Changing the lifestyle and appearance of youth
throughout the world didn't just happen - we set out
to do it; we knew what we were doing.
John Lennon, 1972
THE BEATLES PLAYED THEIR LAST ADVERTISED PUBLIC CONCERT ON 29 August 1966 at Candlestick Park, just outside San Francisco. The next day they returned exhausted to the rented villa in Beverly Hills they had been using as their base and, on the 31st, left for Britain. The pressures of fame and tour fatigue had taken their toll. The 1966 American tour had been a harrowing experience: beginning in Chicago, they had played ten stadium shows in a row before their first day off. They were exhausted and determined never to tour again. Most of their newer songs were unsuitable for public performance because they used studio effects or orchestration impossible to reproduce on stage; they were sick of playing to audiences that did nothing but scream and didn't listen to the music. And in the South, religious fanatics were burning Beatles records and the Ku Klux Klan had issued death threats because John told journalist Maureen Cleave that in terms of popularity, the Beatles were bigger than Jesus.
PAUL: I must admit we didn't really take it too seriously at all, we just thought, Yes, well, you can see what it is. It's hysterical low-grade American thinking. There is high-grade American thinking, which we know and appreciate: we like Lenny Bruce, we like Jack Kerouac, we like the painters, et cetera, we see the high free thinking. But we know there's this Elmer Gantry undercurrent. And of course that's exactly who got hold of it all, so there were record burnings, which of course echoed Hitler's book burnings. We always used to point out that to burn them, you've got to buy them, so it's no sweat off us, mate, burn 'em if you like. It's not compulsory to play 'em. So we took a balanced view of it, but I will never forget in one of the places down South, we pulled in there in the coach and there was this little blond-haired kid, he could have been no older than eleven or twelve, who barely came up to the window, screaming at me through the plate glass, banging the window with such vehemence. I thought, Gosh, I wonder how much he knows about God? He's only a young boy. It can only be what he's been fed, but he's been fed that we are the anti-Christ or something. This was the face of a zealot!
It wasn't that that made us stop touring, it wasn't the woman who predicted Kennedy's death saying we were going to die on a flight into Denver; we still got on the plane. We didn't listen to stuff like that, we still went ahead. But at the end of that particular tour it had started to become less enjoyable. There were all these other things to contend with, plus the screaming rather than someone watching the chords, and the craftsmanship going a bit. We began to lose respect for the live act, and everyone started to become a bit disgruntled. I was holding on, thinking, no, no, no. You can't just not do it, you know? You should just do it and work it all out. But in the end there was one lousy concert [St Louis, Missouri, 21 August 1966]: it was raining and we had a couple of bits of corrugated iron over us. It looked like a mud hut in the middle of somewhere and there were people miles away cheering. They were all in the rain, we were in the rain, it was a really miserable day. There was danger of the stuff all blowing us up with the water on the amps, and it was like, 'Oh, God, who needs this?' And finally, we finished the show. Everyone was in a bit of a mood, but we did the show, I'm not sure how much the audience would have known we were in a mood. We did the show and piled into the back of one of these chrome-lined panel trucks; they were always empty, and we'd pile into this terrible empty space, on this tour which had become spiritually rather empty, and this empty playing, and on that one occasion, I said, 'Okay,' and I let off a bit of steam, swore a bit and said, 'Oh, well, I really fucking agree with you. I've fucking had it up to here too!' And the guys said, 'Well, we've been telling you for weeks, man!' But finally they had my vote.
Back home in Cavendish Avenue that September, Paul still felt wound up from the tour and decided to take a driving holiday in France. But even in France, the least pop-conscious nation in Europe, Paul could not venture on to the street without squealing fans appearing from nowhere and taxi drivers demanding autographs. He decided to travel incognito, disguised so that he would not be recognised.
He went on his own, arranging to meet his roadie, Mal Evans, under the town clock in the centre of Bordeaux in two weeks' time, and then drove his new dark-green Aston Martin DB5 to Lydd airport in Kent, which used to do an air car-ferry service to France. The cars went in the belly of a fat-bellied cargo plane and their drivers went upstairs for a drink to calm their nerves during the bumpy 45-minute flight. 'Then you went and did your passports and they just drove your car off like a big posh hotel,' Paul said. 'It was great seeing your car come out, and also I was pretty proud of the car. It was a great motor for a young guy to have, pretty impressive.'
After French customs Paul put on his disguise. When the Beatles were making A Hard Day's Night, he had asked Wig Creations, the film make-up company, if they would make him a moustache. 'They measure you and match the colour of your hair, so it was like a genuine moustache with real glue. And I had a couple of pairs of glasses made with clear lenses, which just made me look a bit different. I put a long blue overcoat on and slicked my hair back with Vaseline and just wandered around and of course nobody recognised me at all. It was good, it was quite liberating for me.'
Paul had first tried out his disguise on the other Beatles, with complete success, during their July 1964 visit to Stockholm.
PAUL: We'd arrived in the afternoon and everyone was just settling in. I put on this disguise and picked up a camera and went around and knocked on the guys' doors. I knocked on George's and he came to the door, quite grumpy, you know, 'Yeah?' and I'd never seen him like that before. I said, 'Peresi, yea? Peresi?' A made-up foreign language, like someone who couldn't speak English. And he said, 'What d'you want? What d'you want?' He was quite curt with me, he was getting quite nasty actually, so I just changed the accent, 'Paresi, George, paresi, can't you tell, it's Paul speaking. It's me!' and I went into my real accent. And he goes, 'Fuckin' hell!'
Brian Epstein was in the bath with his door open when Paul wandered in.
I had a camera round my neck so I looked like a guy pestering people for photos and I had a little card I was flashing. It was one I'd been given by Wesley Rose of Acuff and Rose, the music publishers, and I was impressed by it because it was see-through red plastic. So I pulled this out and said, 'Paresi, paresi?' Brian said, 'Yes, can I help you?' I said, 'Paresi? Mr Epsteini? Photo?' He said, 'No, no, no, not now. Look, can't you see I'm in the -' 'No, no, no, Brian, can't you tell it's me?' Freaked him out.
Paul's plan was to drive to Paris, then head for Bordeaux, following the Loire down from Orleans, stopping off at the chateaux along the way. 'I was a little lonely poet on the road with my car.' His isolation was increased by his inability to speak French; he got by mainly on gestures, imitation and phrase-book sentences.
PAUL: It was an echo of the trip John and I made to Paris for his twenty-first birthday, really. I'd cruise, find a hotel and park. I parked away from the hotel and walked to the hotel. I would sit up in my room and write my journal, or take a little bit of movie film. I'd walk around the town and then in the evening go down to dinner, sit on my own at the table, at the height of all this Beatle thing, to ease the pressure, to balance the high-key pressure. Having a holiday and also not be recognised. And re-taste anonymity. Just sit on my own and think all sorts of artistic thoughts like, I'm on my own here, I could be writing a novel, easily. What about these characters here in this room?
In addition to keeping a journal record - now lost - he made a film of his trip, trying out a few experimental techniques of his own invention. Paul had been making home movies for more than a year.
He had filmed his friends, his cats and his dog. Two of the films, The Defeat of the Dog and The Next Spring Then, were described at the time in Punch magazine:
They were not like ordinary people's home movies. There were over-exposures, double-exposures, blinding orange lights, quick cuts from professional wrestling to a crowded car park to a close-up of a television weather map. There were long still shots of a grey cloudy sky and a wet, grey, pavement, jumping Chinese ivory carvings and affectionate slow-motion studies of his sheepdog Martha and his cat. The accompanying music, on a record player and faultlessly synchronised, was by the Modern Jazz Quartet and Bach.
In March 1966 Paul ran a competition in a little underground magazine called the Global Moon Edition of the Long Hair Times, the direct forerunner of International Times, edited by Miles and produced by John Hopkins on his own hand-cranked offset-litho machine. Paul, using his pseudonym Ian Iachimoe, offered twenty guineas for a film script:
Ian Iachimoe, the Polish 'new wave' film director, is offering a prize of 20 guineas to anyone who can supply the missing link in the following script. The dialogue is not needed, just the idea. Here is the outline of the story:
A woman (age 35-45) is fanatical about cleanliness. She is amazingly houseproud and obsessional about getting rid of dirt. This carries over in her dress, looks, and so on.
Something happens to make her have to crawl through a great load of dirt, old dustbins and so on. Good old honest dirt. What is this something?
The story continues with the woman's mind being snapped by her experiences with dirt. She goes mad and her obsession gets even worse.
What is needed is the idea. What could have caused her to become involved with filth. (She is not forced to do it, but chooses to do it herself.)
Send all answers, as many as you like, to Ian Iachimoe, c/o Indica Books & Gallery. 6 Mason's Yard, Duke St, St James's. London SWi. WHI 1424
This competition is for real - it seems strange but it is real.
PAUL: The thing about cleanliness could be my mother, who was a nurse and was very hygienic. She was amazingly house proud, she was almost obsessive about getting rid of dirt. So if I was analysing it, that would be the first thing I'd go to.
Twenty guineas was a lot of dough! I was very interested in making films. I used to have a few images that I stored to use if I ever did make a film. I suppose I was thinking of New Wave French directors, or New Wave Polish in this case. I remember I had an image of breaking an egg into an ashtray, a very full, very dirty ashtray. That was a shot that was always on my mind. I think it was the natural perfection of the egg breaking into the really slobby man-made mess of the all the ciggies and stuff. I was interested in the contrast.
Then I had a thought about the sound of fire being very similar to the sound of applause and I wanted to do something with that. So I had a lot of unrelated ideas. I suppose it culminated in 'Magical Mystery Tour'. That was about the nearest I got to it.
All of Paul's home movies were subsequently stolen by fans who broke into Cavendish Avenue and exist now only in the memory of those who saw them.
On his drive through France, Paul concentrated on filming images that he knew would look good when he superimposed over them.
Kodak 8 mm was the one, because it came on a reel. Once it became Super-8 on a cartridge you couldn't do anything with it, you couldn't control it. I liked to reverse things. I liked to reverse music and I found that you could send a film through the camera backwards. Those very early cameras were great.
If you take a film and run it through a camera once, then you rewind it and run it through again, you get two images, superimposed. But they're very washed out, so I developed this technique where I ran it through once at night and only photographed points of light, like very bright reds, and that would be all that would be on the first pass of the film. It would be like on black velvet, red, very red. I used to do it in my car so it was car headlights and neon signs, the green of a go sign, the red of a stop, the amber.
The next day, when it was daylight, I would go and shoot and I had this film that was a combination of these little points of light that were on a 'black velvet' background and daylight. My favourite was a sequence of a leaning cross in a cemetery. I turned my head and zoomed in on it, so it opened just with a cross, bingo, then as I zoomed back out, you could see the horizon was tilted at a crazy angle. And as I did it, I straightened up. That was the opening shot, then I cut to an old lady, facing away from me, tending the graves. A fat old French peasant who had stockings halfway down her legs and was revealing a lot of her knickers, turning away, so it was a bit funny or a bit gross maybe. She was just tending a grave so, I mean, I didn't need to judge it. I just filmed it. So the beautiful thing that happened was from the previous night's filming. There she is tending a grave and you just see a point of red light appear in between her legs and it just drifts very slowly like a little fart, or a little spirit or something, in the graves. And then these other lights just start to trickle around, and it's like Disney, it's like animation!
One thing I'd learned was that the best thing was to hold one shot. I was a fan of the Andy Warhol idea, not so much of his films but I liked the cheekiness of Empire, the film of the Empire State Building, I liked the nothingness of it. So I would do a bit of that.
There were some sequences I loved: there was a Ferris wheel going round, but you couldn't quite tell what it was. And I was looking out of the hotel window in one French city and there was a gendarme on traffic duty. There was lot of traffic coming this way, then he'd stop 'em, and let them all go. So the action for ten minutes was a gendarme directing the traffic: lots of gestures and getting annoyed. He was a great character, this guy. I ran it all back and filmed all the cars again, it had been raining so there was quite low light in the street. So in the film he was stopping cars but they were just going through his body like ghosts. It was quite funny. Later, as the soundtrack I had Albert Ayler playing the 'Marseillaise'. It was a great little movie but I don't know what happened to it.
All the films were silent, but Paul created soundtracks by playing records.
We discovered that if you put a home movie on, and put a record on at a random point, the record would synchronise with the music. At a number of points it would synchronise magically and at a number of points it would run out of synch. My theory was that in a movie there are probably fifty points that are moving at any time: the cat's tail, the cat's paws, the leaves, the bit of sunlight, the door which was opened and the person that walks through. The arms of the person, the feet of the person, the head turning; there are a lot of points in a movie that were moving; even the camera sometimes. Sometimes it's just the camera that's moving. Camera wobble and the lights will give you movement. And I figured that your eye synchronised these points of movement with the movement in the music, so fast sitar music was always very good for it. It would link up and, because it was Indian, it would suggest an exotic feel to the movie.
