|Single by The Beatles|
|A-side||"Strawberry Fields Forever"|
|Released||13 February 1967 (US)
17 February 1967 (UK)
|Recorded||29 December 1966 –
17 January 1967
|Genre||Rock, Baroque pop|
|The Beatles singles chronology|
"Penny Lane" is a song by The Beatles, written by Paul McCartney and credited to Lennon/McCartney. 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 song was later included on the Magical Mystery Tour LP (1967). The single was the result of the record company wanting a new release after several months of no new Beatles releases. In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked the song at #449 on its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
The song's title is derived from the name of a street in the band's hometown, Liverpool. The area that surrounds its junction with Smithdown Road is also commonly called Penny Lane. Locally the term "Penny Lane" was the name given to Allerton Road and Smithdown Road and its busy shopping area. Penny Lane is named after James Penny, an 18th century slave trader. McCartney and Lennon grew up in the area and they would meet at Penny Lane junction in the Mossley Hill area to catch a bus into the centre of the city. The street is an important landmark, sought out by most 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 though some are still stolen. The Abbey Road sign is also frequently stolen for the same reason.
Beatles producer George Martin has stated he believes the pairing of "Penny Lane" with "Strawberry Fields Forever" resulted in probably the greatest single ever released by the group. Both songs were later released on the US Magical Mystery Tour album in November 1967. In the UK, the pairing famously failed to reach #1 in the singles charts, stalling one place below Engelbert Humperdinck's "Release Me". In the US The song reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for a week before being knocked off by The Turtles song "Happy Together". The song features contrasting verse-chorus form and was credited "Lennon/McCartney", although McCartney was the main contributor to the song.
Following the success of the double A-side "Yellow Submarine"/"Eleanor Rigby", Brian Epstein inquired if they had any new material available. Both songs, though recorded during the sessions for Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, were left off the album, a decision Martin regretted, although the Beatles usually did not include songs released as singles on their British albums. 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).
Production began in Studio 2 at Abbey Road on 29 December 1966 with piano as the main instrument. On 17 January 1967, trumpet player David Mason recorded the piccolo trumpet solo. The solo, inspired by a performance of Bach's 2nd Brandenburg Concerto, 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. Mason was paid 27 pounds and 10 shillings for his performance on the recording. Penny Lane production effects include percussion effects, piano through a Vox guitar amplifier with added reverb.
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 in 1980, and is included on an alternate take of the song released on Anthology 2 in 1996.
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.
The verse and chorus in "Penny Lane" are in the keys of B major and A major, respectively.
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 about 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." 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.
During the recording process, McCartney helped incorporate several incidental sound effects in keeping with the lyric, which can be heard on the final mix. These include a clanging bell in references to the fireman, a wispy flute depicting the children laughing, a splashy cymbal illustrating the rain, and a deep-seated bass string as the banker sits down in a chair.
Lyrically there are several ambiguous and surreal images, which Ian MacDonald has interpreted as evidence of the song's hallucinogenic nature derived from McCartney's LSD intake. The song is narrated at the height of summer sun, despite the fact that it is simultaneously raining, and the clear blue skies appear in what seems to be November (as reference to poppies would be associated with Remembrance Day). MacDonald also notes LSD-induced perception in the fact that the nurse feels she is in a play - and is, anyway. Conflicting with MacDonald's interpretation, McCartney has repeatedly stated that he took LSD for the first time in March 1967, several months after the song was recorded.
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 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. The lyrics as printed on the Blue (1967-1970) Album, however, are "Full of fish and finger pies" which are incorrect.
Prior to securing international fame, Penny Lane's chief renown was as the terminus for several bus routes from the city centre and as the site, in the middle of the roundabout, of a handily located public convenience. The area remained largely unremarkable for the remainder of the 1960s and the 1970s; its most distinguishing feature was, perhaps, the regular arrival of tour buses from which tourists would alight, take a photograph or two, and then get back on the bus.
Towards the end of the 1970s, businesses there included Penny Lane Records, Sven Books (Liverpool's first high-street sex shop), and a wine bar known in the early years as Harper's Bizarre, now called Penny Lane Wine Bar. In the mid-1980s, the bus shelter and public convenience were converted into a café that marketed itself as Sgt. Pepper's. 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. 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 (Woolworths, WHSmiths and Clarke's cake shop) make the neighbourhood the most sought-after among Liverpool's large student population. Though the song refers to the "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 forego 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.
The fireman and fire engine referred to in the lyrics is based upon the fire station at Mather Avenue. This is some distance from Penny Lane. The station is still in use today.
The promotional film for the song was not filmed at Penny Lane — The Beatles were reluctant to travel to Liverpool. Street scenes of the Beatles were filmed in and around Angel Lane in London's East End. The outdoor scenes were filmed at Knole Park in Sevenoaks on 30 January 1967, where the promotional film for "Strawberry Fields Forever" was also shot. Both videos - directed by the Swede Peter Goldmann - were selected by New York's MoMA as some of the most influential music videos in the late 1960s. Film of Penny Lane was included - with some scenes of green Liverpool buses and a brief overhead view of the 'shelter in the middle of the roundabout', but none of the Beatles attended.
|Canada CHUM Chart||1|
|UK Singles Chart||2|
|U.S. Billboard Hot 100||1|
"Love Is Here and Now You're Gone" by The Supremes
|Billboard Hot 100 number one single
18 March 1967 (one week)
"Happy Together" by The Turtles