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#ThrowbackThursday: “Penny Lane” by The Beatles

image via Capitol Records

By Sean Smith

Last Friday marked a major milestone for the iconic boys from Liverpool. On June 2, 1967, the Beatles released their eighth studio album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

In order to celebrate the 50th anniversary, The Beatles have released several anniversary editions of Sgt. Pepper. They have made available a one disc stereo mix of the album. Also available is a two disc set which features the original album in stereo, as well as a second disc of 18 tracks that include previously unreleased takes of some of the album’s tracks. That second disc also includes unreleased takes of “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane,” which were not included on the original album but were originally intended to be. Finally, there is also a six disc box set that also comes with a 144-page hardcover book, as well as a copy of the 1992 documentary The Making of Sgt. Pepper.

The re-release of the album has returned the Beatles to the charts as Sgt. Pepper has reached the #3 spot on the Billboard 200 album chart, selling 75,000 copies in its first week according to Nielsen Soundscan.

When Sgt. Pepper was originally released back in 1967, it debuted at the top of the album charts in the United Kingdom, where it stayed for 22 consecutive weeks. In the United States the album finally topped the album chart nearly a month after its release, where it stayed for 15 weeks. This is an even more impressive of a feat when you consider the fact that this was accomplished without an official single being released to radio at the time. This of course doesn’t mean that the album and its songs did not receive airplay however, The album’s tracks could be heard on the  airwaves across the world, and in some cases radio stations played the album from start to finish without interruption.

The Sgt. Pepper album was recorded in late 1966, just months after the Beatles stopped touring as a group. On their flight back from their last tour in America Paul McCartney told Ringo Starr, John Lennon, and George Harrison about an idea for a song he had. The idea was that the band would perform as an Edwardian era English military band. That original idea for one song  turned into the Beatles deciding to do an entire album in that vein. Many consider Sgt. Pepper to be a concept album (i.e. Jay Z’s American Gangster or My Chemical Romance’s The Black Parade), though the military band concept is not consistently present on the album from start to finish. However many critics have argued that the use of the military band concept was really more about giving the band a reason to experiment more with the sound of their music. That experimentation is without a doubt present on the entire Sgt. Pepper record.

Recording for the Sgt. Pepper concept began in earnest on November 24, 1966 at Abbey Road. The music was being produced by George Martin, who would experiment quite a bit with studio effects such as reverberation, pitch control, and dynamic range compression. The latter of which in layman terms essentially reduces loud sounds or amplifies more soft sounds. The George Martin led production of the album has historically been given credit for success of the album, and rightfully so. However, Martin did make what he considers to be one of the biggest mistakes he made in his career. That mistake. Leaving two of the first songs that the Beatles recorded for the album off of the final track list. Those two songs were “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane,” the latter of which is the subject of this week’s #tbt here on Clizbeats.

In February 1967, the Beatles released a double single with “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane.” Paul McCartney was the primary songwriter on “Penny Lane” though John Lennon contributed lyrics, specifically in the third verse. The song is one of nostalgia, and describes the area around the bus depot where McCartney would have to stop in order to catch a bus in Liverpool to visit Lennon and some of his other friends.

In Barry Miles book Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now, McCartney talks about the real life locations detailed in the verses of “Penny Lane” saying:

“It was childhood reminiscences: there is a bus stop called Penny Lane. There was a barber shop called Bioletti’s with head shots of the haircuts you can have in the window and I just took it all and arted it up a little bit to make it sound like he was having a picture exhibition in his window. It was all based on real things; there was a bank on the corner so I imagined the banker, it was not a real person, and his slightly dubious habits and the little children laughing at him, and the pouring rain. The fire station was a bit of poetic license; there’s a fire station about half a mile down the road, not actually in Penny Lane, but we needed a third verse so we took that and I was very pleased with the line ‘It’s a clean machine’. I still like that phrase, you occasionally hit a lucky little phrase and it becomes more than a phrase. So the banker and the barber shop and the fire station were all real locations.”

The reason why “Penny Lane” was released in February as a single was for a couple reasons. For one, the band hadn’t released a single for about six months and so their was a bit of pressure to put out something new pretty quickly. Secondly, the band was facing a bit of negative press thanks to John Lennon’s remark that “The Beatles are bigger than Jesus.” The idea was to try and use new music to push aside the fallout from the comment and change the conversation to the band’s new music.

So with June 2nd marking the 50th anniversary of the Beatles releasing their eighth studio album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, this week we remember a song meant for the album but was not included in “Penny Lane.” Enjoy.



The Beatles 

“Penny Lane”

Capitol Records