Paul was making his films using techniques which were being developed in parallel by many other experimental film-makers. Superimposition itself had been used throughout the history of film since Georges Melies first invented it. Rene Clair's Le Fantome du Moulin Rouge in 1924 and Jo Gercon and Hershell Louis's The Story of a Nobody in 1930 were important early works using the technique. Ian Hugo's 1952 Bells of Atlantis, based on Anais Nin's The House of Incest, a film with many similarities to Paul's shorts, helped to usher in the New American Cinema of the late fifties and early sixties. There the technique was used repeatedly in the films of Ron Rice, Storm de Hirsch, Harry Smith, Barbara Rubin, Carl Linder and most notably Stan Brakhage, whose Dog Star Man (1959-64), Prelude (1961) and Art of Vision (1961-65) were among the masterpieces of the movement.
Paul could not have been influenced by these film-makers since very few of their films had been shown in Britain at the time; but he shared with them the sixties desire to push the boundaries, and in exploring the possibilities of film he came up with similar results. In an interesting turn of the circle, however, Paul's views on superimposition and film-making were to be cited at length by Jonas Mekas, the leading theoretician of the New York underground film movement. Mekas had a weekly column called Movie Journal in the then radical Village Voice which chronicled the doings of the New York experimental film-makers. In the course of reviewing a collective show by twenty different experimental film-makers at the New York Cinematheque in his column for 9 March 1967, Mekas quoted from an interview Paul had done with Miles for the International Times. Mekas wrote:
It was a visionary show and one that marks a very important direction in cinema and I will attempt to indicate this direction with a few quotes. The quotes will be from Max Heindel, the mystic who died in 1919; Paul McCartney, the Beatle; and the Gospel of Thomas (uncovered in 1945 in a ruined tomb in Upper Egypt).
Paul McCartney (in the International Times, No 6 - you can buy it at the 8th Street Bookshop):
With everything, with any kind of thing, my aim seems to be to distort it. Distort it from what we know it as, even with music and visual things, and to change it from what it is to what it could be. To see the potential in it all. To take a note and wreck it and see in that note what else there is in it, that a simple act like distorting it has caused. To take a film and superimpose on top of it so you can't quite tell what it is any more, it's all trying to create magic, it's all trying to make things happen so that you don't know why they've happened. I'd like a lot more things to happen like they did when you were kids, when you didn't know how the conjuror did it, and were happy to just sit there and say, 'Well, it's magic!' ... The only trouble is, that you don't have the bit that you did when you were a kid of innocently accepting things. For instance, if a film comes on that's superimposed and doesn't seem to mean anything, immediately it's weird or it's strange, or it's a bit funny to most people, and they tend to laugh at it. The immediate reaction would be to laugh. And that's wrong! That's the first mistake and that's the big mistake that everyone makes, to immediately discount anything they don't understand, they're not sure of, and to say, 'Well, of course, we'll never know about that.' ... There's all these fantastic theories people put forward about 'it doesn't matter anyway' and it does, it does matter, in fact that matters more than anything, that side of it.
In France meanwhile Paul reached Bordeaux and decided to have a night out on the town before meeting up with Mal. He went to a disco, but his disguise was so good and he looked so drab and ordinary that they wouldn't let him in.
I looked like old jerko. 'No, no, monsieur, non' - you schmuck, we can't let you in! So I thought, Sod this, I might as well go back to the hotel and come as him! So I came back as a normal Beatle, and was welcomed in with open arms. I thought, Well, it doesn't matter if I've blown my cover because I'm going to meet Mal anyway, I don't have to keep the disguise any longer. Actually, by the time of the club I'd sort of had enough of it. Which was good. It was kind of therapeutic but I'd had enough. It was nice because I remembered what it was like to not be famous and it wasn't necessarily any better than being famous.
It made me remember why we all wanted to get famous; to get that thing. Of course, those of us in the Beatles have often thought that, because we wished for this great fame, and then it comes true but it brings with it all these great business pressures or the problems of fame, the problems of money, et cetera. And I just had to check whether I wanted to go back, and I ended up thinking, No, all in all, I'm quite happy with this lot.
Paul had arranged to meet Mal Evans at the Grosse Horloge, on the corner of cours Victor Hugo and rue St James.
PAUL: We met up, exactly as planned, under the church clock. He was there. I figured I'd had enough of my own company by then. I had enjoyed it, it had been a nice thing. Then we drove down into Spain but we got to Madrid and we didn't know anyone; the only way would have been to go to a club and start making contacts. So we thought, This is not going to be any fun, and rang the office in London, and booked ourselves a safari trip.
They flew off to Kenya on safari. Mal Evans's home movies were later released on video and show Paul filming all the way through Spain and on safari in Africa, but the films themselves have long since disappeared.
Paul, with Mal Evans, had a relaxing safari in Kenya, visiting the Ambosali Park at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro, and staying at the exclusive Treetops Hotel, where the rooms are built up among the branches of ancient trees. Their final night in Africa was spent at a YMCA in Nairobi before returning to London on 19 November 1966. It was on the flight back that Paul came up with the idea for Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
It was a long plane journey but rather than sleep Paul stayed awake writing and playing with ideas. The freedom he had experienced while driving through France in disguise at the beginning of the holiday had given him the idea of creating a new identity for the Beatles: by not being the Fab Four they could try something new, experiment, and show the fans that they had grown up.
PAUL: We were fed up with being the Beatles. We really hated that fucking four little mop-top boys approach. We were not boys, we were men. It was all gone, all that boy shit, all that screaming, we didn't want any more, plus, we'd now got turned on to pot and thought of ourselves as artists rather than just performers. There was now more to it; not only had John and I been writing, George had been writing, we'd been in films, John had written books, so it was natural that we should become artists.
Then suddenly on the plane I got this idea. I thought, Let's not be ourselves. Let's develop alter egos so we're not having to project an image which we know. It would be much more free. What would really be interesting would be to actually take on the personas of this different band. We could say, 'How would somebody else sing this? He might approach it a bit more sarcastically, perhaps.' So I had this idea of giving the Beatles alter egos simply to get a different approach; then when John came up to the microphone or I did, it wouldn't be John or Paul singing, it would be the members of this band. It would be a freeing element. I thought we can run this philosophy through the whole album: with this alter-ego band, it won't be us making all that sound, it won't be the Beatles, it'll be this other band, so we'll be able to lose our identities in this.
The first thing Paul needed was a name for the Doppelganger-Beatles. This was the heyday of fantastically named groups: the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Country Joe and the Fish, Lothar and the Hand People, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Quicksilver Messenger Service, the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band. Precedents for extravagance were not hard to find.
PAUL: Me and Mal often bantered words about which led to the rumour that he thought of the name Sergeant Pepper, but I think it would be much more likely that it was me saying, 'Think of names.' 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.
Then, 'Lonely Hearts Club', that's a good one. There's lot of those about, the equivalent of a dating agency now. I just strung those together rather in the way that you might string together Dr Hook and the Medicine Show. All that culture of the sixties going back to those travelling medicine men, Gypsies, it echoed back to the previous century really. I just fantasised, well, 'Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band'. That'd be crazy enough because why would a Lonely Hearts Club have a band? If it had been Sergeant Pepper's British Legion Band, that's more understandable. The idea was to be a little more funky, that's what everybody was doing. That was the fashion. The idea was just take any words that would flow. I wanted a string of those things because I thought that would be a natty idea instead of a catchy title. People would have to say, 'What?' We'd had quite a few pun titles - Rubber Soul, Revolver - so this was to get away from all that.
Back in London, Paul put the idea to the other Beatles.
PAUL: They were a bit bemused at first, I think, but they said, 'Yeah, that'll be great.' There wasn't any hard sell needed. Everyone was into it. It was a direction for an album. I had the name so then it was, 'Let's find roles for these people. Let's even get costumes for them for the album cover. Let them all choose what they want.' We didn't go as far as getting names for ourselves, but I wanted a background for the group, so I asked everyone in the group to write down whoever their idols were, whoever you loved. And it got quite funny, footballers: Dixie Dean, who's an old Everton footballer, Billy Liddle's a Liverpool player. The kind of people we'd heard our parents talk about, we didn't really know about people like Dixie Dean. There's a few like that, and then folk heroes like Albert Einstein and Aldous Huxley, all the influences from Indica like William Burroughs, and of course John, the rebel, put in Hitler and Jesus, which EMI wouldn't allow, but that was John. I think John often did that just for effect really. I first of all envisioned a photograph the group just sitting with a line of portraits of Marlon Brando, James Dean, Einstein and everyone around them in a sitting room, and we'd just sit there as a portrait.
We were starting to amass a list of who everybody's favourites were, and I started to get this idea that Beatles were in a park up north somewhere and it was very municipal, it was very council. I like that northern thing very much, which is what we were, where we were from. I had the idea to be in a park and in front of us to have a huge floral clock, which is a big feature of all those parks: Harrogate, everywhere, every park you went into then had a floral clock. We were sitting around talking about it, 'Why do they do a clock made out of flowers?' Very conceptual, it never moves, it just grows and time is therefore nonexistent, but the clock is growing and it was like, 'Wooah! The frozen floral clock.'
So the second phase of the idea was to have these guys in their new identity, in their costumes, being presented with the Freedom of the City or a cup, by the Lord Mayor in all his regalia, and I thought of it as a town up north, standing on a little rostrum with a few dignitaries and the band, above a floral clock. We always liked to take those ordinary facts of northern working-class life, like the clock, and mystify them and glamorise them and make them into something more magical, more universal. Probably because of the pot. So we would be in presentation mode, very Victorian, which led on from the portrait. When Peter Blake got involved, the portrait idea grew. We had the big list of heroes: maybe they could all be in the crowd at the presentation!
Sgt. Pepper is often described as the first concept album, but it was not initially conceived as such. There was never the intention to make a themed album, a 'northern' album, or present a mini-opera as the Who did later. Though both Rubber Soul and Revolver had experimental tracks, Paul's notion of the group being Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, rather than the four mop tops, liberated the Beatles to range across the musical landscape. Paul: 'With our alter egos we could do a bit of Â. Â. King, a bit of Stockhausen, a bit of Albert Ayler, a bit of Ravi Shankar, a bit of Pet Sounds, a bit of the Doors; it didn't matter, there was no pigeon-holing like there had been before.' It freed them from their public image and allowed them to take a new, unfettered direction; it gave them the distance necessary to attempt something as extraordinary as 'A Day in the Life'.
Only later in the recording did Neil Aspinall have the idea of repeating the 'Sgt. Pepper' song as a reprise, and the Beatles and George Martin begin to use linking tracks and segues to pull it all together, making it into more of a concept album.
Recording sessions for the Beatles' new album began on 24 November 1966. 'Strawberry Fields Forever' and 'Penny Lane' were the first and third songs completed, with 'When I'm Sixty-Four' in between; but Paul does not remember any overt decision by himself and John to write songs with a northern theme, even though these first two would indicate a concept album along those lines. As it happened, Brian Epstein decided that the Beatles needed a new single and both tracks were pulled for this, though initially the single was to be 'Strawberry Fields Forever' backed with 'When I'm Sixty-Four'. The Beatles' practice at the time was to never put singles on albums.
John wrote 'Strawberry Fields Forever' in Almeria, Spain, while he was filming How I Won the War with Richard Lester. It is a memory song, about the Salvation Army hostel near his home in Liverpool.
PAUL: I've seen Strawberry Fields described as a dull, grimy place next door to him that John imagined to be a beautiful place, but in the summer it wasn't dull and grimy at all: it was a secret garden. John's memory of it wasn't to do with the fact that it was a Salvation Army home; that was up at the house. There was a wall you could bunk over and it was a rather wild garden, it wasn't manicured at all, so it was easy to hide in. The bit he went into was a secret garden like in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and he thought of it like that, it was a little hide-away for him where he could maybe have a smoke, live in his dreams a little, so it was a get-away. It was an escape for John.
Perhaps inspired by John's nostalgia, Paul then wrote 'Penny Lane':
I think we wrote them round about the same time, we were often answering each other's songs so it might well have been my version of a memory song but I don't recall. It was childhood reminiscences: there is a bus stop called Penny Lane. There was a barber shop called Bioletti's with head shots of the haircuts you can have in the window and I just took it all and arted it up a little bit to make it sound like he was having a picture exhibition in his window. It was all based on real things; there was a bank on the corner so I imagined the banker, it was not a real person, and his slightly dubious habits and the little children laughing at him, and the pouring rain. The fire station was a bit of poetic licence; there's a fire station about half a mile down the road, not actually in Penny Lane, but we needed a third verse so we took that and I was very pleased with the line 'It's a clean machine'. I still like that as a phrase, you occasionally hit a lucky little phrase and it becomes more than a phrase. So the banker and the barber shop and the fire station were all real locations.
There is 'a shelter in the middle of the roundabout' at Smithdown Place, known to the locals as the Penny Lane Roundabout, where Church Road meets Smithdown Road. It is now occupied by a cafe, but was then used as a place to meet people or shelter while waiting for a bus.
