“It was twenty years ago today/Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play”
And it was twenty years ago. Twenty years ago. It’s forty years now, but twenty years ago it seemed like a big deal. As I remember it – and I might be wrong – when “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” was approaching it’s twentieth birthday, there was a lot of coverage in the British media. Special articles and a TV documentary, that kinda thing. It seems to me as if that was when the music industry grabbed hold of the concept of nostalgia, and with the gaining-pace medium of compact discs to promote, decided it was a great thing.
And it’s probably not unimportant to wonder how crucial to the level of celebration the opening lines of that album were: It was twenty years ago today/Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play. There probably would have been a decent amount of attention to the anniversary, (EMI had done it in 1982 when “Love Me Do” was twenty; the re-release getting to No.4 in the charts, thirteen places higher than its 1962 release), but nothing near the amount it actually did get.
The Beatles wrote their own milestone for the future with that line. And that line helped turn the anniversary of “Sgt. Pepper” into The Beatles’ Golden Jubilee-style celebration. The rock and roll kids had won! Take that, grandad, rock ‘n’ roll really is here to stay. And, although it was fairly well established at that point, I imagine it helped make The Beatles into more than just a band. (Well, to clarify: it seems they were more than just a band even in the band’s own lifetime, but along with the CD reissues came a sense of that we should not question their place at the top of the pop music tree.) Culturally, it seems that in a lot of ways, The Beatles are the sixties now. Other stuff happened, but it was John, Paul, George and Ringo’s decade.
That was forty years ago. But it was twenty years ago this week that “Sign ‘O’ The Times” was released.
I was never a massive Prince fan. I liked his records a lot, but I was no Darren Askew, who I sat next to in Geography, who actually owned a vinyl bootleg of “The Black Album.” (This was in the days when getting bootlegs was a kinda tricky thing in a town like Lincoln. There was the Hawkwind-ish guy on the market who sold tapes of live concerts with the track listings and band photos photocopied onto fluorescent paper; but beyond that… well, there was no eBay.)
Prince’s eighties records, though, seem to be perfect milestones in my life. Not being a kid anymore really hit home when I was 28, (yeh, I know: I should’ve realised before then…) when I noticed that “Purple Rain” had been in my life the same amount of time that it hadn’t been in my life.
And Prince was some sort of mythical creature in the eighties; someone who was a superstar, up there in fame – if not exactly sales – with Michael Jackson and Madonna, but way more talented than both of them. He wrote hit pop records, he was a stunning musician, and his songs sounded unique and strange.
And now, it’s twenty whole years since his, and one of pop music’s, greatest albums, “Sign ‘O’ The Times.” Time has flown by. At the time I was gearing up for my ‘O’ levels. And I did disastrously. I only passed four of them. And as for my maths exam, well, I was convinced it was in the afternoon, and turned up around lunch to find my classmates asking where I was for the maths exam. Twenty years that has seen me do ‘A’ levels, art college, university, several jobs, and a new career in a foreign country.
Twenty years. This is what it must’ve felt like to that previous generation when they were looking back at “Sgt. Pepper.” Like no time at all. But, at the time, for me, 1967 seemed inconceivably long ago. Perhaps mainly because I’d yet to be born, and the idea of music as being something other than just “those songs that come out of the wireless” wasn’t that old for me. I started buying records in 1980, I only knew the name of the she loves you yeah yeah yeah band when John Lennon died. Of course it felt like ancient history to me.
But, the past is the past. It’s gone. We can just look back and marvel at some of the great things it has gifted to us.
Like “Forever In My Life.” One of the finest songs that Prince ever made. And as my mate Mark pointed out, it’s one of the few songs where the backing vocals come before the lead vocal.
I put this mp3 here for those of you who’ve not listened to it for ages, and for those of you who’ve never heard it. Really, if you’ve not heard the album, get yerself down a record shop at the weekend. I can virtually guarantee you’ll love it.