One of the most iconic albums in music history turns 50 today. The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" was released in the United States on June 1, 1967, a week after its debut in Britain.
The album was an immediate commercial and critical success, with tracks including ‘Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,’ ‘With A Little Help From My Friends,’ and ‘When I’m 64,’ in addition to the famous title track.
WHERE THE TITLE CAME FROM
Paul McCartney came up with the concept for one of the greatest albums of all time because one of his associates was mumbling. McCartney says on his website he was on a plane in 1967 with roadie Mal Evans, who asked McCartney to pass the salt and pepper. McCartney thought he said, "Sergeant Pepper." They had a laugh over it, but McCartney thought it would be intriguing for The Beatles to make an album with alter egos.
McCartney liked the idea of American bands with long rambling names, which led to "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." He also liked the idea of a lonely hearts club having a band.
McCartney has said the album was The Beatles' response to The Beach Boys' "Pet Sounds" album.
THE BEATLES THOUGHT IT WAS JUST OK
For as gaga as the world went over "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," The Beatles themselves did not think it was all that important. George Harrison said in "The Beatles Anthology" he liked "A Day in the Life" and "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds," but he felt the rest of it was "just ordinary songs."
Ringo Starr said "Sgt. Pepper" was his least favorite Beatles album and he was so bored he learned to play chess. John Lennon said he liked the songs, "Getting Better," "Within You, Without You" and the title track. However, he didn't like how "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" and "Being For The Benefit of Mr. Kite" turned out, and "A Day in the Life" was not half as good as he thought when they made it.
Paul McCartney was the driving force creatively behind "Sgt. Pepper" and generally has a positive outlook on it.
JIMI HENDRIX LEARNS SONG IN TWO DAYS
Perhaps the most positive review Paul McCartney remembers for the "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" album was from Jimi Hendrix. McCartney said in "The Beatles Anthology" book "Sgt. Pepper" was released on a Friday, and on the following Sunday, he went to see Hendrix play. Hendrix opened his show with the title track. McCartney notes Hendrix would have had barely two days to learn it.
McCartney calls it "the single biggest tribute for me."
ALL ABOUT THE COVER ART
If John Lennon had had his way, Adolf Hitler and Jesus would have been on the cover of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." He got voted down.
Mohandas Gandhi was supposed to be on it as a show of respect, but record company EMI suggested it might be taken the wrong way in India. Gandhi was originally in front of the palm tree and replaced with another palm.
Another face that was replaced was Leo Gorcey of the "Bowery Boys" films, who demanded $500 to be included. He was in the back so a bit of blue sky covers his space.
McCartney and George Harrison wore their MBE medals on their uniforms. McCartney says on his website everyone chose his favorite color for the uniforms and there's no meaning behind them.
McCartney also says it was just an accident that there's no apostrophe in "Peppers" on the drum head and the "Sgt." has a semicolon rather than a period after it.
PAUL McCARTNEY DREAMS OF BEING 64
You can make the argument that The Beatles started work on the "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" album even before they existed as a band. Paul McCartney said in "The Beatles Anthology" book he wrote "When I'm Sixty-Four" when he was 16. He said he did not know what he was going to do in life and thought it might be a good song for a musical comedy.
John Lennon had said they'd sing that song around a piano when their amps broke down. "Sgt. Pepper" was released 50 years ago today.
PAUL McCARTNEY FANTASIZES ABOUT "LOVELY RITA"
"Meter maid" is a dated term these days, but it sure excited Paul McCartney's imagination back in the day. In Britain, they weren't "meter maids," but "traffic wardens." McCartney said in "The Beatles Anthology" book he thought the term "meter maid" was sexy.
A traffic warden named Meta Davies claimed McCartney wrote the song about her after she ticketed his car, but McCartney denies that.
RINGO STARR WANTED TO AVOID THE TOMATOES
Ringo Starr refused to sing a line in the song "With A Little Help From My Friends" for his own safety. Starr said in "The Beatles Anthology" book the song originally went, "What would you do if I sang out of tune/Would you stand up and throw tomatoes at me?" Starr said there was no way he was going to sing that because he had bad memories of getting jelly beans and toys thrown at the band in their early days. Starr said the last thing he wanted was to be bombarded with tomatoes.
HOW IT ALL ENDS
The Beatles told the orchestra performing on "A Day In The Life" to start on the lowest note of their instrument and go up to their highest note, but do it in their own time. Paul McCartney says in "The Beatles Anthology" book, "We actually put that in the score: From here you're on your own."
John Lennon wrote the song while reading about reading a newspaper article about their friend, Guinness heir Tara Browne, who died in a car crash. The next page had an article about 4,000 holes in Blackburn, Lancashire.
The record ended with The Beatles saying random things that looped over and over in the run-out groove, but only in the British version of the album.