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“SGT. PEPPER’S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND”
(John Lennon – Paul McCartney)
The songs of Lennon and McCartney had been expanding in lyrical content and style, especially from discerning their output of 1966. Jumping from the primary romantic scenario to any subject they well pleased, they now realized that they could use the medium of songwriting as a free artistic expression. They could write about lonely spinsters, paperback authors, psychedelic experiences, drug dealers, and even submarines if they wanted to. As to musical styles, they also seemed to touch base with any genre they desired to tackle – straight-ahead rock, ballads, children’s songs, classical, Indian, and even rhythm-and-blues.
So, with this “sky’s the limit” approach, this songwriting team tried their hand at composing a theme song for a fictional concept of their own making. As if introducing a musical, they set the stage by laying the groundwork for a fictitious historical figure and his brief story. Quickly bringing it up to modern day, the lead singer introduces the key figures of this stage play while cleverly combining two seemingly diametrically opposed genres of music – hard rock and brass band!
Combining the startling and elaborate imagery gracing the cover of this new album with the first song acting as a supposed introduction to an unexpected “concept,” music fans around the world couldn’t help but have their curiosity piqued. This wasn’t just a new Beatles album. Right from the first two minutes of play on their turntables the listener realized they were in for a real treat. Such was the effect of the brilliantly delivered opening title track to their 1967 masterpiece album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”
Mal Evans and Paul McCartney
“The first thing I remember was flying back from America with our road manager Mal Evans,” remembered Paul McCartney on March, 6th, 2008 as related in the liner notes to the remastered release of the “Sgt. Pepper” album. “Over our meal we were talking about salt and pepper which was misheard as Sgt. Pepper. I then had the idea for the song ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ and thought it would be interesting for us to pretend, during the making of the album, that we were members of this band rather than The Beatles, in order to give us a fresh slant.”
The flight Paul mentioned above actually took place on November 19th, 1966 and was the final trip back to London from Nairobi, Kenya after an African vacation with Mal Evans. “I was just thinking of words like ‘Sgt. Pepper’ and lonely hearts clubs, and they came together for no reason,” Paul related at the time. “That’d be crazy enough because why would a Lonely Hearts Club have a band?...But after you’ve written it down, you start to think, ‘There’s this Sergeant Pepper who has taught the band to play, and got them to play,’ so that, at least, they found one number. They’re a bit of a brass band in a way, but also a bit of a rock band because they’ve got the San Francisco thing.”
As explained in the “Anthology” book, Paul relates: “I took an idea back to the guys in London: ‘As we’re trying to get away from ourselves – to get away from touring and into a more surreal thing – how about if we become an alter-ego band, something like, say, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts”? I’ve got a little bit of a song cooking with that title.’”
However, he apparently desired a little help in “cooking” the song to completion. “I used to share a flat in Sloane Street with Mal,” explains roadie Neil Aspinall. “One day in February Paul called, saying that he was writing a song and asking if me and Mal could come over. The song was the start of ‘Sgt. Pepper.’ At my place he carried on writing and the song developed.”
Mal Evans, in his subsequently released diary of that time, refers to this day, which is actually an entry for January 27th, 1967. His diary reads: “Sgt. Pepper. Started writing song with Paul upstairs in his room, he on piano.” His entry for February 1st, which was the first recording date for the song, read: “Sgt. Pepper sounds good. Paul tells me that I will get royalties on the song – great news, now perhaps a new home.”
The Keith Badman book “The Beatles Off The Record” contains this very interesting quote from Mal Evans taken from a taped interview shortly before his death on January 5th, 1976. “The first song I ever wrote that got published was ‘Sgt. Pepper.’ At the time, I was staying with Paul as his housekeeper. His previous housekeepers had left for some reason. I stayed with him for four months and he had a music room at the top of his house with his multi-colored piano and we were up there a lot of the time. We wrote ‘Sgt. Pepper’ and also another song on the album, ‘Fixing A Hole.’”
