The concert they gave on Monday, August 29, 1966 for 25,000 fans at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, California would be their last.
They were tired of touring and performing, “performing” for audiences whose incessant screaming and yelling surely drowned out every note they played.
The Beatles – John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison & Ringo Starr -wanted to devote their time to writing songs and recording.
So, on Thursday, November 24, 1966, when they gathered in Studio 2 of EMI Studios, Abbey Road, London, England, to begin recording their eighth album, John had a new song and Paul had an idea.
Paul proposed: since they were fed up with being Beatles, how about pretending they were another band. They could create alter egos and make a record as if they were this other band, a band of men, not “four little mop-top boys.” He even had a name for this pretend band: “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” (Depending on which of Paul’s recollections you read, the basic details of the conception of the fictitious band’s name are: he was on a plane, flying back to London with long-time friend and Beatles’ road manager Mal Evans. They were having a meal and somehow “salt and pepper” became “Sergeant Pepper.”)
Rather bemused at first, eventually John, George and Ringo got into it. But whatever the concept, the four Beatles, along with producer George Martin and recording engineer Geoff Emerick, set about their work with one simple goal in mind: everything on the new album had to be different.
“Strawberry Fields Forever,” John’s new song, was the first song that The Beatles recorded for the new album.
Over the course of the next five months – the last session for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was on Friday, April 21, 1967 – The Beatles created and recorded fifteen more songs.
“Strawberry Fields Forever” and a new song from Paul, “Penny Lane” – which was recorded over the months of December 1966 and January 1967 – were released as a single – Parlophone R 5570 – on February 17, 1967. “Only A Northern Song,” recorded in February 1967, was not released until January 17, 1969 as part of the Yellow Submarine soundtrack LP.
“Strawberry Fields” and “Penny Lane” were released as a “double-A side” single at the request of The Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein. Given that the last release of new music by The Beatles had been the LP Revolver on August 5, 1966, Brian was desperate for “a really great single.” He approached George Martin who said “I’ve got three tracks – and two of them are the best tracks they’ve ever made. We could put them together and make a smashing single.”
The recording of the first of the thirteen songs that ended up on Sgt. Pepper was begun on December 6, 1966. That song, “When I’m Sixty-Four,” was not actually a new song, but one that had existed in some form or other in The Beatles’ repertoire since the days when they played The Cavern Club back in Liverpool.
The 12 other Sgt. Pepper songs that followed were, in the order in which the recording of each track was started: “A Day In The Life,” “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” “Good Morning, Good Morning,” “Fixing a Hole,” “Being For The Benefit Of Mr, Kite,” “Lovely Rita,” “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds,” “Getting Better,” “She’s Leaving Home,” “Within You Without You,” “With A Little Help From My Friends” and “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise).”
The finished album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, was released in England on this day, June 1, 1967. It was released on Capitol Records in the United States on June 2.
To quote Beatle historian Mark Lewisohn from the liner notes of the 1999 remastered CD edition of the album: “Nothing was ever the same again.”
To quote the small print in the bottom right hand corner of the back of the 1967 LP’s famous gate-fold record jacket (the first record jacket to have all the lyrics of all the album’s songs printed on it): “A splendid time is guaranteed for all.”
When was the last time you listened to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band?
Sources for the information found in this post were: The Beatles Recording Sessions (1988), The Complete Beatles Chronicle (1992) and the liner notes from the remastered CD of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1999), all by Mark Lewisohn; Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now (1997) by Barry Miles; The Beatles Anthology (2000) by The Beatles.
Okay, after reading this, I’m putting it on right now. What a transformative work of art!