The Beatles' 'Sgt. Pepper's' Turns 50: Carlos Santana on Why He Loves It, Joan Baez & Todd Rundgren on Why They Don't

The Beatles during a photocall to promote their 'Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band'.
John Pratt/Keystone/Getty Images

The Beatles during a photocall to promote their 'Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band'.

Carlos Santana owes a 50-year debt of gratitude to The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band -- specifically George Harrison's side two opener "Within You Without You."

"It was the only time I took an LSD trip that was getting a little scary," Santana tells Billboard, "and that song brought me back to a place where I knew at that particular moment what my place on this planet was and is. That song brought me from being scattered and into a fear ocean into a place where I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I could be a healer on this planet. I just knew after I heard that song I would land from this LSD trip into a place where I would have clarity the rest of my life.

"So I thank the Beatles, especially George Harrison, for Sgt. Pepper 'cause that song gave me a clarity, a sense of purpose and intentionality for the rest of my life."

Santana spent time with Harrison during subsequent years, of course, but he never told him that story. "We would just be drunk and singing all the time," Santana recalls with a laugh. "We never talked about stuff like that."

Drugs created something of a point of departure for fans' appreciation of the Beatles' experimental masterwork, which came out May 26 in the U.K. and June 1 in the U.S. and is being celebrated with the release of a newly remastered and expanded edition. Todd Rundgren, a Fab Four devotee and long-serving member of Ringo Starr's All Starr Band, recalls being "a little put off" when the album first came out, especially after being enamored with its predecessor, 1966's Revolver and still preferring it to Sgt. Pepper's.

"I thought there was some up and down stuff on it. It didn't seem to me as taut as some of their previous records," Rundgren notes. But he soon came to learn that tunefulness wasn't necessarily the best way to judge Sgt. Pepper's. "I didn't take any drugs in those days," he recalls, "but everybody I knew said, 'Oh, you've got to get high and listen to this' or 'You've got to drop acid and listen to this,' so I felt there was something I wasn't getting out of the record because I wasn't taking drugs. There are great things about it, but to me it's more of a culture artifact than anything. It's the thing that made everybody want to take acid."

Similarly, Joan Baez didn't connect as deeply with Sgt. Pepper's because of her own inexperience with substances. "I was already well into the Beatles, but I never took drugs so there's a distance between a lot of what people wrote and did in those years and my pristine little self," the newly minted Rock and Roll Hall of Famer explains. "My little self missed out on a lot of stuff, but I certainly knew the Beatles and I knew about their transition from being Liverpool kids to being fairly sophisticated in the, shall we say, Western ways of the culture we were then. I remember 'Norwegian Wood,' everybody was like, 'oh, he was high when he wrote that.' It was a big deal. And (Sgt. Pepper's) too. I guess I wasn't on quite the same trip."


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