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June 02, 2007

The Only Two Things You Need to Know About Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

Yes, yes. 40 years ago today and all that (here in the US, anyway; yesterday was the day in the UK). Look, everything you need to know about Sgt. Pepper's can be summed up in two points:

1. The album is ridiculously overrated.

2. If it were rated as it should be, not as it is, it would still be the greatest single music album of the rock era.

And now we're done. See? That was easy.

(Also: Personally? Abbey Road.)

Posted by john at June 2, 2007 11:45 AM

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John H | June 2, 2007 11:59 AM

It's significant for being the first to rely heavily on overdubbed tracks, making it impossible (at the time) to reproduce live. That fact alone makes it a great album.

But I agree, Abbey Road has better songs on it...

Jeff Hentosz | June 2, 2007 12:11 PM

Personally? "Penny Lane." Recorded at the same sessions as SPLHCB, but not included on the album. Idjits.

John Scalzi | June 2, 2007 12:15 PM

That's a song, not an album, Jeff.

J | June 2, 2007 12:17 PM

I like your assessment of the situation. Overrated, but still the best. Nice.

By the way, how could you not start this post (like all the other people) with the words "It was forty years ago today Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play"?

John H | June 2, 2007 12:18 PM

...how could you not start this post (like all the other people) with the words "It was forty years ago today Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play"?

Perhaps because it was too easy?

Chang, for rizzle. | June 2, 2007 12:21 PM


I'd rebutt except for the fact that I've fallen to the floor in apoplexy and my rage is typing this for me. And it's got a 50 word limit.

Jeff Hentosz | June 2, 2007 12:23 PM

My point. My favorite Beatles song — what would have been the highlight of the set — was originally only released later as a single (I think with "Strawberry Fields").

So there.

John H | June 2, 2007 12:44 PM

Actually, George Martin regretted not putting Penny Lane on Sgt. Pepper's. I think it would have fit better than LSD, which fits better with the theme on Magical Mystery Tour.

Elaine | June 2, 2007 12:53 PM

Listening to it right now.

Todd Jensen | June 2, 2007 01:09 PM

"Penny Lane" was not on Sgt. Pepper's for the same reason that "We Can Work It Out" was not on Rubber Soul and "Paperback Writer" was not on Revolver (in their British versions, anyway). EMI had this quaint notion that the songs from the advance singles should not be included on the accompanying LP. Maybe it was so that people would buy both; your guess is as good as mine.

Oh yeah, The Beatles (what everyone calls "The White Album")

Paul | June 2, 2007 01:17 PM

In an odd coincidence, Sgt. Pepper, and Abbey Road are the only two Beatles albums I own. Although I like them both very much, I prefer Sgt. Pepper. Mostly for the very reasons that msot people cite Abbey Road as being better.

Chuck | June 2, 2007 01:21 PM

Personally? Revolver.

Emily H. | June 2, 2007 01:22 PM


Just beautifully crafted pop songs, positioned right at the band's high point between "too fluffy" and "too hallucinogenic." Not a bad song on there.

Miko | June 2, 2007 01:33 PM

I agree with the first. The second.. uh.. well, maybe in the top 200.

John Scalzi | June 2, 2007 01:38 PM

As long as the soundtrack to Xanadu is not number one, we're good, Miko.

Kate | June 2, 2007 02:12 PM

Yellow Submarine

Sorry. I listened to that soundtrack over and over and over and over again. Even my kids love the movie and the songs, now.

"I've got a hole in me pocket."

Syd | June 2, 2007 02:15 PM

(Delurking briefly...)

I have to cast a vote for Rubber Soul, which I freely admit arises mostly from the fact it was the first non-kids'-music album I ever got. ;) But with goodies on it like "Norwegian Wood," "Girl," and "Michelle," it's not undeserving of a vote.


Doctor Memory | June 2, 2007 02:34 PM

If it were rated as it should be, not as it is, it would still be the greatest single music album of the rock era.

Dude, you are so fired. "Beggar's Banquet" "Let It Bleed" "Are You Experienced?" "Who's Next" Hell, "Rubber Soul" and "Abbey Road" -- all stronger contenders for that title, and there's probably 3 or 4 more than I'm forgetting due to under-caffination.

