I know "what if" threads are fraught with danger, but here goes. I think a lot about 66, especially after someone (when talking about Paul's "death" ) described it as their highpoint. But in many ways it was their nadir (some of these points I've raised before, so excuse the repitition). This is all from a 66/67 perspective. No hindsight allowed.
1. In the US concert numbers down (20% for Shea).
2. Paranoia, bad reactions and exhaustion force them off the road.
3. Paperback Writer worst performing (by Beatle standards) single since 63 (didn't go straight to #1 and "only" stayed their for 2 weeks.)
4. No followup single, so forced for 1st time to release album tracks.
5. Revolver was their worst performing album, and I think I'm right in saying it recieved only lukewarm reviews (no one seemed to understand their change of direction).
6. No traditional 2nd album, so forced to release another greatest hits package.
7. Constant rumours that the band was on the verge of splitting.
8. Next single first since Love Me Do not to hit number one.
It must have seemed at the time that the band were running out of steam and ideas. But then came Pepper, a new myth had been created to replace the Beatlemania and hey ho off they went.
Stop the clock. Paul doesn't come up with the Pepper idea. Release instead A Dolls House, with SFF replacing Sgt Pepper and Penny Lane replacing the reprise.
What do we have? Revolver part 2: an Indian track (WYWY), a horn based track (Good Morning etc), a Lennon freak out at the end, a social commentary song (She's Leaving Home for Eleanor Rigby) and a Ringo comedy song. It would have been no worse, but definately no better than Revolver. And no new personna. "Just" a band putting out an album of very good songs, but lets face it, by then so were a lot of people. It was good, but just more of the same. Could argue that the actual standard of music was, overall, inferior to Revolver
A lot of Peppers success (imo) had more to do with the supposed "concept" and the mystique it created than the actual music. Without that surge of popularity Pepper created, just when the band appeared to be near it's end. maybe the post Beatlemania story would be a whole lot different.