Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

Template:Album infobox

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is an album by the British band The Beatles. It is often called the most influential rock album of all time by prominent critics and publications, including Rolling Stone. It was recorded by The Beatles over a 129-day period beginning on December 6, 1966. The album was released on June 1, 1967 in the United Kingdom and on June 2, 1967 in the United States.

Sgt. Pepper's is one of the earliest and most successful "concept albums" ever. Before this, albums were just an assembly of different pop songs thrown together, hopefully containing at least one hit. The artistic effect was felt immediately and influenced everything that came after it; from "Tommy" by the Who, to almost every Pink Floyd album. The title song, "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band", opens and closes the album creating a sort of bookends. The production by George Martin included unusual sound effects during the transitions between songs.



Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was recorded as early Beatlemania was waning. The Beatles had grown tired of touring and had quit the road in late 1966, burned out after the dramas of the "Bigger than Jesus" controversy, and the tumultuous tour of the Philippines which saw the band removed from the country at gunpoint.

Retirement from touring gave them, for the first time in their career, more than ample time in which to prepare their next record. As EMI's premier act and England's most successful pop group ever, they had almost unlimited access to the state-of-the-art technology of Abbey Road Studios. All four band members had already developed a preference for long, late-night sessions although they were still extremely efficient and highly disciplined in their studio habits. As noted in Mark Lewisohn's book on the Beatles' recording sessions, one of their greatest strengths as a recording unit was drummer Ringo Starr, who was extremely reliable, rarely needing more than one take.

By the time The Beatles recorded the album, their musical interests had grown from simple blues, pop and rock beginnings to incorporate a variety of new influences. They had become familiar with a wide range of instruments, such as the Hammond organ and the electric piano; their instrumentation now covered the entire range, including strings, brass, woodwind, percussion and a wide range of exotic instruments, including the sitar. John Lennon and McCartney had both learned to play keyboards. McCartney, although unable to read music, had scored a recent British film The Family Way with the assistance of producer-arranger George Martin, which earned him a prestigious Ivor Novello award.

The Beatles also used new modular effects units like the wah-wah pedal and the fuzz box, which the Beatles augmented with their own experimental ideas, such as running voices and instruments through a Leslie speaker. Another important sonic innovation was McCartney's discovery of the direct injection (DI) technique, in which he could record his bass by plugging it directly into an amplifying circuit in the recording console. This provided a vastly improved level of presence, power and fidelity over the old method, which was to record the bass through an amplifier with a microphone.

The Sgt. Pepper period also coincided with the introduction of some important musical innovations, both from within the band and the rest of the musical industry. The work of Bob Dylan, Frank Zappa, Phil Spector and Brian Wilson (of The Beach Boys) was radically redefining what was possible for pop musicians in terms of both songwriting and recording. Studio and recording technology had already reached a high degree of development and was poised for even greater innovation. The old rules of pop songwriting were being abandoned, as complex lyrical themes were explored for the first time in popular music, and songs were growing longer (such as Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone").

Technical innovation

Since the introduction of the core technology of magnetic recording tape in 1949, multitrack recording had progressed rapidly, with 8-track recorders already available in the USA and the first 8-tracks coming on-line in commercial studios in London in late 1967, shortly after Sgt. Pepper was released.

All of the Sgt. Pepper tracks were recorded at Abbey Road using mono, stereo and 4-track recorders. Like its predecessors, the recording made extensive use of the technique known as bouncing down, in which a number of tracks were recorded across the four tracks of one recorder, which were then mixed and dubbed down onto one track of the master 4-track machine. This enabled the Abbey Road engineers to give The Beatles a virtual 16-track studio, since they could bounce down 16 tracks into four with only the loss of one generation in quality.

The build-up of noise during over-dubbing was a major problem for engineers. The Abbey Road album was one of the first use the Dolby noise reduction system. The album remains a landmark in the history of sound recording and is remarkable for the clarity, fidelity and quietness of the transfers. Many subtle features previously all but unheard on LP become noticeable on the later CD version.

Magnetic tape had also led to innovative use of instruments and production effects, notably the tape-based keyboard sampler, the Mellotron, and effects like flanging (a term invented by George Martin) and phasing, and a greatly improved system for creating echo and reverberation.

