US picture sleeve
|Single by the Beatles|
|A-side||"Strawberry Fields Forever" (double A-side)|
|Released||13 February 1967|
|Recorded||29 December 1966 – 17 January 1967|
|The Beatles singles chronology|
"Penny Lane" is a song by the English rock band the Beatles that was released in February 1967 as a double A-sided single with "Strawberry Fields Forever". It was written primarily by Paul McCartney but credited to the Lennon–McCartney songwriting partnership. The lyrics refer to Penny Lane, a street in Liverpool, and makes mention of the sights and characters that McCartney recalled from his upbringing in the city.
The Beatles began recording "Penny Lane" in December 1966, intending it as a song for their album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Instead, after it was issued as a single to satisfy record company demand for a new release, the band adhered to their policy of omitting previously released singles from their albums. The song features numerous key changes that occur mid-verse and between its choruses. Session musician David Mason played a piccolo trumpet solo over its bridge section.
"Penny Lane" was a top-five hit across Europe and topped the US Billboard Hot 100. In Britain, due to chart protocol regarding double A-sides, it was the first Beatles single since "Please Please Me" in 1963 to fail to reach number 1 on the Record Retailer chart. In November 1967, "Penny Lane" was included on the US Magical Mystery Tour album. In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked the song at number 456 on its list of the "500 Greatest Songs of All Time".
Background and inspiration
During the 1960s Penny Lane was a significant bus terminus for several routes, and buses with "Penny Lane" displayed were common throughout Liverpool. The name Penny Lane is also used for the area that surrounds its junction with Smithdown Road, Smithdown Place (where the terminus was located) and Allerton Road, including a busy shopping area. In 2009, McCartney reflected:
"Penny Lane" was kind of nostalgic, but it was really a place that John and I knew; it was actually a bus terminus. I’d get a bus to his house and I'd have to change at Penny Lane, or the same with him to me, so we often hung out at that terminus, like a roundabout. It was a place that we both knew, and so we both knew the things that turned up in the story.
Lennon's original lyrics for "In My Life" included a reference to Penny Lane. After recording for "In My Life" began, McCartney mentioned to an interviewer that he wanted to someday write a song about Penny Lane. McCartney was later spurred to write the song once presented with Lennon's "Strawberry Fields Forever". Lennon said that he "helped" with some of the lyrics to "Penny Lane".
Beatles biographer Ian MacDonald suggested an LSD influence, and that the lyrical imagery points to McCartney first taking LSD in late 1966. MacDonald concluded that the lyric "she feels as if she's in a play / she is anyway" was one of the more "LSD-redolent phrases" in the Beatles' catalogue. Music critics Roy Carr and Tony Tyler similarly described the subject matter as "essentially 'Liverpool-on-a-sunny-hallucinogenic-afternoon'".
Composition and lyrics
The song has a double tonic structure of B major verse (in I–vi–ii–V cycles) and A major chorus connected by formal pivoting dominant chords. In the opening bars in B major, after singing "In Penny Lane" (in an F♯–B–C♯–D♯ melody note ascent) McCartney sings the major third of the first chord in the progression (on "Lane") and major seventh (on "barber") then switches to a Bm chord, singing the flattened third notes (on "know" with a i7 [Bm7] chord) and flattened seventh notes (on "come and go" [with a ♭VImaj7 [Gmaj7] chord] and "say hello" [with a V7sus4 [F♯7sus4] chord]). This has been described as a profound and surprising innovation involving abandoning mid-cycle what initially appears to be a standard I–vi–ii–V doo-wop pop chord cycle.
The song features contrasting verse–chorus form. To get from the verse "In the pouring rain – very strange" McCartney uses an E chord as a pivot, (it is a IV chord in the preceding B key and a V in the looming A key) to take listeners back into the chorus ("Penny Lane is in my ears ..."). Likewise to get back from the chorus of "There beneath the blue suburban skies I sit, and meanwhile back ...", McCartney uses an F♯7 pivot chord, which is a VI in the old A key and a V in the new B key. The lyrics "very strange" and "meanwhile back" reflect these tonal shifts.
Lyrically there are several ambiguous and surreal images. The song is seemingly narrated on a fine summer day ("beneath the blue suburban skies"), yet at the same time it is raining ("the fireman rushes in from the pouring rain") and approaching winter ("selling poppies from a tray" implies Remembrance Day, 11 November). Ian MacDonald stated: "Seemingly naturalistic, the lyric scene is actually kaleidoscopic. As well as raining and shining at the same time, it is simultaneously summer and winter." According to Barry Miles, the fireman and fire engine referred to in the lyrics are based upon the fire station at Mather Avenue, which is "about half a mile down the road" from Penny Lane. "Four of fish and finger pies" are British slang. "A four of fish" refers to fourpennyworth of fish and chips, while "finger pie" is sexual slang of the time, referring to intimate fondlings between teenagers in the shelter, which was a familiar meeting place. The combination of "fish and finger" also puns on fish fingers.
