50 ‘Sergeant Pepper’s Facts’ to Celebrate the Beatles’ Landmark Album
It was 50 years ago today that the Beatles unleashed “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” on an unsuspecting world, upping the rock game to a level that most musicians are still trying to match.
In honor of the 50th anniversary of “Sgt. Pepper’s,” TheWrap presents 50 facts about the Beatles’ landmark masterpiece.
1. The fictional band name was inspired by salt-and-pepper packets Here’s a spcy detail about “Sgt. Pepper’s.” As Paul McCartney has mentioned, the genesis of the name came during a flight he was on with Beatles road manager Mal Evans.
“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,” McCartney recalled. “So I said, ‘Sergeant Pepper,’ just to vary it. ‘Sergeant Pepper, salt and pepper,’ an aural pun.”
2. “A Day in the Life” contains a sound that only dogs can hear. The epic John Lennon song that closes the album has plenty of strange sounds, but one of them is meant just for the canines.
“We’d talk for hours about these frequencies below the sub that you couldn’t really hear and the high frequencies that only dogs could hear. We put a sound on Sgt. Pepper that only dogs could hear,” McCartney noted during a BBC interview.
3. Ringo Starr made John Lennon and Paul McCartney change the lyrics to “With a Little Help From My Friends.” It takes a lot of nerve to dictate how a songwriting team as successful as Lennon and McCartney how to pen tunes, but Starr did exactly that for his “Sgt. Pepper’s” centerpiece song.
“The song ‘With a Little Help From My Friends’ was written specifically for me, but they had one line that I wouldn’t sing. It was, ‘What would you do if I sang out of tune? Woud you stand up and throw tomatoes at me?'” Starr has recalled. Ringo, remembering the jelly beans that fans threw at the group during the Beatlemania heyday and wary that he would be “bombarded with tomatoes” if he sang the lyric as it was, insisted on a line change.
4. The girl who inspired “She’s Leaving Home” had actually met the Beatles years before, and they were unaware of it. “She’s Leaving Home” was inspired by the story about runaway Melanie Coe that McCartney had read in the Daily Mail. Years before, Coe had met the group during a 1963 taping of “Ready Steady Go,” after winning a miming competition on the music TV show. McCartney presented Coe with her award.
5. Jesus Christ was considered for inclusion among the array of people on the album cover. John Lennon had suggested that Christ be included in the sea of faces adorning the cover, but the idea was mixed — probably a wise decision, given that, just a year before, Lennon had caused an uproar with his comment that the Beatles were “more popuar than Jesus now.”
6. Adolf Hitler, however, made the cut for the cover — sort of. Hitler was another suggestion of Lennon’s, and while he can’t actually be seen on the final album cover, he’s lurking in the background. Peter Blake, the artist who created the cover, told the Independent, “If you look at photographs of the out-takes, you can see the Hitler image in the studio. With the crowd behind there was an element of chance about who you can and cannot see, and we weren’t quite sure who would be covered in the final shot. Hitler was in fact covered up behind the band.”
7. “A Day in the Life” was banned by the BBC. Now acknowledged as a rock classic, “A Day in the Life” was banned from airplay by the BBC because it was believed that the song promoted a permissive attitude toward drug use.
8. So was “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite.” Though John Lennon drew his inspiration for the lyrics of “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” from an old circus poster hanging in his home, the BBC put the tune on its no-play list because it contained the phrase “Henry the Horse” — both “Henry” and “horse being slang terms for heroin.
9. And, yeah, “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” too. Despite Lennon’s insistence that the title of the psychedelic-era staple was derived from a drawing that his son Julian had done of a classmate, apparently the fact that the song could be loosely abbreviated to “LSD” wasn’t lost on the finger-waggers at the BBC.
10, Surprisingly, “With a Little Help From My Friends” was not subjected to a ban. This, despite the fact that the song’s chorus prominently contains the line, “I get high with a little help from my friends.”
11. Speaking of getting high, two of the Beatles were zooted for the album-cover shoot. Perhaps the real surprise here is that only half of the Beatles were high for the shoot, given the time, But as Lennon noted, “If you look closely at the album cover, you’ll see two people who are flying, and two who aren’t.” Added Starr, “Have a look at the cover and come to your own conclusion! There’s a lot of red-eyed photos around!”
12. “Good Morning Good Morning” was inspired by a jingle in a commercial for corn flakes. Hey, maybe breakfast really is the most important meal of the day.
13. Mae West initially balked at being included on the album cover. Hollywood sex symbol West at first was resistant to having her image used, asking, “What would I be doing in a lonely hearts club band?” She was later persuaded to go along with it after the group reached out to her.
14. Elvis Presley was left off the cover, for the best of reasons. The Beatles initially planned to include the King on the cover, but eventually thought better of it. As McCartney explained, “Elvis was too important and too far above the rest even to mention.”
