Why John Lennon Didn’t Worry About The Beatles Topping ‘Sgt. Pepper’

After The Beatles released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in May 1967, the glowing reviews started coming in and never really stopped. And though the Fab Four pretended to blow off bad reviews, they definitely enjoyed the critical praise for Sgt. Pepper that summer.

But — this being the biggest music act in the world — fans and critics wondered what would come next. Could The Beatles possibly top Sgt. Pepper? While they waited for the group’s next studio album, nearly everyone agreed the Magical Mystery Tour film wasn’t great.

By spring ’68, the band was promoting the new Apple Records and working on demos of songs that would appear on The White Album. And while appearing on The Tonight Show John Lennon and Paul McCartney fielded a familiar question.

“Do you think you’re going to be able to top Sgt. Pepper?” asked Joe Garagiola (filling in for Johnny Carson) at the Tonight Show desk. Lennon responded by saying he didn’t see why not — and that he didn’t think topping Pepper was terribly important, anyway.

John Lennon thought of the Beatles’ follow-up to ‘Sgt. Pepper’ as ‘just another LP’

Beatles 'Sgt. Pepper' publicity
THE BEATLES pose at the press call for the ‘Sgt. Pepper’ album launch. | Cummings Archives/Redferns

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Technically, The Beatles did release a follow-up to Sgt. Pepper with the Magical Mystery Tour soundtrack that hit record stores in late ’67. But that record consisted of repackaged singles and the equivalent of B-sides.

So everyone was waiting for the next big thing from the Fab Four –especially after the band’s highly publicized trip to India. Speaking with Garagiola on The Tonight Show, Lennon downplayed the need for the next Beatles record to top Sgt. Pepper.

“Well, you know, it’s the next move, and I can’t say ‘yes or no,’ but I think so,” he said. “Why not? ‘Cuz it’s only another LP really. It’s not that important.” As the years passed, Lennon took the same view of the Pepper album. He didn’t think it was the band’s peak.

“The Pepper myth is bigger, but the music on the White Album is far superior, I think,” he told the authors of Apple to the Core in 1971. And if you polled Lennon’s bandmates you would find agreement on Pepper’s place in the Beatles legend.

George Harrison and Ringo Starr were not in awe of ‘Sgt. Pepper,’ either

Beatles 'Pepper' release party
May 1967: The Beatles pose at a photocall for the launch of ‘Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.’ | John Downing/Getty Images

Since the band spent months in the studio overdubbing the various tracks on Sgt. Pepper songs, both George Harrison and Ringo Starr found their minds wandering during the sessions. In fact, Ringo, who had no compositions on Pepper, felt like a session drummer during the dates.

“[Pepper] is not my fave because we were using each other in a way — and being used, where you’d be the drummer on a record and then you’d have all the strings — it felt like we were doing sessions,” Ringo told Paste in 1977. Ringo said he enjoyed the White Album more because it was more band-oriented.

Harrison, who only had one composition on Pepper, agreed with Ringo’s assessment. “A lot of the time, it ended up with just Paul playing the piano and Ringo keeping the tempo,” Harrison said in Beatles Anthology. “For me it became a bit tiring and a bit boring.”

Though the White Album sessions included a lot of dark days for The Beatles, it also produced one memorable track after another (including four songs by Harrison). “I wrote a lot of good sh*t on that,” Lennon said in his ’71 interview for Apple to the Core. “I like all the stuff I did on [The White Album].”