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Monday, May 16, 2016

Five Fun Facts about Sgt. Pepper

2:50 PM Posted by Nicole M

If you're a Beatles fan, I probably don't even need to tell you that Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was released on June 1, 1967, which means we're fast approaching the 49th anniversary of the album's debut. Still less do you need to be reminded what a landmark album this was, and how it changed the direction of rock and roll history forever. 

(Barry Miles, in his Paul McCartney biography Many Years From Now, even went so far as to say that Pepper basically broke Brian Wilson's competitive spirit: "The release of Sgt. Pepper finally destroyed his ambition to produce the greatest rock 'n' roll album ever. He abandoned his current project, Smile, and spent the next two years in bed.")

Here are five fun facts about the Sgt. Pepper album that you may not have known:

1. The whole concept began with food seasoning

No, really. Paul was ready to tackle a new project where The Beatles could be anonymous (Paul always did enjoy recording anonymously -- hello, Thrillington), and while eating with Mal Evans, he hit upon an idea:

We were having our meal and they had those little packets marked 'S' and 'P'. Mal said, 'What's that mean? Oh, salt and pepper.' We had a joke about that. So I said, 'Sergeant Pepper,' just to vary it, 'Sergeant Pepper, salt and pepper,' an aural pun, not mishearing him but just playing with the words. (Barry Miles, Many Years From Now)

The Digbees took the concept to the next logical place with their parody song "Sgt. Pepper Spray."

2. John wanted Hitler on the album cover

The Pepper album cover is an icon above all icons in rock music history. Some sixty-plus famous figures are depicted in the cover art, including Marilyn Monroe, Bob Dylan, Marlon Brando, and former Beatle Stuart Sutcliffe.

But John, being John, wanted to add a bit of controversy, and according to Bill Harry's The John Lennon Encyclopedia, Lennon requested that Adolph Hitler be included among the famous faces. (He also thought it would be a good idea to have Jesus on the cover, despite the fairly recent dust-up over his "bigger than Jesus" comments, because WHY NOT?)

Can you imagine if Hitler had been on the front cover? It would have been a completely different look.

3. George Harrison was barely involved in the album

Just as Paul McCartney was deciding that doing an anonymous album was a good idea, George Harrison was discovering a central idea behind Indian music and religion, that music could and should help you discover your true self. Needless to say, these two directions couldn't have been more opposite, and George's apathy towards the album concept is quite apparent.

George's one composition for the album was an eastern-style meditation ("Within You Without You") that includes a lyric lamenting "the people who hide themselves behind a wall of illusion." He couldn't have been too thrilled with the idea of dressing up in a costume for the album cover and pretending to be a member of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."

Paul McCartney played lead guitar on the title track, as well as "Good Morning Good Morning," while the album's watershed moment -- "A Day in the Life" -- found George doing nothing more than shaking the maracas. (He managed to play some harmonica for "Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite!" as well.)

4. "Penny Lane" and "Strawberry Fields Forever" were originally intended to be on the album

Arguably two of the strongest compositions written by either Lennon or McCartney during their pre-Pepper hiatus, "Penny Lane" and "Strawberry Fields" were among the first to be recorded when the band convened to work on the Pepper sessions. 

The suits-and-ties who ran the business, however, needed a new Beatles single for a hungry marketplace who were starting to worry if The Beatles were going to release any new music ever again, and so these two dynamite songs were released as singles and not included on the final album. 

But just try to imagine the alternate universe where Pepper also included those two tracks. It might have ended existence itself.

5. Paul sang the "ahhh" transition on "A Day in the Life" (unless it was John)

Want to get into a fight with a fellow Beatles fan? Just suggest that, in between Paul's "dream sequence" ("woke up, fell out of bed") and John's final verse ("I read the news today, oh boy"), it's actually Paul singing the "ahhhs" and not John.

Geoff Emerick in his book Here There and Everywhere says John sang those vocals, and Geoff was there, so he should know. Of course, this is the recollection of a man reaching back decades to remember a single point among thousands of hours of studio details, so maybe he's wrong.

John C. Winn in his book That Magic Feeling says that on February 3, 1967, Paul and Ringo worked on Take 6 of the song, with Paul "adding some soaring 'aahs' over the circle-of-fifths segment that linked back to the final verse."