Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album artworkWritten by: Lennon-McCartney
Recorded: 1, 2 February; 3, 6 March 1967
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Geoff Emerick

Released: 1 June 1967 (UK), 2 June 1967 (US)

Paul McCartney: vocals, lead guitar, bass
John Lennon: vocals
George Harrison: vocals, guitar
Ringo Starr: drums
James W Buck, Neil Sanders, Tony Randall, John Burden: French horn

Available on:
Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
Yellow Submarine Songtrack

On The Beatles' final US tour in 1966, Paul McCartney was struck by the inventiveness of the West Coast hippy groups, with names such as Quicksilver Messenger Service, Jefferson Airplane, and Big Brother and the Holding Company. In November that year, on a post-holiday flight from Nairobi to England, he came up with the idea of an alter-ego for the band, which would perform an entire album before an audience.

Download on iTunes

Sgt Pepper is Paul, after a trip to America and the whole West 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. As I read the other day, he said in one of his 'fanzine' interviews that he was trying to put some distance between The Beatles and the public - and so there was this identity of Sgt Pepper. Intellectually, that's the same thing he did by writing 'He loves you' instead of 'I love you.' That's just his way of working. Sgt Pepper is called the first concept album, but it doesn't go anywhere. All my contributions to the album have absolutely nothing to do with the idea of Sgt Pepper and his band; but it works 'cause we said it worked, and that's how the album appeared. But it was not as put together as it sounds, except for Sgt Pepper introducing Billy Shears and the so-called reprise. Every other song could have been on any other album.
John Lennon
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

Some versions of events hold that Mal Evans came up with the name Sgt Pepper. It is believed to have been inspired by Evans asking McCartney what the letters S and P stood for on the salt and pepper sachets on their in-flight meal trays.

I used to share a flat in Sloane Street with Mal. One day in February Paul called, saying that he was writing a song and asking if he and Mal could come over. That song was the start of Sgt Pepper.

At my place he carried on writing and the song developed. At the end of every Beatles show, Paul used to say, 'It's time to go. We're going to go to bed, and this is our last number'. Then they'd play the last number and leave. Just then Mal went to the bathroom, and I said to Paul, 'Why don't you have Sgt Pepper as the compère of the album? He comes on at the beginning of the show and introduces the band, and at the end he closes it. A bit later, Paul told John about it in the studio, and John came up to me and said, 'Nobody likes a smart-arse, Neil'.

Neil Aspinall
Anthology

Switching between straightforward rock verses and instrumental bridges featuring a French horn quartet, punctuated by three-part harmonies from McCartney, Lennon and Harrison, the song is more of an introduction to the Sgt Pepper concept than a rounded song.

I thought it would be nice to lose our identities, to submerge ourselves in the persona of a fake group. We could make up all the culture around it and collect all our heroes in one place.
Paul McCartney

On the album it segued into With A Little Help From My Friends, and was reprised ahead of the finale, A Day In The Life.

In the studio

The song was recorded over four days. On 1 February 1967 The Beatles taped nine takes of the rhythm track, though only the first and last of these were complete. They recorded drums, bass and two guitars - the latter played by McCartney and Harrison.

The next day McCartney recorded his lead vocals, and he, Lennon and Harrison taped their harmonies. The song was then left for over a month, until the French horns were overdubbed on 3 March. McCartney also recorded a lead guitar solo, leaving the song almost complete.

On 6 March they added the sounds of the imaginary audience and the noise of an orchestra tuning up, a combination of crowd noise from a 1961 recording of the comedy show Beyond The Fringe and out-takes from the 10 February orchestral overdub session for A Day In The Life.

For the segue into With A Little Help From My Friends, meanwhile, they inserted screams of Beatlemaniacs from the recordings of The Beatles live at the Hollywood Bowl.

31 responses on “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

  1. sebastian

    Joseph says: There is no mention of John singing by himself that small part that starts with “It’s wonderful to be here….

    answer: because that part was sung by paul, john and george in unison (according to mark lewishon, Ian Mccadonald, Allan Pollack and other beatles experts).

