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It was 50 years ago this week, the Beatles released “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and, according to George Harrison, “saved the world from boredom.”
To commemorate one of the most innovative albums of all time, former rock and roll journalist and music executive Brian Southall penned“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band: The Album, the Beatles and the World in 1967.”
The key to the whole thing occurred before they even entered the studio.
“They stopped touring in 1966 — there was no one to make them continue on,” Southall told the Daily News. “That meant they could see themselves as more than a pop band — they had freedom to go in … record, uninterrupted, for three straight months.”
In those few months, the Beatles — attempting to dethrone “Pet Sounds,” by the Beach Boys — wrote “With A Little Help From My Friends,” “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” and “A Day in the Life.”
The book, like the record, is two-sided — the first half devoted to the band, and the second to the year.
Southall dives into the life of each bandmate: Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr. Honorary “fifth Beatle,” manager Brian Epstein, and producer George Martin get their own sections, too.
“Paul came up with this idea: ‘We don’t have to be the Beatles, we can be this other band,’” said Southall, whose book is available Thursday. And from that thought grew “Sgt. Pepper’s,” with its groundbreaking and immensely influential sound.
 “At one point there was eight machines in different control rooms throughout the building all linked up with people holding the tape tension by a pencil,” Southall writes. “John was always intrigued by the sounds you could create artificially.”
The 13 songs that comprise “Sgt. Pepper’s” are individually dissected in the book, including the tale that “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” originated with a drawing by Lennon’s son Julian.
The album’s iconic cover art is covered in Southall’s pages as well. It was designed by former husband-and-wife artist team, Jann Haworth and Peter Blake.
“The idea was presented to us as a collage but I saw it as a life-size set,” Haworth told The News.
The icons surrounding the Beatles were conjured by the band after Haworth asked them to list their heroes. She made those icons into 2-D cutouts and arranged them around the Beatles just so. “The Beatles didn’t choose any women, I actually added the women in. Like Mae West — she was not considered conventionally beautiful but she was whip smart,” Haworth said.
“I created the two dolls off to the right side. They wanted Shirley Temple but we couldn’t have a child on the cover of an album about drugs, so I made a doll that looked like my grandmother and a Shirley doll and had her sit on my grandmother’s lap.”
Whoever was in charge of ordering the flowers didn’t buy enough to cover the ground as initially planned, so Haworth turned what she had into the red floral “Beatles” below the band.
The florist created a guitar out of some of the remaining flowers (that’s the yellow shape on the right side below the band’s blossoming name).
McCartney, in an interview marking the 50th anniversary, last week cleared up one fact. Southall writes that one of the rumors about how the Beatles chose the name “Sgt. Pepper” was that the bassist came up with the name after seeing a small salt and pepper sachet aboard a plane.
McCartney revealed that was half-right: “I was coming back from a trip abroad with our roadie, Mal Evans. We were eating and he asked me to pass the salt and pepper. I thought he said, ‘Sergeant Pepper.’ “I went, ‘Oh! Wait a minute, that’s a great idea!’ I started thinking about Sergeant Pepper as a character. I thought it would be a very interesting idea for us to assume alter egos … I said, ‘It will mean, when I approach the mic, it’s not Paul McCartney.’”


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From the Cavern Club where they got their start to the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York, you can now follow the Beatles’ rise to success on Google Earth.
Google’s celebrating the 50th anniversary of the release of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” the eighth album from the legendary rock ‘n’ roll group. Using Google Earth’s Voyager, you can go on a simulated tour of nine different locations around the world that are significant to Beatles history.
Voyager is a recent addition to Google Earth that essentially turns the exploration app into a storytelling medium. You can explore curated locations ranging from cities to jungles and oceans while reading information and stories about each as Google guides you from place to place.
Head here to check out Voyager’s tour of Beatles history. You’ll be able to look around Abbey Road Studios and the Hollywood Bowl concert hall in California while brushing up on your Beatles trivia.


