The Beatles: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band by Allan F Moore (Cambridge University Press, pounds 7.99)

thursday's book

Aiming to "provide accessible introductions to major musical works", the 36 monographs of the Cambridge Music Handbooks have been hitherto irreproachably high-minded. From Bach: The Brandenburg Concertos to Vivaldi: The Four Seasons, only once has the series dipped its toes in the murky waters of popular culture with Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue. Now, like a maiden aunt suddenly sucking on a spliff, it has taken the plunge with its first full-blown rock exegesis, a mere three decades after Sgt Pepper first appeared. It claims, rather oddly, to be "the first detailed study to be made of this or any other such album".

Of course, it had to be Sgt Pepper, though many pop aficionados rate Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys as a more significant achievement; and Revolution has come to be regarded as the finest of all the Beatles' records, despite the drawback of "Yellow Submarine".

Not only was Sgt Pepper a "concept" album (of sorts), it was replete with cultural references. The core of Moore's study is an in-depth technical analysis of the music. Fans of the Fab Four will be intrigued to learn, for example, that "Lovely Rita" has "a very strong sense of harmonic direction, traversing cycles of fifths either side of the tonic E". Dr Moore's keen ear also reveals non-musical elements: four minutes and 50 seconds into "A Day in the Life" he detects "the creaking of a piano stool (the first real intimation on the album that we are hearing real, lived time)".

Though he refers en passant to Beethoven and Dostoyevsky, the knowledgeable author does not avoid less exalted cultural associations. Reflecting on the range of influence on the Beatles, he notes that other bands shared the same eclecticism. We even find "such an avowed pop band as Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Titch producing pop pastiches of Greek and Latin `ethnic' sounds (`Zabadak' and `Xanadu') as early as 1965". He also suggests that the dream sequence of "A Day in the Life" influenced the "early 1990s UK advertisement for only the crumbliest, flakiest chocolate... In this way a musical sequence can assume a near iconic quality".

In Moore's conclusion, Schumann rubs shoulders with the Boo Radleys, Schoenberg with King Crimson. Sgt Pepper, he exuberantly affirms, marks "the paradigmatic shift towards a more flexible, less guilt-ridden appropriation and utilisation of musical materials". Ringo himself couldn't have put it better.

Christopher Hirst

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