Several then-new productions effects feature extensively on the recordings. One of the most important was automatic double tracking (ADT), a system that used tape recorders to create an instant and simultaneous doubling of a sound. Although it had long been recognised that using multitrack tape to record 'doubled' lead vocals gave them a greatly enhanced sound (especially with weaker singers) it had always been necessary to record such vocal tracks twice, a task which was both tedious and exacting.

ADT was invented specially for The Beatles by EMI engineer Ken Townshend in 1965, mainly at the behest of Lennon, who hated tracking sessions and regularly expressed a desire for a technical solution to the problem. ADT quickly became a near-universal recording practice in popular music.

Also important was varispeeding, the technique of recording various tracks on a multi-track tape at slightly different tape speeds. The Beatles use this effect extensively on their vocals in this period. The speeding up of vocals (also known as 'tweaking') also became a widespread technique in pop production. The Beatles also used the effect on portions of their backing tracks (as on "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds") to give them a 'thicker' and more diffuse sound.

In another innovation, the album (in its original LP form that was later released on CD) ends in an unusual way, beginning with a 15-kilohertz high-frequency tone (put on the album at John Lennon's suggestion, said to be "especially intended to annoy your dog"), followed by an endless loop made by the runout groove looping back into itself.

The sound in the loop is also the subject of much controversy, being widely interpreted as some kind of secret message. However, it seems that in reality it is nothing more than a few random samples and tape edits played backwards. The loop is recreated on the CD version which plays for a few seconds, then fades out. Although most of the content of the runout groove is impossible to decipher, it is possible to distinguish a sped-up voice (possibly Paul McCartney's) reciting the phrase "never could be any other way".


Sgt. Pepper features elaborate arrangements — for example, the clarinet ensemble on "When I'm Sixty-Four" — and extensive use of studio effects including echo, reverberation and reverse tape effects. Many of these effects were devised in collaboration with producer George Martin and his team of engineers.

One of the few moments of discord came during the recording of "She's Leaving Home", when an impatient McCartney, frustrated by Martin's unavailability on another recording session, hired freelance arranger Mike Leander to arrange the string section — the only time during the group's entire career that he worked with another arranger.

Another example of the album's unusual production is Lennon's song "Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite", which closes Side 1 of the album. The lyrics were adapted almost word for word from a old circus poster which Lennon had bought at an antique shop in Kent. The flowing sound collage that gives the song its distinctive character was created by Martin and his engineers, who collected recordings of calliopes and fairground organs, which were then cut into strips of various lengths, thrown into a box, mixed up and edited together in random order, creating a long loop which was mixed in during final production.

The opening track of Side 2, "Within You Without You", is unusually long for a 'pop' recording of the day, and features only George Harrison, on vocals and sitar, with all other instruments played by a group of London-based Indian musicians. These deviations from the traditional rock and roll band formula were facilitated by the Beatles' decision not to tour, by their ability to hire top-rate session musicians, and by Harrison's burgeoning interest in India and Indian music, which led him to take lessons from sitar maestro Ravi Shankar.

Album cover

The Grammy Award-winning album packaging was created by art director Robert Fraser mostly in collaboration with McCartney, designed by Peter Blake and photographed by Michael Cooper, it featured a colourful collage of life-sized cardboard models of famous people on the front of the album cover; and, as a bow to the interest that Beatles' songs now inspired, the lyrics were printed on the back cover, the first time this had been done on a pop LP. The Beatles themselves, in the guise of the Sgt Pepper band, were dressed in eye-catching military-style outfits made of satin dyed in day-glo colours.

Art director Robert Fraser was a prominent London art dealer who ran the Indica Gallery. He had become a close friend of McCartney and it was only at his strong urging that the group abandoned their original cover design, a psychedelic painting by The Fool.

Fraser was one of the leading champions of modern art in Britain in the Sixties and beyond. He argued strongly that the Fool artwork was not well-executed and that the design would soon date. He convinced McCartney to abandon it, and offered to art-direct the cover; it was Fraser's suggestion to use an established fine artist and he introduced the band to a client, noted British 'pop' artist Peter Blake, who in collaboration with his wife, created the famous cover collage.

According to Blake, the original concept was to create a scene that showed the Sgt Pepper band performing in a park; this gradually evolved into its final form, which shows the Beatles, as the Sgt Pepper band, surrounded by a large group of their heroes, which were created as lifesize cut-out figures. Also included were wax-work figures of The Beatles as they appeared in the early Sixties, borrowed from Madame Tussauds.