PAUL: John and I would often meet at Penny Lane. That was where someone would stand and sell you poppies each year on British Legion poppy day; where John and I would put a shilling in the can and get ourselves a poppy. That was a memory. We fantasised the nurse selling poppies from a tray, which Americans used to think was puppies! Which again is an interesting image. I was a choirboy at a church opposite called St Barnabas so it had a lot of associations for me.
When I came to write it, John came over and helped me with the third verse, as often was the case. We were writing childhood memories: recently faded memories from eight or ten years before, so it was a recent nostalgia, pleasant memories for both of us. All the places were still there, and because we remembered it so clearly we could have gone on.
On the corner of Smithdown Place, next to the bank, stood the showroom of photographer Albert Marrion, who took the first official portraits of the Beatles - chosen by Brian Epstein because he had done the pictures for Clive Epstein's wedding. The window displayed formal portraits, including one mounted artistically upon an easel. Paul: 'I often used to stop in front of Albert Marrion's, who did high-class photography and wedding photos; we once had our picture taken by him, so there could have been a fourth verse about a photographer, but the song was finished before we needed any more characters. Penny Lane was a place with a lot of character and a lot of characters, good material for writing.'
Paul wrote 'Penny Lane' in the music room at Cavendish Avenue, on the piano which had recently been painted with its psychedelic rainbow by David Vaughan. In December 1966, about the same time as he delivered the piano, Vaughan asked Paul if he would contribute some music for a couple of Carnival of Light Raves that Binder, Edwards and Vaughan were promoting at the Roundhouse as part of their idea of bringing art to the community, in this case in the form of light shows, experimental music and films. David: 'I asked Paul to do it and I thought he would make more of it than he did, I thought this was a vehicle for him, if anything was. My trouble is, I expect everybody to drop everything. I forget other people have got things on.'
Amazingly, perhaps, Paul agreed to make a contribution, despite being in the middle of the recording sessions for Sgt. Pepper. So it was that on 5 January, after overdubbing a vocal on 'Penny Lane', the Beatles under Paul's direction freaked out at Abbey Road, producing an experimental tape just under fourteen minutes long. The tape has no rhythm, though a beat is sometimes established for a few bars by the percussion or a rhythmic pounding on the piano. There is no melody, though snatches of a tune sometimes threaten to break through. The Beatles make literally random sounds, although they sometimes respond to each other; for instance, a burst of organ notes answered by a rattle of percussion. The basic track was recorded slow so that some of the drums and organ were very deep and sonorous, like the bass notes of a cathedral organ. Much of it is echoed and it is often hard to tell if you are listening to a slowed-down cymbal or a tubular bell. John and Paul yell with massive amounts of reverb on their voices, there are Indian war cries, whistling, close-miked gasping, genuine coughing and fragments of studio conversation, ending with Paul asking, with echo, 'Can we hear it back now?' The tape was obviously overdubbed and has bursts of feedback guitar, schmaltzy cinema organ, snatches of jangling pub piano, some unpleasant electronic feedback and John yelling, 'Electricity.' There is a great deal of percussion throughout, again much of it overdubbed. The tape was made with full stereo separation, and is essentially an exercise in musical layers and textures. It most resembles 'The Return of the Son of Monster Magnet', the twelve-minute final track on Frank Zappa's Freak Out! album, except there is no rhythm and the music here is more fragmented, abstract and serious. The deep organ notes at the beginning of the piece set the tone as slow and contemplative.
DAVID: That organ is exactly how I used to see him. I used to picture him as a maniac from the seventeenth century: one of those brilliant composers who'd suddenly been reincarnated into this century, let loose with modern technology. A lot of people thought Paul McCartney was shallow. I didn't see him as that at all, I saw him as very very deep. He had this open fire with a big settee in front of it, there would be no lights on, and he'd be playing music at top volume. I used to sit there watching him for hours. I think that's the real him; this real deep, dark ... I thought, Who knows what he could do if they'd leave him alone for a bit? Because he could absorb a lot without encountering any mental block, he could express that Machiavellian, European horror.
The sleeve was beginning to come together in Paul's head so he wrote a song to go with it, once more using the north as a jumping-off point. Paul: 'I started writing the song: "It was twenty years ago today, Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play ..." Okay, so I was leading myself into a story. What was this about? Well, he's some guy, then, and I always imagined him as associated with a brass band; we've always liked brass bands. So again it was northern memories.' 'Sgt. Pepper' was Paul's song, with little or no input from John. It acted as an overture to the album and, by announcing Ringo as Billy Shears, introduced the notion that the members of Sergeant Pepper's band were alter egos for the Beatles, something that was not followed through overtly in the rest of the album.
'With a Little Help from My Friends' was tailored specifically for Ringo.
PAUL: This was written out at John's house in Weybridge for Ringo; we always liked to do one for him and it had to be not too much like our style. I think that was probably the best of the songs we wrote for Ringo actually. He was to be a character in this operetta, this whole thing that we were doing, so this gave him a good intro, wherever he came in the album; in fact it was the second track. It was a nice place for him, but wherever it came, it gave us an intro. Again, because it was the pot era, we had to slip in a little reference: 'I get high!'
It was pretty much co-written, John and I doing a work song for Ringo, a little craft job. I always saw those as the equivalent of writing a James Bond film theme. It was a challenge, it was something out of the ordinary for us because we actually had to write in a key for Ringo and you had to be a little tongue in cheek. Ringo liked kids a lot, he was very good with kids so we knew 'Yellow Submarine' would be a good thing for Ringo to sing. In this case, it was a slightly more mature song, which I always liked very much. I remember giggling with John as we wrote the lines 'What do you see when you turn out the light? I can't tell you but I know it's mine.' It could have been him playing with his willie under the covers, or it could have been taken on a deeper level; this was what it meant but it was a nice way to say it, a very non-specific way to say it. I always liked that.
'With a Little Help from My Friends' was picked up by Denny Cordell and Joe Cocker. Joe was sitting on the outside toilet at his parents' house at Tasker Road, Sheffield, when he got the idea of performing the song as a waltz, full-blown, anthemic, a celebration of sixties ideas of communalism, peace and smoking dope. It became his best-known song as well as his first big hit.
PAUL: Denny Cordell gave me a ring and said, 'We love that song that Ringo sings but we've got this treatment of it that we really think would be great, singing it very bluesy, very crazy, slow it right down.' I said, 'Well, great, try it, and let me hear what you do with it.' He came over to see us at Apple studios at Savile Row and played it and I said, 'Wow, fantastic!' They'd done a really radical treatment of it and it's been Joe's staple diet for many a year. Then it was taken on by John Belushi, who used to do a Cocker impression, and so taken even further by Belushi, so it has good memories, that song. It became the theme tune to the very good American series about growing up in the sixties called The Wonder Years, so it's been picked up and used a lot, that song, but it really started just as a co-written song crafted for Ringo.
'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds' was one of the fastest songs on the album to record: one day to record the backing tracks, one to overdub the instrumentals and vocals, and a final day to mix. It was also one of the most controversial tracks because, unbeknown to the Beatles at the time, the title contained the initials 'LSD', resulting in it being banned from many airwaves around the world. Certainly the song was about acid, but the reference in the title was unintentional.
PAUL: I went up to John's house in Weybridge. When I arrived we were having a cup of tea, and he said, 'Look at this great drawing Julian's done. Look at the title!' He showed me a drawing on school paper, a five-by-seven-inch piece of paper, of a little girl with lots of stars, and right across the top there was written, in very neat child handwriting, I think in pencil, 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds'. So I said, 'What's that mean?', thinking, Wow, fantastic title! John said, 'It's Lucy, a friend of his from school. And she's in the sky.' Julian had drawn stars, and then he thought they were diamonds. They were child's stars, there's a way to draw them with two triangles, but he said diamonds because they can be interpreted as diamonds or stars. And we loved it and she was in the sky and it was very trippy to us. So we went upstairs and started writing it. People later thought 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds' was LSD. I swear we didn't notice that when it came out, in actual fact, if you want to be pedantic you'd have to say it is LITSWD, but of course LSD is a better story.
The title lettering was probably written out in copybook child script by Julian's teacher, since Julian was only four years old. The picture was of Lucy O'Donnell, the little girl who sat next to him in one of the old-fashioned school desks at Heath House School, a private nursery in Weybridge.
John said that the psychedelic imagery was inspired by the 'Wool and Water' chapter of Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass:'... she found they were in a little boat, gliding along between banks: so there was nothing for it but to do her best.' It also captures the languid shifting imagery of the book's final poem:
A boat, beneath a sunny sky,
Lingering onward dreamily
In an evening of July -
PAUL: John had the tide and he had the first verse. It started off very Alice in Wonderland: 'Picture yourself in a boat, on a river ...' It's very Alice. Both of us had read the Alice books and always referred to them, we were always talking about 'Jabber-wocky' and we knew those more than any other books really. And when psychedelics came in, the heady quality of them was perfect. So we just went along with it. I sat there and wrote it with him: I offered 'cellophane flowers' and 'newspaper taxis' and John replied with 'kaleidoscope eyes'. I remember which was which because we traded words off each other, as we always did ... And in our mind it was an Alice thing, which both of us loved.
The Beatles' biographer Hunter Davies recounts that he was with Paul while he walked his dog Martha on Primrose Hill, near Paul's home in St John's Wood in the spring of 1967, when Paul remembered the phrase 'It's getting better' that Jimmy Nichol used to use all the time. (Nichol was the drummer who had taken Ringo's place for five days in Denmark and Australia in 1964 when Ringo was ill.) By the time John arrived for a writing session, Paul had the music to accompany the song title. Paul doesn't remember the moment the idea occurred.
PAUL: I just remember writing it. Ideas are ideas, you don't always remember where you had them, but what you do remember is writing them. Where I start remembering it is where I actually hit chords and discover the music, that's where my memory starts to kick in because that's the important bit; the casual thought that set it off isn't too important to me.
'Getting Better' I wrote on my magic Binder, Edwards and Vaughan piano in my music room. It had a lovely tone, that piano, you'd just open the lid and there was such a magic tone, almost out of tune, and of course the way it was painted added to the fun of it all. It's an optimistic song. I often try and get on to optimistic subjects in an effort to cheer myself up and also, realising that other people are going to hear this, to cheer them up too. And this was one of those. The 'angry young man' and all that was John and I filling in the verses about schoolteachers. We shared a lot of feelings against teachers who had punished you too much or who hadn't understood you or who had just been bastards generally. So there are references to them.
It's funny, I used to to think of the bad grammar coming from Chuck Berry but it's actually more Jamaican, like writing in slang. It just appeared in one of the verses, it felt nice, it scanned nicely, rather than 'I used to be an angry young man', 'me used ...' We'd always grab at those things, lots of precedents with Elvis, 'ain't never done no wrong'. At school the teachers would have said, 'Isn't it terrible grammar?' and you'd say, 'Yeah, isn't it great?'
There is an account of the writing of 'Getting Better' which mistakenly has Paul sitting in the studio, singing 'It's getting better all the time' and John bursts in and responds with the line 'Couldn't get much worse'. In fact, Paul and John rarely took unfinished songs to the studio; though they sometimes used expensive studio time for rehearsal, they would not have kept the other members of the group and the engineering staff waiting while they finished a song. The story is a conflation of two separate events: John and Paul writing 'Getting Better' at Cavendish Avenue, and a much later recording session for the song 'Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da' at Abbey Road. Paul described with relish how John came up with the sarcastic rejoinder as they added the words to Paul's music at Cavendish Avenue.
I was sitting there doing 'Getting better all the time' and John just said in his laconic way, 'It couldn't get no worse,' and I thought, Oh, brilliant! This is exactly why I love writing with John. He'd done it on a number of other occasions, he does a Greek chorus thing on 'She's Leaving Home', he just answers. It was one of the ways we'd write. I'd have the song quite mapped out and he'd come in with a counter-melody, so it was a simple ordinary story.
The part of the story where John bursts into the studio occurred during the recording of the White Album, when John arrived late at Abbey Road as Paul was running through 'Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da' on the guitar with the others. John ran in, threw himself down in front of the piano, asked which key they were in and immediately began pounding out the aggressive piano line that gave the final recording its energy. Paul: 'That became the song, and we all went, "Oh yeah!"'
Another inaccurate but frequently told story is that 'Fixing a Hole' was about heroin. This track is actually about marijuana. Like 'Got to Get You into My Life', it is described by Paul as 'another ode to pot', the drug that got him out of the rut of everyday consciousness and gave him the freedom to explore.
