Local Beatles expert Bruce Spizer’s new book celebrates 50th anniversary of landmark ‘Sgt. Pepper’ album

This story by Keith Spera in the New Orleans Advocate. May 18, 2017

photo by Rusty Costanza

Nearly 60 years ago today, Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play. The Beatles aren’t letting the June 1 milestone anniversary of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” pass without fanfare.

And neither is local tax attorney and Beatles expert Bruce Spizer.

He served as a consultant for the official 50th anniversary reissue of “Sgt. Pepper,” which will be available May 26 in various editions and includes a new, stereo remix by Giles Martin, son of original Beatles producer George Martin.

Additionally, Spizer has published “The Beatles and Sgt. Pepper: A Fans’ Perspective,” a 176-page, full-color, hardback collection of testimonials and essays about the landmark album’s impact.

He’ll sign copies of “A Fans’ Perspective” at the Prytania Theater (5339 Prytania St.) this weekend in conjunction with Scott Freiman’s multi-media presentation “Deconstructing Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” an “educational journey” which “explores the history behind the music.” Show times are 7:30 p.m. Friday and noon on Saturday and Sunday.

Spizer will host another book signing and discussion at the Jefferson Parish East Bank Regional Library, 4747 West Napoleon Avenue in Metairie, on Wednesday from 7 to 8:30 p.m.

In his view, “Sgt. Pepper” “is not the Beatles’ best album, and it’s not every fan’s favorite album. But it’s their most important album. It elevated rock music to an art form, and it wasn’t art for art’s sake. It was then, and remains now, a great listening experience.”

Spizer’s Beatles obsession took root as a child during the British Invasion, and never waned. All grown up as a successful attorney and accountant, he built an extensive collection of Beatles memorabilia, promotional items and first-edition records.

He also wrote and self-published eight well-regarded books that explore the minutiae of Beatles albums, singles and the advent of Beatlemania in exacting, extensive detail. Those books established his reputation as a fount of Beatles knowledge. He wrote the questions for a Beatles edition of “Trivial Pursuit.” He’s solicited to speak at fan conventions and on the news.

For the past decade, he’s also served as a consultant for Capitol Records, EMI/Universal Music Group and the Beatles’ own Apple Corps Ltd.

As part of his contribution to 2009’s “The Beatles: The Original Studio Recordings,” a 16-CD boxed set of the band’s remastered catalog, he traveled to Abbey Road Studios in London, where the Beatles originally recorded, to listen to the spruced up versions of albums he first adored as a boy.

“The remastering work had been done expertly by the Abbey Road engineers,” Spizer said. “My job was to be a last set of ears to make sure everything was as it should be.”

During those listening sessions, he discovered an historical oddity: Every song on the original 1963 British edition of the “Please Please Me” vinyl album played a second too fast. Apparently, the calibration of the mastering machine that transferred the music from the original tapes to vinyl in 1963 was slightly off.

A young Spizer would not have believed he was destined to play a small part in the creation of official Beatles releases. “If someone had told me when I was a student at Isidore Newman School that one day I’d be sitting in Abbey Road studio discussing a Beatles project, I would have asked what they were smoking. I consider it a tremendous honor and privilege.”

Last year, he wrote a 7,000-word essay about “Sgt. Pepper” that he intended to publish as a mini-magazine. But he then solicited testimonials from “Sgt. Pepper” fans, including the Monkees’ Peter Tork, Smithereens frontman Pat DiNizio, and Billy Joel, whom Spizer arranged to interview through a deejay at SiriusXM satellite radio.

Looking at all the material, “I realized we were talking about a book instead of a magazine.”

He’d previously believed he was finished writing Beatles books. “I’m going to say this is the last book, but I’m hesitant. People got tired of The Who’s farewell tours. If a project is worthy of me putting in the time and effort, I will.”

The 50th anniversary “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” will be available in several editions, including a single-CD stereo remix, a double-CD with a studio outtake of each song, and a lavishly packaged, 4-CD “super-deluxe” edition with additional, previously unreleased outtakes, video content, and a book documenting the making of the album.

For hardcore fans, the new stereo remix is the big news. In the album’s original 1967 mono mix, all instruments and voices are condensed and heard through each speaker. In stereo, sounds are separated into left and right speakers.

“In 1967, mono was the dominant format in the U.K.,” Spizer said. “George Martin viewed stereo as something for hi-fi freaks. He, the engineers and the Beatles spent considerable time on the mono mixes for ‘Sgt. Pepper’ but did not take the stereo mixes as seriously.”

Decades later, Giles Martin went back to the original four-track session tapes from Abbey Road to create new stereo remixes, guided by his dad’s mono versions. “He did it like his father and the Abbey Road engineers would have in 1967 if they’d cared about the stereo mixes and the technology was available,” Spizer said.

Having listened to “Sgt. Pepper” countless times, he believes the new stereo version is a tremendous upgrade.

In “With a Little Help From My Friends,” “you really hear the brilliance of Ringo Starr’s drumming. The drums are clearer than ever before. Paul McCartney’s melodic bass lines are beautiful. On the title track, Paul plays some stinging lead guitar, which comes through as well. George Harrison’s ‘Within You Without You’ sounds better than ever, especially the Indian instruments.

“This is the mono mix on steroids. To me, this is the way you should listen to ‘Sgt. Pepper.’ It’s an incredible listening experience.”

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