The Beatles

Yep, The Beatles Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is reissued on May 26, a whole 50 years after it was first released. But while you and your pals inevitably argue about the merits of The Beatles’ eighth album, why not, erm, “pepper” the conversation with these 50 fun facts – intriguing, amazing, baffling and – sometimes – downright useless! What else are we going to do? Review it? There’s no point; you probably already know all the songs. But what you may not know is...

  1. The concept of an alter-ego band was Paul McCartney’s idea. In John Lennon’s words (1980): “Sgt Pepper is Paul, after a trip to America and the whole Western Coast, long-named group thing was coming in. You know, when people were no longer The Beatles or The Crickets - they were suddenly Fred and His Incredible Shrinking Grateful Airplanes, right? So I think he got influenced by that and came up with this idea for The Beatles.”
  2. McCartney says he decided on the idea while on a flight back to London from Kenya in November 1966. He decided he wanted to write a song about a military band in the Edwardian era.
  3. The Beatles played Canada in ‘64, ‘65 and 1966: a police officer assigned to their entourage in Toronto one of those years was one Sergeant Randy Pepper. Apparently. It’s definitely true, though, that McCartney’s jacket has an O.P.P. (Ontario Provincial Police) patch on its left arm.
  4. Work began on the LP in Autumn 1966. The album was finally released on June 1, 1967.
  5. Sgt Pepper was the first album ever to be released simultaneously around the world. It was also the first Beatles album to have the same track-listing for both the U.K. and US versions. It varied in other territories (particularly the Far East), as some songs were banned.
  6. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was recorded using four-track equipment at Abbey Road Studios, London.
  7. The Beatles and George Martin agreed that they wouldn’t repeat techniques used on Revolver: no vocals through Leslie rotary cabinets, no “Tomorrow Never Knows”–style tape loops and no backward vocals or guitars. “On Pepper, it was like starting over from scratch, getting down to the individual tonalities of the instruments and changing them,” explained engineer Geoff Emerick. “They didn’t want a guitar to sound like a guitar anymore. They didn’t want anything to sound like what it was.”
  8. They also used a different room. Emerick explained: “Revolverwas done in Number Three studio, which is a smaller room. It was a dirtier-sounding studio acoustically.” Sgt Pepper was recorded in Number Two, a larger room. “Number Two is a brighter studio, and you can get cleaner tones.”
  9. Of the Beatles’ Gibson/Epiphone guitars used heavily, Lennon and Harrison played their Epiphone Casinos and Gibson J-160E acoustics; Harrison also played his Gibson SG. For his 6-string guitar parts McCartney’s used his own Epiphone Casino.
  10. The first songs to be recorded were “When I’m Sixty-Four”, “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane”.
  11. Famously, “Penny Lane” and “Strawberry Fields Forever”, were taken for the group’s first single of 1967 (a double A-side) after a demand for a new release from Parlophone/EMI. George Martin later described the decision to remove the two Liverpool-centric songs from the album as “a dreadful mistake”. The double A-side single even failed to reach the number one spot in the U.K.
  12. So, as it was to be released, the album's monumental closer, “A Day In The Life”, was recorded from January 1967; the second song from the album Sgt Pepper song to be taped. The third was the title track, which was first recorded on February 1 1967.
  13. The stereo mixing was done incredibly quickly. Engineer Geoff Emerick recalled, “We spent three weeks on the mono mixes and maybe three days on the stereo.”
  14. On previous albums, Paul McCartney always laid down his bass parts with the rest of the group, but on Sgt. Pepper, Emerick gave him his own track, onto which he would record his bass parts. They were later “bounced” onto other band tracks.
  15. On the title track, McCartney’s bass was recorded by DI (direct injection) into the mixing desk. It was the first time The Beatles had used this technique.
  16. “Jesus” was a studio guest for the recording of “Fixing a Hole.” In the book Many Years From Now (by Barry Miles), Paul McCartney explained: “A guy arrived at my front gate and I said 'Yes? Hello' because I always used to answer it to everyone. If they were boring I would say, 'Sorry, no,' and they generally went away. This guy said, 'I'm Jesus Christ.' I said, 'Oop,' slightly shocked. I said, 'Well, you'd better come in then.' I thought, Well, it probably isn't. But if he is, I'm not going to be the one to turn him away. So I gave him a cup of tea and we just chatted and I asked, ‘Why do you think you are Jesus?’ There were a lot of casualties about then.