PAUL: 'Fixing' later became associated with fixing heroin but at that time I didn't associate it really. I know a lot of heroin people thought that was what it meant because that's exactly what you do, fix in a hole. It's not my meaning at all. 'Fixing a Hole' was about all those pissy people who told you, 'Don't daydream, don't do this, don't do that.' It seemed to me that that was all wrong and that it was now time to fix all of that. Mending was my meaning. Wanting to be free enough to let my mind wander, let myself be artistic, let myself not sneer at avant-garde things. It was the idea of me being on my own now, able to do what I want. If I want I'll paint the room in a colourful way. I'm fixing the hole, I'm fixing the crack in the door, I won't allow that to happen any more, I'll take hold of my life a bit more. It's all okay, I can do what I want and I'm going to set about fixing things. I was living now pretty much on my own in Cavendish Avenue, and enjoying my freedom and my new house and the salon-ness of it all. It's pretty much my song, as I recall. I like the double meaning of 'If I'm wrong I'm right where I belong'.
The funny thing about that was the night when we were going to record it, at Regent Sound Studios at Tottenham Court Road. I brought a guy who was Jesus. A guy arrived at my front gate and I said 'Yes? Hello' because I always used to answer it to everyone. If they were boring I would say, 'Sorry, no,' and they generally went away. This guy said, 'I'm Jesus Christ.' I said, 'Oop,' slightly shocked. I said, 'Well, you'd better come in then.' I thought, Well, it probably isn't. But if he is, I'm not going to be the one to turn him away. So I gave him a cup of tea and we just chatted and I asked, 'Why do you think you are Jesus?' There were a lot of casualties about then. We used to get a lot of people who were maybe insecure or going through emotional breakdowns or whatever. So I said, 'I've got to go to a session but if you promise to be very quiet and just sit in a corner, you can come.' So he did, he came to the session and he did sit very quietly and I never saw him after that. I introduced him to the guys. They said, 'Who's this?' I said, 'He's Jesus Christ.' We had a bit of a giggle over that.
Most books about the Beatles' songs attribute 'Fixing a Hole' to Paul doing a bit of do-it-yourself to the roof of his Scottish farmhouse, but this is not the case. Paul; 'It was much later that I ever got round to fixing the roof on the Scottish farm, I never did any of that till I met Linda. People just make it up! They know I've got a farm, they know it has a roof, they know I might be given to handyman tendencies so it's a very small leap for mankind ... to make up the rest of the story.'
On 27 February 1967, the Daily Mail newspaper ran a story headlined 'A-Level Girl Dumps Car and Vanishes'. Seventeen-year-old Melanie Ñîå, studying for her A-level examinations at Skinner's Grammar School in Stamford Hill, London, ran away from home leaving behind a mink coat, diamond rings and her own car. 'I cannot imagine why she should run away, she has everything here,' her father was quoted as saying.
PAUL: John and I wrote 'She's Leaving Home' together. It was my inspiration. We'd seen a story in the newspaper about a young girl who'd left home and not been found, there were a lot of those at the time, and that was enough to give us a story line. So I started to get the lyrics: she slips out and leaves a note and then the parents wake up and then ... It was rather poignant. I like it as a song, and when I showed it to John, he added the Greek chorus, long sustained notes, and one of the nice things about the structure of the song is that it stays on those chords endlessly. Before that period in our songwriting we would have changed chords but it stays on the Ñ chord. It really holds you. It's a really nice little trick and I think it worked very well.
While I was showing that to John, he was doing the Greek chorus, the parents' view: 'We gave her most of our lives, we gave her everything money could buy.' I think that may have been in the runaway story, it might have been a quote from the parents. Then there's the famous little line about a man from the motor trade; people have since said that was Terry Doran, who was a friend who worked in a car showroom, but it was just fiction, like the sea captain in 'Yellow Submarine', they weren't real people.
George Harrison said once he could only write songs from his personal experience, but they don't have to exist for me. The feeling of them is enough. The man from the motor trade was just a typical sleazy character, the kind of guy that could pull a young bird by saying, 'Would you like a ride in my car, darlin'?' Nice plush interior, that's how you pulled birds. So it was just a little bit of sleaze. It was largely mine, with help from John.
This was the first Beatles track arranged by someone other than George Martin. Paul was getting very keen on the possibilities of orchestral settings and felt that 'She's Leaving Home' would be best suited by this type of arrangement.
PAUL: I rang George Martin and said, 'I'm really on to this song, George. I want to record it next week.' I'm really hot to record it, I've got one of those 'I've got to go, I've got to go!' feelings and when you get them, you don't want anything to stop you, you feel like if you lose this impetus, you'll lose something valuable. So I rang him and I said, 'I need you to arrange it.' He said, 'I'm sorry, Paul, I've got a Cilla session.' And I thought, Fucking hell! After all this time working together, he ought to put himself out. It was probably unreasonable to expect him to. Anyway, I said, 'Well, fine, thanks George,' but I was so hot to trot that I called Mike Leander, another arranger. I got him to come over to Cavendish Avenue and I showed him what I wanted, strings, and he said, 'Leave it with me.' It is one of the first times I actually let anyone arrange something and then reviewed it later, which I don't like as a practice. It's much easier if I just stay with them. Anyway he took it away, did it, and George Martin was very hurt, apparently. Extremely hurt, but of course I was hurt that he didn't have time for me but he had time for Cilla.
In his book George Martin wrote, 'I couldn't understand why he was so impatient all of a sudden. It obviously hadn't occurred to him that I would be upset.'
Paul: 'It didn't work out badly. I don't like the echo on the harp, but that must be George rather than Mike Leander, or, to give him his due, it might have been one of us saying, "Stick some echo on that harp." You just can't tell.'
'She's Leaving Home' became one of the best loved and most moving songs the Beatles ever did. Oddly enough, the Beatles do not play on the song at all, just as they didn't on 'Yesterday'. 'She's Leaving Home' was sung by Paul and John with nothing but a string backing: a harp, four violins, two violas, two cellos and a double bass. The lyrics struck a particular chord at a time when unprecedented numbers of young people were running away from home, heading for communes and squats, setting up home together with lovers, going on the hippie trail. In the USA especially, tens of thousands were taking Timothy Leary's advice and 'turning on, tuning in and dropping out', heading for Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco, New York's Lower East Side, West Hollywood and Venice, wherever the bohemian quarter, looking for alternatives to the materialism their parents' generation offered.
'Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite!' was taken almost entirely from a Victorian circus poster. The poster, advertising a performance by Pablo Fanque's Circus Royal to be held at the Town Meadows, Rochdale, on 14 February 1843, was bought by John from an antique shop in Sevenoaks, Kent, when the Beatles were filming a promotional clip for 'Strawberry Fields Forever' on 31 January 1967. All the main characters of the song feature on the poster: for example, Mr Henderson, who announced his intention to leap 'through a hogshead of real fire ... Mr H. challenges the World!' The evening was advertised as 'Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite'.
PAUL: 'Mr Kite' was a poster that John had in his house in Weybridge. I arrived there for a session one day and he had it up on the wall in his living room. It was all there, the trampoline, the somersets, the hoops, the garters, the horse. It was Pablo Fanque's fair, and it said 'being for the benefit of Mr Kite'; almost the whole song was written right off this poster. We just sat down and wrote it. We pretty much took it down word for word and then just made up some little bits and pieces to glue it together. It was more John's because it was his poster so he ended up singing it, but it was quite a co-written song. We were both sitting there to write it at his house, just looking at it on the wall in the living room. But that was nice, it wrote itself very easily. Later George Martin put a fairground sound on it.
The fairground sound, suggested by John, was a brilliant piece of production work on George Martin's part. George had an enormous amount of experience using sound effects, most of it predating the Beatles, but in this instance he took a leaf out of their book. Using the same random principles that Paul had used in selecting the loop tapes for 'Tomorrow Never Knows', he made a tape up in the William Burroughs-Brion Gysin tradition. He described the event in Summer of Love, his account of the making of Sgt. Pepper. Taking a collection of steam organ recordings, he instructed the tape operator Geoff Emerick to transfer them all on to one tape:
'Geoff,' I said, 'we're going to try something here; I want you to cut that tape there up into sections that are roughly fifteen inches long.' Geoff reached for the scissors and began snipping.
In no time at all we had a small pyramid of worm-like tape fragments piled up on the floor at our feet. 'Now,' I said, 'pick them all up and fling them into the air!' He looked at me. Naturally, he thought I'd gone mad ...
'Now, pick 'em up and put them together again, and don't look at what you're doing,' I told Geoff ... When I listened to them, they formed a chaotic mass of sound ... it was unmistakably a steam organ. Perfect! There was the fairground atmosphere we had been looking for. John was thrilled to bits with it.
Paul originally wrote the tune for 'When I'm Sixty-Four' when he was sixteen in Liverpool and revived it for the album.
PAUL: 'When I'm Sixty-Four' was a case of me looking for stuff to do for Pepper. I thought it was a good little tune but it was too vaudevillian, so I had to get some cod lines to take the sting out of it, and put the tongue very firmly in cheek. 'Will you still need me?' is still a love song. 'Will you still look after me?', okay, but 'Will you still feed me?' goes into Goon Show humour. I mean, imagine having three kids called Vera, Chuck and Dave! It was very tongue in cheek and that to me is the attraction of it. I liked 'indicate precisely what ..." I like words that are exact, that you might find on a form. It's a nice phrase, it scans.
It's pretty much my song. I did it in rooty-tooty variety style. George Martin in his book says that I had it speeded up because I wanted to appear younger but I think that was just to make it more rooty-tooty; just lift the key because it was starting to sound a little turgid. George helped me on a clarinet arrangement. I would specify the sound and I love clarinets so 'Could we have a clarinet quartet?' 'Absolutely.' I'd give him a fairly good idea of what I wanted and George would score it because I couldn't do that. He was very helpful to us. Of course, when George Martin was sixty-four I had to send him a bottle of wine.
Next up was 'Lovely Rita', one of Paul's fantasy stories.
PAUL: 'Lovely Rita' was occasioned by me reading that in America they call traffic wardens 'meter maids', and I thought, God, that's so American! Also to me 'maid' had sexual connotations, like a French maid or a milkmaid, there's something good about 'maid', and 'meter' made it a bit more official, like the meter in a cab; the meter is running, meter maid. Hearing that amused me. In England you hear those American phrases and they enter our vocabulary. We let them in because we're amused, it's not because we love them or want to use them, it's just because it's funny. 'Rita' was the only name I could think of that would rhyme with it so I started on that, Rita, meter maid, lovely Rita. And I just fantasised on the idea.
Paul wrote the words while walking near his brother Michael's house in Gayton, in the Wirral near Liverpool, which looks out over the estuary of the River Dee to Holywell in Wales.
PAUL: I remember one night just going for a walk and working on the words as I walked. This was about the time that parking meters were coming in; before that we'd been able to park freely, so people had quite an antagonistic feeling towards these people. I'd been nicked a lot for parking so the fun was to imagine one of them was a bit of a easy lay, 'Come back to my place, darlin'.' It somehow made them a figure of fun instead of a figure of terror and it was a way of getting me own back.
It wasn't based on a real person but, as often happened, it was claimed by a girl called Rita who was a traffic warden who apparently did give me a ticket, so that made the newspapers. I think it was more a question of coincidence: anyone called Rita who gave me a ticket would naturally think, 'It's me!' I didn't think, Wow, that woman gave me a ticket, I'll write a song about her - never happened like that.
The parking-meter warden was actually named Meta Davies, who claimed, several years after the album was released, that she had just completed a parking ticket for Paul's car, parked somewhere near his house in St John's Wood, when he appeared. She had signed with her full name and he asked if her name was really Meta and told her it would be a good name for a song. Though not Rita, the combination of Meta and 'meter' may have provided an unconscious spark of an idea. There is also the possibility that the song was already written and Paul was just being friendly.
They began work on John's 'Good Morning' on 8 February, but continued to fiddle with it until the very last. The animal effects were not added until 28 March and the final mixing did not take place until mid-April. It is a song about suburban torpor.
PAUL: This is largely John's song. John was feeling trapped in suburbia and was going through some problems with Cynthia. It was about his boring life at the time, there's a reference in the lyrics to 'nothing to do' and 'meet the wife'; there was an afternoon TV soap called Meet the Wife that John watched, he was that bored, but I think he was also starting to get alarm bells and so 'Good morning, good morning'.
The title line itself was taken from a Kelloggs Cornflakes television advertisement. John's inspiration usually came from events in his life but his life had become so circumscribed that suburban lassitude and watching a lot of TV had become his main source of stimulation.
PAUL: When we came to record it we used Sounds Incorporated to do a big sax thing; they were friends of ours who had been on tour with us. But we still felt it needed something more manic so we decided to use a lot of sound effects on the fade. The great thing about working at EMI Abbey Road was that anything you needed was within reasonably easy reach. EMI was so multidimensional they had everything covered and we took advantage of all this. We used Daniel Barenboim's piano that he'd just recorded on; they would sometimes lock it but we would just ask, 'Can you unlock it?' and they'd say, 'Sure.' That was used on the big chord at the end of 'A Day in the Life'. There were so many grand pianos laying around, there were Hammond organs, there were harmoniums, there were celestes, and there was a sound-effects cupboard which they used for doing plays and spoken-word albums. George Martin said, 'There is a library, what do you want?' and we said, 'What have you got?' so we got the catalogue. 'Right, elephants, cock-crowing, the hunt going tally-ho, we'll have that ..."
