Inspired by the painstaking craft (and great aural results) of Brian Wilson's Pet Sounds, the Beatles - fresh from their retirement from touring - set out to make a trippy "masterpiece". Very influential. The LP's song cycle (the Parlophone vinyl had no divisions between the songs) featured numerous overdubs and FX, and plenty of good songs. This was probably the soundtrack to 1967 and its "Summer of Love". Other innovations: the gatefold sleeve and the printed lyrics.

"Pepper was probably the one Beatle album I can say was my idea," McCartney told an interviewer. "It was my idea to say to the guys, 'Hey, how about disguising ourselves and getting an alter ego, because we're the Beatles and we're fed up. Every time you approach a song, John, you gotta sing it like John would. Every time I approach a ballad, it's gotta be like Paul would. Why don't we just make up some incredible alter egos and think, 'Now how would he sing it? How would he approach this track?' And it freed us. It was a very liberating thing to do."

However, aside from the quasi-military/band uniforms, the opening theme song and its reprise near the end, and Ringo's take as "the one and only Billy Shears" in With a Little Help from My Friends, these alter egos really didn't mean a whole lot to the overall effort. On the other hand, just looking at the cover gave you a very good view of how the group had grown from what they were.

So much happened in 1967, but this was one of the big things. It was truly a visionary breakthrough in pop music. And, by God, we expected no less. Rubber Soul had been great, but we were looking for revolution. And this album revolutionized music in a way that none other ever did. As most modern novels come from Ulysses, most modern pop music comes from the Sgt.

This album was also notable because:

It was one of the first concept albums (although I don't know where it fits in with "Days of Future Passed" which was released the same year)
It was the first album to have all of the lyrics to all of the songs printed in the liner notes.

Most of what happens in popular music today owes at least a little to the Beatles.

The cover of Sgt. Pepper's was first concieved by Paul and was intended to be a tribute to their heroes. Paul sketched out an ink drawing of the beatles in military uniforms being presented to a Lord Mayor with a floral clock in the foreground and a wall of photographs behind them.

He took the design to Robert Fraser, friend and art gallery owner, who suggested hiring pop artist Peter Blake to execute the idea.

Blake made many changes to the original design, but McCartney thought that the changes were for the better. The clock changed into a flower-bed, the Lord Mayor was dropped, and the photographs became life size cut-outs.

Everyone in the band contributed a list of people for the cover except Ringo who said that he had nobody to contribute and would just go with everyone else. Lennon offered, among many others, Adolf Hitler. A cut-out of Hitler was made, but was removed from the set just before the photo shoot.

Here is a complete list of who appears on the cover:

Left to Right
Front row
Sonny Liston (boxer)
The Petty Girl (by George Petty)
wax model of George Harrison
wax model of John Lennon
Shirley Temple (actress)
wax model of Ringo Starr
wax model of Paul McCartney
Albert Einstein (physicist)
John Lennon with French Horn
Ringo Starr with trumpet
Paul McCartney with cor anglais
George Harrison with flute
Bobby Breen (singer)
Marlene Dietrich (actress)
Diana Dors (actress)
Shirley Temple (actress)

Row Two
Stuart Sutcliff (former Beatle)
wax hairdresser's dummy
Max Miller (comedian)
The Petty Girl (by artist George Petty)
Marlon Brando (actor)
Tom Mix (actor)
Oscar Wilde (writer)
Tyrone Power (actor)
Larry Bell (artist)
Dr. David Livingstone (missionary, explorer)
Johnny Weismuller (swimmer,actor)
Stephen Crane (writer)
Issy Bonn (comedian)
George Bernard Shaw (writer)
H.C. Westermann (sculptor)
Albert Stubbins (soccer player)
Sri Lahiri Mahasaya (guru)
Lewis Carroll (writer)
T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia)