John Scalzi | June 2, 2007 02:42 PM

Dr. Memory:

You can't fire me, I quit!

(Fires up Journey's Escape, just to horrify the music snobs)

Chang, for rizzle. | June 2, 2007 02:51 PM

You know, you got me on the Loeb & Mitchell song. You further had me with the whole Buffett controversy.

And now with you Pepper heresy... it's like I don't even know you.

Bruce | June 2, 2007 03:24 PM


Journey, huh? Could be worse. Could be Boston :-)

(goes off to listen to the bootleg of Tommy live)

PixelFish | June 2, 2007 03:34 PM

I can concur, because despite the fact that my parents are the appropriate age to be Beatles fans, they were moderately lukewarm on them.....except for Seargent Pepper's, which got pretty solid airplay in our house growing up. I myself liked it at first because it featured Lawrence of Arabia on the cover. (I was a strange child, yes.)

Chad Orzel | June 2, 2007 03:38 PM

Put me down for Abbey Road, in part because it's the soundtrack to some of my earliest memories. The White Album has too much experimental filler, and Sgt. Pepper is a little too rough around the edges. They nailed it on Abbey Road, though.

John H | June 2, 2007 03:58 PM

Scalzi: (Fires up Journey's Escape, just to horrify the music snobs)

Don't let Justine hear you playing that. She's already given her opinion of them...

Gina Black | June 2, 2007 04:43 PM

Abbey Road has the most perfect musical transitions ever. It's a symphony.

JerolJ | June 2, 2007 05:37 PM

I can certainly see the argument for it being the greatest single album, even if it's not my favorite Beatles album (Abbey Road or The White Album). But to tell you the truth I played Led Zeppelin IV or Exile on Main St far more than I did any Beatles albums back in the day. I always went for the bands that rocked harder.

Dawno | June 2, 2007 06:14 PM

I'm with Syd on Rubber Soul being my favorite Beatles album. Abbey Road gets #2 spot. I was still in elementary school when they came out, but fortunately my parents had bought them and I heard them played a lot. We also got to listen to their numerous folk albums, Sing Along With Mitch, and Andy Williams. This could explain my very strange iPod library.

Michael Rawdon | June 2, 2007 06:47 PM

Yeah, Abbey Road!

It's been observed that Sgt. Pepper's isn't really rock music, I think by some oaf at Rolling Stone who feels that if you're not doing the Rolling Stones guitar-and-bluster thing then you're not really rock music, and if you're not performing live - which, by that point, the Beatles weren't - then you're really not rock music. Which is ridiculous, of course.

On the other hand, I like to think of Sgt. Pepper's as the album which launched the progressive rock subgenre.

Michael Rawdon | June 2, 2007 06:49 PM

(For which, I should note, I am forever grateful, being a big fan of prog rock.)

Kelly Norton | June 2, 2007 06:51 PM

I'm a metalhead and even I think the Beatles were the greatest band ever. I like Abbey Road best. And my favorite song by them would have to be Maxwell's Silver Hammer. I like the contrast between the happy music and the sick lyrics.

Eh Journey? Not so much.

Steve Buchheit | June 2, 2007 06:52 PM

Jeff Hentosz, I think "Penny Lane" was released as the B-side to "Strawberry Fields" in February 1967.

Abbey Road is much better, in my mind, but Sgt. Pepper changed the way music was conceived, made, and marketed. For that, it deserves the attention it gets, you know, if not for the fact that it's a kick-butt album that still has relevance.

The White Album (Dead Babies) has some better songs, but doesn't hold together as a whole, the same as Let It Be.

Steve Buchheit | June 2, 2007 06:58 PM

Oh, damn, I think I forgot to close that I tag. Sorry about that

Janet | June 2, 2007 07:12 PM

Who are they?

Kip W | June 2, 2007 07:35 PM

God help me, I love all the Beatles albums. Sgt Pepper's has always been a big favorite. Side Two (ask our parents about "sides," kids!) of Abbey Road is, indeed, one continuous bite of perfection. Revolver, Rubber Soul... all great.

Swell. Now I have to go listen to something inferior just to turn my critical facility back on.

Norayr | June 2, 2007 07:45 PM

Abbey Road is my favorite followed closely by Revolver and then Sergent Pepper. I have listened to a lot of different bands but The Beatles are the only band I never get sick of listening over and over.

