Interview: Scott Freiman on ‘Deconstructing the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper Album’

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CHICAGO – Scott Freiman is an entrepreneur, producer, composer and musicologist, and turned his primary passion – painstakingly delving into the song production techniques of The Beatles – into a series of lectures called “Deconstructing The Beatles.” He has turned those lectures into films, and “Deconstructing The Beatles Sgt. Pepper Album” will screen in Chicago at area Landmark Cinemas on February 6th, 2017.

The 50th anniversary of the release of the album “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band” will be June 1st, 2017, and the record marked a crossover of sorts for the Fab Four, from the mop-top image of their early career to the introspective studio musicians in the second half of their collaboration. John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr had just finished their last live show in August of 1966, and launched Sgt. Pepper amid rumors that they were finished as a band. “Pepper” was universally popular, and was the number one album in the U.S. for 15 consecutive weeks in 1967, and has sold 32 millions copies worldwide since its release. Rolling Stone Magazine named “Sgt. Pepper” NUMBER ONE in their “500 Greatest Albums of All Time” tribute issue in 2003.

Scott Freiman of ‘Deconstructing The Beatles Sgt. Pepper Album’
Photo credit: Abramorama

Scott Freiman began presenting his deconstructions in living room lectures for fellow Beatle enthusiasts. He expanded the popular talks to colleges and other ventures as formal presentations, and has filmed the lectures in the last couple of years. In “Deconstructing The Beatles Sgt. Pepper Album,” Freiman goes song-by-song, from the title track through “A Day in the Life,” and explores how producer George Martin, engineer Geoff Emerick and the four members of The Beatles produced – with 1967 technology – a pop music masterpiece. Freiman talked to regarding the lecture and the film to preview the Chicago screening. I find that every story about this particular moment is unique. As a second generation Beatles fan, what and why was your first exposure to the band, and what was your first album?

Scott Freiman: My first exposure came from my ex-hippie uncle, who invited to his house and said ‘enough of all this classical and Broadway music you’re listening to, let me show you what rock ‘n roll is about.’ He put the ‘Sgt. Pepper’ album in front of me, and explained about the pot plants on the cover and why Paul was dead [a rumor around the release of the album]. So my first introduction was of the album cover, and I was so fascinated that I delved into music and it was completely wild to me.

I started with Pepper, ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ and ‘The White Album.’ As I kept learning about the band, I realized that the British releases were the true records [up to Sgt. Pepper, the American releases had different songs and song order]. I had cousins in Britain, and every year they would visit, and bring me a Beatles album from there. I was a stickler from the beginning to get the authentic British records. What album or event in your music career piqued your interest in studying the methods in which the Beatles recorded their music, and how did it evolve to the lectures?

Freiman: I started as a musician, but as a second career I started working in music production and started a label and a studio. Then I went back to some of my Beatle production books, and began pairing that knowledge with the outtakes and alternative I had collected. I started lecturing in my living room for friends, and started with Sgt. Pepper. They told me I should do something with those talks, and that’s when I expanded to colleges and theaters. What pleases you about the youngest Beatle fans, born far after the band existed, and what are they asking in your lectures?

Freiman: It’s great, because so many teenagers just naturally grow up hearing The Beatles music – they love it, but they don’t have the history or context. They are a ‘single song’ generation rather than album listeners, much like the early days of rock ‘n roll in the 1950s when they released separate songs rather than albums. So when the younger folks, including college kids, start to understand the history and context of the songs, and how much work went into the production with such technological limitations, it opens their eyes on how The Beatles created these new horizons in music. In this age where anybody can produce a decent album in their home, what revelations do you think the younger kids gain?

Freiman: Well, I challenge them, since most of them have had access to Pro Tools and 250 track possibilities. I tell them to write a song and limit it to four tracks as an exercise, and experience it in how it changes the way they work. It challenges them to make decisions that are too easy to put off when you have the unlimited capability of today. That is a different way of working, the way that The Beatles did it, and it’s something that is lost in a lot of music today.

’Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band,’ Released by The Beatles on June 1st, 1967
Photo credit: Capitol Records Of all the songs on Pepper – besides the opening and reprise – what song do you think represents Paul McCartney’s original notion of Sgt. Pepper’s band being a cover for the responsibility of being a Beatle?

Freiman: It interesting, because the concept of them being ‘someone else’ went by the wayside very quickly in the process of creating the album. Other than the opening title track, and ‘With a Little Help from my Friends,’ the concept became a shift into different musical styles and characters. You go from the circus to India to a music hall, that’s the voyage of the album. It did accomplish what Paul wanted, which was to break them out of doing things the same, but they’d already been doing that for awhile. I think a lot of people forget how young The Beatles were when they invented this new way of taking a band into the studio. What factors of their youth do you think contribute to Sgt. Pepper?