The collage depicted more than 70 famous people, including writers, musicians, films stars and (at Harrison's request) a number of Indian gurus. Ringo Starr reportedly made no contribution to the design. The final grouping included Marlene Dietrich, author Terry Southern, Bob Dylan, Aleister Crowley, Edgar Allan Poe, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy and controversial comedian Lenny Bruce. Also included was the image of the original Beatles bass player, the late Stuart Sutcliffe. The entire list can be found at List of images on the cover of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

The package was also one of the first 'gatefold' album covers, that is, the album could be opened up like a book, to reveal a large picture of the Fab Four in costume against a yellow background. The reason for the gatefold was that the Beatles planned on filling two LPs for the release. The designs had already been approved and sent to be printed when they realized they would only have enough material for one LP.

The album came with a page of cut-outs, with a description in the top left corner:

  1. Moustache
  2. Picture Card
  3. Stripes
  4. Badges
  5. Stand Up

The special inner sleeve, included in the early pressings of the LP, featured a multi-coloured psychedelic pattern designed by The Fool.

The collage created legal worries for EMI's legal department, which had to contact those who were still living to obtain their permission. Mae West initially refused — famously asking "What would I be doing in a lonely heart's club?" — but she relented after The Beatles sent her a personal letter. Actor Leo Gorcey requested payment for inclusion on the cover, so his image was removed. An image of Mohandas Gandhi was also removed at the request of EMI, who had a branch in India and were fearful that it might cause offence there. John Lennon had, perhaps facetiously, asked to include images of Jesus Christ and Adolf Hitler, but these were rejected because they would almost certainly have generated enormous controversy. Most of the suggestions for names to be included came from McCartney, Lennon and Harrison, with additional suggestions from Blake and Fraser. The Rolling Stones shirt worn by the Shirley Temple doll which was placed to the right of the band belonged to Cooper's young son Adam.

The depiction of a guitar made out of hyacinths on the cover was made by the flower delivery boy, who asked if he could help with the making of the artwork. Although it has long been rumoured that some of the plants in the arrangement were marijuana plants, this is untrue.

The collage was assembled by Blake and his wife during the last two weeks of March 1967 at the London studio of photographer Michael Cooper, who took the cover shots on March 30, 1967 in a three-hour evening session. By McCartney's own admission, two of the group were tripping on LSD while the photographs were being taken. The final bill for the cover was £2,867 25s/3d, a staggering sum for the time — it has been estimated that this was 100 times the average cost for an album cover in those days.

The cover was subsequently parodied by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention in the cover art of their album We're Only In It For The Money (although McCartney initially refused permission for the Mothers parody cover to be released, he later relented). It was also parodied in the opening credits of an episode of The Simpsons. It has also been mimicked by a Dutch artist as Sgt Croppers Fairport Band for the many Fairport Convention band members and associates. However, the most widely known & acclaimed of all Beatles parodies was the Rutles, a collaboration between the comedic minds of Saturday Night Live and Monty Python, mainly Eric Idle.

Themes and structure

With Sgt. Pepper, The Beatles wanted to create a record that could, in effect, tour for them — an idea they had already explored with the promotional film-clips made over the previous years, intended to promote them in the United States when they were not touring there.

McCartney decided that they should create fictitious characters for each band member and record an album that would be a performance by that fictitious band. The idea of disguise or change of identity was one in which the Beatles, naturally enough, had an avid interest — they were four of the most recogniseable and widely known individuals of their time.

The Beatles' recognisability was the motivation for their growing moustaches and beards and even longer hair, and was an inspiration for the disguise of their flamboyant Sgt. Pepper costumes. McCartney was well known for going out in public in disguise and all four were past masters at using aliases for travel bookings and hotel reservations.

Thus, the album starts with the theme song, and introduces "Billy Shears" (Ringo Starr), who performs "With a Little Help From My Friends".

However, the Beatles essentially abandoned the concept after recording the first two songs and the reprise, Lennon was unequivocal in stating that the songs he wrote for the album had nothing to do with the Sgt. Pepper concept. Since the other songs on the album are actually unrelated, one might be tempted to conclude that the album does not form an overarching theme. But two commonalities run through the songs: each has a technical complexity or is a stylistic departure, and each seems to share a theme that might be expressed as "stepping outside of one's self".


