Photo: Inside cover of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

From A to Z: The Beatles’ ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ at 40

The Beatles
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
Capitol
26 May 1967

M

Martin, George: The Beatles producer throughout their career, he plays a major creative role in creating, performing, orchestrating and recording the songs and sounds of Sgt. Pepper.

McCartney, Paul: Paul became the principal leader of the group during the recording of Sgt. Pepper. In addition to writing and singing lead on “When I’m Sixty-Four,” Fixing a Hole,” “Lovely Rita,” “Getting Better,” “She’s Leaving Home” and the title cut, and co-writing (with John) “A Day in the Life” and “With a Little Help From My Friends,” he plays lead guitar on the title song. He also worked closely with producer Martin and engineer Geoff Emerick throughout the 129-day recording effort.

N

No touring: At the time they recorded Sgt. Pepper, The Beatles had gotten fed up with live performances and decided they would do no more touring and concentrate instead on recording.

O

Outtakes: John’s “Strawberry Fields Forever” and Paul’s “Penny Lane” were among the first songs recorded for the album, but George Martin and manager Brian Epstein, under pressure from EMI for Beatles product, decided to release the tracks as a two-sided single and took it off Sgt. Pepper. George’s “Only a Northern Song” was also left off the album because of its poor quality (it shows up on the soundtrack for the animated movie “Yellow Submarine.”

P

Paul is dead: Supposed “clues” to the rumor, or urban legend, that Paul McCartney died in a car crash during the recording of Sgt. Pepper and was replaced by a lookalike include: in “Strawberry Fields,” John allegedly says, “I buried Paul,” at the end of the song; the flower arrangement on the front cover suggest a funeral; in the band photo on the back of the album jacket, Paul is the only Beatle not facing the camera; lyrics on the album allegedly refer to Paul’s accident — “Wednesday morning at five o’clock” (the supposed time of the accident), “Nothing to do to save his life,” “He blew his mind out in a car, he didn’t notice that the light had changed.”

Q

Queen Elizabeth II: For the album photo in which The Beatles posed in their Sgt. Pepper costumes, George and Paul wore the MBE medals the Queen gave them in 1965.

R

Rolling Stones, The: The album cover includes a Shirley Temple cloth doll wearing a sweatshirt reading “Welcome The Rolling Stones, Good Guys.”

S

“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” (the song): A pioneering foray into what would become known later as “heavy rock” or “heavy metal,” this McCartney-penned number, which is reprised as a bridge into the concluding “A Day in the Life,” features Paul’s tough-sounding lead vocal, a raucous guitar break (by Paul, rather than George), ultra-powerful drumming by Ringo and the addition of four French horns.

“She’s Leaving Home”: Paul’s “generation gap” song, about a teenager who’s run away from a stultifying existence at home, and the parents who can’t understand why she left. The accompaniment is played entirely by a 10-member string section, with no rock instruments.

Starr, Ringo: The Beatles’ drummer does perhaps his most varied and sophisticated work on this album. He sings the lead vocal on “With a Little Help From My Friends.”

T

Tracks: Sgt. Pepper was recorded on four-track tape recorders at Abbey Road Studio, but through the use of dubbing and other recording techniques the band was able to use many additional tracks while constructing their songs.

U

Underwood, John: A classical viola player, he appears on “A Day in the Life” and “She’s Leaving Home.”

V

Vera, Chuck and Dave: Paul’s fictional grandchildren mentioned in “When I’m Sixty-Four.”

W

“When I’m Sixty-Four”: Paul wrote most of this jaunty, music hall-style number when he was a teenager in the early 1960s during the band’s sojourn in Hamburg, Germany.

“With a Little Help From My Friends”: One of the last true collaborations by the Lennon-McCartney songwriting team, this was Ringo’s featured vocal on the album, the one in which he’s introduced as Billy Shears. The lyrics reflect a spirit of unity among the band members, and the band’s sense of solidarity with the international youth counter-culture. The working title was “Bad Finger Boogie.”

“Within You Without You”: George’s sole composition on the album, it reflects his growing interest in Indian music and philosophy, particularly his view that modern society had become spiritually bankrupt.

X

XTC: The English rock band led by Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding was deeply influenced by the Beatles generally and Sgt. Pepper in particular.

Y

“Yellow Submarine”: The 1968 animated feature includes an outtake from Sgt. Pepper — George’s “Only a Northern Song” — and references to Billy Shears.

Z

Zappa, Frank: Paul referred to Sgt. Pepper as “our Freak Out,” indicating the influence of the 1966 debut album by Zappa’s band, The Mothers of Invention. And in 1968, Zappa and the Mothers released We’re Only in It for the Money, a parody of Sgt. Pepper.

Sources: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band CD jacket/booklet; The Beatles, The Beatles Anthology; Ian MacDonald, Revolution in the Head: The Beatles’ Records and the Sixties; Geoff Emerick and Howard Massey, Here There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of the Beatles; Mark Lewisohn, The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions; Philip Norman, Shout! The Beatles in Their Generation; George Martin, with William Pearson, Summer of Love: The Making of Sgt. Pepper; Paul Is Dead Web site; Carl Schonbeck essay, “Stating Points of View: Sgt. Pepper at 35″; Annie Zaleski, “Andy Partridge”.

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