Row Three
Aubrey Beardsley (illustrator)
Sir Robert Peel (industrialist/political activist)
Aldous Huxley (writer)
Dylan Thomas (poet)
Terry Southern (writer)
Dion (singer)
Tony Curtis (actor)
Wallace Berman (actor)
Tommy Handley (comedian)
Marilyn Monroe (actress)
William Burroughs (writer)
Sri Mahavatara Babaji (guru)
Stan Laurel (comedian)
Richard Lindner (artist)
Oliver Hardy (comedian)
Karl Marx (philosopher, socialist)
H.G. Wells (writer)
Sri Paramahansa Yagananda (guru)
wax hairdresser's dummy

Back row
Sri Yukteswar Giri (guru)
Aleister Crowley (dabbler in sex, drugs, and magic)
Mae West (actress)
Lenny Bruce (comedian)
Karlheinz Stockhausen (composer)
W.C. Fields (comedian)
Carl Gustav Jung (psychologist)
Edgar Allen Poe (writer)
Fred Astaire (actor)
Richard Merkin (artist)
The Varga Girl (by Alberto Vargas)
Huntz Hall (actor)
Simon Rodia (Watts Towers)
Bob Dylan (musician)

The Recording:
The Beatles insisted that everything on Sgt. Pepper had to be different,” says Geoff Emerick, an engineer at Abbey Road Studios. And everything was. This album changed the world. It defined a whole generation. “So,” he says, “everything was either distorted, heavily compressed, or treated with excessive equalization.”

They turned headphones into bass mics, put mics down in the bells of the brass section, sent echoes through a Hammond organ circuitry, and even used oscillating fans to fuck stuff up. You know how you talk in a fan and you sound like Darth Vader? Well, the Beatles did that too.

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was a ground-breaking piece of music. The very end of the album epitomizes the high-tech (of the day) studio trickery applied throughout the album. After the last crashing piano chord of “A Day in the Life”, there are a few seconds of 15 kilocycle tone put there (at the special request of John Lennon) especially to annoy your dog. Then there’s a bunch of Beatlechatter, as I say: taped chatter that’s been cut and put back again backwards and upside down, and stuck together at random. No, there’s no hidden message. People took a lot of drugs back then.

The recording of Sgt. Pepper took 129 days. “Probably the most creative 129 days in the history of rock music” says Emerick. The Beatles experimented with a multitude of instruments, from a smorgasbord of Indian instruments (“Within You Without You”) to a bass harmonica (“Mr. Kite!”) to a comb and paper (“Lovely Rita”). Also notable is a steam organ and a rooster.

The Songs:

When I’m Sixty-Four
Abbey Road Studio Two, December 6, 1966.
Writer and Vocal: Paul McCartney

A Day In the Life
Abbey Road Studio Two, January 19, 1967
Working Title: “In The Life of…”
Writer and Vocal: John Lennon, with Paul

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
Abbey Road Studio Two, February 1, 1967
Writer and Vocal: Paul

Good Morning, Good Morning
Abbey Road Studio Two, February 8, 1967
Writer and Vocal: John

Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite!
Abbey Road Studio Two, February 17, 1967
Writer and Vocal: John

Fixing a Hole
Regent Sound Studio, London, February 21, 1967, later completed at Abbey Road
Writer and Vocal: Paul

Lovely Rita
Abbey Road Studio Two, February 23, 1967
Writer and Vocal: Paul

Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds
Abbey Road Studio Two, March 1, 1967
Writer and Vocal: John

Getting Better
Abbey Road Studio Two, March 9, 1967
Writer and Vocal: Paul

She’s Leaving Home
Abbey Road Studio Two, March 17, 1967
Writer: Paul, with John
Vocal: Paul, with John

Within You Without You
Abbey Road Studio Two, March 22, 1967
Writer and Vocal: George Harrison

With a Little Help From My Friends
Abbey Road Studio Two, March 29, 1967
Working Title: “Bad Finger Boogie”
Writer: John and Paul
Vocal: Ringo Starr

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)
Abbey Road Studio One, April 1, 1967
Writer: Paul
Vocal: Paul, John and George.

