Billy Shears

Billy Shears

Twenty years ago my parents purchased me a CD player for Christmas. It was a rectangular plastic black box that housed a single CD, played analog tapes as well as recorded CD’s to tape, tuned-in the radio, and was portable—what at the time some called a “boom box,” though I doubt the kids use that talk any longer.

Prior to this I’d used the family CD player in the living room. This was stocked with some albums that in retrospect are embarrassingly bad pop schmaltz, though at the time they were all that was available, and thus I listened to them eagerly: Richard Marx, Bryan Adams, Garth Brooks, the Last of the Mohichans soundtrack. But now, with my new CD player, I was free to hole up in my own room, alone, with my very own music. 

Along with the stereo came a couple CD’s, the only one of which I clearly remember is Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles. Although I knew some of their songs from the radio, this was my first full-length album, and it was a doozy. On it I found sounds I’d never before heard: the somehow-melodically nasal hum of the sitar, the fish-gulping bass of the tabla drums, and lyrics seemingly riffed directly from Lewis Carroll.

Yesterday I was picking through the bins at my local record store when I came across a copy of Sgt. Pepper’s. I generally avoid purchasing vinyl albums I already have on CD or digital, but I held it in my hands and couldn’t resist. It’s on now as I write: a near-mint copy, with only a few cracks and crinkles that frankly, to my ears, make it sound fuller and more vibrant.

I hadn’t listened to the album in years, but as soon as the needle clicked down the sounds flooded over me rich as a remembered dream. Soon I found myself ringing the bell in time to “When I’m 64,” directing the kazooing strings that whoosh on “Lovely Rita,” clearly imagining the heartbroken parents of the girl who slipped away on “She’s Leaving Home,” and filling in the background panting on “A Day in the Life.”

Over the years I’ve received some Christmas presents that left me scratching my head, frustratedly wondering, Don’t you people even know me at all?? But Sgt. Pepper’s was a great Christmas gift from my parents twenty years ago, and it’s a great Christmas gift to my-self now.

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