Penny Lane

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For other uses, see Penny Lane (disambiguation).

Coordinates: 53°23′13″N 2°55′10″W / 53.38694°N 2.91944°W / 53.38694; -2.91944

"Penny Lane"
US picture sleeve
Single by The Beatles
A-side "Strawberry Fields Forever"
Released 13 February 1967 (US)
17 February 1967 (UK)
Format 7"
Recorded 29 December 1966 –
17 January 1967
EMI Studios, London
Length 3:03
Label Parlophone (UK)
Capitol (US)
Writer(s) Lennon–McCartney
Producer(s) George Martin
Certification Gold (RIAA)[4]
The Beatles singles chronology
"Yellow Submarine" / "Eleanor Rigby"
"Strawberry Fields Forever" / "Penny Lane"
"All You Need Is Love"

Music sample
Magical Mystery Tour track listing

"Penny Lane" is a song by The Beatles.[5] It was written by Paul McCartney but credited to the Lennon–McCartney songwriting partnership. The song was created in response to John Lennon's "Strawberry Fields Forever", and its lyrics refer to a real street in Liverpool, England.

Recorded during the Sgt. Pepper sessions, "Penny Lane" was released in February 1967 as one side of a double A-sided single, along with "Strawberry Fields Forever". The single was the result of the record company wanting a new release after several months of no new Beatles releases. Although the song did not top the charts in Britain, it was still a top ten hit across Europe. The song was later included on the band's US album, Magical Mystery Tour, despite not appearing on the British double EP of the same name.

In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked "Penny Lane" at number 456 on its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.[6]


'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.[7]

– Paul McCartney, discussing "Penny Lane" in a 2009 interview with Clash magazine

The song's title is derived from the name of a street near Lennon's childhood home for his first five years (9 Newcastle Road, just off Church Road), in the band's hometown, Liverpool, England. McCartney and Lennon would meet at Penny Lane junction to catch a bus into the centre of the city. During the 1960s, this 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.

Today the street is an important landmark, sought out by many Beatles fans touring Liverpool. In the past, street signs saying "Penny Lane" were constant targets of tourist theft and had to be continually replaced. Eventually, city officials gave up and simply began painting the street name on the sides of buildings. This practice was stopped in 2007 and more theft-resistant "Penny Lane" street signs have since been installed, although some are still stolen.[8]

Penny Lane is believed to be named after James Penny, an 18th-century slave trader.[9]


Production began in Studio 2 at Abbey Road on 29 December 1966 with piano as the main instrument.[10] On 17 January 1967, trumpet player David Mason recorded the piccolo trumpet solo.[11] The solo, inspired by a performance of Johann Sebastian Bach's second Brandenburg Concerto,[12] 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.[13] According to lead sound engineer Geoff Emerick, David Mason "nailed it" at some point during the recording; Paul McCartney tried to get him to do another take but producer George Martin insisted it wasn't necessary, sensing Mason's fatigue. This is known[by whom?] as one of the few times the producer's decision overruled that of the already superstar Beatles. Emerick also notes in his book that prior to this recording, the high "E" was considered unobtainable by trumpet players and has been expected of them since said performance on the record. Mason was paid 27 pounds and 10 shillings for his performance on the recording. "Penny Lane"'s production effects include percussion effects and piano through a Vox guitar amplifier with added reverb.[14]

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. A stereo mix of the song with the additional trumpet added back in was included on the US Rarities compilation and the UK album: The Beatles Box in 1980, and is included on an alternate take of the song released on Anthology 2 in 1996.


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.[15] 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 7th (on "barber") then switches to a Bm chord, singing the flattened 3rd notes (on "know" with a i7 [Bm7] chord) and flattened 7th notes (on "come and go" [with a ♭VImaj7 [Gmaj7] chord] and "say hello" [with a V7sus4 [F#7sus4] chord]).[16] 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.[17] 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" can be viewed as hinting at these complex tonal changes.[18]

A feature of the song was the piccolo trumpet solo played by Mason. This is thought to be the first use of this instrument (a distinctive, speciality instrument, pitched an octave higher than the standard B-flat trumpet) in pop music. Martin later wrote, "The result was unique, something which had never been done in rock music before."[19] McCartney was dissatisfied with the initial attempts at the song's instrumental fill (one of which, featuring cors anglais, was released on Anthology 2), and was inspired to use the instrument after seeing Mason's performance on a BBC television broadcast of the second Brandenburg Concerto by Johann Sebastian Bach.[20][21]

The song features contrasting verse-chorus form.[22] 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 has 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.".[23] Macdonald suggests an LSD influence, and that the lyrical imagery points to McCartney first taking LSD in late 1966. However, he also cites a different story, which dates McCartney's first LSD trip to 21 March 1967. Macdonald finishes with the comment: "Despite its seeming innocence, there are few more LSD-redolent phrases in the Beatles' output than the line ... in which the Nurse 'feels as if she's in a play' ... and 'is anyway'."