15. The album ends on a very naughty note. Keen-eared fans with a thorough disregard for their turntables’ well-being have long maintained that the inner groove of “Sgt. Pepper’s,” when played backwards, contains the phrase, “We will f-ck you like Supermen.” Though he maintained that it was coincidental, McCartney acknoweldged that he heard the same thing after being told of it. “I .. played it studiously, turned it backwards with my thumb against the motor, turned the motor off and did it backwards. And there it was, sure as anything, plain as anything. ‘We’ll fuck you like Supermen.’ I thought, Jesus, what can you do?”
16. Ringo’s greatest highlight while recorrding the album might not have been musical at all. While the consistently underrated Starr provided plenty of impressive drum tracks on “Sgt. Pepper’s,” he drummer has said that “”The biggest memory I have of Sgt. Pepper … is I learned to play chess.”
17. Paul McCartney wrote “When I’m 64” when he was just 16. Though this reflection on growing old might seem to have come from a much more maure mind, McCartney wrote this one on his family’s piano while still a teen. The Beatles actually performed the song during their early Cavern Club days, after their amps broke down.
18. The album was recorded on a four-track machine. While “Sgt. Pepper’s” is widely credited with greatly expanding the scope of recorded music, it was recorded on a four-track tape machine — technology that, frankly, the GarageBand program on your Mac would point and laugh at.
19. George Harrison wasn’t a particular fan of the album, or the concept. “I felt we were just in the studio to make the next record, and Paul was going on about this idea of some fictitious band. That side of it didn’t really interest me, other that the title song and the album cover,” Harrison said. “Everybody else thought that Sgt Pepper was a revolutionary record – but for me it was not as enjoyable as Rubber Soul or Revolver, purely because I had gone through so many trips of my own and I was growing out of that kind of thing.”
20. The iconic bass-drum skin featured on the cover is worth a bundle. In 2008, the bass-drum skin on the album’s cover, which features the ornate logo of the fictional band, fetched a whoppng 670,000 Euros at auction.
21. This, despite the fact that the bass-drum skin is seriously flawed. As McCartney mentioned during a recent interview, the skin contains a couple of typos — such as a semicolon after “Sgt.” rather than a period, and no apostrophe in “Pepper’s.”
“Yeah, that’s an accident!” McCartney said. “The guy doing it was, as I say, a fairground guy, so all this sort of stuff — the filigree and all these decorative things – are the kind of things you would see on the side of a Waltzer, when you go to the fairground. It’s covered in this kind of stuff.”
22. Producer George Martin had one big regret about the album. The tracks “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane” were originally slated to appear on “Sgt. Pepper’s.” However, they were nixed from the album, because they label decided to release the songs as a double A-sided single instead. Martin called the decision to leave the songs off of the album “the biggest mistake of (his) professional life.”
23. The album was instrumental in launching the “Paul is dead” rumors. In one of the most famous death hoaxes of all time, many fans became intrigued by the theory that Paul McCartney had died and been replaced by a double. Among the alleged “clues” was a hand above McCartney’s head on the front cover, the words “without you” — from the lyrics to “Within You Without You” — next to McCartney’s head on the back cover, and, in the gatefold, a badge on McCartney’s jacket that appeared to read “OPD,” which some fans interpreted to mean “Officially Pronouced Dead.”
24. Fans were dead-wrong about the badge, though. In reality, McCartney’s badge read “OPP,” standing for Ottowa Provincial Police. The angle of the photo made it appear that the badge read “OPD.”
25. “Sgt. Pepper’s,” arguably the Beatles’ greatest artistic achievement, was preceded by a notable career disappointment. That “Strawberry Fields Forever”/”Penny Lane” single? It was released in February 1967 , and failed to reach Number 1 on the UK Singles Chart — a dramatic turn for a band that had become accustomed to being on top for a long, long time.
26. The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s”-era moustaches came about literally by accident. After McCartney did a face-plant while riding a moped, the bass player grew a moustache to cover a “sizeable bump” that resulted from the incident. The others followed suit as a sign of fuzzy-lipped solidarity.
27. “A Day in the Life” wasn’t always called “A Day in the Life.” John Lennon’s epic, album-closiing contribution to “Sgt. Pepper’s” actually started out with the title “In the Life Of…”
28. “With a Little Help From My Friends” had an even more bizarre working title. “Bad Finger Boogie,” anyone?
29. “Sgt. Pepper’s” wasn’t entirely recorded at Abbey Road. Though Abbey Road is the studio that the Beatles were most associated with during their existence,” Fixing a Hole” was tracked at Regent Sound Studios” — “a pretty awful little studio, very cramped and boxy,” in Martin’s estimation.
30. Paul McCartney’s dream of a massive orchestra were dashed — but ultimately surpassed. McCartney had envisioned having as many as 90 musicians in the orchestra on “A Day in the Life.” While he ultimately only got 40 musicians, they were recorded four times over, yielding the equivalent of a 160-piece orchestra.
31. What the orchestra lacked in size, it made up for in whimsy. The recording of “A Day in the Life” was a circus-like spectacle, with the musicians wearing full evening dress — while one of the musicians wore a red clown’s nose and the leader of the violins wore a gorilla’s paw on hi bow hand. The bassoons, meanwhile, were fitted with balloons on the end which inflated and deflated as the instruments played.
