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A few years before he brought down a sitting president and a few decades before he exposed a front-running presidential candidate as a bar-exam flunkie, Carl Bernstein built up and tore down rock bands for the Washington Post as the paper’s rock critic.
He got a lot wrong while on that beat: In a July 1969 review, he lumped a young Rod Stewart and a younger Robert Plant together to trash them as a “latter-day version of blackface.” In his write-up of her Merriweather Post performance, he decided Janis Joplin at long last had gotten it “together,” not long before she overdosed for the last time.
But Bernstein the critic got things right, too. So, as every news organization furnishes some sort of “It was 40 years ago today…” package to commemorate the release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, it should be noted that back in the day, Bernstein nailed it, big-picture-wise. In his June 1967 review of the LP, using prose so flowery only a stoner editor would let it go to print, Bernstein warned readers that their lives would never be the same:
“In their latest album,” Bernstein wrote, “the Beatles have managed to create a musical infinity through a miraculous metamorphosis of dozens of Eastern and Western musical ideas, some centuries old, others from our own era and more than a few from the future.
“When combined with John Lennon‘s perceptive lyrics (and honed wit), the Sgt. Pepper metamorphosis becomes a wildly contemporary continuum—-structured pop music with a beginning, middle and end linked by riotous sounds, words, colors, images and musical tension. It is a bit fantastic, and certainly unprecedented.”
’Course, Watergate deniers and Hillary staffers (and anybody who would root for Paul McCartney in a Paul vs. John cage match) would want it pointed out that later in this same review Bernstein wrongly singles out “Lovely Rita”and “When I’m 64” as great examples of “Lennon’s rightly celebrated wit.”
Let it be.