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Today’s installment looks back at the rock summit meetings that took place during the recording of “Lovely Rita.”
By early 1967, Abbey Road was one of the few remaining places on the planet where the Beatles could be guaranteed a modicum of privacy. As such, the studios had taken on an almost sacred significance, and outsiders were viewed with suspicion. It was an unspoken rule that wives and girlfriends were not welcome except on very special occasions, and even manager Brian Epstein entered at his own peril. Once during a studio visit, he dared to suggest that the singing sounded slightly flat. “You look after your percentages, Brian. We’ll look after the music,” John Lennon shot back. Epstein made himself scarce after that.
The 36-by-21 foot Studio 2 had become the center of the band’s world, populated by loyal confidants Neil Aspinall and Mal Evans, producer George Martin, engineer Geoff Emerick, a handful of technicians and occasionally journalist Hunter Davies, who was then working on the Beatles’ biography. Other than that, only old friends and rock elites were granted rare access into this inner sanctum. While recording the orchestral climax for “A Day in the Life” on February 10th, the Beatles threw a small “happening” in the cavernous Studio 1 next door, inviting Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Donovan, Marianne Faithfull and Michael Nesmith of the Monkees. A few weeks later they would receive several other notable guests as they worked on the track “Lovely Rita.”
The song had taken shape in Paul McCartney’s imagination during a trip to see his father and brother in Liverpool earlier that year. “I remember one night just going for a walk and working on the words as I walked,” he told biographer Barry Miles in the book Many Years from Now. “This was about the time that parking meters were coming in; before that we’d been able to park freely, so people had quite an antagonistic feeling towards these people.” Having been fined a number of times himself, his first inclination was to take lyrical revenge by writing an anti-authority satire. “I was thinking vaguely that it should be a hate song: ‘You took my car away and I’m so blue today,’ and you wouldn’t be liking her,” he explained in an interview with illustrator Alan Aldridge. “But then I thought it would be better to love her.”
Musing on the subject, he recalled reading that female traffic officers had a nickname in the United States: meter maids. “I thought, God, that’s so American! Also, to me, ‘maid’ had sexual connotations, like a French maid or a milkmaid. There’s something good about ‘maid.’ And ‘meter’ made it a bit more official, like the meter in a cab; the meter is running, meter maid. Hearing that amused me. … ‘Rita’ was the only name I could think of that would rhyme with it so I started on that, ‘Rita,’ ‘meter maid,’ ‘Lovely Rita.’ And I just fantasized on the idea.”
Decades later, a woman named Meta Davis came forward claiming to be the meter maid in question. In the Sixties she had served as the first female traffic warden in the London neighborhood of St. John’s Wood, where McCartney lived. Even stranger, Davis says she once fined the Beatle. “It was in the spring of 1967 that I ticketed Paul’s car,” Rita told author Steven Turner in his book, A Hard Day’s Write. “He was on a meter showing excess, so I gave him a ten-shilling ticket. … I’d just put it on the windscreen when Paul came along and took it off. He looked at it and read my signature, which was in full, because there was another M. Davies on the same unit. As he was walking away, he turned to me and said, ‘Oh, is your name really Meta?’ I told him that it was. We chatted for a few minutes and he said, ‘That would be a good name for a song. Would you mind if I use it?’ And that was that. Off he went. … Then, a few months later, I heard ‘Lovely Rita’ on the radio.”
Paul himself denies that the interaction consciously inspired the song. “It wasn’t based on a real person,” he told Miles. “I think it was more a question of coincidence. … I didn’t think, ‘Wow, that woman gave me a ticket, I’ll write a song about her.’ Never happened like that.”
After recording the instrumental backing track, the band reconvened the following day to tackle the vocals. As they worked, a pair of pop stars dropped by to join them: Tony Hicks of the Hollies and David Crosby of the Byrds. The Beatles had grown particularly close to Crosby during an extended stay in Los Angeles as part of their 1965 U.S. tour, even dropping acid with him and fellow Byrd Jim McGuinn. The groups would continue to a share a great affinity for one another – particularly George Harrison and McGuinn, who emboldened one another to incorporate Indian modes into Western pop with their jangling Rickenbacker 12-strings.
All of the Beatles valued Crosby’s opinion, so when he stopped by Abbey Road they were eager to play him some of their latest work. “I was, as near as I know, the first human being besides them and George Martin and the engineers to hear ‘A Day in the Life,'” Crosby recalled in an interview with Filter. “I was high as a kite – so high I was hunting geese with a rake. They sat me down; they had huge speakers, like coffins with wheels, that they rolled up on either side of the stool. By the time it got to the end of that piano chord, man, my brains were on the floor.”
Also on hand that night was Leslie Bryce, the staff photographer from The Beatles Book Monthlymagazine, who took several photos of Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Crosby gathered around a microphone. The accompanying article insinuates that Crosby added backup vocals on “Lovely Rita,” but his contribution, if it ever existed (Crosby never says it did), was not used. However, Bryce’s camera failed to capture singer Shawn Phillips, who claims that he too was in attendance with Crosby and Hicks. The American folk-rocker was a musical collaborator and close companion to Donovan, a friend of the Beatles. “We’d known each other a year by that point, and Paul invited us to Abbey Road, and we went there,” Phillips told Goldmine in 2012. “We went to the studio, and at some point Paul says, ‘We need backup vocals on this. This is what I want you to sing.’ So David Crosby and I went in there and we sang backup vocals on ‘Lovely Rita.'” Aside from his own assertions, Phillips’ presence remains unverified.
The Beatles would revisit “Lovely Rita” on March 7th, when they tackled a series of unconventional overdubs. In his 2006 memoir, Geoff Emerick recalls the band “standing around a single microphone humming through a comb and paper, each priceless Beatle comb carefully wrapped with a single layer of the standard issue extra-scratchy EMI toilet paper that we were all constantly complaining about.” To achieve a kazoo effect, Mal Evans had been dispatched to the studio bathrooms to collect several rolls, each piece stamped with the words “Property of EMI” to deter theft. The TP was, according to Harrison, “like lino [linoleum],” and their grievances ultimately changed EMI’s toilet-paper policy. (A roll of the offending stuff was later sold in 2011 for 1,000 pounds a sheet.)
The song was completed on March 21st, after the group recorded backing vocals for “Getting Better.” This same night Lennon accidentally dosed himself with LSD, so his involvement in the session was minimal as the remaining band members struggled to conceive of a way to fill the solo gap in “Lovely Rita.” Emerick ultimately had the winning idea. “My suggestion was that they try something on piano. To my surprise, Paul asked, ‘Why don’t you play it?’ In a kneejerk reaction – and to my everlasting regret – I demurred; I was simply too embarrassed to demonstrate my musical skills. Paul shrugged his shoulders and took a stab at it, but he still wasn’t a hundred percent certain that it was a good idea, so he had George Martin play something instead.” Martin employed a trick he had used on the Rubber Soul track “In My Life,” recording a piano part at a slow tape speed. When it was played at the appropriate speed the effect resembled a wild honky-tonk riff.
Throughout the night the Beatles received several visitors, including their music publisher Dick James, management deputy Peter Brown, and Ivan Vaughan, who had introduced John Lennon and Paul McCartney for the first time back in 1957. But perhaps most notable was Norman Smith, who had worked as the Beatles’ engineer until the previous year. He had since moved on to a production role, and was working in nearby Studio 3 recording the debut album for a brand new group: Pink Floyd.
“Very politely, [Smith] asked George Martin if his boys could possibly pop in to see the Beatles at work,” Davies wrote in the Beatles’ biography. “George smiled, unhelpfully. Norman said perhaps he should ask John personally, as a favor. George Martin said no, that wouldn’t work. But if by chance he and his boys popped in about eleven o’clock, he might just be able to see what he could do.”

