The perennial discourse on which album – “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” or “Their Satanic Majesties Requests” – contributed most to the psychedelic sound of the sixties remains unresolved. Although both albums factored into the emergence, development, and expansion of psychedelic music as a credible genre of counter-culture rock and roll, “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” is by far the superior offering. That recording was destined to become the pinnacle of artistic achievement. In contrast, “Their Satanic Majesties” was doomed to be peppered with criticisms, labeled a deplorable counterfeit, a parody of a bona fide masterpiece, or, at best, a fragmented curiosity piece that continues to baffle pundits and critics.
Comparisons between The Beatles and The Rolling Stones have traversed the long and winding road of time. The Beatles were the loveable, merry mop-topped, Mersey-beat minstrels from Liverpool that captured the hearts of a grieving nation some three months after that tragic autumn afternoon in Dallas. The Rolling Stones, on the other hand, represented the Beatles’ provocative mirror image.
The similarities between “Sergeant Pepper’s” and “Their Satanic Majesties” go beyond the music. Both albums are drenched with “Flower Power” and psychedelic experimentation. For The Beatles, “Sergeant Pepper’s” denoted a change to their music. By 1967, lyrical euphemisms for recreational drug use and sex have replaced the innocence of “She Loves You” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” Likewise, The Rolling Stones experimented with diverse instrumentation on “Their Satanic Majesties.”
Michael Cooper photographed the covers for both albums. For that reason, both covers contain uncanny similarities, as if both bands enjoyed tweaking each other’s noses. For example, the “Sergeant Pepper’s” LP cover shows a Shirley Temple doll wearing a sweatshirt with the words “Welcome The Rolling Stones, Good Guys” written on it. Similarly, miniature images of The Beatles are clandestinely contained within the album cover to “Their Satanic Majesties.”
Notwithstanding the similarities between both efforts, “Sergeant Pepper’s” has enjoyed greater notoriety, success, and popularity. The Beatles composed the definitive conceptual album that bridged music and art. At that time, The Rolling Stones lacked the direction, focus, and the ambition to become an iconic, mesmerizing force destined to impact society the way The Beatles had done.
“Their Satanic Majesties Requests” clearly demonstrated that The Rolling Stones were capable of being more than a gritty rhythm and blues band. That album gave western civilization a “sneak peek” into world music. In that context, “Their Satanic Majesties” was ahead of its time. Unfortunately, the absence of focus, commitment, and direction caused “Their Satanic Majesties Requests” to be egregiously incoherent.
In June 1967, “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” introduced the world to “The Summer of Love.” It is the locomotive that pulled the psychedelic love train through the hot, tumultuous summer of 1967. “Sergeant Pepper’s” allowed the Beatles to expand their musical horizons, to go beyond the “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah” of Mersey, mop-top yester-year.
“Their Satanic Majesties Requests” is the drug-infused, embarrassingly disjointed caboose to “Pepper’s” psychedelic love train. If The Rolling Stones were more disciplined, less blithe, and had included more meaningful songs on their album, then “Their Satanic Majesties Requests” may have been “Pepper’s coal tender.” After “Majesties,” The Rolling Stones returned to their musical roots; they never ventured down “Pepper Lane” again.
John Di Genio