10 Things You Didn't Know About... Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
Often described as the most important album of the 20th century, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band reaches 50 years old this week and a brand new version arrives in stores today, freshly remixed and remastered by Giles Martin, son of the Beatles' legendary producer George Martin, and bundled with loads of extras like outtakes, unreleased versions and alternate mixes of 'Strawberry Fields Forever' and 'Penny Lane'.
As a record that has inspired more column inches than perhaps any other, what is there left to say about Sgt. Pepper? Well, we dug into the album's history to see if we could find 10 things you still don't know about the Beatles' 1967 masterpiece. Here goes...
There's a bizarre coincidence behind the song 'She's Leaving Home'
It's a reasonably well documented fact that Paul McCartney wrote the lyrics to 'She's Leaving Home' after reading a newspaper article about Melanie Coe, a 17-year old girl who had recently run away from home after a row with her parents. But in a strange twist, unbeknownst to McCartney, he had actually met Melanie almost four years earlier when he was invited to appear on the BBC show Ready, Steady, Go!
A segment on the show featured four girls miming to the song 'Jump the Broomstick' by Brenda Lee, with McCartney tasked with picking a winner for the best performance. He chose contestant number four, which happened to be a 13-year old Melanie Coe.
The moustaches weren't entirely a stylistic choice...
Shortly after the completion of their previous album, Revolver, McCartney was involved in a moped accident that left him with a chipped tooth and a split upper lip, which was stitched up by a friend. In the Anthology series McCartney explained that he'd begun growing a moustache to cover the scar, and that the others began growing facial hair shortly afterward: “It caught on with the guys in the group: if one of us did something like growing his hair long and we liked the idea, we'd all tend to do it. And then it became seen as a kind of revolutionary idea, that young men of our age definitely ought to grow a moustache! And it all fell in with the Sgt. Pepper thing, because he had a droopy moustache.”
Adolf Hitler is hidden on the album's cover.... or is he?
Each of the band members suggested several famous people, cultural icons or political figures to feature on the album's iconic front cover, designed by Sir Peter Blake. John Lennon, never one to take things too seriously, suggested Jesus, Adolf Hitler and Mahatma Gandhi. Oddly enough, Hitler came closer to being on the cover than the other two.
Jesus was omitted because the band didn't want to re-open the controversy caused by John's infamous “bigger than Jesus” comment a year earlier, while the label vetoed Gandhi's presence because he was still a politically divisive figure in India and there was a possibility that they would have problems with printing and stocking the sleeves in the country. A cardboard cutout of Hitler was created but isn't visible on the cover, although there are conflicting stories about why that is. Sir Peter Blake has said that the cutout is there, but obscured by the band. However, the photo below shows the Hitler cutout leaning against a wall out of shot, presumably having been removed by somebody before the final shot was taken.
'Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite' was banned by the BBC
Actually, this was one of three songs which were banned at one time or another by the BBC at the time, the others being 'A Day in the Life' and 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds', all for perceived references to drugs. The title of 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds' was famously reported to be a reference to L.S.D., while two of the lines in 'A Day in the Life' - one where Paul sings “I went upstairs and had a smoke” and another, "I'd love to turn you on" - were thought to be references to smoking cannabis and encouraging the use of drugs.
Most bizarrely of all, Lennon's 'Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite' was given the thumbs-down because the BBC though that 'Henry the Horse' was a reference to heroin. In fact, many of the lyrics were taken from a 19th century poster for Pablo Fanque's circus, which he bought in a Kent antique shop while the band were filming the video for 'Strawberry Fields Forever'. (Incidentally, Pablo Fanque holds the distinction of being the first black circus owner in Britain. How's that for a bonus fact?)
Jimi Hendrix was the first to perform the title track live
Part of the reason for the extensive studio experimentation on Sgt. Pepper's was the fact that The Beatles had already decided to stop touring, largely due to the fact that their fans would scream so loud that the band couldn't even hear themselves playing. This freed them up to try things in the studio without having to worry about how they would recreate them live. As such, the band never toured the album or any subsequent ones, and the first person to perform the record's title track was nine other than Jimi Hendrix.
Three days after the record's release, Hendrix and his band were due to perform at London's Saville Theatre and George Harrison went along with Paul McCartney to see the show. Accounts of the event vary, but McCartney said in his autobiography Many Years From Now that he was unaware Hendrix would perform the song until he walked out on stage and opened his set with it, describing it as “the ultimate compliment”.
Ringo vetoed one of the lines in 'With a Little Help From My Friends'
Lennon and McCartney had always planned to have Ringo sing one of the songs on the album, but they knew he wasn't keen and sprang it on him after spending a long night recording to save him worrying about it all the way through the session. Ringo was halfway out the door by the time the session finished, but the band insisted on doing the vocal there and then.
Ringo relented, but when he spotted the first line he said “there's not a chance in hell I'm singing that.” Originally the opening line had been: “What would you do if I sang out of tune? / Would you stand up and throw tomatoes at me?” Ringo remembered an earlier incident when he had mentioned in an interview that he liked jelly babies, and for the next few months fans threw the sweets into the stage, so he insisted on changing the lyrics for fear of being pelted with tomatoes if they ever went back out on the road.
Mama Cass was the first person outside the band to hear the album in full
When the band finally wrapped the recording of the album in the early hours of April 2nd, 1967, The Beatles had a rough version pressed onto an acetate and decided to head to the flat of Cass Elliot from The Mamas & Papas, who was staying in London at the time. The band apparently woke her up, opened the windows and put her speakers in the windows, giving her and her neighbours the first public airing of the album.
Shirley Temple appears on the cover three times
Former child actress and singer Shirley Temple features among the many faces on the album's cover no fewer than three times; she can be seen peering out from behind the waxwork models of the Beatles, under the arm of actress Diana Dors, and in the form of a doll wearing a Rolling Stones sweatshirt.
The barnyard sounds on 'Good Morning, Good Morning' appear in a specific order
One of John Lennon's compositions for the album, 'Good Morning, Good Morning' was famously inspired by a TV advert for Kellogg's Cornflakes and includes a series of animal sounds, but the order of these isn't random. According to engineer Geoff Emerick, Lennon wanted the sounds to appear in order of their appearance in the food chain, telling Emerick that each animal sound should be followed by that of another that “might eat, or certainly frighten” the one before.
'Fixing a Hole' was the first Beatles song to be recorded somewhere other than Abbey Road
When the band were due to begin laying down the rhythm track for McCartney's song, Abbey Road was booked out, so instead they decamped to Regent Sound Studio's in Denmark Place. Earlier that morning, McCartney had gotten a knock on the door at his home in St. John's Wood – a frequent occurrence, since his address was often leaked to fans.
This time the visitor claimed to be Jesus Christ. An intrigued McCartney let him in and made him a cup of tea before inviting him along to the studio, where he was allowed to watch the session on condition that he “sit in the corner and be very quiet.”