Three other songs were recorded during these sessions: “Strawberry Fields Forever”, “Penny Lane”, and “Only a Northern Song”. “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane” were released as a double A-Side, and “Only a Northern Song” appeared on the Yellow Submarine> soundtrack.

Recording Info for those songs are as follows:
Strawberry Fields Forever
Abbey Road Studio Two, November 24, 1966
Writer and Vocal: John

Penny Lane
Abbey Road Studio Two, December 29, 1966
Writer and Vocal: Paul

Only a Northern Song
Abbey Road Studio Two, February 13, 1967
Writer and Vocal: George

The sequence of songs on the album were originally different, because initially, Sgt. Pepper was supposed to have a medley (think Abbey Road). The original sequence is as follows:

Side one:
1. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
2. With a Little Help From My Friends
3. Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!
4. Fixing a Hole
5. Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds
6. Getting Better
7. She’s Leaving Home

Of course, this was changed to:
1. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
2. With a Little Help From My Friends
3. Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds
4. Getting Better
5. Fixing a Hole
6. She's Leaving Home
7. Being For The Benefit of Mr. Kite!

The Cover:
This is pretty much already noded, but, some extra info… The cover of Sgt. Pepper is probably the most recognized one in rock music. It was designed by Peter Blake for 200 pounds. The Beatles already had a cover designed by Dutch art Group called the Fool, but Paul suggested that the idea of The Beatles playing as another band…and the cover was changed. The photo session for the cover was the most elaborate ever, requiring legal releases from the celebrities in the “audience” from Bob Dylan to Marlon Brando, and the Beatles themselves.

The Theme:
The Beatles found inspiration everywhere- in the innocence of childhood to the phantasmagoria of LSD, to a leaky roof, and anything and everything in-between. “Mr. Kite” is derived from an 1843 circus flyer, “Fixing a Hole” was born upon the McCartney roof, and “Lucy in the Sky” is the soundtrack to a painting by the four-year-old Julian Lennon…or so John says. After taping the song “Sgt. Pepper”, Paul came across the idea of making a theme album, “as though Sgt. Pepper was making the recording.” The Cover portrait portrays the band in…a park maybe, after the concert with the audience in the background.

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was released June 1, 1967.

sources: SPLHCB liner notes, The Beatles Anthology by The Beatles, Guitar World Magazine.

Here, I will focus on the instrumentation and other technical details of The Beatles' eighth album (Britsh Release):

Overall: Recorded between December 6, 1966 and April 3, 1967, with the gibberish at the end recorded on April 21. Released on June 1, 1967. This was the first album recorded since the Beatles retired from touring, and it shows that their efforts are entirely devoted to the studio. It was also the first one not to be butchered by US record companies. It was recorded with the idea of mimicking a live performance to some extent, and the space between tracks on the album were smaller than any before it. It took more than 700 hours and $75,000 to complete Sgt. Pepper. To give a radically new feel, all vocals and instruments were recorded with at least some sort of studio manipulation, and the studio was a laboratory of sorts for sound experimentation.

