Friday, April 27, 2007

20 things you never knew about Sgt. Pepper

From: Guardian Unlimited
Sunday April 22, 2007
Observer Music Monthly

1. How 'Lucy in the Sky' got its name

Both Lennon and McCartney insisted that 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds' - which just happens to spell L-S-D - accompanied a drawing by John's son, Julian. The story, as told by Beatle sidekick Mal Evans, first appeared in the June 1967 Beatles Monthly. 'Julian brought home a painting he'd done at school and his father asked him what it was supposed to be. "It's Lucy in the sky with diamonds," explained Julian.' McCartney in his autobiography (Many Years From Now) suggests that John actually 'showed me a drawing on school paper ... of a little girl with lots of stars, and right across the top there was written "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds".'

However, Julian was barely three-and-a-half years old when he supposedly began entitling his early visual work. When what appeared to be the very drawing was reproduced in Steve Turner's Hard Day's Write (1994), there was no such handwriting, neat or otherwise. But then, the illustration in question had already been rejected by Christie's, to whom it was offered for auction, because their Beatles expert simply didn't believe it was genuine. But if the drawing proved elusive, Lucy did not. Lucy O'Donnell lived in Weybridge, and attended the same school as Julian. Her name always featured in the song, if we can believe a first-hand account of a session at Abbey Road on 28 February from Life reporter Thomas Thompson. 'It is now almost midnight in the recording studio and after four hours of assault, "Lucy in the Sky ..." still sounds quite terrible. [But by] the bone-weary hour of 2am, "Lucy with the Diamond Eyes" is beginning to take shape.' By the time Thompson's article appeared, in the June 16 edition of Life, everyone knew the song as 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds', but his 'slip of the pen' appeared in the weekly unamended. However, that song title would have spelt LDE!

2. Paul hadn't taken LSD when he wrote 'Lucy'

The song as we know it was recorded on 1 March, 1967 at Abbey Road. However, the first time Paul took a trip was on the evening of 21 March, when he and George were obliged to usher John down from the roof of Abbey Road after he 'accidentally' ingested a tab of acid. In solidarity, Paul returned home with John, and shared the experience. Within a couple of months he was telling the People: 'It was truly a religious experience. I had never realised what people were talking about when they said God is within you.'

3. Noddy was in the studio next door ...

Wolverhampton band the 'N Betweens couldn't figure out what the surreal noises from across the hall presaged. The singer, Noddy Holder, right, remembers hearing 'snatches of these weird sounds coming out' and wondering, 'What the hell are they playing at?'

He was not alone in expressing such concerns. When a reporter from Beat Instrumental came to the studio one night, he found that 'George Martin spent half an hour, before the Beatles arrived, dropping spoons, pennies, and any other object he could think of into a large cauldron of water ... [and] the resulting splonks and plops would be recorded.' Holder and co changed their name to Ambrose Slade, before dropping the Ambrose, and becoming the biggest selling singles act since, er, the Beatles.

4. Paul's links with Pink Floyd

McCartney popped in on a number of Floyd sessions across the hall in the four weeks preceding the fabled 'first' meeting between the two bands on 21 March. He had many connections with the Floyd. He had attended the Roundhouse show in October 1966 that had launched the band's career; and had become a regular at their weekly residency at the UFO club that winter. And when the Beatles' old engineer, Norman Smith, started working with Floyd on Piper at the Gates of Dawn in February 1967, he joined IT editor and fellow Floyd fan, Miles, in stopping by to say hi.

Miles remembers 'going to a Beatles recording session, and [seeing] one of the Floyd's roadies, and he said they were recording there. I think the first time any of the Beatles went to see them in the studio was when I took Paul through ... They were standing in the studio, shouting at the control booth window, because they didn't realise you could just talk into a live mike, and Paul was trying to make them feel at home.'

McCartney continued to check out what the Floyd were doing to their songs and the EMI equipment (they apparently blew out four microphones that first night because they insisted on playing at the same deafening volume at which they performed live).

5. George's missing track

George Harrison's 'Only a Northern Song', was intended for inclusion right up to the moment that McCartney decided to reprise the title track. One of Harrison's bitterest Beatle songs, it was a dig at both Northern Songs, the band's pubishing company, and the ostensible concept (an album of 'northern songs') McCartney hoped to impose on the project.

6. What you can hear in the run-out groove

According to the June 1967 Beatles Monthly, this tape-loop was 'just a bit of jabbering conversation by the Beatles mixed up and distorted. Translated, it might well mean something like, 'Thank you for listening. That's all for now ... ' Actually, when some folk decided to play their LP backwards - perhaps after a night on the tiles - they were astonished to find it appeared to say, 'We'll fuck you like Superman.'