The sound effects added to 'Good Morning, Good Morning' were taken from the EMI sound-effects tapes 'Volume 35: Animals and Bees' and 'Volume 57: Fox-hunt', each placed, at John's insistence, in order of ability to eat, or at least frighten, its predecessor.
Sound effects were also put to good use in the 'Sgt. Pepper' title song, where audience applause and laughter were overdubbed to give the impression of a live performance.
PAUL: We had an audience laughing on the front of 'Sgt. Pepper'. It had always been one of my favourite moments; I'd listened to radio a lot as a kid, and there had always been a moment in a radio show, say with somebody like Tommy Cooper, where he would walk on stage and he'd say hello, and they'd laugh, and he'd tell a joke, and they'd laugh, and there would always be a moment in these things, because it was live radio, where he wouldn't say anything, and the audience would laugh. And my imagination went wild whenever that happened. I thought, What is it? Has he dropped his trousers? Did he do a funny look? I had to know what had made 'em laugh. It fascinated me so much, and I'd always remembered that, so when we did 'Pepper' there's one of those laughs for nothing in there, just where Billy Shears is being introduced they all just laugh, and you don't know what the audience has laughed at.
The audience track came from a 1961 live recording George Martin made of a performance of Beyond the Fringe, a comedy revue starring Dudley Moore, Peter Cook, Alan Bennett and Jonathan Miller. Paul: 'We sat through hours of tapes, just giggling, it was just hilarious listening to an audience laugh. It was a great thing to do actually.' The orchestra tuning up, used on the same track, was a recording of the musicians preparing for 'A Day in the Life'.
A Day in the Life
Studio One at Abbey Road is a cavernous aircraft hangar of a place, used almost exclusively for classical recording, as large as a concert hall with enough space for several symphony orchestras to spread out. Sir Edward Elgar, Sir Thomas Beecham, Sir Malcolm Sargent, Sir John Barbirolli and Yehudi Menuhin all recorded there. It is strictly functional space: a vast expanse of parquet flooring littered with movable sound baffles and bits of scaffolding, grey walls which might once have been white, covered by scores of large square sound baffles like a sixties sci-fi movie and studded with speaker cabinets, part of the Ambiophonic feedback system. Had Sir Malcolm looked in on 10 February, 1967, he would have been in for a shock: the studio was filled with balloons, and flower children in tattered lace and faded velvet tripped around the room blowing rainbow bubbles. Three Rolling Stones - Brian Jones, Keith Richards and Mick Jagger - accompanied by Marianne Faithfull paraded in King's Road psychedelic finery, with flowing scarves, crushed velvet and satin trousers and multicoloured boots. Donovan, the cosmic troubadour, Graham Nash, the only psychedelic member of the Hollies, the Monkee Mike Nesmith, Patti Harrison (George's wife) and dozens of other friends milled around the edge of the room. The four Dutch designers known as the Fool arrived dressed as characters from the Tarot, carrying tambourines and bells, while the mighty Abbey Road air conditioners worked hard to control the rich fragrance of joss sticks and marijuana. At the centre stood George Martin and Paul McCartney, preparing to conduct a symphony orchestra, who were being asked, to their astonishment and for the first time in their careers, to improvise.
The orchestra and George Martin had been asked to attend in full evening dress, which the Beatles also promised they would wear. The Beatles did not keep their word but the orchestra and George Martin looked very smart in their tuxedos. In order to get them into the mood to play something unconventional and to encourage in them an element of playful spontaneity, the Beatles went among the players handing out party favours. Mai Evans had been sent to a joke shop on Great Russell Street and returned with plastic stick-on nipples, plastic glasses with false eyes, rubber bald pates, some with knotted handkerchiefs balanced on them, huge fake cigars, party hats and streamers: David McCallum, the leader of the London Philharmonic, wore a large red false nose; Erich Gruenberg, the leader of the second violins, had on a pair of flowery paper spectacles and held his bow in a large gorilla paw; the bassoon players, Alfred Waters and N. Fawcett, had balloons attached to their instruments which inflated and deflated with each note, raising a laugh from George Martin. Several film-makers with hand-held cameras circled the room.
The Beatles were recording 'A Day in the Life', one of their most experimental tracks but also one of the most beautiful and satisfying. It is a perfect example of a successful Lennon-McCartney collaboration but also encapsulates the results of Paul's two years of interest and experimentation in avant-garde circles. At the count-in the orchestra began to play a long free-form chord over twenty-four bars, with each player beginning at his lowest possible note and slowly moving up the scale to his highest, at the same time going from pianissimo to fortissimo, while the sound was fed back into the studio by the one hundred Ambiophonic speakers around the walls, filling the space with a massive wall of sound, more like a live concert than a recording session.
PAUL: 'It was a song that John brought over to me at Cavendish Avenue. It was his original idea. He'd been reading the Daily Mail and brought the newspaper with him to my house. We went upstairs to the music room and started to work on it. He had the first verse, he had the war, and a little bit of the second verse.'
John Lennon told Rolling Stone: '"A Day in the Life" - that was something. I dug it. It was a good piece of work between Paul and me. I had the "I read the news today" bit, and it turned Paul on. Now and then we really turn each other on with a bit of song, and he just said "yeah" - bang, bang, like that. It just sort of happened beautifully ..."
PAUL: The verse about the politician blowing his mind out in a car we wrote together. It has been attributed to Tara Browne, the Guinness heir, which I don't believe is the case, certainly as we were writing it, I was not attributing it to Tara in my head. In John's head it might have been. In my head I was imagining a politician bombed out on drugs who'd stopped at some traffic lights and he didn't notice that the lights had changed. The 'blew his mind' was purely a drug reference, nothing to do with a car crash. In actual fact I think I spent more time with Tara than John did. I'd taken Tara up to Liverpool. I was with Tara when I had the accident when I split my lip. We were really quite good friends and I introduced him to John. Anyway, if John said he was thinking of Tara, then he was, but in my mind it wasn't to do with that.
Tara Browne was the son of Lord and Lady Oranmore and Browne, whose great-grandfather was the brewer Edward Guinness. Tara went to Eton and, had he lived, would have inherited £1,000,000 at the age of twenty-five. A charming, likeable boy, with a wide grin and his hair brushed forward in a Beatle cut, he was a great friend of Brian Jones and often stayed overnight tripping on LSD with Brian, Keith Richards and Anita Pallenberg at Brian's flat in Courtfield Road. In the book Shutters and Blinds Anita described one trip with him: 'I remember being with Tara Browne on one of the first acid trips. He had a Lotus sportscar and suddenly near Sloane Square everything went red. The lights went red, the trees were flaming and we just jumped out of the car and left it there.'
Tara died in the early hours of the morning of 18 December 1966, while on his way to visit David Vaughan, who was painting a design on the front of Tara 's Kings Road shop Dandy Fashions. He smashed his Lotus Elan into the back of a parked van while swerving to avoid a Volkswagen which had pulled out in his path in Redcliffe Gardens in Earls Court. He was twenty-one. The coroner's report on his death was issued in January 1967.
John told Playboy: 'I was reading the paper one day and noticed two stories. One was about the Guinness heir who killed himself in a car. That was the main headline story. He died in London in a car crash. On the next page was a story about four thousand potholes in the streets of Blackburn, Lancashire, that needed to be filled.' The pot-hole story appeared in the 7 January 1967 issue of the Daily Mail.
PAUL: We looked through the newspaper and both wrote the verse 'how many holes in Blackburn, Lancashire'. I liked the way he said 'Lan-ca-sheer', which is the way you pronounce it up north. Then I had this sequence that fitted, 'Woke up, fell out of bed ...' and we had to link them. This was the time of Tim Leary's 'Turn on, tune in, drop out' and we wrote, 'I'd love to turn you on.' John and I gave each other a knowing look: 'Uh-huh, it's a drug song. You know that, don't you?'
'Yes, but at the same time, our stuff is always very ambiguous and "turn you on" can be sexual so ... c'mon!'
As John and I looked at each other, a little flash went between our eyes, like ‘I’d love to turn you on', a recognition of what we were doing, so I thought, Okay, we've got to have something amazing that will illustrate that.
When we took it to the studio I suggested, 'Let's put aside twenty-four bars and just have Mal count them.' They said, 'Well, what are you going to put there?' I said, 'Nothing. It's just going to be, One, chunk chunk chunk; two, chunk chunk chunk; three ...' And you can hear Mal in the background doing that. He counted down and on bar twenty-four he hit the alarm clock, Brrrrrrr! It was just a period of time, an arbitrary length of bars, which was very Cage thinking. I'm using his name to cover all the sins, but that kind of avant-garde thinking came from the people I had been listening to.
Next they had to come up with something to put in the gap. The twenty-four bars had been recorded with increasing amounts of reverberation on Mal's voice so by the last bar there was a tremendous echo on it. Paul also added discordant piano chords over Mal's countdown when he recorded the grand opening chords and piano track for the song. The basic tracks were recorded on 19 and 20 January 1967, with Ringo adding a new drum track on 3 February. Paul: 'We persuaded Ringo to play tom-toms. It's sensational. He normally didn't like to play lead drums, as it were, but we coached him through it. We said, "Come on, you're fantastic, this will be really beautiful," and indeed it was.'
It was not until another week had passed, during which they worked on Paul's title song 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' and made promo films of 'Penny Lane' and 'Strawberry Fields Forever', that they returned to 'A Day in the Life'. By now, Paul had decided what to do with the twenty-four bars. He asked George Martin for a symphony orchestra. The Beatles had never used one before, and, as a company man, George Martin immediately thought of the cost. He describes his reaction in Summer of Love:
'Nonsense,' I replied. 'You cannot, cannot have a symphony orchestra just for a few chords, Paul. Waste of money. I mean you're talking about ninety musicians!' ... Thus spake the well-trained corporate lackey still lurking somewhere inside me. Yet my imagination was fired: a symphony orchestra! I could see at once that we could make a lovely sound.
Paul told him what he wanted to do with it and in the end they settled on half an orchestra, forty-one players, which they could then double-track to make a whole.
PAUL: First we wrote out the music for the part where the orchestra had proper chords to do: after 'Somebody spoke and I went into a dream ..." big pure chords come in. But for the other orchestral parts I had a different idea. I sat John down and suggested it to him and he liked it a lot. I said, 'Look, all these composers are doing really weird avant-garde things and what I'd like to do here is give the orchestra some really strange instructions. We could tell them to sit there and be quiet, but that's been done, or we could have our own ideas based on this school of thought. This is what's going on now, this is what the movement's about.' So this is what we did.
I said, 'Right, to save all the arranging, we'll take the whole orchestra as one instrument.' And I wrote it down like a cooking recipe: I told the orchestra, 'There are twenty-four empty bars; on the ninth bar, the orchestra will take off, and it will go from its lowest note to its highest note. You start with the lowest note in the range of your instrument, and eventually go through all the notes of your instrument to the highest note. But the speed at which you do it is your own choice. You've got to get from your lowest to your highest. You don't have to actually use all your notes but you've got to do those two, that's the only restriction.' So that was the brief, a little avant-garde brief.
The orchestra, consisting mostly of members of the New Philharmonia, was unaccustomed to ad-libbing.
PAUL: So we had to go round and talk to them all, seeing them all separate: 'Wot's all this, Paul? What exactly d'you ...'
'In your own speed ...'
'What do you mean, any way I want?'
'Yeah.' The trumpets got the idea rather easily. I said, 'You can do it all in one spurt if you like. But you can't go back. You've got to end at your top note, or have done your top note.'
It was interesting because you found out the internal character of an orchestra; for instance, all the strings went together like sheep, all looked at each other to see who was going up. 'If you're going up, so am I!' They tried to go up together as a bank. Trumpets had no such reservations whatsoever, trumpets are notoriously the guys who go to the pub because you need to wet your whistle, you need plenty of spittle. So they were very free.
This did actually get a little organised by George Martin. I didn't want that amount of restriction on them and in my instructions to them I didn't give it, but George, knowing a symphony orchestra and their logic, decided to give them little signposts along the way.
The guests moved to the sides of the studio. The two conductors raised their batons - George Martin in evening dress and Paul McCartney in a red butcher's apron and a purple and black psychedelic paisley shirt - and recording began.
The orchestra played the chord through five times in all, and each take was very different. Then George Martin and his team had to synchronise it with their original four-track master since they did not have an eight-track machine. The engineer Ken Townshend lashed up a method of starting all the tape machines simultaneously using a 50-hertz signal, but even then the synchronisation wasn't quite perfect and on the final mix the orchestra can just be heard going in and out of time.
PAUL: And it became what's been referred to as a 'musical icon'. It's a very famous sound bite and of course John loved it. It was great to bring those ideas to it but this is the difference between me and Cage: mine would just be in the middle of a song as a little solo; his would be the whole thing. So we did this, and it was a great session.