“When the album came out,” Evans continued, “I remember it very clearly, we were driving somewhere late at night. There was Paul, Neil Aspinall and myself and the driver in the car, and Paul turned round to me and said, ‘Look Mal, do you mind if we don’t put your name on the songs? You’ll get your royalties and all that, because Lennon and McCartney are the biggest things in our lives. We are really a hot item and we don’t want to make it Lennon-McCartney-Evans. So, would you mind?’ I didn’t mind, because I was so in love with the group that it didn’t matter to me. I knew myself what had happened.”
No doubt with his collaboration with Mal Evans in mind, Paul related how another aspect of the lyrics came about: “Billy Shears is another name that sounds like a schoolmate, but isn’t. Ringo is Billy Shears. It just happened to turn out that we dreamed up Billy Shears. It was a rhyme for ‘years’…’band you’ve known for all these years’…We thought, ‘That’s a great little name.’ It’s an Eleanor Rigby type name. A nice atmospheric name and it was leading into Ringo’s track. So, as far as we were concerned, it was purely and simply a devise to get the next song in.”
The obvious question to be asked, however, is whether John was involved at all in the writing of the song. “Paul wrote it after a trip to America,” was John’s answer as printed in the January 1981 issue of Playboy Magazine. So, starting off with the initial idea on the Nairobi / London flight of November 19th, 1966, the bulk of the song appears to have been written at Paul’s house in St. John’s Wood on January 27th, 1967 and completed by the end of the month, presumably at Neil Aspinall’s residence on Sloane Street in London.
The Beatles with George Martin in EMI Studios, circa 1967
On February 1st, 1967, about nine weeks into their recent recording project, The Beatles entered EMI Studio Two at 7 pm to start recording their fifth composition designated for the new album (not including 1966 Christmas recordings and the unreleased “Carnival Of Light” experiment). This entire seven-and-a-half hour recording session was devoted to the recently completed proposed theme of the album, namely, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” Two sessions had already been devoted to their song “A Day In The Life” at this point, but they decided to let it rest for a while in order to allow new ideas for that track to germinate.
Engineer Geoff Emerick, in his book “Here, There And Everywhere,” remembers the session on this day vividly. “’Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ had quite a different feel to all the other laid-back songs we’d done so far – this one was a real rocker, more like the kind of cover songs the band did in their live set earlier in their career.”
“There was another surprise,” Emerick continues. “Paul wanted to play rhythm guitar on the backing track instead of bass – the first time I’d known him to do that. He simply told John, ‘Let me do the rhythm on this; I know exactly what I want.’ John accepted Paul’s instruction without a word of protest and simply picked up a bass guitar. He didn’t have any feel for the instrument, though, so we decided to record him on a separate track, using a DI box instead of a bass amp – this way, his guide bass part could be replaced later by Paul, without any problem of bleed or leakage onto any of the microphones.”
EMI technician Ken Townsend explains further: “I think direct injection (DI) was probably used on Beatles sessions for the first time anywhere in the world…We built our own transformer boxes and plugged the guitars straight into the equipment.” Geoff Emerick adds: “After we explained the function of the DI box, (John) told (producer) George Martin that he’d like to have his voice recorded that way, too. Tongue planted firmly in cheek, George explained why we couldn’t do that: ‘For one thing, John, you’d have to have an operation first so we could implant a jack socket in your throat.’ Even then, Lennon couldn’t quite grasp why it wasn’t possible. He simply didn’t like taking no for an answer.”
Nine takes of the rhythm track were recorded on this day, only the first and the last attempt making it through to the end of the song. Instrumentally, the rhythm track consisted of both Paul and George on electric rhythm guitars, Ringo on drums and John on bass, no vocals being recorded as of yet. Only two tracks of the four-track tape were utilized for this recording; 'track one' having the guitars and drums and 'track two' having John’s bass guitar, purposely kept separate so as to be replaced later by Paul’s bass work. The instrumental 'take one' can be heard on the 2017 released "Super Deluxe Edition" box set of the "Sgt. Pepper" album which shows how heavy the song was envisioned by Paul. George's lead guitar, however, was somewhat sloppy and meandering at this point while John's bass guitar is not heard because of the use of the above mentioned DI box. "Take nine," which became the keeper, was overdubbed this evening with Paul's bass guitar, also by direct injection, onto 'track two,' wiping out John's bass work in the process. By 2:30 am the following day, the session was complete.