That’s exactly what Smith did. Though Pink Floyd had become the official house band of the London Underground scene with appearances at the ultra-hip UFO Club, they were still overawed being in the presence of the Beatles. “They were God-like figures to us,” drummer Nick Mason recalled in a 2011 interview with The Wall Street Journal. “They all seemed extremely nice, but they were in a strata so far beyond us that they were out of our league.” He elaborated on the meeting in his 2004 memoir, Inside Out: A Personal History of Pink Floyd. “We were ushered into Studio 2 where the Fab Four were busy recording ‘Lovely Rita.’ The music sounded wonderful, and incredibly professional. … There was little if any banter with the Beatles. We sat humbly and humbled, at the back of the control room while they worked on the mix, and after a suitable (and embarrassing) period of time had elapsed, we were ushered out again.”
Roger Waters’ memory of the momentary rock summit is somewhat less warm. “I only met John Lennon once, to my huge regret, and that was in the control room at Number 2,” he said in an interview with Marc Maron. “He was a bit acerbic. He was quite snotty – so was I!”


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Even though “Within You Without You” appears on an album associated with the Summer of Love, the song is actually the only one on the Beatles‘ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band that directly connects with the emerging counterculture movement. And it’s hardly a Beatles song at all.

In a sign of things to come, composer George is the lone band member to appear on the Indian-influenced, sitar-driven “Within You Without You,” which became the last song finished for the album. (“I was losing interest in being ‘fab’ at that point,” Harrison later admitted.) Elsewhere, there is often little evidence of Harrison’s participation on Sgt. Pepper, which took a dreamy, often-florid tack as he dove deeper into world-music sounds and Hindu philosophy.

“‘Within You Without You’ was the direction he wanted to take,” Beatles sound engineer Geoff Emerick told. “The other three were taken aback by it, but George was very serious about it.”
The well-traveled George had already been to India in order to delve more deeply into its culture. He was also the only Beatle to have actually visited Haight-Ashbury, the epicenter of that era’s youth movement. “Within You Without You” – a utopian song about joint responsibility, the search for transcendental peace and living an ego-free existence – showed he remained far more plugged into the American hippie zeitgeist.
That combined into lines like “With our love, we could save the world,” which predate the very similar and far more universally celebrated sentiments found in John Lennon‘s “All You Need Is Love.” His bandmates, meanwhile, imbued the rest of Sgt. Pepper with a distinctly British feel; they were using things like dance hall music, U.K. landmarks and Victorian themes as touchstones.

Just months after becoming a more central figure on the Beatles’ Revolver album, Harrison simply turned away from Paul‘s band-with-a-band concept. “I’d been let out of the confines of the group, and it was difficult for me to come back into the sessions. In a way, it felt like going backwards,” Harrison admitted in the Anthology documentary. “Everybody else thought that Sgt. Pepper was a revolutionary record – but for me it was not as enjoyable. I was growing out of that kind of thing.” The initial lyric from “Within You Without You” was telling: “We were talking about the space between us all.“
While he was increasingly detached from the rest of the group, Harrison brought his full creative focus to bear on “Within You Without You.” Recording commenced on March 15, 1967, with George Martin overseeing a session featuring George, band assistant Neil Aspinall (they both added tambouras) and a group of Indian musicians from the Eastern Music Circle that played traditional instruments. (The same London collective also provided accompanists for “Love You To,” Harrison’s first foray into Indian music from 1966’s Revolver.) Harrison overdubbed sitar on April 3, and also laid down his ethereal lead vocal. Even Martin’s strings were scored based on ideas from Harrison.
“Within You Without You” became densely atmospheric, and uncompromising in both its musical and narrative vision. It also found Harrison – though he was always good for a cutting put-down song – at his most centered and least preachy: “Try to realize it’s all within yourself,” he sings, “no one else can make you change.”