    1. Joseph Brush

      Excuse me Sebastian, but after investigating the aforementioned Beatle experts I beg to differ on your comment as regard to your sources.
      First of all, the late Ian Macdonald (NOT Mccadonald as you have spelled it) has been shown to be a great writer in Revolution In The Head but some of his info on recordings and line-up assertions has been disputed, including here on this website.
      Second of all, Mark Lewishon’s Recording Sessions does not provide specific info as to who did what and where when he mentions “group backing vocals” for this particular song.
      Last and most important, Alan Pollack’s description of the vocals for this song are as follows–
      “The vocal arrangement is quite vintage, with Macca screaming single-tracked solo in the voices with a chorus of the others, in which the timbre of John’s voice figures prominently, for the refrain and the second bridge.”
      So although John does not apparently sing by himself as I thought, nonetheless he stands out in this section of the song.
      And who are the other Beatles experts?

      1. Joe Post author

        Walter Everett’s two-volume The Beatles As Musicians (Quarry Men to Rubber Soul, and Revolver to Anthology) is supposed to be a very illuminating guide to each of the songs, from a more musicological perspective than Macdonald’s. I’m getting both books soon, and will update the site accordingly when I’ve read them. He refuted a lot of the claims made by Macdonald, dissecting the recordings and analysing each member’s contribution.

        The first book is available on Google Books, and looks fascinating – though perhaps hard-going for non-musicians. The second book is listed on Google Books too, though the page seems to show a non-related book.

    2. George

      The ear test tells me that John’s voice is more upfront on the vocal “It’s wonderful to be here”. Sometimes, even those who were in the studio at the time(book authors), their memories do not always serve them accurate especially with so much happening during a recording. They couldn’t document everything at the time, except perhaps in the Mark Lewisohn text.

  2. Joseph Brush

    It sounds like the first line or two is just John alone
    BUT if those three people above say it was all done in unison then so be it.
    And who are the other Beatles experts?

  3. Sebastian

    Hey Joseph, I know is Macdonald not Mccadonald (I made a mistake during the typing process, so what, big deal, I’m not writing an article for Rolling Stone). I took a second look to the Lewisohn’s book, it’s true that he didn’t mention anything specific about the vocals of the middle part of the pepper track, but he said in his book the Beatles Recording Sessions that Paul McCartney is the only lead vocalist in that song and the others (Harrison and lennon) sing BACKING VOCALS- check the page 96, when Lewishon talks about the recording session of thursday 2 february 1967. Most of the beatles experts and most of the beatles websites also say or said that paul is the only the lead vocalist in that track, so is very strange that if lennon really sung that part alone, why almost no one give or gave him the co-lead vocal credit. (Lewisohn also said in the official cd booklet of sgt pepper – the 1987 version- that paul is the only lead singer in the title track).
    Who are that other beatles experts? William Holding, Ian MacDonald (Joe you said “some of his info on recordings and line-up assertions has been disputed”; yeah, that happens with almost any other beatle book , but that doesn’t mean he is wrong in this particular case, even the Lewisohn’s books had some mistakes, but that doesn’t make them a bunch of pure lies and inaccuracies) or Jordi Fabbra -a Spanish writer-, are some examples.
    Like you said in one of your recent comments, Allan Pollack’s analysis about the song shows that john doesn’t sing ALONE the middle part (though his voice is the more prominent in that section; yeah, but you could say, for example, the same thing about Paul’s voice in some of the verses of Mean Mr. Mustard or in the middle section of I don’t want to spoil the party, but that doesn’t mean he sings SOLO that particular segments).
    In fact, in my opinion, in the middle section of the Sgt pepper’s title track, Paul and John share the lead vocal (with George joining them in the last two lines “ we like to take.. home”), singing in unison, with McCartney using his nasal “hello goodbye/penny lane” type of voice which is somewhat similar to john`s “normal” voice(which is very nasal), making very difficult to know if it’s Paul and John singing together or John double tracked ( Macdonald mentioned this difficulty in his review of eight days a week).
    You can hear this dual unison/ nasal kind of vocals in tracks like Misery, From me to you and I want to hold your hand. In Misery( and in the middle section of the pepper ‘s title track too ,I think) , for example, the match and fusion of paul and john’s voices is so perfect, that they sound, for most of the song, like only one singer(sounding a bit more like john than paul, but this happens because Paul tried sometimes to emulate john’s voice, taking a more nasal approach in the vocals( Let me roll it, it’s a very good example of this), but john rarely wanted to imitate Paul´s standard sweet voice” (though I think lennon tries that a little bit when he sings, in unison with McCartney, the I’ll follow the Sun verses and the Tell me what you see’s middle section (“ look into these eyes now..”).
    Please forgive me if I have any grammatical errors, my native language is Spanish.