Later that evening, at 7 pm on February 2nd, the group reconvened at EMI Studio Two to overdub the vocals onto tracks three and four of the previous sessions' "take nine." Paul sang his blistering lead vocals and then John, Paul and George harmonized the chorus and bridge vocals. Three additional vocalists apparently joined in on the chorus, as noted in the diary of Mal Evans. In an entry dated February 2nd, 1967, Mal wrote: “Recording voices on Captain Pepper. All six of us doing the chorus in the middle, worked until about midnight.” His reference “all six of us” seems to indicate that Mal, fellow roadie Neil Aspinall and Ringo all contributed to the “hope you will enjoy the show” vocals of the chorus late that evening. Apparently, however, they were placed quite low in the mix as to be barely discernable if at all present.
With this complete, the EMI staff made a tape-to-tape reduction mix to reduce the four tracks down to two, allowing more space for future overdubs, this making “take ten” the keeper. The song as it stood at this point can also be heard as a bonus track on editions of the 50th Anniversary "Sgt. Pepper" 2017 release. As the song winds down, Paul begins singing "I feel it, I feel it...Baby, now I get it...Gotta get free now..." Then, after the song is complete, he voices his disapproval by saying, "Don't like that. I think it'll probably be another day singing it." George then adds, "Yeah, and what you can do with the bits where you can't get it 'cause you haven't got enough breathe, you can just stop...," to which Paul replys, "is take over, yeah." Paul obviously had a change of heart about re-recording the vocals because this was the vocal take that made it to the finished product. A demo remix was then created for the group to hear the song as it presently stood. At 1:45 am the following morning, work on the song was complete for the time being. Breathing time was needed in order to come up with more ideas for the recording – one full month ‘breathing time,’ as it turned out!
On March 3rd, 1967, after six more new songs were premiered for the album, the group returned their attention to the “Sgt. Pepper” theme song. They entered EMI Studio Two once again at 7 pm for the brass band overdub, the players consisting of James W. Buck, Neil Sanders, Tony Randall and John Burden (a former London Symphony Orchestra member). All four of these musicians played French horns but without a definite score pre-arranged. “They didn’t really know what they wanted,” related John Burden. “I wrote out phrases for them based on what Paul McCartney was humming to us and George Martin. All four Beatles were there but only Paul took an active interest in our overdub.”
Apparently for posterity reasons, as related in Mark Lewisohn’s book “The Beatles Recording Sessions,” “John Lennon had tape op Richard Lush record all of the conversation between the four players, Paul McCartney and George Martin. Then, for reasons best known only to himself, he took the tape home for his private collection!”
After this overdub was complete, attention was given to recording a lead guitar part for the song. “George Harrison spent hours trying to nail down the guitar solo,” remembers Geoff Emerick. “In the end, Paul peremptorily replaced George’s work with a stunning solo of his own, which Harrison was clearly not very happy about. But the storm quickly blew over.” Paul’s bass guitar overdub presumably was recorded on this date as well, forever replacing John’s bass recording from the rhythm track. This being the case, the finished product as we know it consists of Paul playing rhythm guitar, bass guitar and lead guitar. After four mono mixes were created for the recently recorded song “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds,” the session was complete at 2:15 am the following morning, the “Sgt. Pepper” theme being given a rest for the weekend.
On Monday evening, March 6th, 1967, another 7 pm session began at EMI Studio Two for yet further work on the song, although this work was quite different than anything done prior on a Beatles record. “It was about three or four weeks before the final session when they started thinking about the running order of the songs,” related Geoff Emerick in “The Beatles Recording Sessions.” “The concept of it being Sgt. Pepper’s band was already there when Paul said, ‘Wouldn’t it be good if we get the atmosphere? Get the band warming up, hear the audience settle into their seats, have the songs as different acts on the stage?’”