George  later oversaw the inclusion of yogis like Paramahansa Yogananda among the group of celebrities and influences depicted on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band‘s iconic cover art. As the album became a worldwide success, all of this worked in concert to bring Indian music and ideology to a broad new audience in the West. At the same time, a path of discovery was opening up that led inexorably away from the band. “Within You Without You” is the sound of Harrison’s first steps toward a solo career, one marked by a lengthy pursuit of spiritual awareness.
“There are so many people who don’t understand the sentiments of ‘Within You Without You,’” Harrison later argued. “They can’t see outside themselves. They’re too self-important and can’t see how small we all are. We’re all one.”

In the end, “Within You Without You” risked sounding over-serious on an album that included songs inspired by a child’s drawing, a flirty parking-enforcement officer and an antique circus poster. So Harrison allowed for a final moment of levity: It was his idea to put a bit of laughter at the end of “Within You Without You,” taken from a sound-effects tape in the Abbey Road library.
“I think he just wanted to relieve the tedium a bit,” Martin said later. “George was slightly embarrassed and defensive about his work. I was always conscious of that. Perhaps I didn’t devote as much attention to George as I had [to Lennon and McCartney]. I actually think ‘Within You Without You’ would have benefited a bit by being shorter, but it was a very interesting song. I find it more interesting now than I did then.”

He wasn’t the only one who developed a different perspective on “Within You Without You,” which heralded an exploration of Indian teachings by Harrison that was as long as the Beatles’ passing psychedelic fancies were short. By 1980, Lennon had deemed it “one of George’s best songs. One of my favorites of his too. He’s clear on that song. His mind and his music are clear. There is his innate talent. He brought that sound together.” Ringo Starr later simply called the track “brilliant. I love it.”


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This authorized reconsideration of a major canonical work may be how it was always meant to be heard