Freiman: It’s a great point to bring up because not only were they young, but their production team led by George Martin and Geoff Emerick were also young. Emerick was 19 years old when he began working with The Beatles. They were able to come up with these crazy ideas because they were young, experimental and there were these amazing things happening around them. London was avant-garde at the time, and they were involved in it, and wanted to do new things. Their engineer and producer was right with them, and helped to break the rules of Abbey Road Studios to get it done. You cite a quote about the universality of Sgt. Pepper after it was released. What do you think we’ve lost as a society without the binding element of shared entertainment culture?

Freiman: Well, there is no focus on waiting for another album from a particular group, as so many did in the days of The Beatles. We’ve gotten so micro-niched, and people tend to stick with the niches that they like. Back in the 1960s, radio stations would play Miles Davis, then maybe the Grateful Dead, and then The Beatles, and it exposed music fans to different styles, without the bubble that music listeners can get into today. I think it discourages different and creative music. And I think the most popular artists today are the ones that listen to and blend all these styles to create new sounds with them. What song or songs do you cite when drummers or other musicians dismiss Ringo Starr as the weak link in the band?

Freiman: I have a few examples that I play, where I hope to make the point that his drumming was key to their performance. It’s harder to explain how important it is to have a strong backbeat and a steady drummer. In the lecture, I play the first version of “A Day in the Life,’ in which Ringo is still figuring out what to do with this moody John Lennon song. He’s tentatively trying out things. Then in the next take, he has it figured out, with perfectly place tom-tom fills that all of a sudden takes the song to a completely new place. It’s not flashy but it’s always appropriate, that’s why Ringo was so good. He could do this kind of stuff where is doesn’t distract from the song, but how is supports what everyone else in the band is doing. Where were you on December 8th, 1980, and what do you think the culture lost without the coming together of The Beatles again, because of Lennon’s assassination?

The Beatles Release the Album in 1967
Photo credit: Apple Corp.

Freiman: I was at Yale University as a Freshman back then, and I found out while heading to my music composition class. Appropriately, we spent that whole class analyzing The Beatle’s song, ‘If I Fell.’ It was a shock, because I feel that Lennon as a performer had a lot more in him. I also think that he was a chameleon, because he got bored very quickly, and I would have loved to seen how he would have grown within the evolution that has occurred in music production.

Paul McCartney, I believe, has done an amazing job of trying different things over the years, even as some have worked and some haven’t. But I think his catalog will be reassessed as we move forward in time, and people will look at these solo songs as brilliant pieces of music. Lennon, alternatively, never got the opportunity to explore like this because his death, but I think he would have done that as well. What did you think of ‘The Beatle Anthology’ recordings of “Free as a Bird” and “Real Love” – thumbs up or should that have left well enough alone?

Freiman: I like them very much, if you look at them in the right light. I think you have to look at it as a summary of what the band stood for, the little character touches that define The Beatles sound, and everyone is performing on the record. It’s not up there with their top material, but it was a nice gesture as a postscript to their work, and a nice tribute to John Lennon. That was something the three of them never got to do as a group, and this was the band thanking one of their own. Many people are upset about the election of Donald Trump as president. What Beatles song or songs would you suggest as music therapy for them?

Freiman: I’m asking myself that very question these days. [laughs] The Beatle song written by John, ‘Revolution,’ is very interesting, and has been misinterpreted. He has said – regarding the meaning of the song – is that revolutions are great but you have to be careful what you wish for…just because you think you’re throwing something out, there has to be consideration as to what the replacement is.

If you remember the 1960s, and the turmoil of the era, the silver lining to the current situation is that we might get some really good music out of it. As John saw back them, there was chaos and protest, and rightly asked how do we change this system? In ‘Revolution,’ John was pointing this out, be wary of what looks like change, and pay attention to it, as much as you’re throwing anything out there.

“Deconstructing The Beatles Sgt. Pepper Album” will be screened on Monday, February 6th, 2017, at the Landmark Century Centre Cinema – 2828 North Clark Street, Chicago, and the Landmark Renaissance Place Cinema – 1850 Second Street, Highland Park, Illinois. For more information click here. For a complete schedule of screenings around the country, including the ‘Deconstructing The Beatles White Album’ at Chicago’s Music Box Theatre in March, click here. senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Writer, Editorial Coordinator

© 2017 Patrick McDonald,

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