During the February 10th orchestral overdub for “A Day In The Life,” four tapes were made of miscellaneous sounds, these tapes being recorded for possible future use. Less than a month later, on this day in fact, a use was found. A few seconds of the orchestra tuning up was dropped into track three of the “Sgt. Pepper” theme to “get the atmosphere.”
Then, in what author Mark Lewisohn describes as “a rickety green cabinet in an old storeroom” at EMI, a collection of sound effects were raided to also be added to the song. “The collection began in about 1956,” says balance engineer and curator of the collection, Stuart Eltham, “when Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan, Michael Bentine and others used to make records at Abbey Road. We started to keep bits and pieces. If we did location recording somewhere we’d keep what outtakes were possible. Then I and people like Ken Townsend used to make recordings in our spare time.”
From “Volume 28: Audience Applause and Atmosphere, Royal Albert Hall and Queen Elizabeth Hall” of this collection came the audience murmuring as heard on top of the orchestral tuning at the beginning of “Sgt. Pepper.” Then, from “Volume 6: Applause and Laughter” came the injected laughing and clapping as heard periodically on the finished product, this coming precisely from a performance of the revue “Beyond The Fringe” (including Peter Cook and Dudley Moore) from a live 1961 performance at the Fortune Theatre in London.
“We had an audience laughing on the front of ‘Sgt. Pepper,’” Paul relates in his book “Many Years From Now.” “It had always been one of my favorite moments; I’d listened to radio a lot as a kid, and there had always been a moment in a radio show, say with somebody like Tommy Cooper, where he would walk on stage and he’d say hello, and they’d laugh, and he’d tell a joke, and they’d laugh, and there would always be a moment in these things, because it was live radio, where he wouldn’t say anything, and the audience would laugh. And my imagination went wild whenever that happened. I thought, ‘What is it? Has he dropped his trousers? Did he do a funny look?’ I had to know what had made ‘em laugh. It fascinated me so much, and I’d always remembered that, so when we did ‘Pepper’ there’s one of those laughs for nothing in there, just where Billy Shears is being introduced they all just laugh, and you don’t know what the audience has laughed at.” Referring to them finding the right "laugh" to put into the master tape, Paul remembers: “We sat through hours of tapes, just giggling, it was just hilarious listening to an audience laugh. It was a great thing to do actually.”
Both the official mono and stereo mixes that were used on the released album were also created on this day by George Martin, Geoff Emerick and 2nd engineer Richard Lush, no doubt being overseen by The Beatles themselves. Two mono mixes were made on this day, the final undoubtedly being deemed the best.
It took eight attempts, however, to get the best stereo mix of the song, resulting in Paul’s lead guitar overdub in the final verse appearing noticeably quieter than in the mono mix. The original rhythm track and Paul’s overdubbed bass guitar were centered in the mix, Paul’s lead vocal and lead guitar overdub were mixed entirely in the right channel, while the French horns and harmony vocals in the chorus of the song were mixed predominantly in the left channel. Oddly enough, the harmony vocals in the second bridge (“it’s wonderful to be here…”) begin panned entirely in the left channel but then gradually become centered in the mix by the end of the section (“…we’d love to take you home”). By 2:15 am the next morning, everyone was satisfied and the song was considered complete.
However, a segue needed to be made to cross-fade the song into the following track, namely “With A Little Help From My Friends.” The mono cross-fade was created on April 6th, 1967 in the control room of EMI Studio Two by the same EMI team, interjecting a bit of fans screaming from The Beatles live recordings at the Hollywood Bowl to mask the edit between the two songs. The stereo cross-fade was created the following day, April 7th, 1967, also in the control room of EMI Studio Two by the same EMI team. This time around, however, the screaming crowd comes in a little sooner and the segue between the two songs appears smoother.