If there was ever an example where up-to-date equipment would have improved a recording, it is 'A Day in the Life'. Because EMI was still using antiquated four-track equipment, nine years after American record companies such as Atlantic had switched to eight-track, George Martin was constantly forced to transfer one track to another in order to record the next layer of sound. As well as taking up a tremendous amount of studio time, each transfer multiplies the signal-to-noise ratio, introducing tape hiss: two copies creates four times the amount of hiss but a third copy increases it by nine times, so George Martin was constantly juggling tracks and worrying about keeping a track free. There is a lot of hiss and noise on 'A Day in the life', as a pair of decent headphones will show. George Martin and his engineers did a brilliant job considering that they were working in a museum, but the sound quality would have been better had it been recorded on modern equipment. It was typical of EMI that when they did finally decide to upgrade, they opted for an eight-track instead of buying one of the sixteen-track machines that had already become standard throughout the industry. By then, however, rock groups had become accustomed to using the top-of-the-line equipment in the independent studios, and EMI had to replace the eight-track with a sixteen within a year.
'Experimental' or 'avant-garde' are often derogatory terms in popular journalism, as if the experiment was going to be performed upon the public rather than on the art form. John Lennon was deeply sutpicious of any conscious intellectual attempt to bend or break the rules. Only later, when he was with Yoko, did he relax and accept that most attempts to challenge the rules were perfectly valid even if they were on occasion pretentious. In September 1969, in a recorded conversation with Miles, John said how Yoko had helped him see that he wasn't stupid.
'She wouldn't have loved a dummy, which I was beginning to think I was, so that helped. Of course she goes through the same thing, but I could help her in the same way, once I got over my intellectual reverse snobbery about avant-garde and that sort of thing, which I had to get over.'
MILES: 'You've still got it to an extent.'
JOHN: 'Sure, sure. I can't help it. It will take a long time to wear off, but I'm getting better.'
Paul's attitude was almost the complete opposite. He had an open mind about even the most extreme avant-garde experiments, though that did not necessarily mean he liked the art or music produced. In the two-year period leading up to Sgt. Pepper he was at his most inquisitive and receptive, listening to every type of music, going to art openings and attending experimental plays. He would go to see John, his head filled with the latest ideas. John would accept them from Paul, and took many of them on board, but it was not a good time for John and he was happy to let Paul take over the running of the ship. He told Miles: 'I was still in a real big depression in Pepper and I know Paul wasn't at that time. He was feeling full of confidence, but I wasn't. I was going through murder.'
One of the reasons the Beatles were such an exceptional group was that they did not rest on their laurels. Rather than stay with the simple pop-music formula of their early work, the period of Beatlemania, they pushed the boundaries of their music, making each album more complex than the one before, although never enough to alienate the fans. They were the first group to make rock 'n' roll an art form and show the other bands what could be done with it.
They were also the first to examine the whole spectrum of modern music, to see what was happening in other musical forms and incorporate any ideas that might be useful to Beatles music - a Post- -Modernist shopping trip which passed effortlessly from genre to genre. George Harrison introduced elements of traditional Indian music, which became an important part of their later work. With 'Nowhere Man' and 'Help!', John Lennon's lyrics became more confessional, less poppy. Ringo's drumming became more sophisticated: according to Phil Collins, his drum fills on 'Day in the Life' would be impossible to duplicate. As a country-and-western music lover, Ringo was responsible for the country twang to some of the numbers, usually those written specially for him by John and Paul.
Paul gleaned musical ideas and influences from every part of the cultural spectrum, from classical music to avant-garde, music hall to the cutting edge of modern jazz. He was first exposed to classical music by the Ashers and George Martin, leading eventually to the string arrangements on 'Yesterday' and, 'Eleanor Rigby' and the French horn and piccolo trumpet solos on 'For No One'. Sometimes the influence was direct; for instance, when Paul was working on 'Penny Lane' he used a number of flutes, piccolos, trumpets and a flugelhorn for the backing track, but he remained dissatisfied with the results. Then he saw the English Chamber Orchestra playing, from Guildford Cathedral, Bach's Second Brandenburg Concerto in F Major on the BBC television show Masterworks. David Mason was playing piccolo trumpet. Mason was telephoned the next morning and summoned to Abbey Road for that evening's session. Meanwhile while he was there Paul composed on the spot a perfect solo for him to play in the middle eight. He sang it to George Martin, who transcribed it for B-flat piccolo trumpet. David Mason played it and 'Penny Lane' was complete.
George Martin was quite comfortable using radio clips and tape collages on tracks like 'Strawberry Fields Forever' and 'I Am the Walrus' because of his vast experience in making spoken-word recordings with Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan and the other Goons, which utilised a tremendous number of special sound effects. It was an area that George was very interested in and very good at. He had also experimented with electronic sound, and in 1962 even released a single on Parlophone, 'Time Beat', under the name of Ray Cathode, consisting of a few live musicians over an electronic rhythm track created at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.
Tracing the paths of ideas is not an exact science. Sometimes, however, their route is known. The fragment of a live BBC broadcast of King Lear which appears in the mix at the end of 'I Am the Walrus' was the direct result of Paul telling John about John Cage using randomly tuned radios in his compositions. John had a radio set up and began twiddling the knob. Since the BBC had a monopoly over radio broadcasting, it wasn't long before he came upon a reading of Shakespeare that he liked. Paul: 'I had been talking to John about this. Having been turned on myself, naturally I would turn the guys on to it. Not claiming any credit, it's just that I was listening to more of that stuff.'
Tape montage seemed to be an idea that was being worked on simultaneously by a number of different people in different areas: John Cage and Luciano Berio had been working with it as a form of music since the late fifties, while William Burroughs and Brion Gysin had quite independently been conducting similar experiments, also since the late fifties, approaching it as a form of literature. Though they had not been released commercially, Paul had access to Burroughs's tapes through Miles and Ian Sommerville, the tape engineer who made most of them.
It was left to George Martin to sequence the tracks and prepare the album for release. Significantly, the mono mix took three times longer to do than the stereo. Stereo was still something new in Britain and few people had the equipment to play it. Sgt. Pepper was essentially conceived of and recorded as a mono release apart from some tricky stereo panning on the sound effects. After mixing, the sleeve still needed some work but as far as the Beatles were concerned there was only one small thing left to record.
In the sixties, the playing arm of most record decks would stick in the centre run-off groove, making an unpleasant scraping sound. In their quest to provide the best-value album ever, the Beatles even addressed themselves to this and on 21 April they went to Abbey Road for the final recording session of the album.
PAUL: It was a problem when the record came to an end and no one could be bothered to get up and turn it off. 'I know, we should put something on that!' I could handle that, because that'll be a mantra! That's fine. I can handle five hours of that and if nobody gets up, it won't bore us. Hours of random tape was recorded but we just chose one little bit that we liked: 'Couldn't really be any other; Couldn't really be any other; Couldn't really be any other,' something like that. And we knew that that's what it said, but you see how legends and rumours grow, because I remember some kids coming round to Cavendish Avenue and asking about the swearing on it.
Art into Pop: The Sgt. Pepper Sleeve
I had this very open house then, because I was living on my own. If American fans came over, I'd just invite them in for a cup of tea and we'd have a chat. It was like you were a guru, and you sensed a bit of that yourself, because often you would get the nutters coming and you didn't want to just turn them away so you felt you had to try and explain to them, 'No, Mr Kite is a fictitious character, we made him up.' 'Yes, but I am Mr Kite.' 'I know what you're saying, but as far as we're concerned, really, we didn't write it about you. You should know that. We wrote it actually off a circus poster and it's a fictitious name.' 'Yes, but I am Mr Kite. I am a patient under R. D. Laing.' I used to get a lot of R. D. Laing's people, he must have sent 'em round. I used to talk to 'em, you know. Something I might not think of doing now, with a family and kids. I had Billy Shears, I had Mr Kite, to both of them I had to explain nicely over a cup of tea. I had quite a few visitors there, but these kids came in one day and said, 'What's all that swearing when it goes backwards on the end of the loop about?' I said, 'No, it doesn't, it says, "It really couldn't be any other."' They said, 'It does do it, though, we've done it.' I said, 'No, it bloody doesn't.' I said, 'Well, come in, look, we'll get my record player.' We put the record on, then you could turn the turntable backwards. It probably hurt the motor, but you could turn it backwards, and sure enough, it said something like 'We'll fuck you like Superman; We'll fuck you like Superman. We'll fuck you like Superman.' I said, 'Oh, my Gawwd!' That kind of stuff does happen. That's why you can explore the accident. But that was far out. We had certainly had not intended to do that but probably when you turn anything backwards it sounds like something ... if you look hard enough you can make something out of anything.
As the recording sessions for Sgt. Pepper had progressed, so too did the work on the sleeve. First came Paul's initial concept of the Beatles standing before a wall of framed photographs of their heroes. One of his pen-and-ink drawings shows the four Beatles, all sporting moustaches, wearing long military-band jackets complete with epaulettes, holding brass-band instruments: Paul has an E-flat bass, the same brass instrument that his grandfather played; John holds a clarinet, George a trumpet and Ringo a kettle drum. John has a sash and Ringo a medal. They stand in an Edwardian sitting room with a wall of framed photographs behind them and a few trophies and shields. To the left of the framed photographs is a pin-up poster of Brigitte Bardot in one of her famous late-fifties poses: kneeling with her hands behind her head. By some oversight, Brigitte did not make it on to the final album sleeve.
Next, Paul made a series of pen-and-ink drawings of the Beatles being presented to some dignitaries in front of a floral clock. Paul: 'I did a lot of drawings of us being presented to the Lord Mayor, with lots of dignitaries and lots of friends of ours around, and it was to be us in front of a big northern floral clock, and we were to look like a brass band. That developed to become the Peter Blake cover.'
Many of Paul's friends had ideas for the sleeve, in particular John Dunbar, who thought that a totally abstract picture with no text or explanation would be a great idea: 'People will know what it is, man, people will know what it is!' But Paul was unconvinced and thought that the idea was too radical. He explained to John that the Beatles had fans from nine to ninety years old, and though the group in their mid-twenties would get it, many of the others wouldn't. Paul: 'It was probably just as well because it was confusing enough for people anyway, but I think the cover made it on its own, and it became a very famous cover.'
Paul showed his drawings to Robert Fraser, who immediately suggested that the Beatles should get a 'real' artist to execute the sleeve and suggested Peter Blake. Paul agreed that it would be a perfect project for Peter, so he and Robert went to Peter's house in west London to discuss it with him.
Peter Blake's Pop Art has the nostalgic quality of English popular culture: circus artistes, wrestling posters, strippers, Victorian toys, seaside piers, 'What the Butler Saw' machines and naughty postcards, even when he is painting Elvis, Bo Diddley, the Beatles, the Lettermen or LaVern Baker. His work is painterly, always brilliantly drawn, but based on the folk-art style of inn signs, painted barges and fairground rides. There is a sense of the accumulation of centuries of memorabilia, household scrapbook mementoes and Victorian advertising. He painted his first comic strip in 1957 and was one of the founders of the Pop Art movement. The Sgt. Pepper cover as conceived by Paul, with its English popular cultural imagery, its collage of heroes and whiff of nostalgia, could have been custom-made for Peter Blake.
PAUL: So I took the little drawings of the floral clock and the Lord Mayor and all our heroes, which was like the end design, and we went to see Peter. He lived in a little suburban house in an ordinary row; a very cosy house with lots of things everywhere like an antique shop. All the walls were loaded with pictures, the corridor to the next room and up to the bedroom was filled with tattooed-lady pictures - he had a lot of those.
There were posters of Hilda Beck and Tarzan the wrestler. Works by other artists, including columns by Joe Tilson and a Richard Smith painting, filled the walls.
All Peter's early stuff was there: the Wrestlers, the little boy with badges, the pin-ups, his great works, work by other pop artists. His picture of the Beatles was there too, so it was like 'Oh, hey!' It's difficult to say anything, because when it's the Beatles it's not a portrait of you, it's a portrait of your legend. It's difficult to comment, so I think we just bantered about it. I told him I thought it was very good. He got a cool likeness of me at the time, so I was able to compliment him on it, but mainly I was looking around for my own interest really. We talked about Elvis and Gene Vincent and stuff like that that was the real deep common denominator.
Peter Blake was then married to the American artist Jann Haworth, who also exhibited at Robert Fraser's gallery. She made life-size stuffed figures of off-beat characters. Two of her waxwork dummies sat on the settee. One memorable show included a collection of oversize teddy bears, each with John Betjeman's face, some of whom were having a teddy bears' picnic. John Betjeman was the British Poet Laureate, best known for his poems on country churches and his celebration of English suburbia. As Paul explored Peter and Jann's house, he came across some of her Betjeman teddy bears in a drawing room filled with potted plants: 'Jann had a big Californian surfer, one of her models, standing there, but the Betjeman was the most memorable. I love Betjeman as well, he was so sweet. I would like to have hung out with him but I never got to meet him.'