7. It wasn't all recorded at Abbey Road

The basic track for 'Fixing a Hole' was recorded at Regent Studio on Denmark Place, a demo studio favoured by the Rolling Stones for its earthy, monochromatic sound. George Martin was not impressed: 'A low-ceilinged, boxy little room with a low-ceilinged boxy little sound.'

8. 'When I'm 64' was originally a b-side

'When I'm 64' was originally intended to be the B-side. Only after Lennon decided that 'Strawberry Fields' needed holding up with strings did McCartney produce 'Penny Lane'. 'When I'm 64' duly became the first track recorded for the album, cut in two takes on 6 December, 1966. The song - which dated from the Beatles days in Hamburg - was supposedly reworked that autumn by Paul because his father was approaching that landmark.

9. The running order wasn't set in stone

The title track was originally going to be split into two parts, opening and closing the album. Only after the 29 March session resulted in the 13th and last song of the sessions ('With a Little Help from My Friends'), did the Beatles agree to re-record a rockier reprise. It was ultimately relegated to the penultimate place. According to George Martin: 'The final chord of "A Day in the Life" was so final that it was obvious nothing else could follow it.'

10. It didn't get universal rave reviews

The week the album appeared, Disc & Music Echo, part-owned by Beatles manager Brian Epstein, canvassed the opinions of some key pop contemporaries. The Kinks' Ray Davies seemed positively dismissive, insisting he'd 'only heard two tracks on the radio ... [But] I'm sure the Beatles don't care if the songs don't appeal to their fans. [They] will say "We did it for ourselves."'

Beatles Monthly was obliged to run a series of letters condemning the album in its July and August issues. Interestingly, it was almost exclusively girl fans who were disappointed, Jean Crosley dismissing Harrison's 'Within You Without You' as 'just a crazy lot of noises with no tune at all'.

George Melly, writing in this very paper, expressed reservations about both the music, with its 'tendency to overdo the curry powder', and the lyrics, where 'the straight psychedelic excursions seem to confuse poetry with woolly nursery surrealism'. He also felt the message of the album was singularly solipsistic. 'Look in, or look back, but don't, if you can avoid it, look out.'

11. Paul's fight for a 90-piece orchestra

According to George Martin, McCartney had been listening to avant-garde music and hoped to create a spiralling ascent of sound' separating the verses from the bridge. Paul wanted to use 90 musicians; EMI would only agree to a 40-piece orchestra. As a result, McCartney and Martin transferred each of the four 'takes' to one of the four tape-tracks then available, so there are in fact '160' musicians playing.

12. The cover art concept was changed

The original idea for the cover was for 'a beach-type painting ... with spaces for photo groupings'. However, as Miles recalls, after McCartney wrote the title track he began to conceive of 'a northern scene - the Lord Mayor presenting Sgt Pepper's brass band with some kind of medals, with the floral clock, and all that northern stuff ...'

13. The premiere missed out one number

When the album was given its world premiere on BBC radio's Where It's At, on 21 May, it was minus its most important song. 'A Day in the Life' had been banned by the Beeb on the grounds that the line, 'I'd love to turn you on', 'could be considered to have drug-taking implications'. However, the line 'I get high with a little help from my friends' was not deemed 'to have drug-taking implications' - even though it directly referred to the first time all four Beatles got high, with Dylan at the Delmonico Hotel in August 1964.

14. The band's preferred track was ...

The most played track at the Beatles' Pepper press bash was Procul Harum's 'A Whiter Shade of Pale', issued the week before Pepper. Lennon played the song non-stop on his Rolls Royce's portable record player all the way to the party.

15. Brian Wilson's reaction to an early version

On 1 April, McCartney flew to the States to see his girlfriend, Jane Asher. There, he played 'A Day in the Life' to the Beach Boys. According to one gossip column, Brian Wilson was 'so knocked out that he has retired to live in a sauna bath'.

16. It's best to hear the album in mono

The stereo mix was a mere afterthought, and none of the Beatles attended the stereo mix sessions. As Martin tellingly observes, 'In 1967, very few people had stereo equipment. Almost everyone listened on mono ... stereo was strictly for hi-fi freaks.'

17. You could buy it before its release date

Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, in its gatefold sleeve, with a complete set of lyrics on the back (another innovation now taken for granted), was rush-released in the UK one week before the official date of 1 June. It was available in some London shops as early as 26 May.

18. It was played live three days after release

On 4 June, topping the bill at the Saville Theatre, and with all four Beatles in attendance, Jimi Hendrix, decided to open the show with 'Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band', as he would throughout the remainder of 1967.

19. It's not in everyone's top 10

NME's critics voted Sgt Pepper the equal best album of all time in 1974, but by 2006 it did not make the paper's 100 best British albums.

20. Come on, get the name right ...

It's Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, not Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

· The Act You've Known For All These Years is published on 1 June (Canongate)

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