One other stereo mix was also made of the song, but not until 1998. Being that a new soundtrack to the movie “Yellow Submarine,” dutifully named “Yellow Submarine Songtrack,” was being prepared in conjunction to the film’s restoration and re-release, an engineering team was hired to create new stereo mixes of the songs in the movie. These engineers, namely Peter Cobbin, Paul Hicks, Mirek Stiles and Allan Rouse, went back to the original master tapes to create these mixes – a definite first for the four “Sgt. Pepper” tracks involved in this project. The excellent results beg the question why, with current recording technology, hasn’t the entire album been remixed.
The stereo landscape on this new mix is substantially different than George Martin’s original stereo mix. The rhythm track, Paul’s overdubbed bass and all vocals are centered in this mix with Paul’s overdubbed lead guitar predominantly in the right channel. The French horns are predominantly in the left channel except for the final two measures, or segue, where the horns are now explicitly in the right channel. The screaming crowd from their Hollywood Bowl concert is noticeably different, undoubtedly due to the engineers choosing a different segment of "screams" to use on this mix. Otherwise, the vocals and guitar work come across more vibrantly here.
George Martin's son Giles Martin, along with engineer Sam Okell, returned to the original master tapes of the song sometime between 2016 and 2017 to create a new stereo mix of the song for inclusion of the 50th Anniversary Edition of the "Sgt. Pepper" album. This absolutely vibrant mix is accompanied by two bonus tracks on various editions of this release, one being the original instrumental "take one" and the vocalized "take nine," as described above.
Paul McCartney also recorded a live version of the song on November 23rd, 1989 as released on “Tripping The Live Fantastic” and “Tripping The Live Fantastic: Highlights!” Also, on July 2nd, 2005, a live rendition of the song by Paul and the group U2 was recorded as the opening song to the Live 8 concert at Hyde Park in London. The song was released for charity on iTunes.
Song Structure and Style
Being that the purpose of this song was to act as an overture of sorts, which was quite a departure from anything the group had done before, the framework of the song is quite unique to their past catalog (as well as future catalog). The structure consists of ‘intro/ verse/ bridge/ chorus/ bridge/ verse/ outro’ (or abcdcbe). So, we see here a forward progression from section to section until we get to the chorus, then reversing the order and going nearly all the way back to where we started. An instrumental section is included here as well, comprising the first bridge.
The first eleven seconds of the song, however, are taken up by an atmospheric display which puts the listener in the audience of a theatre just before a musical is about to begin. We hear violinists in the orchestra pit tuning up as well as the anxious crowd mumbling in anticipation of the presentation which is soon to begin. The first-time listener of the album may well be asking himself whether this is a live album.
As if without warning (not even a count-in), a blaring rock band begins the show with a four measure introduction. The violinists needn’t have been fully tuned up yet anyway since we don’t hear any orchestra at all in this introductory song. The first sign of strings we hear is five songs later in “She’s Leaving Home” so, I guess, they might as well tune in preparation for this first appearance in the program fifteen minutes later.
The raucous and heavily distorted introduction comprises the initial rhythm track along with Paul’s overdubbed bass and lead guitar pounding away, Ringo avoiding all cymbals whatsoever. We don’t fully have our footing yet, however, because the first two measures are not in the home key of G major. We don’t get there until the fourth measure. In typical Beatles fashion, the rhythm players take a "Beatles break" in the fourth measure which allows Ringo to perform a simple but syncopated drum fill with Paul getting a final last word on lead guitar just before the introduction concludes.
With the crowd quietly settled down in their seats, the first eight measure verse commences with Paul shouting out a brief history of the main characters of the play. The full rock group comes back in with Paul’s lead guitar part reduced to chord "chops" played on the two- and four-beat of each measure. The chord pattern used in the first four measures is quite reminiscent of their 1964 classic “Eight Days A Week” while Paul mimics John’s melodic songwriting style by staying primarily on one note while the chords change underneath it (see “Help!” as a good example of this).
The final four measures of the verse show Paul’s vocals slowly reaching up to higher registers with a bluesy touch in the sixth measure on the words “the act you’ve known for all these years,” turning the C major chord to a C7 in the process. Then, when Paul introduces the band, his lead guitar "chops" alter somewhat and the crowd applauds in response to the introduction. Ringo concludes the verse with a near identical syncopated drum fill as he played to end the introduction.