    “We used to get a lot of people who were maybe insecure or going through emotional break downs or whatever. So I said, ‘I’ve got to go to a session but if you promise to be very quiet and just sit in a corner, you can come.’ So he did, he came to the session and he did sit very quietly and I never saw him after that. I introduced him to the guys. They said, ‘Who’s this?’ I said, ‘He’s Jesus Christ.’ We had a bit of a giggle over that.”
  17. The “Jesus” day was not at Abbey Road, as the studio was otherwise booked. The group had decamped to Regent Sound Studio at 164-166 Tottenham Court Road, London.
  18. The Beatles' normal engineer Geoff Emerick was unable to attend this “Fixing a Hole” session as he was an EMI employee. Regent Sound’s chief engineer Adrian Ibbetson took his place.
  19. George Martin plays a harpsichord on “Fixing a Hole”.
  20. John Lennon’s lyric for “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” is from an 1843 poster for Pablo Fanque’s circus that he bought at an antique shop in Sevenoaks, Kent while filming the promo film for “Strawberry Fields Forever”.
  21. For the promo film of “Penny Lane”, the Beatles filmed in London and Knole Park in Sevenoaks, Kent (again) over two days starting February 5 1967. For the later filming in Liverpool, the band weren’t involved.
  22. A TV commercial for Kellogg’s Corn Flakes initially inspired John Lennon’s “Good Morning Good Morning”.
  23. The BBC initially banned “A Day in the Life” because of the phrase “I’d love to turn you on”, claiming it could “encourage a permissive attitude towards drug-taking.”
  24. The BBC also banned “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” because of the phrase “Henry the Horse”, because it connected it to slang terms for heroin.
  25. McCartney’s title for “Getting Better” came from a mundane conversation with Beatles biographer Hunter Davies. Walking together on London's Primrose Hill, Paul simply remarked to Hunter how the weather was “getting better.”
  26. A newspaper story in The Daily Mirror was behind the song “She’s Leaving Home”. Paul McCartney came up with the idea after reading a story on February 27, 1967 (midway through the album’s recording) about a girl called Melanie Coe, who had run away from home aged 17. Coe had actually met McCartney in 1963 – the Beatle chose her as the prize winner in a dancing contest on ITV's Ready Steady Go!
  27. Paul McCartney wrote and sang the verse and John Lennon the chorus, while neither George Harrison nor Ringo Starr were involved on “She’s Leaving Home”. None of the Beatles play an instrument on “She’s Leaving Home”.
  28. “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” was not a reference to LSD, but took inspiration from a painting by John’s son Julian, brought home from nursery school in Weybridge. “What is it?” John asked. “It’s Lucy in the sky with diamonds,” replied Julian. Lucy O'Connell was one of three-year-old Julian’s classmates. She died in 2009, aged 46.
  29. McCartney originally wrote the tune for “When I’m 64” in the late 1950s - it was occasionally performed by the Beatles during their Hamburg shows as an instrumental. The added lyric was about his father Jim.
  30. McCartney plays a Lowrey organ on “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”.
  31. The crowd noises at the start of “With a Little Help from My Friends” had been recorded by George Martin during a Beatles concert at the Hollywood Bowl.
  32. The sound effects on “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” came from EMI’s tape library. George Martin remembered: “I knew we needed a backwash, a general mush of sound, like if you go to a fairground, shut your eyes and listen: rifle shots, hurdy-gurdy noises, people shouting and - way in the distance - just a tremendous chaotic sound. So I got hold of old calliope tapes, playing ‘Stars and Stripes Forever’ and other Sousa marches, chopped the tapes up into small sections and had Geoff Emerick throw them up in the air, re-assembling them at random.”
  33. Lennon’s lyrics for “A Day in the Life” were inspired by a newspaper story about death of Tara Browne, a young London socialite and friend of The Beatles and heir to the Guinness fortune. “Tara didn't blow his mind out,” Lennon explained. “But it was in my mind when I was writing that verse.” Browne died in a car crash on December 18 1966.
