It was 50 years ago today...
Half a century ago, four mop-topped lads from Liverpool released one of the greatest records of all time. Stuffed with classics, from ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” dreamy psychedelia to the pioneering production of ‘A Day In The Life’, ‘Sgt Pepper’s’ broke boundaries at every turn. Despite its release now falling nearer to the First World War than the modern day, it remains one of the world’s best-known musical works. To celebrate the album’s enduring brilliance, here’s 50 geeky facts you might not know about it.
Suffering from ‘Sgt. Pepper’s’ withdrawal? All you need is Beatles merch.
1. Originally, ‘When I’m Sixty-Four’ was supposed to be the B-side to ‘Strawberry Fields’, but was replaced by ‘Penny Lane’.
2. The two songs, “Strawberry Fields” and “Penny Lane”, were later cut from the album and released as an double A-side record.
3. ‘A Day In The Life’ contains a high-pitched tone that is inaudible to humans but can be heard by dogs.
4. George Martin recorded the crowd cheers heard between the songs ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ and ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’ at one of their concerts at the Hollywood Bowl.
5. When planning the album track list, ‘Sgt. Pepper’s’ title track was intended to be split in two to open and close the album. However, George Martin changed his mind when he heard the final E chord of ‘A Day In The Life’, stating “It was obvious nothing else could follow it”.
6. ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’ is famous for its alleged LSD references. John Lennon, however, insisted that it was inspired by a pastel drawing made by his son Julian.
7. John Lennon’s ‘Good Morning Good Morning’ was inspired by a Kellogg’s Corn Flakes TV Commercial.
8. When recording ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’, Ringo Starr refused to sing “What would you do if I sang out of tune? Would you stand up and throw tomatoes at me?” because he thought fans would take to the challenge, and he’d get pelted with tomatoes in public.
9. At the end of George Harrison’s ‘Within You Without You’ audible laughter is heard. This is because Harrison thought, “Well, after all that long Indian stuff you want some light relief. It’s a release after five minutes of sad music.”
10. The song ‘Fixing A Hole’ is said to be partly inspired by Paul McCartney spending time restoring a farmhouse in Scotland.
In the studio
11. Although the US had started incorporating eight-track recordings in their studios, it wasn’t introduced in the UK until late 1967. This meant The Beatles were limited to EMI’s J37 four-track equipment.
12. ‘Sgt. Pepper’s’ was the first pop album in history to incorporate a continuous flow of music, allowing songs to transition smoothly into the next. The use of cross-fading allowed the songs to be merged into one, removing any momentary transition silences.
13. The first two songs to be recorded were ‘Penny Lane’ and ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’. Neither ended up on the final record.
14. Engineer Geoffrey Emerick and his team mixed the entire ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ album in just over three weeks. He stated, “We spent three weeks on the mono mixes and maybe three days on the stereo.”
15. ‘Sgt. Pepper’s’ recording process led to a variety of new techniques The Beatles had never used. For example, McCartney’s bass guitar was recorded directly into the mixing desk via DI (Direct Injection), without the use of an amplifier.
16. Furthermore, bass guitar parts were recorded separately to the rest of the band throughout the entirety of the album. This allowed McCartney to come up with a variety of melodic bass riffs to accompany the rest of the tracks.
17. A variety of additional instruments were used in the production of ‘Sgt. Pepper’s’ , including the use of a Lowrey organ on ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’ (played by McCartney) and a harpsichord on ‘Fixing A Hole’ (played by George Martin).
18. One of the three grand pianos that strike the final chord to end ‘A Day In The Life’ belonged to Daniel Barenboim, the legendary Argentina-born pianist and conductor who happened to be recording at Abbey Road.
19. ‘Fixing a Hole’ was not recorded at Abbey Road, but at Regent Sound Studio in London.
20. John Lennon wanted the barnyard sounds at the end of ‘Good Morning Good Morning’ to run in a specific order. Each sound was to be followed by an animal that might eat or at least frighten the one before. But after the bellowing elephant we hear a cow and finally a chicken.
21. Nine takes of Harrison’s, ‘Only a Northern Song’ were recorded but it failed to make the album cut.
22. The cover was created by Peter Blake and Jann Haworth. The creation resulted in the two artists winning the 1968 Grammy for Best Album Cover.
23. When turning up to the photo shoot, half The Beatles reportedly turned up high. Lennon commented, “If you look closely at the album cover, you’ll see two people who are flying, and two who aren’t.”
24. John Lennon originally requested that Adolf Hitler and Jesus Christ were on the cover.
25. The Beatles had to send a letter each to Mae West to persuade her to allow the use of her image on the album cover.
26. Paul McCartney produced the initial ink drawings for the cover concept and shared them with the artists.
27. Wondering why The Beatles’ ultimate idol isn’t on the cover? Well, McCartney says, “Elvis was too important and too far above the rest even to mention.”
28. The album came with little cut-outs, including fake moustaches, a postcard of a statue from Lennon’s house, and paper sergeant stripes.
29. ‘Sgt. Pepper’s’ is the first album in history to have a full print of lyrics on the back cover of an album.
30. ‘Sgt. Pepper’s’ inner sleeve included a piece of art called ‘The Fool’, produced by a Dutch design collective.
31. It took 700 hours to complete. That’s 30 times longer than their debut ‘Please Please Me’.
32. It cost £25,000 to produce the album. That’s roughly £141,483 in today’s currency.
33. The cover cost £3000 on its own. At the time, it was one of the most expensive in history.
34. The album shifted 250,000 copies in its first week.
35. It won six Grammys in 1968, including Best Album Of The Year and Best Pop Vocal Album.
36. Paul sang lead vocals on five tracks, John had three, Ringo one and George also one.
37. The album has sold 5.1 million copies in the UK to date.
38. In total, it’s shifted 32 million units globally so far.
39. In 2008, the bass drum skin cover that features on the album artwork sold for £541,250 at auction.
40. The album spent 27 consecutive weeks at number one following its initial release.
41. McCartney had the idea for the ‘Sgt. Pepper’s’ concept on a flight back to London from Kenya. He’s said he wanted to write a song about a military band that would incorporate styles of the Edwardian era.
42. Although The Beatles were still writing music in 1967, they had actually permanently retired from touring the previous year. The album was never performed live.
43. Just before the release of the album, the band made a trip to Kings Road, Chelsea, with a copy of the album to visit The Mamas & The Papas singer and close friend, Cass Elliot. They reportedly listened to the album full blast with the windows open at 6am. No one complained.
44. ‘A Day In The Life’ was banned by the BBC due to inappropriate content. They claimed the lyric “I’d love to turn you on” could potentially “encourage a permissive attitude towards drug-taking”.
45. The BBC also banned ‘Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite!’ due to the phrase “Henry the horse” – a slang expression for heroin.
46. Replicas of the coats worn by The Beatles on their album cover were sold in their short-running Apple Boutique.
47. Ringo Starr said of the recording process, “The biggest memory I have of ‘Sgt. Pepper’s’ …is I learned to play chess.”
48. The album was influenced by The Beach Boys and Frank Zappa. George Martin stated, “’Sgt. Pepper’s’ never would have happened if ‘Pet Sounds’ by The Beach Boys had never been created.”
49. EMI made the decision to delete three songs in the Hong Kong and Malaysian versions of the album due to fears that drug references would be recognised.
50. John Lennon did not like his own voice, frequently discussing options with George Martin to manipulate it via signal processing.