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The Beatles Songs: "Sgt. Pepper"s Lonely Hearts Club Band"

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

Written by: Paul McCartney (100%)
(credited as Lennon-McCartney)
Recorded: February 1-2, March 3 and 6, 1967 (Studio 2, Abbey Road Studios, London, England)
Mixed: February 2 and March 6, 1967
Length: 2:02
Takes: 9


John Lennon: harmony vocal
Paul McCartney: lead vocal, lead guitar (1965 Epiphone E230TD(V) Casino), bass guitar (1964 Rickenbacker 400IS)
George Harrison: lead and rhythm guitar (1965 Epiphone E230TD(V) Casino)
Ringo Starr: drums (1963 Black Oyster Pearl Ludwig)
James W. Buck, Neil Sanders, Tony Randall, John Burden: French horns

Available on: (CDs in bold)

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (UK: Parlophone PMC 7027, PCS 7027; Capitol (S)MAS 2653; Parlophone CDP 7 46442 2)
The Beatles 1967-1970 (UK: Apple PCSP 718; US: Apple SKBO 3404; Apple CDP 7 97039 2)
Yellow Submarine (songtrack) (Capitol/Apple CDP 7243 5 21481 2 7)


The title track to what many consider to be their magnum opus, "Sgt. Pepper" was composed by Paul well after work began on the band's latest album. Pepper, the LP, was originally envisioned as a concept album about revisiting one's childhood, which led to the single released that spring, "Strawberry Fields Forever / Penny Lane." But when McCartney came up with this song, it immediately set the tone for the rest of the work.

Several different sources served as inspiration for this track: while flying home to England from an African holiday in November 1966, longtime band associate Mal Evans innocently asked what the "S" and "P" stood for on the in-flight salt and pepper shakers. This led to the concept of a Sgt.

Pepper, which was fleshed out into the unwieldy title as a parody of American psychedelic bands and their ever-trippier monikers. During recording, road manager Neil Aspinall, noting that it was Paul who used to greet the audience after the first song during their stage days and then bid them farewell before the last song, suggested that the fake "band" welcome the listeners in the first song and then say goodbye at the end -- leading directly to the creation of the minute-long "Reprise" just before "A Day In The Life."

Composed just before the recording date of February 1, 1967, "Sgt. Pepper" was a simple and relatively short song, and was therefore arranged and performed in one session. The vocal tracks were completed the following day, and in keeping with McCartney's concept of the pseudo-group as a sort of psychedelic marching band, four French horns were added on March 3 (with John Burden transcribing Paul's vocal lines into an actual chart), along with a lead guitar intro from George and a spontaneously added lead from Paul that begins during the last verse ("I don't really want to stop the show").

On March 6, work was completed with producer George Martin dubbing in crowd sounds at Paul's request: the opening crowd noise (and laughter in the bridge) were taken from a 1961 Martin recording of a London performance by Beyond The Fringe, Dudley Moore and Peter Cook's highly influential comedy duo. The orchestral tuning up noises were added from the actual rehearsals for "A Day In The Life," while the screaming when "Billy Shears" is announced was dubbed in from an actual recording of the Beatles themselves at the Hollywood Bowl in August 1965. (Remarkably, "With A Little Help From My Friends" -- the song that introduces Ringo as Billy -- had not been composed at this point.)

The reprise:

Road manager Neil Aspinall suggested that the fictitious band actually reprise the song at the end of the album, as if to end the imaginary "show," so on April 1, 1967, the band gathered to record a faster, shorter version of the song, known as "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)." Recorded in Studio 1 instead of the usual Studio 2, it featured Ringo on drums, John and George on their twin Casino guitars, and Paul on his Rickenbacker bass and vocals. Ringo overdubbed maracas and tambourine onto Take 9, to which was also added a Hammond organ part by George Martin. It features a rare half-step modulation up from F to G in order to segue into the home key of "A Day in the Life." Three seconds in, John can be heard in the background saying "Byeee!" Aside from a few vocal overdubs on "Within You Without You," it was the last song to be recorded for Sgt. Pepper.

  • Always up on new trends, the Beatles rocked harder than ever on this song, in part due to the influence of Jimi Hendrix, who had taken London by storm in late 1966. Three days after the Pepper album had been officially released in Britain, Paul and George ventured to London's Saville Theatre to watch Hendrix in action and were pleasantly surprised when he opened with a cover of "Pepper," rehearsed just moments before taking the stage! (Jimi included the song in many later setlists, and a recorded version exists from the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival.)
  • In 1971, fresh from the Beatles' acrimonious breakup, John recorded a scathing attack on Paul called "How Do You Sleep?" The song, which can be found on Lennon's Imagine album, opens with the line "So Sgt. Pepper took you by surprise / You better see right through that mother's eyes." This can be seen as John's resentment of Paul taking creative control of the band during 1967, which more or less started with this track.
  • The mono mix of this song features louder crowd and lead guitar noises than the stereo mix.
  • Paul, George and Ringo performed this song at Eric Clapton's wedding to Pattie "Layla" Harrison in May 1979.
  • This song was released as a US single in 1978, along with "A Little Help" on the a-side and "A Day In The Life" on the b-side.

Covered by: Parliament, Bryan Adams, Kelly Clarkson, Cheap Trick, Jimi Hendrix, Psychic TV, Bill Cosby, The Kid Stuff Repertory Company, Les Bidochons

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