  1. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band...Recorded on February 1, 1967 at Abbey Road, with overdubs on February 2 and March 3 and 6. This marked the first time a bass drum was tampered with in order to produce an effect with any musical value of its own. This is common practice nowadays. Audience sounds were dubbed in to simulate live performance.
  2. With a Little Help From My Friends...Recorded on March 29, 1967 at Abbey Road, with overdubs March 30.
    • McCARTNEY: bass, piano, backing vocal
    • LENNON: backing vocal
    • HARRISON: tambourine
    • STARR: drums, lead vocal
  3. Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds...Recorded on March 1, 1967 at Abbey Road, with overdubs added March 2.
    • McCARTNEY: bass, Hammond organ, harmony vocal
    • LENNON: lead guitar, lead vocal
    • HARRISON: sitar, harmony vocal
    • STARR: drums
  4. Getting Better...Recorded on March 9, 1967 at Abbey Road, with overdubbing March 10, 21, and 23.
    • McCARTNEY: bass, lead and backing vocal
    • LENNON: lead guitar, backing vocal
    • HARRISON: lead guitar, tamboura, backing vocal
    • STARR: drums, bongos
    • George Martin: piano (striking the strings instead of the keys)
  5. Fixing a Hole...Recorded on February 9, 1967 at Regent Sound Studio, and overdubbed on February 21 at Abbey Road.
    • McCARTNEY: bass, lead guitar, harpsichord, lead vocal
    • LENNON: maracas, backing vocal
    • HARRISON: lead guitar and solo (double-tracked)(Sonic Blue Fender Stratocaster, tremolo model), backing vocal
    • STARR: drums
  6. She's Leaving Home...Recorded on March 17, 1967 at Abbey Road, with vocals overdubbed March 30. the Beatles play no instruments on the track, and the vocals are double-tracked so that they sound like a quartet.
    • McCARTNEY: lead and backing vocal
    • LENNON: lead and backing vocal
    • Session musicians: strings, harp
  7. Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!...Recorded on February 17, 1967 at Abbey Road, with overdubbing February 20 and March 28, 29, and 31. Martin got some tapes of old Victorian organs, asked the engineer to cut them up in sections and put them together randomly for the background music. The last half of McCartney's guitar solo was on an acoustic with its tone altered.
  8. Within You Without You...Recorded on March 15, 1967 at Abbey Road, with overdubbing March 22 and April 3.
  9. When I'm Sixty-Four...Recorded on December 6, 1966 at Abbey Road, with overdubs added December 8, 20, and 21
    • McCARTNEY: bass, piano, lead and backing vocal
    • LENNON: lead guitar (Sunburst Epiphone Casino), backing vocal
    • HARRISON: backing vocal
    • STARR: drums
    • Session musicians: bass clarinet, two clarinets,
  10. Lovely Rita...Recorded on February 23, 1967 at Abbey Road, with overdubs on February 24 and March 7 and 21. The funny noises are toilet paper through metal combs.
    • McCARTNEY: bass, piano, comb and paper, lead and backing vocal
    • LENNON: acoustic guitar, comb and paper, backing vocal
    • HARRISON: acoustic guitar, comb and paper, backing vocal
    • STARR: drums
    • George Martin: honky-tonk piano
  11. Good Morning, Good Morning...Recorded on February 8, 1967 at Abbey Road, with overdubbing on February 16 and March 13, 28, and 29. The animal sounds come from a sound-effects disc. the chicken clucking sound was used by Martin to segue into the Sgt. Pepper reprise.
  12. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise) See above "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band".
    • McCARTNEY: bass, lead vocal
    • LENNON: lead guitar, maracas, lead vocal
    • HARRISON: lead guitar, lead vocal
    • STARR: drums
  13. A Day in the Life...Recorded on January 19, 1967(basic track -- Lennon and McCartney on guitar and piano) and on Febeuary 10, 1967 (orchestral track) at Abbey Road, with the one-chord ending overdubbed February 22. Lennon's voice is recorded with tape echo. During the middle McCartney part, Mal Evans' voice can be heard counting keeping time by counting off the bars as he stood by the piano. He set an alarm clock to go off after twenty-four bars, and that can be heard too. McCartney wanted an orchestra to "freak out" during the connecting bars, and Lennon wanted the sound to rise up and "sound like the end of the world". The result was a forty-one piece orchestra. The score Martin wrote called for each instrument to go from its highest to lowest note possible in twenty-for bars. McCartney instructed the musicians to play as out of tune and out of time as possible, and repeated tries were needed to get the desired chaos. The final piano chord needed to last as long as possible, and the recording equipment was turned up so high about twenty-four seconds into it, that the studio's air conditioners were audible. The chord was played on three pianos which were struck as hard as possible simultaneously. The Mellotron, a keyboard that electronically produces programmed taped sounds, was used for the first time ever , and would later be standard for rock bands.
    • McCARTNEY: lead vocals on the middle section, piano on basic track, bass, three pianos at the end of orchestral track, conducts the 41-piece orchestra
    • LENNON: lead vocals, Gibson J-160E acoustic guitar on basic track, lead guitar at the beginning of orchestral track, three pianos at the end of orchestral track
    • HARRISON: bongos, three pianos at the end of orchestral track
    • STARR: maracas, tympani, three pianos at the end of orchestral track
    • George Martin: harmonium
    • Mal Evans: alarm clock, three pianos at the end of orchestral track