Excerpt from an early version of the song's instrumental tracking.
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Production began in Studio 2 at Abbey Road on 29 December 1966 with piano as the main instrument. McCartney intended the song to have a "clean" sound akin to the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds album. Engineer Geoff Emerick recalled McCartney playing Pet Sounds repeatedly during recording session breaks, adding that "it wasn't altogether unsurprising [when] he wanted 'a really clean American sound'" for the song. McCartney was most effused with the album's bass lines, particularly that they did not always use tonic notes. He said that his own bass lines became much more melodic as a result of the album's influence.
Initially, McCartney recorded keyboard parts onto the individual tracks of the four-track tape: a basic piano rhythm on track one; a second piano, recorded through a Vox guitar amplifier with added reverb, on track two; a prepared piano producing a "honky-tonk" sound on track three; and percussion effects and a harmonium playing high notes fed through the guitar amplifier on track four. The following day, the four tracks were mixed together to form the first track of a new tape, to which vocals, drums, congas, guitar and bass were added in early January 1967. Brass and woodwind instruments were added on 9–10 January, in a score by George Martin, guided by McCartney's suggested melody lines.
McCartney was dissatisfied with the initial attempts at the song's instrumental fill (one of which, recorded 12 January, 1967 and featuring two cors anglais played by Dick Morgan and Mike Winfield, was released on Anthology 2), and was inspired to use a piccolo trumpet after seeing trumpeter David Mason play the instrument during a BBC television broadcast of the second Brandenburg Concerto by Johann Sebastian Bach. On 17 January, Mason recorded the instrumental solo used for the final mix. Martin later wrote, "The result was unique, something which had never been done in rock music before." The solo is in a mock-Baroque style for which the piccolo trumpet (a small instrument built about one octave higher than the standard instrument) is particularly suited, having a clean and clear sound which penetrates well through thicker midrange textures. According to Emerick, Mason "nailed it" at some point during the recording; McCartney tried to get him to do another take but producer George Martin insisted it wasn't necessary, sensing Mason's fatigue. Emerick also comments in his book that prior to this recording the high "E" was considered unreachable by trumpet players, but has been expected of them since the performance on the record. Mason was paid £27 and 10 shillings for his performance on the recording.
The original US promo single mix of "Penny Lane" had an additional flourish of piccolo trumpet notes at the end of the song. This mix was quickly superseded by one without the last trumpet passage, but not before a handful of copies had been pressed and sent to radio stations. These recordings are among the rarest and most valuable Beatles collectibles. "Penny Lane" was mixed in stereo for the first time in 1971, for a West German issue of the Magical Mystery Tour LP, and in 1980 this mix of the song, with the addition of the trumpet ending, was included on the US Rarities compilation and the UK set The Beatles Box. A remix of the song released on Anthology 2 in 1996 also included the trumpet coda. The original promo single mix was made available again in 2017, when it was included on a CD of mono mixes in the six-disc 50th-anniversary edition of Sgt. Pepper. The two- and six-disc anniversary editions also featured a new remix of "Penny Lane" prepared by Giles Martin, designed to allow the keyboard parts to be heard distinctly.
When a new Beatles single was requested by manager Brian Epstein, Martin told him that the band had recorded "Penny Lane" and "Strawberry Fields Forever", which Martin considered to be the band's best songs up to that point. At the suggestion of Epstein, the two songs were released as a double A-side single, in a fashion identical to that of their previous single, "Yellow Submarine" / "Eleanor Rigby". The release took place in the United States on 13 February 1967 and in the United Kingdom on 17 February. It was the first single by the Beatles to be sold with a picture sleeve in the UK, a practice rarely used there at that time.
In Britain, "Strawberry Fields Forever" / "Penny Lane" was the first Beatles single since "Please Please Me" in 1963 to fail to reach number 1 on Record Retailer's chart (later the UK Singles Chart). The single was held at number 2 behind Engelbert Humperdinck's "Release Me", because, even though the Beatles' record sold considerably more, its double A-side status meant that the two sides were deemed to be individual releases. On the national chart compiled by Melody Maker magazine, the combination topped the singles list for three weeks. In the United States, the song became the band's 13th single to reach number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, doing so for a week before being knocked off by the Turtles' "Happy Together". With "Penny Lane" as the favoured side, the single was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America on 20 March 1967.
Since the Beatles usually did not include songs released as singles on their albums, both "Penny Lane" and "Strawberry Fields Forever" were left off the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album, a decision Martin later regretted. Against the Beatles' wishes, the two songs were included on the US Magical Mystery Tour album in November 1967. In 2017, both songs were included on the two-disc and six-disc 50th-anniversary editions of Sgt. Pepper.