Peter Blake looked the archetypal artist, with a pointed beard and dressed in Levi jacket and jeans, then virtually impossible to obtain in Britain, where the fashion of wearing jeans had not yet caught on and Levis were available only from one or two import shops. He had what Paul called a 'precise English gentlemanly scholarly twinkle in the eye'. They got on well.
PAUL: I remember asking him for painting hints. I asked him to give me a couple of lessons but it just fell by the way. Recently he said, 'Oh, did I? Oh, I would have, I'd have been pleased to.' But I really wanted little hints, like how do you get a hair off the canvas when it gets on there?
So, I showed him my little drawings and said, 'Look, we're on a little hill like this, and we have a floral clock there, what can we do with this? This is my idea so far, you can mess it round, I'm not fixed. I'd love your input.' And from there it grew. Now that Peter was involved, Robert actually had a role; it led Robert to becoming an unofficial art director on the project.
The idea did get a bit metamorphosed when Peter was brought in; they changed it in good ways. The clock became the sign of the Beatles in front of it, the floral clock metamorphosed into a flower bed. Our heroes in photographs around us became the crowd of dignitaries, and it was them that was presenting us with something, except no one was getting presented with something any more. So the idea just crystallised a bit. Which was good. It took a lot of working out but it's one of the all-time covers, I think, so that was great.
Finding photographs of everyone on the list was the first problem. First of all, Neil Aspinall went looking for portraits of everyone on the list as it stood before Peter Blake was involved. The list he brought into Indica Bookshop read as follows:
Yogas, Marquis de Sade, Hitler, Nietzsche, Lenny Bruce, Lord Buckley, Aleister Crowley, Dylan Thomas, James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, William Burroughs, Robert Peel, Stockhausen, Aldous Huxley, H. G. Wells, Einstein, Carl Jung, Beardsley, Alfred Jarry, Tom Mix, Johnny Weissmuller, Magritte, Tyrone Power, Karl Marx, Richmal Crompton, Dick Barton, Tommy Handley, Albert Stubbins, Fred Astaire.
George's list had been composed of nothing but Indian gurus, including his favourites: Babaji and Paramahansa Yogananda. John's list ran from de Sade to Oscar Wilde; he later added Lewis Carroll and Edgar Allan Ðîå. A cut-out of Hitler, who was on his list, was made and removed from the set up only just before the photo session began. Paul's list ran from William Burroughs to Fred Astaire. Ringo said he would go along with whatever the others chose. Peter Blake added W. Ñ Fields, Tony Curtis, Dion, Shirley Temple, Sonny Liston and the sculptor H. C. Westerman. Robert Fraser suggested Terry Southern and the American artists Wally Berman and Richard Lindner.
In the end, the list departed very much from the original concept; for various reasons people got dropped and others, who had little to do with the Beatles, were added. Brigitte Bardot, who is drawn ten times larger than any other hero in Paul's original sketch, does not appear but Diana Dors, a pale English imitation from the same era, does. Magritte and Alfred Jarry similarly did not appear, though they were on earlier lists. The project was taking on a life of its own.
PAUL: Then we had a few meetings and we decided it might need to be a gatefold thing because we started to need space. George Martin in his book says Sgt. Pepper was going to be a double album but they didn't have enough material. I'm not sure that's true. I think it was always going to be single album but we ran out of space for the artwork rather than have too little material. We suddenly had an art project here and people want canvases, you know.
It quickly became obvious that the outdoors municipal environment was no longer appropriate and that it would be much easier to shoot the cover in a studio. Robert Fraser recommended that the ex-Vogue photographer Michael Cooper take the picture and that the set should be built in his studio in Flood Street, Chelsea. Behind most of Robert's suggestions, there was an ulterior motive. In this case Robert happened to be in business with Michael Cooper and had set up the Flood Street photographic studio with him as a business venture the previous year. Michael Cooper took all the photographs for Robert's gallery and Robert steered as much business through the studio as possible.
PAUL: So we had the cover pretty much covered. There was a lot of running to and fro. I went out a couple of times to Peter's and he came to Cavendish Avenue a couple of times. Robert would say, 'Do you mind if we do this?' or 'This would be great,' and 'Peter would like to do this,' 'Peter wants to go to Madame Tussauds and he wants to use your waxwork models and Sonny Liston's.' So it was great, great, great. It was really developing fine. The Rolling Stones were friends of us all, and I think Robert thought that it would be a great harmonious gesture to actually acknowledge them on our record cover because everyone thought the Beatles and the Stones are always bitching at each other, so that would be far out. There were millions of ideas like that. Peter knew a lot of fairground painters who paint roundabouts and sideshows, so he got somebody to do the bass drum specially for it. We just developed it. It was a nice art project. It was great.
Everything was done by consensus between Paul, the other Beatles, Robert, Peter and Jann. John went with Robert to see Peter Blake early on, but did not get very involved, partly because he was living out of town. Brian Epstein had been against a 'group photograph' idea from the beginning and had little to do with the sleeve, although when it came to getting copyright clearance to use the likenesses of the famous crowd, it was his office that was given the job. Brian had become heavily involved with the sixties drug scene and spent the four months Sgt. Pepper took to record either on holiday or in the Priory, an expensive residential drug-rehabilitation centre in Putney, London. He left the clinic long enough to launch the album with a party at his house on Chapel Street but returned to the Priory after the party. His long-suffering assistant Wendy Hanson had already resigned in desperation because drugs had made him impossible to deal with. He had to hire her on a freelance basis specifically to get the copyright clearances for the album since no one else at NEMS was capable of doing it.
EMI were not very pleased with the sleeve idea either. They were concerned about the copyright implications of using the likenesses of so many famous people, and very concerned about the idea of using Mahatma Gandhi in the line-up, which they felt, probably correctly, could lead to unpleasant political repercussions in India, a country where EMI had a very large domestic market controlled by their subsidiary, the Gramophone Company of India (Private) Limited of Dum Dum. Since the Beatles were making literally millions of pounds in profits for the company, they merited a personal visit from the EMI chairman Sir Joseph Lockwood.
PAUL: They just wouldn't let Gandhi be on the cover and Sir Joe Lockwood came round to my house to tell me this personally. He said it could be taken as an insult in India. I always got on particularly well with Joe, I liked him a lot. I think he was a very clever man and found him a very charming bloke with a sense of humour. So it never got heavy with Joe. He always had his young personal-assistant guy with him, very charming. It was unusual for us, who'd not seen the head of a big company like that that at close hand; with a private life, just to the side of it all. You were seeing power in high places.
So he came round. And he said, 'Oh, er,' smirking a bit. 'We have some problems on this. I'm afraid they've sent me around.' And he said, 'There are going to be a lot of problems on all these people, all these faces, because everyone has the right to their own likeness and you can't just put them on a cover. They're going to sue us. We're going be up to our eyeballs in lawsuits.'
I said, 'No, you won't.' He said, 'We will.' I said, 'They'll all be pleased to be on it.' I said, 'What you should do is ring them all and ask 'em! Have you rang them all?' 'No.' I said, 'Well, ring Marlon Brando, or his agent, and say, the Beatles would love him to be on this little montage, on the front. It's nothing detrimental or anything. It's a homage that the Beatles are doing to these people. Explain it. I would think they would be pleased to be on it. It's a big thing being on a Beatle cover ...' 'Mmmm,' he said. 'We'll get a lot of letters.' So I said, 'Well, everyone you get a letter from, let me know and it'll have to come out of royalties, so cover your ass legally but just let us get on with it.' Which he did.
In Abbey Road, the official history of the studios, written by Brian Southall, Sir Joseph Lockwood said:
I told them they would have to take Gandhi out as he was a holy man and that they would have to get permission from each of the people included in the picture before we would agree to its use. They gave us an indemnity for 10 million dollars royalties in the light of any legal action and set about contacting the people. The first telegram they sent was to Leonard Bernstein, who said he would be 'delighted' to be on the sleeve and the remarkable thing is that we have never had a single claim on that record even though the Beatles didn't bother to contact everybody.
PAUL: EMI is very like the BBC or the government. It's a giant institution and I've always found that one of its charms. Some people hate that kind of thing, but I don't. I like the BBC. I always imagine Britain without the Beeb would be a very different place. Sometimes that kind of stuffs central to your civilisation. Iraq hasn't got a Beeb, has it? For all its dreadfulness and for all its terrible cobwebbiness, there is an amazing machine in place there. I value that kind of stuff. We used the Beeb like a giant loudspeaker, loudhailer. We were there often and they would put out our music to all the country, then often it would get on the World Service, so you knew you were getting round the world with it. So it was a great machine to plug into. One of the original clean machines.
The idea for the Pepper thing to me was to give as much as you could. All of us Beatles remembered going to the record shop when we were kids; Saturday mornings was my free time to go and shop, school the rest of the week and homework etcetera, but Saturday morning I had my pocket money, and I'd saved up and I used to go into the record department of Lewis's and there'd be girls with beehives sitting round dreamily listening to Johnny Mathis sing 'A Certain Smile', and you'd come in and riffle through the 45s and 78s; originally it was 78s and then as we grew up it became 45s, and EPs. And I'd been burned once or twice. I remember buying a record called 'Rock Pile' by Ray Charles. I loved 'What'd I Say', but this was an instrumental. It was the Ray Charles Orchestra, it might not have even been by Ray Charles, so I'd spent this sacred money, this long-saved pocket money, and I'd blown it on a piece of shit. I once bought a Little Richard record which consisted of one live track of his and the rest consisted of this Buck Ram Orchestra, and I hated that. We all hated that. So by the time we got to Pepper, we thought, we'll make the album we always wanted to make. We'll really do it all this time. We're in no hurry. There's no tour we have got to be on, we're getting stoned, we're feeling great; we were being cool about this whole thing. We wanted it to be very very full of value.
I wanted a great cover, I wanted it packed with images. I wanted something I could read on the bus back from Lewis's, because that's what I used to do. I'd take it out of its brown paper bag and read it. And I could read some albums for half an hour and just look at the graphics. It was the age of sleeve notes. So we wanted to pack it with goodies. One of the ideas was to have an envelope and in it we were going to have things like they used to hand out in comics: we wanted transfers you could stick on yourself, because we had those when we were kids. It was all childhood memories.
I had to fight at EMI even for things like the thickness of the cardboard. EMI were always trying to give me less and less thick cardboard. I said, 'Look, when I was a kid, I loved my records, the good ones, and I wanted to protect them and thick cardboard would keep my records. That's all I want to do is give the kids who buy our stuff something to protect our records.' 'Well now, Paul, we can't do it, the volume you boys sell at. If we can save point oh oh pence ... And you can't tell the difference.' 'I bloody can! That's a thin piece of cardboard!' But I got my thick cardboard. I was always arguing for things like that. It somehow fell to me. Later people put me down for that, 'Oh, he was always the pushy one, the PR one.' The truth was, no other fucker would do it! And it had to get done, and I was living in London and I could hop in a taxi and go down Manchester Square and say, 'I'll be down in ten minutes to talk to you about the cardboard.'
Our idea was to give people a record, which is a damn fine record, you get a thick cover, which lasts and lasts for years and years, you get a cover you can read for ever, you get goodies, freebies, and 'all yours for the price of a regular record'! That's what we wanted to do. They kept saying, 'No, that'll increase the price,' so the envelope of little sticky things had to become more practical. So that became the insert with Sgt. Pepper on it that you could take off and make into a badge, the moustache and the bass drum. That became the practical way they could give it to us. We fought like devils, I tell you. But I see no reason why you shouldn't fight for things like that. It was like, 'We're the Beatles, it's not as if we're some shitty act. We're making you a lot of money. It's not as if you couldn't give us a little bit back. All we're trying to do is give people a great deal, they'll buy more because it's a great deal and they'll come back for the next one,' so it all seemed very wise to us.
The idea of giving their fans extra value made Paul and John decide that instead of having sleeve notes, they would print the lyrics of the songs on the sleeve. The music-publishing company immediately objected, thinking, probably correctly, that it would cut the sales of sheet music. It was the first time anyone had done this with lyrics, though until then the vast majority of pop groups did not write their own material so for most of them the question did not arise. The Beatles didn't realise that this was a ground-breaking exercise. Paul thinks it was probably the idea of Gene Mahon, a designer whom they hired as a co-ordinator on the project. 'He was a nice Irish guy who was at an ad agency who we found to help pull it all together because we had Michael Cooper, we had Robert, Peter, Jann, Neil and all of us to get together.'
Gene Mahon was working at a new advertising agency called Geer Dubois. It became Gene's job to do most of the hard work on putting the sleeve together; working from the agency's offices, he and a colleague, Al Vandenberg, selected most of the photographs and supervised the enlargements. Robert Fraser and Michael Cooper were much too grand to do such work, and also too out of it on junk most of the time (like Robert, Michael was also a junkie). It was Gene Mahon who pulled the line from the lyrics and inserted it as the final credit on the back sleeve: 'A splendid time is guaranteed for all.'