  4. Joseph Brush

    First of all, I am not talking about the lead vocalist for the entire song. I am talking about the vocals of one small section of the song.
    Second of all, the correct spelling of names such as Alan Pollack (NOT Allan as you have spelled it on several occasions), is important if you want your comments to be taken seriously.
    Third and last of all, this discussion is about the title track of Sgt. Pepper and not a long-winded list of other songs for comparison.
    Please stay on topic.

    1. Joe Post author

      I don’t think everyone needs to have perfect spelling – I don’t think it detracts from the validity of their opinions. Equally, I’m happy for discussions here to be fairly wide-ranging (although if people are tempted to go way off-topic please consider the forum instead). That said, I moderate the comments on this site, and those that appear are the ones that I’m happy to display.

  5. Sebastian

    Hey Joseph Brush, I think you didn’t read carefully my last comment, because I talked about others songs to illustrate why I believe john didn’t sing alone that small part in the Pepper’s title track. I don’t think the spelling of names have to be perfect (most of my spelling mistakes came from typing too fast). The most important thing is the arguments (and it seems you don’t have too many, apart from my bad spelling (typing) of names). Whatever, this discussion is going nowhere, believe whatever you want, and I believe whatever I want. I don’t believe that john sing that part alone ¿why?:
    “Like you said in one of your recent comments, Alan ( hey Joseph ¿now is more valid for you?) Pollack’s analysis about the song shows that john doesn’t sing ALONE the middle part (though his voice is the more prominent in that section; yeah, but you could say, for example, the same thing about Paul’s voice in some of the verses of Mean Mr. Mustard or in the middle section of I don’t want to spoil the party, but that doesn’t mean he sings SOLO that particular segments).
    In fact, in my opinion, IN THE MIDDLE SECTION OF THE SGT PEPPER’S TITLE TRACK, Paul and John share the lead vocal (with George joining them in the last two lines “we’d like to take you home”), singing in unison, with McCartney using his nasal “hello goodbye/penny lane” type of voice which is somewhat similar to john`s “normal” voice (which is very nasal), making very difficult to know if it’s Paul and John singing together or John double tracked (Macdonald mentioned this difficulty in his review of eight days a week).
    You can hear this dual unison/ nasal kind of vocals in tracks like Misery, From me to you and I want to hold your hand. In Misery (and in the middle section of the Pepper title track too, I think), for example, the match and fusion of paul and john’s voices is so perfect, that they sound, for most of the song, like only one singer(sounding a bit more like john than paul, but this happens because Paul tried sometimes to emulate john’s voice, taking a more nasal approach in the vocals( Let me roll it, it’s a very good example of this), but john rarely wanted to imitate Paul´s standard sweet voice”.
    Please read carefully, and you’ll see that I’m on the topic.

  6. jsd

    If you listen to the Yellow Submarine Songtrack version in headphones it’s quite clear that “it’s wonderful to be here” is a group effort. I hear John & George for sure.