With the crowd still applauding, a five-measure instrumental bridge begins, the intricate score and melody line being played by four French horn players. The audience apparently views something humorous happen on the stage which causes a spontaneous burst of laughter. In a 2017 interview with engineer Geoff Emerick, he relates Paul's explanation of this laughter: "That's when, you know, Ringo comes on stage to sing 'Billy Shears' and he trips up and falls over. That's why the audience laughs." The rock band is appropriately subdued during the horn performance with only subtle traces of electric guitar coming through at times. One stray off-beat guitar note blares out in the fifth and final measure which unfortunately distracts us from the classy final flourish from the French horns. Damn rock musicians!
Finally, we arrive at the chorus – the focal point and climax of the proceedings. A six-voice group of harmonies (John being most prominent) identifies themselves as the “Sgt. Pepper” band, wishing that we all “enjoy the show.” Ringo flails away at his sizzling hi-hat for the first time as the heavy rock guitars blister our ears. The eighth measure has the band bow out to allow the French horns to play a four-note unison melody line. The ninth measure brings the rock band back in to round out the last four measures of the chorus as the vocalists re-emphasize their group name repeatedly. The final “hearts club band” is emphasized by syncopated bursts from the group, accentuated by two finishing snare/guitar blasts.
A repeat of the bridge is then heard, but this time it contains the harmonized lyrics “it’s wonderful to be here…” while the French horns play a backdrop of harmonized lines and the rock band is once again subdued, Ringo playing without cymbals. The fourth and fifth measure bring the bridge to a climax with an intricate French horn passage played against the silly assurance from the vocalists “we’d like to take you home with us.” This thought is appreciated by the audience, evidenced by their approving applause.
Instead of the bridge building us up to the chorus as last time, it brings us back to Paul as our Master Of Ceremonies for another verse. He needs to interrupt the fun to announce that “the singer’s going to sing a song” and the audience is called upon to “sing along.” This second eight-measure verse is identical in instrumentation to the first, right down to the swell of the audience’s applause in the final two measures, this time at the introduction to the lead singer’s name “Billy Shears.” Paul’s lead guitar overdub during the final recitation of the band’s name, however, appears to go a little haywire, but the crowd is excited anyway.
A conclusion to the song is then heard, which was created to segue into Billy’s song. However, during the recording, The Beatles didn’t have a song for him to sing yet. Therefore, the original master tapes reveal that they played twelve measures of vamping on the C chord, four two-measure sections that contain overdubbed French horn harmonized notes and Paul’s descending bass lines, and four extra measures of meandering guitar/drum/bass work that they knew would never be heard. They decided, eventually, to limit this to the first two measure section only and edit it to the new recording of “With A Little Help From My Friends” with another segue that brought the key from C major to E major – the key that Ringo was comfortable to sing in. In order to mask the edit, we hear the teenage fans scream in ecstasy at the appearance of their idol Billy Shears.
Paul is definitely the ring leader of this song, playing three instruments (lead, rhythm and bass guitar), singing lead, and undoubtedly playing a predominant role in the arrangement. He convincingly sings at the top of his register, putting in a vocal performance worthy of admiration. Since his bass parts are now being recorded on separate tracks as overdubs, their prominence in the finished product is worthy of their intricacy.
Both John and George play minimal roles on the song, John appearing only as harmony vocalist with George, the latter displaying a slightly discernible rhythm guitar part in the rhythm track. Ringo, however, comes across vibrantly holding down the rhythm while throwing in the occasional accent and drum fill.
The concept of the lyrics appears to be that “twenty years ago” a Brass band leader by the name of “Sgt. Pepper” formed a band that had become very popular (“known for all these years”). Music tastes may have changed since then (“going in and out of style”), but this production is now introducing his protégés as a combination of brass band/rock band. Although much time has gone by, this new combination is “guaranteed to raise a smile.” One reason that their success if guaranteed is that it features the current pop idol “Billy Shears” as featured vocalist. Therefore, all generations will indeed “enjoy the show,” the teenyboppers will swoon over Billy while the purists will “sit back and let the evening go.”