When it was decided that the record needed a gatefold sleeve in order to accommodate the insert, the Beatles hired a Dutch group known as the Fool to paint a scene for the inner spread. The Fool consisted of Simon Posthuma and Marijke Koger, who arrived in London from Amsterdam, via Morocco, at the end of 1966. Not long afterwards they were joined by Josje Leeger, also from Amsterdam, and an Englishman, Barrie Finch, who worked for Brian Epstein's Saville Theatre and met them when he commissioned them to do a concert poster. The hippie philosophy had been seized upon wholeheartedly by the young Dutch: they smoked more pot, held bigger love-ins in the Vondel Park, listened to more interminable guitar solos and dressed more exotically than any other hippies on earth, and Simon and Marijke were no exception
Simon was twenty-eight, tall, well-built, with long dark wavy hair and a Van Dyke nose. He dressed in full-sleeved silk blouses, gold chains, red knee-length boots with patterned Turkish pants billowing over the top, often topped off with a full-length red cloak. He was a painter and very much the mentor of the group. He was prone to deliver long bouts of hippie philosophy, though his English was not as good as Marijke's. She was twenty-three and had been a commercial artist in Holland. Her long red hair was worn in bangs held in place by multicoloured headscarves. Over her tiny miniskirt she wore layer after layer of brightly patterned silk blouses, waistcoats, brocaded jerkins and silk coats, as well as a tangle of ethnic jewellery. They were vegetarians, teetotal, and studied Rudolf Steiner and other esoteric philosophers. They were followers of the Dutch medium Josef Rudolf, but also had their own Hindu swami. Most of all, they studied the Tarot. Simon told the Sunday Times: 'You are what you made yourself and every race and nationality is joined. There is a general spiritual revival going on and we should be governed by people who have regard for our spiritual life. In future people will have more leisure and they will have to develop their inner eye. They will want to get to know the supreme power: love!'
PAUL: Originally it was just Simon and Marijke, and later they called themselves the Fool. I used to know Marijke, she was a quite striking-looking girl. She used to read my fortune in Tarot cards, which was something I wasn't too keen on because I didn't want to draw the death card one day. I still don't like that kind of stuff because I know my mind will dwell on it. I always steered a bit clear of all that shit, but in fact it always used to come out as the Fool. And I used to say, 'Oh, dear!' and she used to say, 'No no no. The Fool's a very good card. On the surface it looks stupid, the Fool, but in fact it's one of the best cards, because it's the innocent, it's the child, it's that reading of fool.' So I began to like the word 'fool', because I began to see through the surface meaning. I wrote 'The Fool on the Hill' out of that experience of seeing Tarot cards.
Simon and Marijke had produced a couple of psychedelic posters: one of Bob Dylan in the current style of Aubrey Beardsley on acid, and another simply spelling out 'Love' in swirling lettering among stylised figures. They rented a small shop front on Goswell Street, off New Cavendish Street, to sell North African jewellery and clothes, psychedelic posters, joss sticks and books of esoteric philosophy.
For the Sgt. Pepper centrefold Simon and Marijke painted a dream landscape of stylised mountain peaks and wonderful birds, like an LSD-influenced Chinese willow-pattern design. The sky was rain-bowed with two oval panels for text, one of which was filled with stars and comets. A further empty panel had a flower border with a peacock draping its tail over the side. Tiny figures of the Beatles peeped out from among the flora. The style was Euro-psychedelic, owing much to Mucha, Beardsley, art nouveau and nineteenth-century children's book illustration. Unfortunately they got the dimensions wrong, but even with a border added, the work looked somehow second-rate. The Beatles, however, loved it.
PAUL: They had done a drawing that was going to be the whole centrefold and Robert said, 'Uh-uh, it's no good. It's not good art.' And we said, 'Oh, it's fabulous, man! You know, it looks great! Here we are, we're going to be smiling out of the clouds and it's all colourful.' And he said, 'Yes, but they don't draw well. It, it, it's not good,' and he just wouldn't allow it. I said, 'Tough shit, it's our record, you may be a consultant, man, but it's not your record and the Beatles want it.' I think what let them down was the drawing. The colours were very nice and their clothes were smashing, patchwork and velvet and all that, but actual draughtsmanship was what Robert was talking about. And he refused to allow it, which was very ballsy because he actually didn't have the right. We said, 'We just won't do it your way,' and right to the end almost it was going to be the Fool cover. We resisted that for quite a few days. And I've since seen it and I know he was quite right about it.
At Michael Cooper's studio at 4 Chelsea Manor Studios, Flood Street, SW3, the set took two weeks to assemble. The photographs were enlarged, hand-tinted and glued to hardboard sheets to be cut out as silhouettes. Figures arrived from Madame Tussauds and from Jann Haworth. The Beatles' Sergeant Pepper uniforms were made and delivered to them at Abbey Road, where they tried them on and wore them for part of a session.
On 30 March 1967, the day of the shoot, Clifton Nurseries in St John's Wood, where Paul bought his plants for Cavendish Avenue, delivered the potted plants. They did not bring enough flowers for even a small floral clock so the delivery boy made a guitar with them instead. Gene Mahon sat in a side room, rolling joints. The Beatles and their friends and associates arrived and the shoot began. Robert suggested the Beatles have a series of portrait shots done at the same time as the front-cover photo session, because that would make a much better centre spread. They also shot the back-cover picture to use with the lyrics. There was a rumour, part of the 'Paul is dead' madness, that Mal Evans replaced Paul in the back-cover shot, but since this is taken from the same session as the front sleeve, and Mal was about twice as big as Paul, this is impossible.
When Robert handed them the portraits from the Michael Cooper session, he said, 'No, really. This should be it. It just ties in so much better,' and the Beatles finally agreed to replace the Fool's artwork with the portrait. The Fool were asked to do the inner sleeve instead, which was not normally designed at all. They made an abstract wave pattern printed in different shades of maroon, which fitted well with the rest of the sleeve.
PAUL: The inside cover was now to be the portrait, which Robert thought was very strong, for a number of reasons. One of the things we were very much into in those days was eye messages. I had seen a thing on TV about eye contact in apes, and I'd become fascinated by this whole idea that you don't look at each other. I'd thought this was a way to get a breakthrough here on acid and this became a sort of party game we used to play then. I used to play it all the time with Mal and John, you get a feedback. Quite trippy.
I remember later John and Yoko looking at each other for hours in the studio because it became a thing for bonding, it became almost necessary. John and Yoko looking at each other for hours and hours - 'It's gonna be all right! It's gonna be all right! It's gonna be all right! It's gonna be all right!' - using that as a mantra. Funky games. So with Michael Cooper's inside photo, we all said, 'Now look into the camera and really say "I love you!" Really try and feel love, really give love through this! It'll come out, it'll show, it's an attitude.' And that's what that is, if you look at it you'll see the big effort from the eyes.
The money men at EMI were horrified when they saw the bill for the sleeve. Their usual budget for a sleeve photograph was £25, perhaps rising to £75 for an act as big as the Beatles. Copyright and retouching fees for the cut-out heroes came to £1,367.13.3d. Robert Fraser and Michael Cooper's fees amounted to £1,500.12.0d, out of which Peter Blake was given £200. Sir Joe Lockwood told Robert Fraser that he could have hired the whole of the London Symphony Orchestra for what it cost.
It was worth it. The Sgt. Pepper sleeve became an immediate popular culture icon. David Mellor, commenting on it in his book The Sixties Art Scene in London, said:
The wall of faces of cult heroes are like badges covering a jacket. This album cover was, among other things, an evocation of popular memory - with the civic, parkland space in the foreground and the souvenir 'kit' inside the record sleeve, the entirety formed the apotheosis of Blake's assemblage style, which was now feeding back into popular commercial design and packaging.
Certainly as far as Peter Blake was concerned the feedback was complete: he was now responsible for one of the cultural icons that previously he would have used as his subject matter. Pop had become Art.
Sgt. Pepper was released on 1 June 1967 and critical reaction was virtually unanimous in its praise. Almost the only seriously dissenting voice was Richard Goldstein in the Village Voice, and even his critical appraisal admitted that it was better than 80 per cent of all other music around. The underground press raved, and Crawdaddy magazine ran a seventeen-page review by the editor Paul Williams, written high on acid. It seems that he liked it. Timothy Leary said, 'I declare that John Lennon, George Harrison, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr are mutants. Evolutionary agents sent by God, endowed with mysterious powers to create a new human species.' And the English music press finally discovered that producers have a lot to do with making records.
PAUL: When Sgt. Pepper came out, the reviews said, 'George Martin's finest album' and 'Svengali-like George Martin', and we went, 'What? What!' It was a piss-off for us because we'd put our heart and soul into it, all this work, and not to detract from George, but it was not good enough that he should get the credit. I mean, this was not George's direction. However much George helped, and he was massive on that album, it was our direction. So I think there's been a slight resentment, certainly on Ringo's part, certainly on George's part, on my part and certainly a very vociferous one on John's part, which was: Hey, George Martin was great. He's a lovely guy and we all loved him, but don't get the idea for one minute that he did it. OK, he was the producer, fine, and you have to give the producer credit, but he couldn't have made this album with Gerry and the Pacemakers, so it's not just George Martin.
He knew those technical things, he was a great help, and we learned a lot of tricks from him: knowing to slow something down to half speed when it was too difficult to play, then play it down an octave and it would be absolutely perfect when it comes back up. And he did arrangements and could play the piano.
The main point was that George was the grown-up, not on drags, and up behind the glass window, and we were the kids, on drugs, in the studio. He was somebody completely different, an alien force really, performing his wartime role as the Fleet Air Arm observer from behind the glass window. When he was doing his TV programme on Pepper, he asked me, 'Do you know what caused Pepper?' I said, 'In one word, George, drugs. Pot.' And George said, 'No, no. But you weren't on it all the time.' 'Yes, we were.' Sgt. Pepper was a drug album.
The influence of Sgt. Pepper on other musicians was enormous. Virtually all the West Coast psychedelic bands cite it as a milestone in their development. But the first tribute from a fellow musician came from Jimi Hendrix. Paul had first seen the Jimi Hendrix Experience at the Bag o'Nails on 11 January 1967.
PAUL: It would be one of his first gigs in London. Jimi was a sweetie, a very nice guy. I remember him opening at the Saville on a Sunday night, 4 June 1967. Brian Epstein used to rent it when it was usually dark on the Sunday. Jimi opened, the curtains flew back and he came walking forward, playing 'Sgt. Pepper', and it had only been released on the Thursday so that was like the ultimate compliment. It's still obviously a shining memory for me, because I admired him so much anyway, he was so accomplished. To think that that album had meant so much to him as to actually do it by the Sunday night, three days after the release. He must have been so into it, because normally it might take a day for rehearsal and then you might wonder whether you'd put it in, but he just opened with it. It's a pretty major compliment in anyone's book. I put that down as one of the great honours of my career. I mean, I'm sure he wouldn't have thought of it as an honour, I'm sure he thought it was the other way round, but to me that was like a great boost.
Even the sleeve of Sgt. Pepper was influential, not only in showing what could be done with record sleeves as a vehicle for illustration and artwork, but sparking a series of copies and parodies. The Rolling Stones did a pale imitation with Their Satanic Majesties Request, even using Michael Cooper to photograph the sleeve; but the first parody came from Frank Zappa. Zappa was in London in September 1967 to play the Royal Albert Hall and to promote his second album, Absolutely Free. He was using the Indica Bookshop as his unofficial headquarters and told Miles he would like to do a parody of the Sgt. Pepper sleeve on his next album. Miles called Paul for him from a back office during an MGM Records press reception for the Mothers, and they talked.
PAUL: As I remember it, he rang me up and said, 'We want to do an album parodying the Pepper cover. I want to do a cover similar to it but with dustbins and garbage and stuff. I'm ringing to see if you have any objection.' I said, 'Well, no, I haven't but sometimes there are copyright problems. It's outside my jurisdiction. I can say, "Hey, Frank, go for it, man!" but then somebody in the lawyers' department of EMI might say, "We don't allow this." You'll have to speak to those people yourself, but as far as I'm concerned, yes, you've got my blessing.' I rang up my office and said, 'Frank Zappa wants to do this. Try and help him if you can.' And then I'm not sure what happened. I assumed he'd done it but then years later I heard him saying, 'Oh, he wouldn't let me do it.'
Frank Zappa, coming from the rough and tumble of small independent labels in Los Angeles, could not have understood how a group as famous as the Beatles could still be powerless in the face of a record company as large and old as EMI. They got away with many things at EMI, but not everything. 'Even with all our clout,' Paul said, 'sometimes they just say no.' In this instance, it seems that MGM-Verve Records, Frank Zappa's label, did not even approach EMI for permission to parody the cover, though it is unlikely that a parody would have constituted an infringement of copyright. MGM thought it would slow their release date and involve expensive lawyers, so they reversed the sleeve, putting the parody heroes and letters made from vegetables inside and the portrait shot as a wrap-around on the outside - a situation that was not rectified until the album, called We're Only in it for the Money, came out years later on CD.
Íàçàä ê îãëàâëåíèþ