  7. BeatleMark

    Like was stated earlier, they ALL sing that part in unison. It’s just John is the closest one standing to the microphone, which makes his voice more prominent. *Good Example* Ringo’s voice in the chorus to “Carry That Weight” & “Flying”. They ALL are singing in unison but Ringo is the closest one standing to the microphone. Jees…it’s like some of you have never stepped in front of a mic before! :-P

  8. Steve

    I just had a listen to the isolated vocal reduction (track 4 from the 4-track E63022 master tape) and that section is clearly John Lennon’s leading voice with harmony from Paul and George. Sounds like ADT has been applied and some echo.

    1. sebastian mora

      “It’s obvious that john lennon wrote this section of the song. That’s why Paul leaves it out in his live shows”.

      That´s not true.
      These are two links of Paul performing sgt pepper (with that section included).

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=12WFVihMxcA

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fjKkUHUa9SM

      plus, Lennon said in several interviews that sgt pepper (the song ) was paul’s completely.

      In his 1972 interview in the Hit Parader, Lennon described sgt pepper’s (the song) authorship with only one word: “Paul”

      In his 1980 playboy interview lennon said this about that song:’Sgt. Pepper’ is Paul after a trip to America and the whole West 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.

      McCartney said to Barry Miles in his autobiography Many years from now, that sgt pepper was his song, with very little or no help from lennon.

      Is very clear that section was written by paul, and sung by him with lennon and harrison, like it or not.

  9. bj

    Can someone explain why I’m hearing 3 guitars on this song? I know there’s paul’s lead on top, and then george’s underneith, but I’m also hearing a sort of electric rhythm guitar underneith that. Did someone play rhythm on this song?

    1. George Demake

      Hi bj
      according to George Martin’s book “The Making of Sgt. Pepper (With a Little Help from my Friends), Paul asks John if he wouldn’t mind if he(meaning Paul) played the rhythm guitar on this track because Paul knew exactly what he wanted. Now whether that was just during the rehearsal or on the backing track, it didn’t say. So I would say that there are at least 3 guitars going counting the lead guitar overdub that Paul provides.

      1. Pablo Castro

        There are indeed 3 guitars on this song : John played , probably, because it´s the same style as She Said She Said and Doctor Robert, , the low-tuned guitar, George a more treble rhythm one, and Paul overdubbed the solo one .

  10. George Demake

    I came across what was titled as a”Rare Studio Outtake of this title song on Utube. There was no history or comments behind it. It starts off like the master version but the audience and the bass seemed to be turned up. Also, the bars where the french horns play are replaced by a few bars of stabbing lead guitar. Apprently George initially recorded a solo for the song. I’m wondering if this could be it, or does that track not exist? Anyways the take finishes without the Billy Shears intro , but continues with the band going on a bit longer with more audience, and you can faintly hear the horns playing in the backround. Does anyone have some insight on this? Has this one been around for a long time and I’m just late to the party?

  11. Mathew

    “The Beatles taped nine takes of the rhythm track, though only the first and last of these were complete. They recorded drums, bass and two guitars – the latter played by McCartney and Harrison.”

    So if George and Paul were initially playing electric guitars, who was playing bass guitar during the backing track recording – John? Did Paul overdub the bass guitar track later?

    1. Joe Post author

      If you check the line-up at the top of the page, you’ll see that Lennon didn’t play any instruments on the track. If you click through to the session information for 1 February 1967 you’ll see that McCartney overdubbed his bass guitar after the guitars and drums were recorded. HTH.

      1. Mathew

        Got it. I had thought all the backing track was done as a whole group all at once. Thanks for the Feb 1 link – that provides some key (well okay key for me) context to the lineup listing and that sentence. Still, it does make me wonder why John didn’t really play any instruments on the track.

    1. Liam

      Just listened to the backing track and there are definitely two guitars. One playing standard rhythm with one more of a lead role. The obvious lead parts plus the crunchy guitar is an overdub, probably by Paul. We can assume Lennon played the thick rhythm part that is barely audible on the released version. The bass in the backing track is identical to the released version, so I am assuming it’s Paul playing.

Leave a reply