It was 40 years ago this week that The Beatles released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in the U.S. Many critics think it’s the most influential album of all time. Rolling Stone ranked it number 1 on their 500 Greatest Albums of All Time in 2003.

Sgt. Pepper was considered the first “concept album” in the world of pop and rock. It had a coherent theme from beginning to end, unlike the albums that preceded it — collections of hit singles (or worse, one or two hits and the rest throwaway cuts). Sgt. Pepper paved the way for other great concept albums — like the The Who’s Tommy and Pink Floyd’s The Wall — as well as a bunch of not-so-great ones (like Chad & Jeremy’s Of Cabbages & Kings, which, I’m ashamed to admit, I bought!).

News of Sgt. Pepper’s 40-year anniversary grabbed my attention this week. So did two other items which suggest that digital technology has rolled us back to a pre-Pepper mindset, when the hit single was king…

“The convenience of digital music has made sound quality an afterthought” states the article Is hi-fi history? by Ron Harris of the Associated Press. Harris writes about the quality of digital audio files — “noticeably inferior to that of compact disks or even vinyl,” he says — and that fact that most users don’t care. So, sales of CDs and higher-end audio equipment are declining as users rip their current collections to put them on iPods and buy their new music online.

“I really can’t tell the difference between CD, tape and digital,” says one consumer. “I’d even accept a lower quality as long as it’s digital and portable.”

Then there was something I noticed when reading the music reviews in USA Today. Perhaps they’ve been doing it for awhile, but I first noticed yesterday that after each CD review, they suggest cuts to download and others to skip. In other words, selectively buy the best tracks, not the whole collection…

Just like we did when records were seven inches wide and had a big hole in the middle (i.e., the 45)!

This is good advice. We felt ripped off when we bought an album with one or two good cuts and the rest…trash. Sgt Pepper changed this. But 40 years later, he’s a relic of the pre-digital age.