The songs flow into one another, a shifting kaleidoscope of themes and moods and musical styles, guided by the Beatles’ gut musical instincts – which were, as usual, totally right-on. Notice how the wistful “She’s Leaving Home” gains a darker context when it’s followed by the sinister frenzy of “Mr. Kite,” ending Side 1 on an ominous note. We get up, cross the room, turn the record over; we sit back down, light up, and wait to trip out on the gauzy optimism of “Within You Without You.” It's all part of the master plan.
I still find it almost impossible to listen to these tracks out of order, even though nowadays I listen to it on CD and could skip around freely. The minute I hear the fade-out at the end of “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds,” I’m primed for those snarky chords that lead off “Getting Better”; that jump from the woozy sitars of “Within You Without You” to the loopy music-hall strains of “When I’m Sixty-Four” is deeply satisfying to my soul.
Every song contains at least one coded drug reference; just about every song slips in at least one jab at authority, as well as some line or another advocating love and peace and harmony. These aren’t the themes of these songs; these are simply givens in the Beatles mindset — which became ipso facto the mindset of an entire generation. Sergeant Pepper carved in vinyl what had already been floating in the hipster ether; buying this album made us all part of the club.
What these songs don’t contain is autobiographical musings on the loneliness of stardom, or the pressures of life on the road, or the avaricious spending habits of ex-wives. No pontificating from the celebrity pulpit, either. (Lennon would get there soon enough.) Nope. These songs are about people who get up to go to jobs and catch buses and wait at turnstiles and drink tea and read newspapers; folks who mend roofs and dig weeds and knit sweaters, who come home for tea and meet the wife. (Except, er, for “Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite” – that one bears no resemblance to anyone’s reality, not unless you are a Victorian circus geek.) Weird as the package looked, it was an album that invited us to participate. In fact, the weird package forced us to participate – to study the cover art, to read the lyrics, to crack the code. To sing along when the singer sang his song.