Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band
A look at the background to the album, the “clues” for the urban myth that “Paul is dead”, the cover design and the stories behind some of the songs.
Released 1967: 1 June in the UK and 2 June in America.
The album spent a staggering 27 weeks at #1, with an initial run of 148 weeks in the UK and 15 weeks at #1, with an initial run of 88 weeks in America. It was the 8th British album and the first one to have the same tracks as its American counterpart. Although, the gibberish in the runout groove was not included on the American release, nor the dog whistle shortly before it.
This ground-breaking album was recorded on just two Studer J37 four-track recorders.
Yet another first for Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band was the inclusion of the lyrics on the back cover.
The album took a reputed 400 hours to record so there was a lot of hanging around. To alleviate the inevitable boredom, Ringo took up chess.
Two previous albums are accredited with influencing Sgt Pepper, the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds and the Mothers of Invention’s Freak Out.
PAUL IS DEAD
The album famously fuelled the urban myth that Paul was dead. Some of the supposed “clues” on the sleeve and the album are:
On the back sleeve, Paul is the only one with his back to the camera. His head is also lined up with the lyrics to the track Within You Without You.
Conspiracy theorists believe that the gibberish in the runout groove says “Paul is dead”.
Billy Shears is supposedly the person who took Paul McCartney’s place in the band. In the album’s opening title track, the line introducing Ringo Starr’s With a Little Help From My Friends says, “Let me introduce to you, the one and only Billy Shears and Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”
The myth persisted before and after Sgt Pepper was released. The January 1967 edition of Beatles Monthly denied that Paul was dead, after being involved in a car crash. The Abbey Road album had even more “clues”, including the funeral procession crossing the road and the parked VW car, with the registration 28 IF.
ALBUM CONCEPT AND COVER
Paul wanted a long name to suite the hippy times, typical names around this time included, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and It’s a Beautiful Day.
Paul McCartney conceived the idea for the album on a flight to London from Nairobi. Earlier, on the holiday in France, he had used a disguise to make travelling around easier and he thought how good it would be for the Beatles to be incognito.
The cover was produced by artist Peter Blake and his wife Jan Howarth, based on ink drawings by Paul McCartney.
Some people were slated to appear on the front cover but didn’t make the final cut.
Actor Leo Gorcey wanted $500 to appear on the cover. This was declined.
An image of Hitler was constructed and can be seen in some of the early images of the cover.
Gandhi was removed by EMI executives because they were afraid his inclusion would damage album sales in India.
There is a school of thought that the cover was inspired by the Mercblecket EP released in 1964. It’s believed that Paul McCartney was given a copy of the EP by one of the members of Mercblecket when they toured Sweden.
STORIES BEHIND SOME OF THE SONGS
Penny Lane c/w Strawberry Fields Forever – Double A-side
These were two of the earliest songs to be recorded for Sgt Pepper. Sadly, EMI was very keen to release a Beatles single and these two songs were chosen as the follow-up to Yellow Submarine. It was the first single since 1963’s From Me to You to miss the top spot. Engelbert Humperdinck’s Release Me deprived the Beatles of what would have been their 12th consecutive #1. If this had been a #1, they would have achieved 18 consecutive #1s, culminating with The Ballad of John and Yoko in 1969
Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – Paul
This opening track fuelled the fires of the “Paul is dead” urban myth. Billy Shears is supposedly the person who took Paul McCartney’s place in the band. In the album’s opening title track, the line introducing Ringo Starr’s With a Little Help from My Friends says, “Let me introduce to you the one and only Billy Shears and Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”
With A Little Help from My Friends – Paul & John
John and Paul wrote this song specifically for Ringo. The original version included the line, “What would you do if I sang out of tune? Would you stand up and throw tomatoes at me”. In the early days, the Fab Four told their fans that they liked jelly beans and were subsequently showered with them onstage during live performances. Ringo didn’t fancy the prospect of being pelted with tomatoes every time he sang the song.
Lucy In the Sky with Diamonds – John
When the album was first released it was thought that the title referred to the drug LSD. It transpired that the title was taken from John Lennon’s son’s painting of his four-year-old friend Lucy O’Donnell. Julian Lennon had painted a picture of her in school and called it Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.
Getting Better – Paul
When the Beatles set off on their first world tour Ringo was hospitalized with tonsillitis. His place was taken by Jimmy Nicol, who had previously played with Georgie Fame. Nicol was with the Fab Four for about a week. During that time, when he was asked how it was going he would reply, “it’s getting better”.
Fixing a Hole – Paul
Paul was outside his home when he was accosted by a gentleman referring to himself as “Jesus Christ”. At the time, he was recording Fixing a Hole and decided to take the guy along to the recording session.
She’s Leaving Home – Paul & John – from an inspiration from Paul
In February 1967 Paul read a Daily Mirror article about a 17-year-old girl who’d run away from home. He discovered later that it was Melanie Coe, a regular dancer on UK TV’s Ready Steady Go! On 4 October 1963, she had won a miming competition on Ready Steady Go! and Paul had presented the prize.
Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite – John
In January 1967 the Beatles were filming a promo for Strawberry Fields Forever in Knole Park, near Sevenoaks. John bought a Victorian circus poster in an antiques shop near their hotel. Printed in 1843 for Pablo Fanque’s Circus Royal. The poster was titled Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite. The majority of the lyrics were taken from descriptions on the poster.
Within You Without You – George
The only George Harrison penned song on the album.
When I’m Sixty-Four – Paul
Paul wrote the melody when he was about 15, 1957 or ’58, shortly after joining the Quarry Men. By 1960 the band was playing it as a cabaret tune when the amps broke down. He thought of it as the kind of music his father would have played.
A Day in the Life John – Paul – John
Taken from a Daily Mail story about the Guinness heir, Tara Browne, who died in a car crash in London. Banned by the BBC because of the line “I’d love to turn you on”, which was believed to be a drug reference.