The promotional film for "Penny Lane" was, together with the clip for "Strawberry Fields Forever", one of the first examples of what became known as a music video. The music video for the song was not filmed at Penny Lane, as the Beatles were reluctant to travel to Liverpool. Street scenes were filmed in and around Angel Lane in London's East End. The broken sequence of Lennon walking alone was filmed on the King's Road (at Markham Square) in Chelsea. The outdoor scenes were filmed at Knole Park in Sevenoaks on 30 January 1967. The promotional film for "Strawberry Fields Forever" was also shot at the same location, during the same visit.
Both films – directed by the Swede Peter Goldmann – were selected by New York's MoMA to be among the most influential promotional music films of the late 1960s. Film of "Penny Lane" and the nearby road Elm Hall Drive runs St Barnabas with some scenes of Liverpool buses.
Influence and legacy
According to historian David Simonelli, further to "Tomorrow Never Knows" in 1966, "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Penny Lane" "establish[ed] the Beatles as the most avant-garde [pop] composers of the postwar era". He also says:
With this double-sided single, the Beatles planted the flag of Romanticism squarely at the center of psychedelic rock. They emphasized innocence, childhood as purity, improvisation, and the spirits of individuality and community united as one. For the next three to five years, these ideals would dominate rock music on both sides of the Atlantic. The Beatles' vision dominated the entire rock music world.
Northern Songs, the publishing company that owned all but four of the Beatles songs, was acquired by ATV – a media company owned by Lew Grade in 1969. By 1985 the company was being run by Australian entrepreneur Robert Holmes à Court, who decided to sell the catalogue to Michael Jackson.
Before the sale, Holmes à Court offered his 16-year-old daughter Catherine the chance to keep any song "in her name" from the catalogue. She chose "Penny Lane" as it was her favourite – despite her father's urging to choose "Yesterday", which was by far the biggest royalty-earning song on the books (and is in the top four global royalty earning songs of all time).
The 250-or-so songs sold to Jackson form the "crown jewel" of Sony/ATV Music Publishing, a 50-50 joint venture between the late singer and Sony Corp. But Catherine Holmes à Court-Mather is still the copyright owner of "Penny Lane" today, one of only five Lennon-McCartney Beatles songs not owned by Sony/ATV Music Publishing.
- The Beatles
- Paul McCartney – vocal, pianos, bass, harmonium, tambourine, effects
- John Lennon – backing vocal, piano, guitar, congas, handclaps
- George Harrison – backing vocal, lead guitar, handclaps
- Ringo Starr – drums, handbell
- Additional musicians
- George Martin – piano, orchestral arrangement
- Ray Swinfield, P. Goody, Manny Winters – flutes, piccolos
- David Mason – piccolo trumpet solo
- Leon Calvert, Freddy Clayton, Bert Courtley, Duncan Campbell – trumpets, flugelhorn
- Dick Morgan, Mike Winfield – oboes, cor anglais
- Frank Clarke – double bass
Charts and certifications
- Paul Mauriat recorded an instrumental version of "Penny Lane" on his Album nº 5 (1967).
- Al Di Meola included an instrumental version of the song on his CD All Your Life (2013).
- James Booker recorded the song on his album Live At Montreux (Montreux Sounds, 1997) as part of a medley with "I Saw Her Standing There" and "One Hell of a Nerve".
- The Rutles' song "Doubleback Alley" is a pastiche of this song.
- Count Basie recorded a swing version on his album Basie on the Beatles (1969), which also includes other Lennon–McCartney songs such as "Hey Jude" and "Get Back".
- Elvis Costello—whose mother grew up less than a mile from Penny Lane—performed the song at the White House on 2 June 2010, accompanied by McCartney's band and a trumpeter from the United States Marine Band, when McCartney was given the Gershwin Award.
- Philo 2014, p. 119.
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- Simonelli 2013, p. 106.
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- "Lennon–McCartney Songalog: Who Wrote What" (PDF). Hit Parader. Vol. Winter 1977 [reprint of April 1972] no. 101. pp. 38–41. Retrieved 6 June 2017.
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- "Austriancharts.at – The Beatles – Penny Lane" (in German). Ö3 Austria Top 40. Retrieved 16 May 2016.
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- Martin Urionaguena (2 January 2011). "McCartney @ The White House 2010 - Elvis Costello: PENNY LANE - Part 4 of 7". Retrieved 17 March 2018 – via YouTube.
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- Young, Neville (1 September 2007). "The piccolo trumpet solos in the Beatles' "Penny Lane"".
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Magical Mystery Tour|
- Alan W. Pollack's Notes on "Penny Lane"
- Golden Oldies of Music Video a presentation from New York's MoMA originally screened on 17 April 2003
- Unterberger, Richie (2009). "Review of 'Penny Lane'". AllMusic. Retrieved 24 November 2009.
- "Liverpool Won't Rename Penny Lane, Despite Slavery Ties". Fox News Channel. 10 July 2006.
- Lyrics of this song at MetroLyrics