 In 2006, the Beatles coaxed producer George Martin out of retirement to remix and rearrange several of their iconic songs for Cirque du Soleil’s Las Vegas stage production Love. Martin, though, had a worry: At age 80 his hearing had turned difficult, and so he brought in a collaborator: his son Giles. The younger Martin had produced classical music, as well as recordings by Kula Shaker, Jeff Beck, Elvis Costello and Kate Bush. “He’s my ears,” George Martin said. What ears they turned out to be: Giles recombined parts of many of the Beatles’ songs into a mash-up of the band’s audio history, sometimes encapsulating much of it in a single song. “Get Back” opened with George Harrison’s memorable thrum from “A Hard Day’s Night” and Ringo Starr’s drum prologue from “The End,” caught sight of an overpassing jet from “Back in the U.S.S.R.,” pulled in part of the audience’s expectant murmur from “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and borrowed a bit of the orchestral swell from “A Day in the Life,” landing on John Lennon’s “Glass Onion.”
Additionally, Sgt. Pepper‘s groundbreaking sonics – its mix of pioneering textures, complex composition and inventive recording techniques –also won the album standing as a legitimate art form that revised and extended classical music’s archetypes. (This achievement also imbued much of rock itself with a new prestige and aspiration.) In part, the unprecedented acclaim resulted from Paul McCartney’s insistence on the album as a conceptual song cycle that existed as a whole entity: The Beatles, posed in ornate Victorian brass-band military costumery on the cover, were playing a fictional band, singing from perspectives free of any indebtedness to their prior musical sensibility and well-established images. (Ringo Starr later described it as “a bunch of songs and you stick two bits of ‘Pepper’ on it and it’s a concept album. It worked because we said it worked.”)
But that was 50 years ago. A lot changed – including the Beatles, who ended acrimoniously in 1970. What can we learn now from Sgt. Pepper‘s new incarnation? As it turns out, Giles Martin reveals considerable new wonders – particularly in his stereo remix of the original album (which appears in all the new editions, and as a standalone disc and digital download). The remix, in fact, provides a long overdue epiphany. Martin observes in his liner notes: “The original Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was primarily mixed as a mono album. All care and attention were applied to the mono LP, with the Beatles present for all the mixes. … Almost as an afterthought, the stereo album was mixed very quickly without the Beatles at the sessions. Yet it is the stereo album that most people listen to today.” In other words, popular music’s most elaborate and intricate creation – and one that helped end the mono era – wasn’t made to be heard in stereo.
Perhaps that’s been Sgt. Pepper‘s unlikeliest secret, though for those who compared the original mixes over the years the difference was noteworthy: The mono version hit harder, sounded fuller, whereas the stereo soundstage diffused that force. You hear it from the start: The mono version of the title track jolted full-force, particularly in the collusion of Paul McCartney’s bass and Ringo Starr’s storming drums. Martin has said that in attending to the new album’s mix he was aiming for a “3-D mono” rendition – and he has achieved it. The titular opening track finally jumps out of the speakers in a more centralized stereo: It’s sharp, vivid, forward leaning – the sound of a big band doing very big things and not fucking around about it one bit. Indeed, everything here is more vibrant and forceful; it’s for the ears of today. Ringo’s three-beat drum salvo that launches the chorus in “Lucy in the Sky” now gives new gravity to the song’s hallucinogenic imagery and chimerical whirl; “Getting Better” has an aggression that belies the song’s title claim, making clearer the idea that this is a song about a fucked-up man contending to overcome himself and confessing his flaws and confusion; “Good Morning Good Morning”‘s horns and relentless rhythms propel the distress implicit in John Lennon’s vocal (Lennon later said he was going through a personal hell as the Beatles recorded Sgt. Pepper, and this song reflects that); and “A Day in the Life” acquires even more frighteningly palpable depth. The song has always stood outside of Sgt. Pepper‘s phantasmagoria. It was a vision of dreams, death, chaos, revelation, and it held and scared us as it faded into a final oceanic piano chord, reverberating around a room of keyboards. That moment now holds and scares even more; its finality sounds boundless.