June 2nd, 1967 was the official American release date of the legendary “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album, which has been reissued on vinyl many times throughout the years. Even though Capitol Records was in the process of phasing out mono album releases, they still printed a small amount of this album in mono in 1967, making a US vinyl copy in this configuration quite rare.
Sometime in 1967, Capitol released Beatles music on a brand new but short-lived format called "Playtapes." These tape cartidges did not have the capability to include entire albums, so a truncated four-song version of the "Sgt. Pepper" album was released in this portable format, the title track being one of the four songs on this release. These "Playtapes" are highly collectable today.
On April 2nd, 1973, the second of a pair of compilation albums was released in the US, namely “The Beatles/1967-1970” (aka “The Blue Album”) Side One of the album proudly boasted the song “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” as one of four songs representing the classic 1967 album. It quickly topped the Billboard album charts shortly thereafter. It was first released on compact disc on September 20th, 1993 and then was re-released as a remastered set on August 10th, 2010.
On August 14th, 1978, following the successful resurgence of “Beatlemania” on the charts, Capitol tried its hand at releasing the Sgt. Pepper theme with “With A Little Help From My Friends” as the a-side of a single with “A Day In The Life” as the b-side. The strategy somewhat backfired as the single failed to make the top 40, peaking at number 71.
This single was released in conjunction with the US pressing of the picture disc of the “Sgt. Pepper” album, which was a limited edition release that has become quite a collectors’ item as the years progressed. Then, on December 15th, 2017, it was released in this form yet again with the new Giles Martin stereo mix on 180 Gram vinyl, this also being a limited edition release.
Two interesting US vinyl reissues of the "Sgt. Pepper" album were released as "Original Master Recording" editions produced through Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab. The first edition released in September of 1982 (with matrix # UHQR "Ultra High Quality Recording" 1-100) listed for $40 per copy, more than five times the cost of the standard version, and was limited to 5000 sequentially numbered copies that weighed 200 grams (double the weight of conventional vinyl at that time) and were packaged between layers of protective foam rubber in a thick box. The second edition from Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab was released in June of 1983 similar to the rest of the Beatles catalog released within their series. Both of these were prepared utilizing half-speed mastering technology from the original master tape on loan from EMI. These versions of "Sgt. Pepper" were only available for a short time and are quite collectible today.
On September 21st, 1987, twenty years after its initial release (as in “twenty years ago today”), the Sgt. Pepper album was first released on compact disc. It was the only Beatles CD released at that time to have extensive liner notes. Also in place for the first time in the US was the high pitched dog whistle and “inner groove” that was omitted from the original vinyl release in the states. This CD was then remastered and re-released on September 9th, 2009 with even more extensive liner notes.
In January of 1994, the 1978 single was re-released by Capitol on their Cema “For Jukeboxes Only” series, this time on clear vinyl, which is quite the find today.
The 1998 newly mixed version of the song was included on the release “Yellow Submarine Songtrack” due to its inclusion in the 1968 animated movie. This album, which was released on September 13th, 1999, did well in the US, peaking at #15 on the Billboard album charts.
Then, on September 9th, 2009, the remastered mono mix of the song appeared in the box set “The Beatles in Mono” which allows Beatles fans the world over to experience the entire “Sgt. Pepper” album as originally intended (as suggested by George Martin) – in mono!
On May 26th, 2017, a newly mixed stereo version of the album was released based on the superior mono mix of 1967. A new vibrant mix of the "Sgt. Pepper" theme is included in all editions of this re-release. The original "take nine" of the song was included as a bonus track on the "2 CD Anniversay Edition" of the album, while that and the instrumental "take one" are included in the "Super Deluxe Edition" box set.
Paul released various live versions of the “Sgt. Pepper” theme, the first being on the November 5th, 1990 released double album “Tripping The Live Fantastic,” and the second being the same performance on the November 12th, 1990 released “Tripping The Live Fantastic, Highlights!” single disc. Then, on iTunes only, his version of the song as performed with U2 as the opening song for the charity event Live 8 was released in 2005, proceeds going to charity.