  34. Lennon also weaved in another story from the same newspaper: “I was writing the song with the Daily Mail propped up in front of me at the piano... there was a paragraph about 4000 [pot] holes in Blackburn, Lancashire.”
  35. The orchestral overdubs for “A Day in the Life” were recorded in Abbey Road’s huge Studio One. Forty orchestral musicians were hired at a total cost of £367 and 10 shillings. Paul McCartney acted as conductor.
  36. To close “A Day in the Life”, an ad-hoc choir was assembled for the recording of a hummed final note. But everyone felt it was not dramatic enough. The idea of a piano chord was eventually settled upon - using three pianos, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and (road manager) Mal Evans all played an E major chord. It took 9 takes. An overdub of two more pianos was added, as was George Martin playing a harmonium.
  37. The title track was originally going to be split into two parts, opening and closing the album. However, George Martin said the final chord of “A Day in the Life” was so final that, “it was obvious nothing else could follow it.”
  38. Pop artists Peter Blake and Jann Haworth “designed” the Sgt Pepper album cover from an ink drawing supplied by McCartney. The cover was art-directed by Robert Fraser and photographed by Michael Cooper. But all the Beatles had an input – see John Lennon’s sketch of the cover on auction in May at Julien’s Auctions.
  39. A Beatles tribute E.P., released three years prior to Sgt. Pepper by the Swedish brass band Mercblecket, featured artwork that was strikingly similar to the final Sgt Pepper cover. A plausible copy? Yes. Paul actually had Mercblecket’s Beats The Beatles record; it was given to him by a band rep when The Beatles visited Stockholm to play in July 1964.
  40. The collage on the front cover includes 57 photographs and nine waxworks. It was mostly Lennon, McCartney and Harrison who suggested the famous figures and their own personal heroes. Lennon (half-jokingly?) suggested Jesus Christ, Adolf Hitler and Mahatma Gandhi. It was too much. Jesus Christ was judged too soon after Lennon’s “bigger than Jesus” comments, the Hitler cut-out got as far as make-up but was wisely removed, and EMI/Parlophone said an image of Gandhi would cause printing problems in India.
  41. Albert Einstein and actress Bette Davies are there, but obscured in the final shoot (they can be seen it out-take photos). Actor Leo Gorcey was due to feature, but his agent demanded $400 for the still image from movie Angels with Dirty Faces. His image was binned for costs reasons.
  42. When Paul McCartney was asked why Elvis Presley was not on the album cover he said, “Elvis was too important and too far above the rest even to we didn’t put him on the list because he was more than merely a... pop singer, he was Elvis the King.”
  43. In the cover shoot, Paul and George wore the MBE medals they had been given in the Queen’s 1965 Birthday Honours. John, however, wore medals he borrowed from the mother of former Beatle Pete Best. Lennon returned his own MBE in 1969.
  44. The lyrics were printed in full on the back cover of Sgt Pepper - it was the first time this had ever been done on an LP.
  45. In 2008, the bass drum skin used on the front cover sold at auction for €670,000.
  46. The album cover art itself cost nearly £3,000, 60 times more than was normally spent at the time. Peter Blake was paid £200.
  47. The Beatles' first album, Please Please Me, cost £400 to make. The final recording cost of Sgt Pepper was estimated to be £25,000. (That’s circa £450,000 in 2017 prices... though that’s a lot less than the “guesstimate” of $13million (what!) for Guns N’ Roses’ Chinese Democracy.)
  48. John Lennon said he preferred The Beatles (aka “The White Album”). He said in 1980: “I don’t care about the whole concept of Pepper. It might be better, but the music is better for me on the double album, because I'm being myself on it...”
  49. Critical reaction to Sgt Pepper has sometimes been rather exaggerated. Famous U.K. critic Kenneth Tynan described it as “a decisive moment in the history of Western civilisation.” Oppositely, in 1988 when the Beatles were not so much in vogue, Melody Maker voted Sgt Pepper “The worst album of all time.”
  50. Ringo Starr once famously quipped: “The biggest memory I have of Sgt Pepper... is I learned to play chess.”