CaseyL | June 2, 2007 09:32 PM

Sgt. Pepper changed the way music was conceived, made, and marketed.


It's not just that Sgt Pepper is consistently excellent music, or even that its songs and themes have become as much part of our cultural Gestalt consciousness as Shakespeare.

Sgt Pepper was also a leap forward in album-as-conceptual-whole - with framing devices, no less!; in how "rock music" was defined; in what rock songs could be about... and was even a milestone in album cover art.

An amazing piece of work.

Peter Burd | June 2, 2007 11:35 PM



Though I can sympathize with the Abbey Road supporters.

Oh, we're not voting?

Jeremiah | June 3, 2007 12:00 AM

I grew up listening to all these records. Sgt Pepper. Magical Mystery Tour. Oh man. 40 years ago my parents were in their 20s hehe.

Erbo | June 3, 2007 01:09 AM

My wife just reminded me of something...You know why Paul McCartney decided to do Sgt. Pepper's? Because he'd heard the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds album and was blown away by it, and decided the Beatles had to do something that could top it.

An Eric | June 3, 2007 01:25 AM

It's funny to me: I remember back in '87 when Rolling Stone did what must have been the first of their "Greatest List" feature issues: "The Best Albums Of The Past 20 Years" (now they've probably done hundreds of 'em, to less and less effect). Anyway, at the time they had Sgt. Pepper's ranked number one and Never Mind The Bollocks, Here's The Sex Pistols ranked at number two, and everyone agreed that this was utterly ridiculous - Sgt. Pepper's in first place, sure, but the Sex Pistols at number two, come on!

The funny part is that now that I'm older (and maybe wiser), it seems very clear to me that Never Mind The Bollocks is, in fact, the second-greatest rock album of all time and that Rolling Stone was completely wrong about Pepper's. I have no idea which album is the best album of all time, I just know it ain't Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Sorry.

For starters, it's not nearly as good as either Revolver or Rubber Soul (1965 was a very good year for the Beatles). It's not even as good as Abbey Road. It's not a record that's aged very well at all. Nor am I entirely convinced it's influence was ultimately as vital as often as it's made out to be: other albums released in 1967 that arguably cast longer shadows include The Velvet Underground And Nico, The Doors, Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, The Who Sell Out, and Are You Experienced?.

Nick Stump | June 3, 2007 01:54 AM

When I was young I didn't like the Beatles very much. I was listening to WLAC and trying to learn how to play like Muddy Waters and Howling Wolf. One of the great moments my life was playing a show with Wolf's guitar player Hubert Sumlin. He was my encyclopedia of guitar licks.

I like the Beatles better now, but still think they were in the right place at the right time and still think they're over-rated. They could write a good pop song but none of their records are in my top 20. Give me Link Wray, Captain Beefheart, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, and Monk. Those are my guys.

Tim Walters | June 3, 2007 02:00 AM

Seems to me that a record with two crappy songs right in a row ("Within You, Without You" and "When I'm Sixty-Four") followed by a merely OK song ("Lovely Rita") can't really be a contender for best ever, even if there is such a thing as "best ever."

Eddie | June 3, 2007 11:22 AM

Abbey Road as the best Beatles album, aye. I think there's another place you can look for the first concept album. Try Miles Davis and Kind of Blue. I know, it's not the way this is thought of, and it's jazz, not rock, but there you have it. As for rock concept albums, give me Dark Side of the Moon, and for concept albums period, Red Headed Stranger.

Todd Jensen | June 3, 2007 01:47 PM

Steve Buchheit said:

I think "Penny Lane" was released as the B-side to "Strawberry Fields" in February 1967.

"Strawberry Fields Forever"/"Penny Lane" was a double A-side single.

Ed | June 3, 2007 03:07 PM

Personally? Revolver and Rubber Soul fit nicely on one CD. It's great on random. Now that I gots an Ipod Beatles on shuffle is too cool.

Check out the Buddy Holly type Day in a Life that appears on this NPR story about Pepper cover songs. It's amazing.