A Liverpool Penny Lane street sign

The "shelter in the middle of the roundabout" refers to the old bus shelter, later developed into a cafe/restaurant with a Beatles theme, but now derelict and abandoned, despite its popularity as a tourist attraction. This is also Penny Lane Bus Terminus, where the numbers 46 (Penny Lane to Walton) and 99 (Penny Lane to Old Swan) buses terminated and is officially on Smithdown Place.

The mysterious lyrics "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, apparently 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.[24] The lyrics as printed on the compilation album The Beatles: 1967–1970, however, are "Full of fish and finger pies" which are incorrect.[citation needed] In the remastered version, the lyrics read as "For a fish and finger pies", which is also incorrect.[citation needed]


When a new Beatles single was requested for by manager Brian Epstein, producer George 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.[25] 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". Released in the US on 13 February 1967 and in the United Kingdom on 17 February 1967, the single failed to top the British charts, making it the first time since "Love Me Do" in 1962 for a Beatles single to peak lower than number one. The song stalled at number two, one place below Engelbert Humperdinck's "Release Me".[26] On the national chart compiled by Melody Maker magazine, however, the combination topped the singles list for three weeks.[27] 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' song "Happy Together".

Since the Beatles usually did not include songs released as singles on their British albums, both songs were left off the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album, a decision Martin later regretted.[28] Both songs were later included on the US Magical Mystery Tour album in November 1967.

This was also the first single by the Beatles to be sold with a picture sleeve in the UK, a practice rarely used there at that time but common in the US and various other countries (such as Japan).

Penny Lane today[edit]

A view down Penny Lane at the opposite end from the roundabout, approaching the junction with Greenbank Road near to Sefton Park.
Tony Slavin (the white building on the corner) now occupies the location of the original Bioletti's barbershop mentioned in the song as "barber showing photographs / of every head he's had the pleasure to know".

Prior to securing international fame, Penny Lane's chief renown was as the terminus for the No 46 and No 99 bus routes to Walton, Old Swan and the city centre. The terminus included a purpose-built bus shelter, with waiting room and toilets for waiting passengers. The shelter is located on its own "island" which is the mentioned "shelter on the roundabout" in the Beatles song. In the 1980s, the shelter was bought privately and converted to the Sergeant Pepper's Bistro, though it has since closed and now stands in the middle of its roundabout looking in a very sorry state. The shelter is actually situated in Smithdown Place, though the terminus was named Penny Lane because of its proximity to Penny Lane.

Towards the end of the 1970s, businesses in Penny Lane included Penny Lane Records and a wine bar known in the early years as Harper's Bizarre, now called Penny Lane Wine Bar (this was actually a doctors' surgery, previously Drs Walton, Endbinder and Partners); the practice moved to Smithdown Place in the 1980s. Following privatisation, the Merseyside Passenger Transport Executive bus depot, slightly up the hill past Bioletti's, was demolished and replaced with a shopping precinct complete with a supermarket and a public house.

Since then, the general Penny Lane area has acquired a distinct trendiness and desirability.[citation needed] The "alternative" businesses (wholefood outlets, charity shops), the now expanded array of cafés, bars, bistros, and takeaway food emporiums, as well as handily located traditional businesses (WHSmiths and Clarke's cake shop), make the neighbourhood the most sought-after among Liverpool's large student population.[citation needed] Though the song refers to Penny Lane junction on Smithdown Road, the street itself also leads down at the other end to the University of Liverpool's student halls of residence, near Sefton Park.

In July 2006, a Liverpool Councillor proposed renaming certain streets because their names were linked to the slave trade. It was soon discovered that Penny Lane, named after James Penny, a wealthy 18th-century slave ship owner and strong opponent of abolitionism, was one of these streets. Ultimately, city officials decided to forgo the name change and re-evaluate the entire renaming process. On 10 July 2006, it was revealed that Liverpool officials said they would modify the proposal to exclude Penny Lane.[29]

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.[30] The station is still in use today.

Promotional film[edit]

This is the "shelter in the middle of the roundabout." As of March 2008, it is in a state of disrepair.

The promotional film for "Penny Lane" was, together with the video for "Strawberry Fields Forever", one of the first examples of what later became known as a music video.[31] 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[32] on 30 January 1967. The promotional film for "Strawberry Fields Forever" was also shot at the same location, during the same visit.[33] 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" was included - with some scenes of green Liverpool buses and a brief overhead view of the bus shelter – but none of the Beatles attended.

Song ownership[edit]

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, he 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).

