Wednesday, May 9, 2012

"Pepper? No, Pepper."

It was during one of the summers we were both home from college, 1990 or so. I called Scott at his parents’ house one day, looking for him, and one of his older brothers answered. Here is the conversation as he heard it.

“Hi, is Scott there please?”

“No, he’s not home. Can I take a message?”

“Sure. Just tell him Dan Pepper called.” (NOTE: I said Dan Tapper, my actual name. That is not what he heard.)

“Dan Pepper?”

“No. Dan Pepper.”

“Dan Pepper?”

“No. Dan Pepper.”


“No. Pepper.”

(pause) "I’ll just tell him Dan called, OK?”

“That’s great. Thanks.”

Thus, I have been referred to as Dan Pepper by a small, concentrated part of the population ever since.

My point to all this? There is some musical tie-in, no? This is kind of a music-based blog, not a quirky story-based blog, right? RIGHT?


I want to talk briefly about an album called Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. By the Beatles. Perhaps you’ve heard of it.

So nearly every “Best Of” list ever produced regarding rock-n-roll albums has this 1967 opus at the very top, literally looking down on every other album ever released in rock-n-roll history. Sgt. Pepper is as widely accepted as the Greatest Album Ever as Wayne Gretzky is as the Greatest Hockey Player Ever.

Only…no. Not here it isn’t, anyway.

(Cue dramatic organ music and haunted house laughter)

Oh, sure, it’s in the Top 10 of all time. But it’s not as good as Revolver, which is the greatest album ever released by anyone. And it’s not as good as Abbey Road, and it may even come in behind Rubber Soul and The Beatles (The White Album). That’s not to say it’s not a great, great record, an absolute masterpiece of the highest order, in the most select of classes in modern music history. It’s Ted Williams. It’s Larry Bird. It’s Mario Lemieux. It’s just not, you know, Babe Ruth or Michael Jordan or the Great Gretzky.

It very well, however, may be the most important album ever released, changing the face of music forever. In production, in grand form, in concept, in cover art and in every element of staging and presentation it stands alone. Not to mention that no record of the past century has been more discussed, dissected, analyzed or broken down to its very marrow than Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. It remains a cultural touchstone 45 years later, and will still be one 50 years from now.

So after all this, you could say it is virtually impossible to make the claim that any part of this album is underrated, right? Nothing this talked about and this explored can possibly be underrated. Can it?

It can.

This part, right here.

Seventy-nine seconds is all it takes to remind the listener that you  never, ever underestimate The Beatles, or predict what may come next. Tucked near the end of an album that redefined studio production and gloss, "Reprise" is instead raw and jagged. George’s raunchy, blistering guitar carries the day immediately after Paul’s count-in (which no doubt evokes memories of “I Saw Her Standing There from four years earlier.) The band is loose and fast and having a ball—if the Beatles were ever a jam band, this is what they might have sounded like. (And three years later, on “The End,” did sound like).Which is to say, great.

And what we get is a reprise that outdoes the estimable original title track that opens the album. The rare key change that comes right in the middle is startling. Paul’s pumped up bass and Ringo’s drumming lends it a joyous, raucous edge. And then there are all the little touches—from John’s cheeky “Bye” during the count-in to Paul’s celebratory “Woooo!” at the end—that make this seeming afterthought one more little unpolished gem. Finally, that it leads seamlessly into “A Day in the Life”—the single greatest album closer in rock history—is the cherry on top. Or mayhap, appropo of the subject matter, the final dash of pepper.

Pepper? Yes indeed, Pepper.


  1. And it’s not as good as Abbey Road, and it may even come in behind Rubber Soul and The Beatles (The White Album).

    You forgot A Hard Day's Night.

    The reprise has always been one of my favorite parts of the album. It's the one and only time on the record they totally and completely let loose and just rock out, and it feels almost like a reward, like the tension of all these (great) experimental songs finally gets released. (Possibly for them as well.)

    And the first time I heard John murmur "bye" I nearly screamed; I thought someone had snuck into the room behind me and whispered in my ear. Yeah, I was a bit high-strung as a child.