Martyn Taylor | June 3, 2007 05:18 PM

Children, you had to be there. If you weren't there you'll never be able to appreciate the significance. The lunatics took over the asylum. It was a quantum change. Pepper was the line in the sand. Everything that came after was different to what came before simply because of Pepper. It transcends facile idiocies like 'Best Rock Album' - which everyone knows is the Stones' Let it Bleed. 'Good' is an irrelevant concept applied to Pepper. It is. That's all.

Compare it with the first shot in Star Wars. Whether or not it is any good is irrelevant. It changed things, and that is the significance..

Doctor Memory | June 3, 2007 06:18 PM

Scalzi: okay, I am officially terrified. See, on Friday night, I was at a party where the DJ was inexplicably playing Journey over and over again. I promise to never question your taste in music again!

Cassie | June 3, 2007 09:54 PM

Martyn Taylor is right. You had to be there. Abbey Road was a little splash after St. Pepper's tidal wave.

Rubber Soul is the best one anyway.

Rob Thornton | June 4, 2007 10:47 AM

I had to be there?

Bah. Time is the great leveller. I don't have to go to the 16th century to enjoy Shakespeare. And I'm definitely Rolling Stones over the Beatles.

IMAROCKER | June 4, 2007 05:33 PM

Greatest albums of all time:

Anything by The Scorpions, AC/DC or Def Leppard.

No doubt.

MikeB | June 4, 2007 06:29 PM

Indeed so - remember the days when "singles" and "albums" were separate productions? Unlike these day (stops to wheeze asthmatically) when an album is hastily consructed in a digital studio with minimum input from anyone who might qualify a a musician and then we have to suffer whilst almost every track on it gets "special promotion" as "the next great single from what's-their-name"


And Revolver gets my vote too.

Nick | June 5, 2007 08:15 AM

Surely it was sixty years ago... as it was twenty in 1967?

Will | June 5, 2007 09:25 AM

A friend told me this, at first I didn't believe him, but shortly thereafter I was kicking myself for not figuring it out for my self: The Beatles mostly sucked.
They really did.
I listened to them when I was a kid, I always heard them, never listened. The lyrics, the vocals and the music, just weren't good.

Andrew | June 5, 2007 02:46 PM

'Revolver' if we're doing Beatles records.

Personally, though? Greatest album of the rock era? Tough one. Really tough one. Let's say you're limiting this to the late sixties through to, say '75...

'Forever Changes' by Love, though, is in the discussion. Can't believe no-one's mentioned that yet. Led Zep IV. Pet Sounds, of course. Are You Experienced?, ditto.

Skip forward to the late seventies, though, and you start getting records like Wire's 'Chairs Missing' (criminally underrated), Joy Division's 'Unknown Pleasures', the Gang of Four's 'Entertainment!', nipping at the canon's heels.

But then you're into the tedious metarock discussion, and that, well, doesn't rock. (In twenty years' time, though, when we've got over separating out electronic music as this weird non-rock stuff, even the parts of it which are clearly more inspired by rock music than anything else, Boards of Canada's 'Music Has The Right To Children' will be on everyone's list between Kraftwerk and the Byrds. But that's another discussion...)

Miles Archer | June 9, 2007 12:51 PM

Growing up in the seventies, SGPLHCB was the dividing line between old music and current music. You could just tell. I had no idea who the Beatles were and didn't really like "Silly Love Songs" or anything else by some band called Wings.

Martin Wisse | June 10, 2007 08:34 AM

As Martyn Taylor said: Children, you had to be there. If you weren't there you'll never be able to appreciate the significance.

Once the boomers finally die off, we'll be able to actually rate music on merit, rather than on nostalgia for a long lost youth much less golden than it is remembered again....


fanofthefab4 | June 12, 2007 06:10 PM

This is to Will, I really can't believe or understand how you or your friend could say what you did about The Beatles,that they mostly sucked and that The Beatles lyrics,vocals and music weren't good. They are the most popular, and critically acclaimed rock group of all time even to this day! They are # 1 on critically Acclaimed Music.net which compiles all of the reviews from tons of different rock and music critics from decades. And the Recording Industry Association of America lists them as the biggest selling music artists ever.

