while a numbered and signed collector’s edition is also available for $75.00. That edition also includes an attractive slipcover of the cover design and a special poster featuring photos of all of the original album inserts. Shipping and handling is an additional $12.00. To order online click here.