During the Sgt Pepper sessions Ringo Starr was aware that The Beatles were doing their best work to date, although he learned to live with the sporadic nature of the recording sessions.
Sgt Pepper was our grandest endeavour. It gave everybody – including me – a lot of leeway to come up with ideas and to try different material. John and Paul would write songs at home, usually – or wherever they were – and bring them in and say, ‘I’ve got this.’ The actual writing process was getting to be separate by now, but they’d come in with bits and help each other, and we’d all help. The great thing about the band was that whoever had the best idea (it didn’t matter who), that would be the one we’d use. No one was standing on their ego, saying, ‘Well, it’s mine,’ and getting possessive. Always, the best was used. That’s why the standard of the songs always remained high. Anything could happen, and that was an exciting process. I got to hang out and listen to it unfolding, although I wasn’t there every day.
As we got up to Sgt Pepper, George Martin had really become an integral part of it all. We were putting in strings, brass, pianos, etc, and George was the only one who could write it all down. He was also brilliant. One of them would mention: ‘Oh, I’d like the violin to go “de de diddle”,’ or whatever, and George would catch it and put it down. He became part of the band.
John, Paul and George – the writers – were putting whatever they wanted on the tracks, and we were spending a long time in the studio. We were still recording the basic tracks as we always did, but it would take weeks to do the overdubs for the strings or whatever, and then the percussion would be overdubbed later and later. Sgt Pepper was great for me, because it’s a fine album – but I did learn to play chess while we were recording it.
An early version of the tracklisting had the songs on side one in a slightly different order, possibly in an attempt to prolong the idea of the stage show. In early April 1967 the album had the songs in this order: Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band; With A Little Help From My Friends; Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite!; Fixing A Hole; Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds; Getting Better; She’s Leaving Home.
The final Sgt Pepper recording session took place on 21 April 1967. Creative to the last, The Beatles decided that there should be no silence at the end of the album. Instead, they recorded a burst of nonsensical gibberish which was pressed in the album’s run-out groove – following a brief high-pitched 15 kHz tone intended for dogs.
They were all there discussing how to end the LP but the decision to throw in a bit of nonsense gibberish came together in about 10 minutes. They ran down to the studio floor and we recorded them twice – on each track of a two-track tape. They made funny noises, said random things; just nonsense. We chopped up the tape, put it back together, played it backwards and threw it in.
It took Harry [Moss, disc cutter] about eight attempts to get it right because the slightest incorrect placing of a stylus at the very beginning of the LP side can put the concentric groove out. We had to enquire if putting musical content in the run-out groove would tear the metal when the records are stamped out at the factory.
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn
The cover artwork
Although the music of Sgt Pepper was a major step forward for popular music, the cover concept was also a considerable innovation. It nearly didn’t happen, however. The Beatles had to be talked out of using an illustration by The Fool, the design group that painted the mural on the side of the Apple shop in London.
The whole mood of that was quite interesting, because the original part of the commission was based on the fact that Robert [Fraser, art director] absolutely hated the original of the cover by this group called The Fool. He thought it looked like psychedelic Disneyland, which it did. It was a mountain with all these little creatures on it, slightly cartoony. Robert said to The Beatles, ‘You just cannot have this cover, it’s not good enough. You should get Peter and Jann to do it.’
Groovy Bob, Harriet Vyner
Peter Blake and Jann Haworth were married at the time, and had exhibited separately at the Robert Fraser Gallery in Duke Street, Mayfair. Fraser was a key figure in Swinging London’s art scene, and had an unerring knack for spotting important artistic talent at an early stage.