Many other well known music artists still praise the brilliance of John Lennon and Paul McCartney as singer song writers. On a 1995 Nightline Beatles tribute show there were music artists from every music field of all ages black and white,there was a young black jazz musician,a middle aged black opera singer, the classical violinist Isak Perlman who says he plays his children,Bach,Beethoven and The Beatles,Steve Winwood, Meatloaf, and Brian Wilson. Brian Wilson said after he played With A Little Help From My Friends on the piano, and said he just loved this song and that he thinks Sgt.Pepper is the greatest album he ever heard, he said he feels John Lennon and Paul McCartney were the 2 greatest song writers of the 20th century. Brilliant classical composer and conducter Leonard Bernstein said this about them also. And when Elton John was interviewed on a 1991 CBS morning news show,he was asked who he musically admired and he said you can talk about your Rogers and Hammerstein,but for the quanity of quality songs that Lennon and McCartney wrote in such a short period of time, they were the greatest compoers of the 20th century.

Also as The 1992 Rolling Stone Album Guide says Paul McCartney was a remarkable bass player and they too called John and Paul the 2 greatest song writers in rock history. The All Music Guide in their biography of The Beatles says,To state the obvious they were the greatest and most influential act of the rock era and introduced more innovations into poular music than any other rock band of the 20th century.And they say they were among the few artists of *any* discipline that were simultaneously the best at what they did and the most popular at what they did. They also say as singers John Lennon and Paul McCartney were among the best and most expresive in rock.

The Beatles are also the most covered band of all time with everyone from jazz,classical,rock,pop,motown,and even heavy metal artists recording their great music. Last year there was a heavy metal Beatles tribute album called,Butchering The Beatles. And even Ozzy Osbourne has been a huge Beatles fan since he was a teenager. He said in a 2002 online Bender Magazine interview,that Paul McCartney is a musical genuis and The Beatles Are The Greatest Band To Ever Walk The Earth!

On an excellent web site called,The Evolution of Rock Bass Playing McCartney Style by Dennis Alstrand, Stanley Clarke,Will Lee,Sting,Billy Sheehan,George Martin and John Lennon all say what a great melodic influential bass player Paul has always been. He has been voted # 1 greatest bass player on 3 different polls,The Mister Poll of over 100 people,The Best of Everything site which has a lot of young people on it,and Rate Your Music. A guy who runs a Rolling Stones and John Lennon fan site also runs Keno's Classic Rock n Roll Review Web site and he has top 10 lists of different classic artists and what the fans voted next to them. He voted Paul McCartney # 2 Greatest Rock bass player,and Bil Wynman # 3. He voted John Lennon tied with Elvis as greatest rock singers,and the fans voted John # 1,he voted Paul # 7 and the fans voted him # 8. He voted John and Paul # 2 after Bob Dylan as Greatest Rock Song Writers and the fans voted John and Paul # 1 . The Beatles are voted # 1 Greatest Rock Group on an extensive music review site Digital Dreamdoor.com,and John and Paul are tied as Greatest Rock Song Writers. Paul is # 8 out over 100 Greatest Rock Bass Players Bill Wynman is # 95,Ringo is # 47 as Greatest Rock Drummer and Charlie Watts is # 53!

fanofthefab4 | June 12, 2007 06:46 PM

I had to add this information because my other post was already long, I have been a huge highly impressed Beatles fan especially a big John and Paul fan since I was 9, I got my first Beatles book for my 11th birthday and I had every album by age 13. I was born during the middle of their recording career too. The Beatles Anthology CD's went to # 1 all around the world 25 years after they broke up and a rock radio DJ said 40% of the people buying them were teenagers. The Beatles 1 CD also went to # 1 soon after it came out,30 years after they broke up,and many young people bought this too,and their Love album also went to the top of the charts 36 years aftet they broke up! There are over 2,000 Beatles fans on lastfm.com and there are mostly college age people on this site,The Rolling Stones only have 85 fans on there.And there are many young fans on Rate Your Music,and Beatles fan sites,and John Lennon forums,George Harrison.com and Paul McCartney fan sites.

There are also many music professors teaching Beatles courses at good universities. One of them is ward winning music professor and composer Dr.glen Gass who has been teaching a course on rock music and The Beatles since 1982. On his web site for this course it says the main purpose of this course is to get students to have a better appreciation of this extraordinary group and their remarkable recordings. Dr.Gary Kendal's Beatles course is the most requested at North Western University,and University of California has a Beatles course also. And a music professor with the last name of Heinonen at JYVASKYLA in Finland teaches a Beatles course.

