To commemorate the 40th anniversary of the release of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Sorbonne History and Musicology Professor Olivier Julien and MPG Books assembled a team of 11 university professors from around the world to "examin(e) the album by addressing issues that will contribute to explain its absolutely unique position in the history of recorded popular music." The scholars were to analyze and discuss "the various aspects that make Sgt. Peppers a groundbreaking album - formal unity, cover design, lyrics, connections with psychedelia and, more generally, with the sociocultural context of the 1960s, influence of non-European music and art music, critical reception, songwriting, production (and) sound engineering." SGT. PEPPER AND THE BEATLES; IT WAS FORTY YEARS AGO TODAY is the culmination of that research. Being a dedicated Beatles fan, I'd like to say I enjoyed Julien's tract but truth be told, half the time I didn't understand what the hell those college profs were talking about!
Scanning through the chapters found in Julien's book is a good indicator of the problems facing a typical Beatles fan. Sample chapters include: 'Tangerine Trees and Marmalade Skies, Cultural Agendas or Optimistic Escapism;' 'Sgt. Pepper and the Diverging Aesthetics of Lennon and McCartney;' 'The Beatles and Indian Music;' 'Cover Story - Magic, Myth and Music;' 'The Beatles Psycheclassical Synthesis, Psychedelic Classicism and Classical Psychedelia in Sgt. Pepper;' 'A Lucky Man Who Made the Grade, Sgt. Pepper and the Rise of a Phonographic Tradition in Twentieth-Century Popular Music;' and so on. Not being a Rhodes scholar, I didn't have a clue what "Psycheclassical Synthesis" meant before I picked up Julien's book. And after I slogged through that chapter, I still don't know what it means.
Many sections of the books left me utterly bewildered. Consider these sample sentences chosen at random:
*"The melody is simply a descending Hypo-Mixolydian mode, with a transfer of register an octave higher."
*"The coda concludes with a pentatonic line that covers the entire ambitus of the song."
*"Suffice it to say here that the controlled cacophony of the aleatoric, rising glissandos transcends whatever theme or meaning the surrounding bars may imply."
*"McCartney's five-bar, mostly ascending guitar solo line in the first organ break (at 1'18") sounds very un-guitar-like (more like a digital synthesizer sound yet to be invented), and is likely to have been palm-muted and played with either precise up-and-down plectrum strokes or treated with slap-back tape echo as well as with other effects." Huh!?!
Given the mix of authors and subjects, some chapters do make for easier reading and comprehension. Yet even those sections are dry. Given that 'Pepper' is such a magical album, there isn't nearly enough joy or sense of wonder in this book; it's all clinical dissection.
In short, university music professors, students taking university music classes, musical scholars and musicologists will probably find Julien's book a great read. The rest of us mere mortals won't.