Extra discs in the various Pepper packages consist mostly of the album’s tracks in development (the fourth of the six-disc box showcases mono versions). It’s particularly fascinating to hear the simple and spare origins of John Lennon’s “Strawberry Fields Forever” (recorded for the album but released earlier in February 1967 as a single, along with “Penny Lane”) and “A Day in the Life.” Both songs sound abstracted and simple at their outset, then grow otherworldly; they are mesmerizing transfigurations, and they transmute right before our ears. Some songs arguably benefit from their fundamental, pre-effects treatment: “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” is spookier in its Take 4 version, and much warmer in Take 7, with McCartney’s pumping bass steps and Ringo’s razor-sharp cymbal accents. Similarly, newly released takes of “With a Little Help From My Friends,” “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” “Lovely Rita” and “Fixing a Hole” demonstrate that before curlicues and overdubs were added there was still a quartet sensibility at the heart of most of this music (The Beatles never would have made this music had they kept touring, but contrary any claims, they could have effectively played almost everything here live and stripped.) You especially feel the band as a tight unit in “Getting Better,” “Good Morning Good Morning” and the blazing “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise).”
By contrast, “She’s Leaving Home” which featured Paul and John’s voices accompanied by a string nonet but none of the other Beatles. (The song’s writing credit now appears solely as Paul McCartney’s. Several other credits have shifted as well: the title track, along with “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” “When I’m 64,” “Good Morning Good Morning,” “With a Little Help from My Friends,” “Getting Better” and “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” appear as McCartney-Lennon creations, rather than the more familiar Lennon-McCartney attribution. “A Day in the Life” shows as Lennon composition, while “Lovely Rita,” “Fixing a Hole” and “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)” appear under the original Lennon-McCartney arrangement.) George Harrison’s “Within You Without You” stands outside the Beatles. Harrison set aside his guitar, instead playing sitar and conducting Indian classical musicians while George Martin conducted a conventional classical string section. “Within You Without You” was derided by some as tedious and preachy, but it has weathered beautifully. Sgt. Pepper has often been characterized as a gestalt: a whole that was greater than the sum of its parts. But Harrison’s Hindustani song and Lennon’s “A Day in the Life” proved the exceptions. “Within You Without You”‘s message of transcendence and unity – and of haughty judgement – was, as one critic observed, the conscience of Sgt. Pepper. “A Day in the Life,” the album’s closer, dispelled the whole fantasia that had come before. It was haunted – the ghost that outlasted the dream.
Sgt. Pepper‘s moment – its glimpse of a Garden of Eden, its florid sensibility, its depiction of “Cellophane flowers of yellow and green/Towering over your head” – could not hold. Bob Dylan moved back to folk music late that same year with John Wesley Harding – never once touching psychedelia – and the Rolling Stones reasserted rock & roll as a gritty, edgy, blues-based vocation with “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” in April 1968. The Beatles were chagrined. The year following Sgt. Pepper‘s release, Lennon himself deprecated it as “the biggest load of shit we’ve ever done.” By 1969 the Beatles had adopted a new motto: “Get back to where you once belonged,” and proceeded accordingly, until they fell apart. Even so, the album itself never fell from its pedestal. It has always been seen as an unsurpassed milestone. Not so much for its psychedelic vision, rather for what it set loose in form, cohesion, texture, layers, adventurism, technology and utter boldness. Those possibilities bore fruit across the breadth of popular music, in Born to Run, Around the World in a Day, OK Computer, Yeezus, Lemonade and To Pimp a Butterfly, among countless others. Also, George Harrison’s “Within You Without You” opened ears not only to Indian sounds but to widening vistas of world music. We live in soundscapes now that Sgt. Pepper helped lay the groundwork for.
Above all, though, the album represented accord and imagination as means to enlightenment – a last bulwark of agreement before the dark set in. We have lost a lot since the summer of 1967, including any more chance of being naïve. But now, thanks to Giles Martin, we can hear the Beatles’ apogee as it was always meant to be heard. That won’t save the world, but it can still beguile us, and that remains a generous miracle.