32. “A Day in the Life” was supposed to end with a hum. Rather than the sustained piano chord that “A Day in the Life” ends on, the song was initially supposed to end with a long, eight-bar “hummmm,” which the group and an assemblage of friends recorded for the track.
33. John Philip Sousa played an inadvertent part in the recording of “Sgt. Pepper’s.” Despite dying more than three decades before the recording of “Sgt. Pepper’s,” march-song composer Sousa can be heard on “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” Recordings of “The Stars and Stripes Forever” and other Sousa compositions were cut up and reassembled to create the fairground-like atmosphere of the song.
34. So did Dudley Moore. The applause and laughter contained on the album’s title track is derived from the recording “Volume 6: Applause and Laughter,” recorded at a 1961 performance of the comedy revue Beyond the Fringe, featuring the future “Arthur” star and other comedians.
35. Martin felt slighted during the recording of the album. Despite his monumental contributions to “Sgt. Pepper’s,” Martin didn’t write the score to “She’s Leaving Home” — Paul McCartney enlisted Mike Leander to do so when Martin wasn’t immediately available, because of a commitment to another artist. Martin saw McCartney’s decision “as a slight and was very hurt.” The producer later noted, “He was so damned impatient and I was up to my eyes in other work and I just couldn’t cope. But Paul realizes now, though he was surprised that I was upset.”
36. John Lennon was placed in a potentially life-threatening situation during the album’s recording. During a session for “Getting Better,” Lennon complained that he felt ill and Martin, hoping that some fresh air would do the Beatle good, took him up to the roof of the studio. McCartney and Harrison, realizing that Lennon was in the midst of an acid trip and probably shouldn’t be left alone on a rooftop, quickly brought Lennon back into the studio.
37. Beatles manager Brian Epstein had a very different idea for the “Sgt. Pepper’s” album cover. “Brian had a premonition that his plane was going to crash, so he sent a letter saying, ‘Brown paper bags for Sgt. Pepper,” Harrison once recalled.
38. McCartney saw “Sgt. Pepper’s” as comeuppance for a cynical music press. “I was very pleased because a month or two earlier the music papers had been saying, ‘What are the Beatles up to? Drying up, I suppose.’ So it was nice, making an album like ‘Pepper’ and thinking, ‘Yeah, drying up, I suppose. That’s right.'”
39. Even the Beatles weren’t above disseminating a bit of fake news now and again. While “A Day in the Life” was inspired by a newspaper report about a Guinness heir dying in a car crash, McCartney admitted that the lyrics tweaked the facts a bit. “John got ‘he blew his mind out in a car’ from a newspaper story. We transposed it a bit — ‘blew his mind out’ was a bit dramatic. In fact, he crashed his car.”
40. “Sgt. Pepper’s” isn’t really a concept album. Well, not completely, at least according to John Lennon, who said, “‘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 this idea of Sgt. Pepper and his band.”
41. Not everybody liked the album upon its release. Richard Goldstein of the New York Times, for one, called “Sgt. Pepper’s” an “album of special effects, dazzling but ultimately fraudulent.”
42. Jimi Hendrix was a fan — and a quick study. Three days after the release of “Sgt. Pepper’s,” McCartney and Harrison dropped in at London’s Saville Theatre to watch a concert by the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Hendrix and his band opened their set with a performance of the album’s title track.
43. “Sgt. Pepper’s” was the first rock album to win an Album of the Year Grammy. It also took home a Grammy for Best Contemporary Album.
44. Leo Gorcey could have been on the cover, if not for 400 reasons. “Bowery Boys” star Gorcey was in contention for the assembly of personalities on the cover, but he asked for $400 to be included, effectively removing himself from the running.
45. In 1978 the movie “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” was released, starring the Bee Gees and Peter Frampton was released. It wasn’t nearly as critically lauded or as popular as its inspiration.
46. The Beatles’ different colored “Sgt. Pepper’s” outfits, while fanciful, had no particular signifigance. “No, we just chose a material,” according to McCartney. “Said, ‘I’ll have that, he’ll have that.’ There was no concept, no. It was just whoever wanted what color.”
47. The album spent 15 weeks at the top of the Billboard chart, the most of any album the group released.
48. Paul McCartney took lead guitar duties on “Good Morning Good Morning.” While George Harrison handled the majority of the Beatles’ guitar leads, McCartney took charge on the stinging solo for “Good Morning Good Morning,” as he did with the guitar lead for “Taxman,” from the “Sgt. Pepper’s” predecessor “Revolver.”
49. “Penny Lane” and “Strawberry Fields Forever” weren’t the only songs left off of the album. Harrison’s “Only a Northern Song” was recorded during the “Sgt. Pepper’s” sessions, but was set aside. It later resurfaced on the album “Yellow Submarine.”
50. Frank Zappa had a weird connection to the album. McCartney called “Sgt. Pepper’s” as “our ‘Freak Out,'” referring to the debut album by Zappa’s band The Mothers of Invention, released the previous year. Zappa and crew later returned the honor, in a manner of speaking, by parodying the “Sgt. Pepper’s” cover for their 1968 album “We’re Only in it for the Money.”