The Beatles’ ‘Sgt. Pepper’ Originally Received a Bad New York Times Review, Here’s How John Lennon Reacted

Today, The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is considered a classic; however, The New York Times’ original review of the album was largely negative. The New York Times’ Richard Goldstein only praised one song on the album. During an interview, John Lennon revealed how he felt about reviews at that time.

The Beatles' Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, John Lennon, and George Harrison standing in a row
The Beatles | John Pratt/Keystone/Getty Images

A critic from The New York Times said this was the only good song from The Beatles’ ‘Sgt. Pepper’

The New York Times’ 1967 review of Sgt. Pepper is less than flattering. Goldstein wrote the album was undistinguished with the exception of “A Day in the Life.” He also felt The Beatles wrote better songs during their folk era. Goldstein compared Sgt. Pepper to a spoiled child, feeling the album suffered from overproduction.

John Lennon said the Fab Four were ‘too big’ to care about ‘Sgt. Pepper’ reviews

In the book Lennon Remembers, Jann S. Wenner asked John what he thought of this review. “I don’t remember,” John answered. “Those days, reviews weren’t that important because we had it made, whatever happened. Nowadays, I’m sensitive as s—, and every review counts. But those days, we were too big to touch.”

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John explained why he didn’t read reviews at the time. “I don’t remember the reviews at all,” he said. “I never read them, and we were so blasé we never even read the news clippings. I didn’t bother with them or read anything about us. It was a bore to read about us. Maybe Brian [Epstein] told us or somebody told us about it, that I was great or lousy. I don’t even remember ever hearing about it.”

Wenner said the review was the first example of The Beatles getting pushback in the United States, a dubious idea considering the uproar over John’s “more popular than Jesus” remark from 1966. “Well, they have been trying to knock us down since we began, including the British press, always saying … The big joke, in crowd with us was ‘What are you going to do when the bubble bursts?'” John said. “And we told them, privately, that we’d go when we decided, not when some fickle public decided.”

How The New York Times reviewed ‘Sgt. Pepper’ in 2017

In 2017, in honor of the album’s 50th anniversary, The New York Times’ Jon Pareles published a retrospective review of Sgt. Pepper. Pareles said the album held up very well. He praised its adventurous quality. 

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Pareles briefly referenced Goldstein’s review. He said Goldstein was not entirely incorrect in saying Sgt. Pepper was cluttered. At the same time, Pareles was a lot more positive, and noticed the massive impact Sgt. Pepper had on music. While John wasn’t concerned with The New York Times’ review of Sgt. Pepper, The New York Times still cared about Sgt. Pepper five decades after its release.