Other singles from this period:

My sources are Beatlesongs by William J. Dowlding1989) and The Beatles Anthology, by "The Beatles" (©2000).

Some things should just be left to stand by themselves and rest on their own merits. But since Hollywood is always looking for a way to bring a new spin to an already profitable venture, I guess they just had to go ahead with the decision to try and make a movie out of the Beatles' pièce de résistance and add a touch of tarnish to what was widely considered pure gold. Shit, they even had to borrow some tunes from Abbey Road to help the “plot” along.

In some strange convoluted way, I guess you can’t blame them. The year is 1978 and MTV is still two years away from assaulting our eyeballs and eardrums and turning mediocre bands into household names. It’d already been eight years since the Beatles decided to go their separate ways and in order to bring their music back to life, a deal was struck and filming began. If you ask me, if you were putting together a time capsule of the worst moments of the 1970’s, this film belongs right in there along side such things as earth shoes and perms for men.

roll credits

Cast of Characters

Peter Frampton

As the one and only bandmaster extraordinaire and all around nice guy, Billie Shears.

Sandy Farina

A nobody in real life but in the movie goes by the name of Strawberry Fields, Billie Shears girlfriend. To prove her love to Billie, she’ll croon “Here Comes The Sun” at some point in the movie.

The Bee Gees

Yes, all three of three of the brothers Gibb were still riding the coattails of Saturday Night Fever and contribute their talents as the “Henderson Brothers” and band mates of Billie Shears.

George Burns

Was he already already he an octogenarian back then? Oh well, he narrates the tale and in between playing Mr. Kite, the town mayor, he even lends his signature singing style to the tune Fixing a Hole.

Frankie Howerd

In his only American film appearance, plays an evil real estate mogul who goes by then name of Mr. Mustard and drives around in a souped up yellow school bus replete with a couple of robots.

Donald Pleasence

As record mogul B. D. Blockhurst who coincidently manages another band that is aptly named “Lucy and the Diamonds”.

Alice Cooper

When I first saw this I thought to myself “What the fuck?” but Alice being Alice I figured he’d do anything to turn a buck. He portrays the Reverend Sun and brainwashes unwitting teens to an as yet unnamed cult that goes by initials F.V.B. by showing them psychedelic images over and over again to the strains of Alice singing “Because”. Dear lord….

Billy Preston

Probably the only one in the cast who actually gave a shit playing Sgt. Pepper himself. If you ask me, it’s a weird bit of casting since the original Sgt. Pepper was an aging white dude with graying hair while Billy is big, black and sports an afro the size of basketball. In the end, He brings it all together with (can you believe it?) his sterling rendition of Get Back

Steve Martin

That’s right, the “wild and crazy guy” himself lends his comedic stylings to the role of Dr. Maxwell Edison who was majoring in medicine and made some phone calls along the way.


Ah, the bad boys of rock and the reason behind the aforementioned F. V. B. which, if haven’t deduced by now, stands for “Future Villain Band”. If only Steve Tyler and the rest of the boys knew what lay in store for them in the form of heroin addiction and near bankruptcy in the coming years, perhaps the might’ve passed on the gig. Later on they thankfully managed to resurrect their once failing careers however for professional reasons; I believe they left this movie off their resume

Earth, Wind and Fire

I have no freakin’ clue as to why they were in the movie or where they were involved in the plot other than somebody had to sing “Got To Get You Into My Life”.