The group's habitual use of marijuana and their increasing intake of the hallucinogen LSD were a major influence on the style and sound of the album; they deliberately sought "trippy" effects and themes, and the album's closing track "A Day in the Life" (one of the last major Lennon-McCartney collaborations) includes the phrase "I'd love to turn you on" — 'turning on' was a common drug culture colloquialism at the time, referring to getting 'high' on marijuana or LSD. The narrator of "With a Little Help From My Friends" repeatedly declares that he gets high with a little help from his friends.

The song "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" became the subject of much speculation regarding its meaning. The song describes a surreal dreamscape inspired by a picture drawn by Lennon's son Julian. The song became controversial as many believed that the words of the chorus were code for LSD, a claim Lennon consistently denied. Julian, McCartney, Harrison and Starr backed up Lennon's story (Starr even said he saw the picture). However, during a newspaper interview in 2004, McCartney was quoted as saying, "...Lucy In The Sky, that's pretty obvious. ...but the writing was too important for us to mess it up by getting off our heads all the time." In fact, Lucy was actually Julian's 3-year old friend Lucy Richardson who passed away from cancer June 1, 2005, at 42. Richardson herself made a name as art director in films such as Chocolat and The Life and Death of Peter Sellers. As a way to add truth to Lennon's original claims about the song, Lucy's family sprinkled crystals over her grave, thus also symbolizing her ascending to the sky (heaven).

Historical relevance

A period of experimentation in The Beatles' music had begun with their album Rubber Soul two years earlier. During this period, new influences and instruments from as far afield as India were incorporated in their recordings, which evolved further from simple teen pop and into more artistic sounds. Sgt. Pepper's continued this process and became more avant-garde in style and form than previous or subsequent recordings.

Paul McCartney has cited The Beach Boys' album Pet Sounds and Frank Zappa's album Freak Out! as key influences. It is also likely that he was also much influenced by a late 1966 visit to Los Angeles, where he met Brian Wilson, heard a number of the tracks that were being recorded by Wilson for Smile and reputedly performed on at least one. This music was slated for the next Beach Boys album, which would have been issued before Sgt. Pepper. But Smile was shelved soon after Sgt. Pepper was released, and the album tracks weren't released until 2004.

Their followup, Magical Mystery Tour contained songs that were stylistically very like those on Sgt. Pepper, but after two years at the forefront of psychedelic rock, the Beatles began to return to more conventional musical expression in 1968. Several tracks recorded during the Sgt. Pepper sessions were not released on the album; some later appeared on Magical Mystery Tour, and three others ("Only A Northern Song", "Hey Bulldog" and "It's All Too Much") eventually surfaced on the 1968 soundtrack album to the animated feature Yellow Submarine.

Two songs dropped from Sgt. Peppers, "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Penny Lane", were both recorded in late 1966 and early 1967. The unusually long gap between Beatles releases, combined with the group's withdrawal from touring, saw producer George Martin placed under increasing pressure by EMI and Capitol to deliver new material. He reluctantly issued the two songs as a double-A-sided single in February 1967. In keeping with the group's usual practice, the single tracks were not included on the LP (a decision Martin maintains he regrets to this day). They were only released as a single in the UK at the time, but were subsequently included as part of the American LP version of Magical Mystery Tour (which was issued as a 6-track EP in Britain).

A Day in the Life

Main article: A Day in the Life

The climactic and final track on the LP, the epic "A Day in the Life" was a long, kaleidoscopic piece, comprising several different sections edited together. The diary style and imagery of the verses was drawn from events that affected Lennon at the time.

The first verse refers obliquely to the death of Tara Browne, young heir to the Guinness fortune, whom the Beatles knew socially; he had been recently killed in a car accident, referred to in the line "He blew his mind out in car; he didn't notice that the lights had changed". The second verse alluded to Lennon's recent role as Sgt. Gripweed in the Richard Lester film How I Won the War, in the line "The English Army had just won the war".

The middle-eight section was a small independently written piece contributed by McCartney and this was to be the last major song on which he and Lennon collaborated. It includes the line "Found my way upstairs and had a smoke, and somebody spoke and I went into a dream" — another clear reference to marijuana.

The final session for the song, held on the evening of February 10, 1967, was to record the orchestral overdubs with a forty-piece ensemble, conducted by McCartney and drawn from members of the London Symphony Orchestra. The session was also in effect the wrap party for the album, and the Beatles invited a number of special guests for the occasion including Donovan and members of The Rolling Stones. McCartney and others filmed portions of the evening's proceedings with hand-held colour Super-8 cameras, and this footage can be seen on the video version of The Beatles Anthology.

