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When the album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band hit stores 50 years ago, on June 1, 1967, the record with the quirky cover photo represented a big change in tone for The Beatles — and, in doing so, captured the changing spirit of a radical time.

The group was “leading an evolution in which the best of current post-rock sounds are becoming something that pop music has never been before: an art form,” TIME wrote in a Sep. 22, 1967, cover story on the state of pop music.”‘Serious musicians’ are listening to them and marking their work as a historic departure in the progress of music — any music.”

Here’s the magazine’s description of how the album came together:

All that work paid off artistically. Composer Ned Rorem told TIME that it made The Beatles “colleagues” of his, “speaking the same language with different accents,” and conductor Leonard Bernstein compared it to the classical work of Robert Schumann.

It also paid off literally: according to TIME’s original report, the album sold 2.5 million copies in its first three months.

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