There is a great out of print book,called The Beatles Recording Sessions by Mark Lewisohn which is a very detailed music diary of their amazing 7 year recording career. Many of their recording engineers are interviewed such as Norman Smith who went on to work with Pink Floyd,Ken Scott who went on to work with David Bowie,Geoff Emerick and highly impressed Beatles fan Alan Parsons who was one of their engineers on their last 2 albums,Abbey Road and Let it Be. And they all describe how truly innovative,creative and inventive especially John and Paul were in the recording studio. Just one of many very impressive examples, Geoff Emerick explains that when The Beatles were recording John's song I'm Only Sleeping in early 1966,George Harrison played backwards guitar the most difficult way possible even though he could have taken the easy way,and it took him 6 hours just to do the guitar overdubs! He then made it doubly difficult by adding more distorted guitar and Geoff said it was all George's idea and that he did all of the playing.
Eric Clapton said in a 1992 interview with George when they were on tour in Japan together and were asked what they admired about each other,that George Harrison is a fantastic slide guitar player,and he said other times that John Lennon was a pretty good guitar player too and he would have known since he played live in concert with John in John Lennon's 1969 Plastic Ono Band.

The Rolling Stones were big fans and good friends with The Beatles and The Beatles wrote one of The Rolling Stones top 10 hits,I Wanna Be You're Man in early 1964. Mick Jagger was at 4 Beatles recording sessions and Keith Richards was at 2 of them with him. When The Beatles were recording their song Baby You're A Rich Man in May 1967 Mick Jagger came just to stand on the sidelines and watch and listen to them record it. And Mick Jagger's name is on the tape box because he likely sang at the end verses.

Wil,I really don't understand how you or anyone can say what you did about their vocals also. John Lennon had such a uniuque strong beautiful singing voice, just listen to This Boy esprcially the middle part,and If I Fell,I'll Be Back,In My Life,Ticket To ride etc, and his great rock vocals on The Beatles cover on Money,Rock and Roll Music and of course Twist and Shout. And on so many of his own great rockers,his great rocker from early 1964,You Can't You That,etc later on Come Together,Revolution,and so many on The white album and in his solo career. Paul McCartney also always had a very good sounding great love song and rock voice and a great range sometimes going from the love song voice to the rock voice in the very same song!

fanofthefab4 | June 12, 2007 09:10 PM

I want to thank you John for posting my two long posts! Believe or not I have a little more to add. I forgot to mention that John and Paul are in both the song writing Hall of Fame and The Vocal Group Hall of Fame too. Also Bob Dylan in a recent Rolling Stone anniversary issue said he is in awe of Paul McCartney and he said he's the only one he's in awe of. He said he's in awe of Paul's talent as a singer,music composer,his melodies and that he can play any instrument. He said there were no better singers than John Lennon and Paul McCartney.

Also, Paul McCartney has always been mostly a *musical* genuis more than a lyric genuis. He has written great lyrics but he doesn't usually and he doesn't have to because even when his lyrics were great thats not what was so great about the songs it's always his *music*. Paul inherited his father's natural musical talent to the extreme. Paul's father Jim McCartney was a naturally musically talented self taught accomplished jazz pianist and was the leader of his own jazz band called,Jim Mac's Band and they were popular in clubs in the 1930's. His father wrote some of his own instrumental music but he was not a poet. And Paul and Wings recorded one of his father's instrumentals Walking in The Park With Eloise on their 1976 Wings At The Speed of Sound Album.

fanofthefab4 | June 12, 2007 10:27 PM

Also, I found posts from over 40 former Beatles haters who are now big Beatles fans! I never communicated with these people but they wrote how they hadn't heard most of their music and that they had ignorant misperceptions about them.

And on a fan site for the rock group Yes called,Yesfans.com they have a topic going on from 2004 until a few months ago,Are The Beatles Overrated? 74 and half % of The Yes fans voted the first option,No How Dare You Question Their Greatness. And a guy recently posted on there saying what a stupid question,The Beatles Were The Greatest Band of All Time! Another Yes fan quoted him and said he agrees with excatly what he said. Another 29 year old guy quoted a post he had made over a year before saying he thought The Beatles were overrated and he said how lame he was,he now loves The Beatles!

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