Critical reception

Upon release, Sgt. Pepper's became both popular and critically acclaimed. It has been on many lists of the best rock albums, including Rolling Stone, Bill Shapiro, Alternative Melbourne, Rod Underhill and VH1. Indeed, the influence of the album was felt throughout the music world and even beyond: The Times social critic Kenneth Tynan described Sgt. Pepper as "a decisive moment in the history of Western civilization". Within days of its release, Jimi Hendrix was performing the title track in concert, and Australian band The Twilights — who had recently returned from London armed with an advance copy of the LP — wowed audiences there with note-perfect live renditions of the entire album, weeks before it was even released in Australia.

The album won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year and Best Contemporary Album in 1967.

The LP was adapted as a stage musical in the mid-1970s, which would itself provide the partial basis for a disastrous movie version, produced by Robert Stigwood and starring Peter Frampton as Billy Shears and The Bee Gees as the Hendersons, with an all-star supporting cast including George Burns and Steve Martin, and released in 1978. Although The Bee Gees were arguably the hottest stars in music at the time, the movie flopped disastrously.

In 1997 Sgt. Pepper was named the number 1 greatest album of all time in a 'Music of the Millennium' poll conducted by HMV, Channel 4, The Guardian and Classic FM. In 1998 Q magazine readers placed it at number 7, while in 2003 the TV network VH1 placed it at number 10.

Mono version

The Beatles specifically mixed the album in mono, and the LP was originally released as such, alongside a stereo mix prepared by Abbey Road engineers (with the mono version now out-of-print). The two mixes are fundamentally different. For example, the stereo "She's Leaving Home" was incorrectly mixed at a lower pitch than the actual recording, and, in fact, plays at a slower tempo than was intended. Paul McCartney's voice in the segue between the "Sgt. Pepper" reprise and "A Day In The Life" can plainly be heard in the mono version, but is inaudible in the stereo version. Other variations between the two mixes abound.

Track listing

  1. "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" SAMPLE (121k)
  2. "With a Little Help from My Friends"
  3. "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" SAMPLE (99k)
  4. "Getting Better"
  5. "Fixing a Hole"
  6. "She's Leaving Home"
  7. "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!"
  8. "Within You Without You" (Harrison)
  9. "When I'm Sixty-Four" SAMPLE (114k)
  10. "Lovely Rita"
  11. "Good Morning Good Morning"
  12. "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)"
  13. "A Day in the Life" SAMPLE (178k)



Year Chart Position
1967 Pop Albums 1
1984 The Billboard 200 141


Year Single Chart Position
1978 "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band"/"With A Little Help From My Friends" Pop Singles 71


Grammy Awards

Year Winner Award
1967 Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band Album Of The Year
1967 Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band Best Album Cover, Graphic Arts
1967 Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band Best Engineered Recording, Non-Classical
1967 Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band Contemporary Album

Grammy Award nominations

Year Nominee Award
1967 Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band Group Vocal Performance
1967 Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band Contemporary Vocal Group
1967 "A Day in the Life" Best Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s) or Instrumentalist(s)

Stage Musical and Film

The LP was adapted as a stage musical in the mid-1970s, which would itself provide the partial basis for a disastrous 1978 movie version, produced by Robert Stigwood and starring Peter Frampton as Billy Shears and The Bee Gees as the Hendersons, with an all-star supporting cast including George Burns and Steve Martin. Although the Beatles authorized the use of the title, and of new versions of many Beatles songs in the film, they did not appear in the film or play on the soundtrack. And even though The Bee Gees were arguably the hottest stars in music at the time, the movie flopped disastrously.


  • Lewisohn, Mark (1988). The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions: The Official Story of the Abbey Road Years. London: Hamlyn. ISBN 0600557847.
  • Sorgenfrei, Lars Rosenblum. Inkblot Magazine. [1] ( Retrieved October 26, 2004.
  • Rolling Stone magazine. RS 507 - 27 August 1987. [2] ( Retrieved October 26, 2004.
  • Haber, David. The Sgt. Pepper's Album. [3] ( Retrieved October 26, 2004.

External links

  John Lennon Missing image
Paul McCartney

The Beatles George Harrison Ringo Starr  

History of the Beatles | Long-term influence | British Invasion | Classic rock era | Paul is Dead rumours | Apple Records | George Martin | Geoff Emerick | Brian Epstein | Beatlesque | Discography | Bootlegs | Beatlemania

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