All the successes of the past two years were a foreshadowing of the Sgt. Pepper album, which more than anything else dramatises the brilliance of the new Beatles. In three months, it sold a staggering 2.5 million copies. Loosely strung together on a scheme that plays the younger and older generations off against each other, it sizzles with space-age electronic effects and sleight-of-hand lyrics. Above all, it proves that the Beatles have flowered as musicians.
Now that the Beatles' music is growing more complex and challenging, they are losing some younger fans. But the new Beatles have captivated a different and much more responsive audience. "Suddenly," says George Harrison, "we find that all the people who thought they were beyond the Beatles are fans." That includes not only students, but parents, professors, even business executives. Indeed, if the teenagers once made the Beatles plaster gods, many adults now make them pop prophets, and tend to theorise solemnly about their significance. One psychiatrist has said that the Beatles "are speaking in an existential way about the meaninglessness of reality."
Not so long ago the pop scene was going nowhere, becalmed in a doldrum of derivative mewing of Negro music by white singers. Then in the early 1960's the Beatles, together with other British groups, revitalised rock 'n' roll by closely imitating its Negro originators. As the Beatles moved on, sowing innovations of their own, they left flourishing fields for other groups to cultivate.
Of all the vital and imaginative groups, none has so far matched the distinctiveness and power of the Beatles. True, their flirtation with drugs and the drop-out attitude behind songs like "A Day in the Life" disturbed many fans, not to mention worried parents. But although all four Beatles have admitted taking LSD at least occasionally, Paul McCartney has said, "I don't recommend it. It can open a few doors, but it's not any answer. You get the answers yourself."
When the Beatles talk, millions listen - and callow as their ideas sometimes are, the Beatles exemplify a refreshing distrust for authority, disdain for conventions and impatience with hypocrisy. Young people sense a quality of defiant honesty and admire their freedom and open-mindedness; they see them as peers who are in a position, and who can be relied on to tell them what they want to hear...