Paul, George and Ringo as part of Eric Clapton's wedding party, May 19th, 1979
1967 may have been past the touring life of The Beatles, but “Sgt. Pepper” did get performed by Paul, George, Ringo and Eric Clapton at Eric’s wedding reception (with George’s ex Pattie Boyd) on May 19th, 1979. McCartney didn’t hesitate to put this landmark song to good use during his post-Beatles touring days as well. His first solo “World Tour,” which spanned from September 26th, 1989 in Norway to July 29th, 1990 in Chicago, included the song in medley with the “Reprise” from the original album. Also, his brief “Unplugged 1991 Summer Tour,” running from May 8th (Barcelona, Spain) to July 24th (Copenhagen, Denmark), featured the track as the closing number of each show.
Next, “The New World Tour” included the song, which began on February 18th (Milan, Italy) and concluded on December 16th (Santiago, Chile) of 1993. For the next number of tours he omitted playing the song, opting instead to concluding his shows with a medley of Sgt. Pepper “Reprise” and “The End” from the "Abbey Road" album. However, on July 2nd, 2005, Paul performed “Sgt. Pepper” as the opening song of the London Live 8 show with U2, Bono singing lead on the bridge (“It’s wonderful to be here…”).
Paul also performed the song at a benefit at the Radio City Music Hall on April 4th, 2009, segueing it into “With A Little Help From My Friends” which was sung by Ringo. Then, on January 27th, 2014, Paul and his band performed the song once again at the Los Angeles Convention Center for the 50th Anniversary of The Beatles appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, which was aired on CBS on February 9th of that year. This rendition also acted as an introduction for Ringo to run out on stage to sing "With A Little Help From My Friends."
Such was the impact of this startling song that Jimi Hendrix, a favorite of The Beatles, performed his own unique version of the “Sgt. Pepper” theme live at the Saville Theatre in London on June 4th, 1967 - only three days after the album was released in Britain. Paul (with Jane Asher) and George (with Pattie Boyd) were in the audience of that Brian Epstein-owned Theatre that evening.
“The biggest single tribute for me was that ‘Sgt. Pepper’ was released on the Thursday,” remembers Paul, “and, on the Sunday, we went to the Saville Theatre and Jimi Hendrix opened up with ‘Sgt. Pepper’ and he’d only had since Thursday to learn it…That was like the ultimate compliment. It’s still obviously a shining memory for me, because I admired him so much anyway, he was so accomplished…I put that down as one of the great honors of my career.”
While many quickly dismiss the song “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” as just a gimmicky introduction to a landmark album, closer examination (as we’ve done here) reveals how convincingly imaginative The Beatles' songwriting had become. As Chris Ingham writes in “The Rough Guide To The Beatles,” the track has “the color and confidence of a Fourth Of July parade and raises the curtain on the dizzying album to which it gives its name with genuine panache.” Perfectly stated!
“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”
Written by: John Lennon / Paul McCartney
Song Written: November 19, 1966 – January, 1967
Song Recorded: February 1 & 2, March 3 & 6, April 6 & 7, 1967
First US Release Date: June 2, 1967
US Single Release: Capitol #4612
Highest Chart Position: #71
Key: G major
Producer: George Martin
Engineers: Geoff Emerick, Richard Lush
Instrumentation (most likely):
Paul McCartney - Lead and Harmony Vocals, Lead and Rhythm Guitar (1964 Fender Esquire), Bass Guitar (1964 Rickenbacker 4001S)
George Harrison – Rhythm Guitar (1961 Sonic Blue Fender Stratocaster), Harmony Vocals
Ringo Starr – Drums (1964 Ludwig Super Classic Black Oyster Pearl), Backing Vocals
John Lennon - Harmony Vocals
James W. Buck - French Horn
Neil Sanders - French Horn
Tony Randall - French Horn
John Burden - French Horn
Mal Evans - Backing Vocals
Neil Aspinall - Backing Vocals
Written and compiled by Dave Rybaczewski
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