Catherine Holmes à Court-Mather is still the copyright owner of "Penny Lane" today, one of only five Beatles songs not owned by Sony/ATV Music Publishing.[34]


Personnel per Ian MacDonald[35]

In August 1987, the piccolo trumpet Mason played on "Penny Lane" and two other Beatles tracks ("All You Need Is Love" and "Magical Mystery Tour") was sold in an auction at Sotheby's for $10,846.[36]


Chart (1967) Peak
Australian Go-Set National Top 40[37] 1
Belgian Singles Chart[38] 4
Canadian RPM 100[39] 1
Irish Singles Chart[40] 2
UK Singles Chart[41] 2
US Billboard Hot 100[42] 1
West German Media Control Chart[43] 1

Cover versions[edit]

  • Paul Mauriat recorded an instrumental version of the song on his Album nº 5 (1967).
  • Al Di Meola recorded another instrumental version of the song on his CD All Your Life (2013).
  • The Rutles' song "Doubleback Alley" is a pastiche of this song.
  • Count Basie recorded a swing version on his record Basie on the Beatles, which also includes other Lennon-McCartney songs such as "Hey Jude" and "Get Back" (1969).



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  2. ^ Heylin, C (2007). The Act You've Known For All These Years: the Life, and Afterlife, of Sgt. Pepper. London: Canongate Books. p. 153. ISBN 1-84195-955-3. 
  3. ^ Working Class Heroes: Rock Music and British Society in the 1960s and 1970s by David Simonelli, page 106
  4. ^ RIAA 2009.
  5. ^ Unterberger 2009.
  6. ^ "500 Greatest Songs of All Time: 456 - The Beatles, 'Penny Lane'". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 8 July 2015. 
  7. ^ Harper, Simon. "Paul McCartney Interview: The story behind the classics". Clash. Retrieved 8 July 2015. 
  8. ^ Turner 2009, p. 187.
  9. ^ Pandey, Swati (16 July 2006). "Beneath the blue suburban skies". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 23 February 2011. 
  10. ^ Babiuk et al. 2002, p. 195.
  11. ^ Ingham 2003, p. 245.
  12. ^ Miles & Charlesworth 1998, p. 228.
  13. ^ Steele-Perkins 2001, p. 120.
  14. ^ Morin 1998.
  15. ^ Pedler 2003, p. 658.
  16. ^ Pedler 2003, pp. 658-659.
  17. ^ Pedler 2003, p. 659.
  18. ^ Pedler 2003, pp. 348-349.
  19. ^ Martin & Hornsby 1994, p. 202.
  20. ^ Lewisohn 1988, p. 93.
  21. ^ Young 2007.
  22. ^ Beatles Interview Database 2009.
  23. ^ Macdonald, Ian (1994). Revolution in the Head. p. 179. 
  24. ^ Mann, Brent (2005). Blinded By the Lyrics: Behind the Lines of Rock & Roll's Most Baffling Songs, p. 171. New York, NY: Kensington Publishing Corp. (Accessed 18 June 2010).
  25. ^ Spitz 2005, p. 656.
  26. ^ Lynskey 2004.
  27. ^ Castleman & Podrazik 1976, p. 338.
  28. ^ The Beatles 2000, p. 239.
  29. ^ FOX News 2006.
  30. ^ Miles, Barry. Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now. 
  31. ^ Austerlitz, Saul (2007). Money for Nothing: A History of the Music Video from the Beatles to the White Stripes. Continuum. 
  32. ^ "The Beatles – Strawberry Fields Forever and Penny Lane (1967)". Kent Film Office. 
  33. ^ Turner, Steve (1994). A Hard Day's Write. HarperCollins. 
  34. ^ "Beatles copyrights in McCartney's (distant) sights". Reuters. 10 August 2009. Retrieved 4 January 2014. 
  35. ^ MacDonald 2005, pp. 221–223.
  36. ^ Kozinn, Allan. "Auctions". NY Times. Retrieved 25 April 2015. 
  37. ^ "Go-Set Australian Charts – 19 April 1967". Retrieved 21 March 2015. 
  38. ^ "The Beatles – Penny Lane". Retrieved 21 March 2015. 
  39. ^ "RPM Top Singles – Volume 7, No. 4, March 25, 1967". Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved 21 March 2015. 
  40. ^ "Search > Penny Lane". Retrieved 21 March 2015. 
  41. ^ "The Beatles". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 23 February 2015. 
  42. ^ "The Beatles: Awards" > "Billboard Singles". AllMusic. Retrieved 21 March 2015. 
  43. ^ "Single – The Beatles, Penny Lane". Retrieved 21 March 2015. 


External links[edit]

Preceded by
"Love Is Here and Now You're Gone" by the Supremes
Billboard Hot 100 number one single
18 March 1967 (one week)
Succeeded by
"Happy Together" by the Turtles