Plot Synopsis

Plot?...Did I say plot?

Ok, here goes.

Our story begins during World War I as a raging battle is underway to save a little French town that goes by the name “Fleu de Coup”. That should be enough for you right there but out of nowhere a brass band shows up playing a version of Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band arrives on the scene and all hostilities come to and end. Soon after we’re told by the narrator (George Burns) that this band has mystical powers, that wherever they went and whenever they started playing all fighting would stop and people would lead peaceful lives.

We follow the band through the ensuing years and just as they’re about to retire, Sgt. Pepper himself (Billy Preston) keels over during the bands farewell concert. His decrees that his grandson, Billie Shears (Peter Frampton), will inherit his mantle and continue on with his good works.

Since the rest of the band is aging, Billie (Frampton) decides to scout out some new talent. Along the way, he runs across a group calling themselves The Henderson Brothers (The Bee Gees) and recruits them.

The Narrator (Burns, who is the only one to actually speak during the movie, the rest is all singing) lets us know that the group has been “discovered” by a record company called “Big Deal Records” and ask for a demo tape. The boys respond by sending him their version of “Getting Better”.

The demo is heard by the president of the label, one B. D Brockhurts (Donald Pleasence) and he tells the band to pack their bags and head for Los Angeles. He was going to make them superstars.

For God knows what reason, the boys in the band choose to get to LA via, I shit you not, a hot air balloon. Upon their arrival and safe touchdown, they are serenaded by BD and other assorted recoding artists (Lucy and the Diamonds) to the sounds of I Want You (She’s So Heavy).

For those of you who might be thinking this is getting a bit too surreal, fasten your seatbelts, we’re just getting started.

Just kidding, I’ll make this short.

The gist of the story is that somewhere along the way the band's instruments get stolen and they are duty-bound to recover them. Along the way they must fight the villainous Mr. Mustard, the evil Dr. Maxwell Edison (Steve Martin), the nefarious Reverend Sun (Alice Cooper) and dark and gloomy visage of F.V.B. (Aerosmith). A confrontation ensues when the band, still in their hot air balloon, tries to pursue FVB and recover their instruments before FVB can use them for their own evil purposes.

Along the way, Strawberry Fields sacrifices her life to the cause. Ten bonus points to anybody who can name the tune that is played at her funeral proceedings and an additional twenty to those of you who can name the one that’s played as they carry her coffin during the funeral procession.

Naturally Billie Shears (Frampton) is pretty bummed out on the loss of his girlfriend and is soon seen meandering all by his lonesome down, of all things, a long and winding road. His route takes him to Strawberry’s doorstep and he makes his way up to the roof. Realizing the depths of his sadness, the rest of the band (The Bee Gees) tries to cheer him up by playing, of all things, A Day In The Life. As the song goes on and build to its climax you can see the emotion in the form of fake tears streaming down Billie’s. The final note on the piano is just too much for him to bear and it pushes Billie literally over the edge as he jumps from the roof.

Enter one Sgt Pepper, this time in the guise of Billy Preston and blowing his magical trumpet. Somewhere along the way it seems the good Sgt. also learned to shoot lightning from his fingertips and he aims said bolts towards Billie and plants him safely back on the roof. He then directs his attention towards the evil doers and the crowd in general. In a feat never before seen by the likes of mankind, he converts them to a life of good works and charity, raises Strawberry Fields from the dead and in general sends good vibes all around.

Fifty bonus points if you can guess what tune inspires him to such acts of kindness?


I’m wondering if the Beatles themselves had to put their stamp of approval on these shenanigans or maybe if they just left it up to the discretion of their respective managers. What’s done is done though. I’m sure if they were faced with such a prospect today, they’d think twice about messing up a perfectly good thing.

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