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The Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which Rolling Stone named as the best album of all time, turns 50 on June 1st. In honor of the anniversary, and coinciding with a new deluxe reissue of Sgt. Pepper, we present a series of in-depth pieces – one for each of the album’s tracks, excluding the brief “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” reprise on Side Two – that explore the background of this revolutionary and beloved record. Today’s installment tells the story of the Victorian circus poster immortalized in “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!”

For a man who would famously imagine no possessions, John Lennon
had amassed an impressive volume of unusual objects by 1967. Kenwood,
his mock-Tudor estate in the London suburb of Weybridge, was packed with
what friend and Beatles associate Tony Bramwell describes as
“bric-a-brac.” Or, put another way, “a load of junk! Oddities and things
he’d pick up in a junk shop,” he tells Rolling Stone. “You’d pick it up and wonder what it was – he’d just buy it, take it home and stick it on the shelf.”

Guests arriving at chez Lennon were greeted in the entrance hall by a suit of armor christened “Sidney,” a World War I recruitment poster proclaiming “Your Country Needs YOU” and, occasionally, a lifelike gorilla costume. Elsewhere were vintage enamel advertising signs, an ornate Victorian wheelchair and an altar-sized Roman Catholic crucifix with an enormous Bible to match. “Cartoons, film posters, knitted dolls,” Bramwell adds to the list. “Things that Beatles fans had sent him and he’d say, ‘Oh, I’ll keep that one.’ Stuff like that. Lots of books, odd instruments that he never learned how to play – cellos and tubas and brass horns – and strange electronic things.” In his 2006 memoir, Magical Mystery Tours: My Life with the Beatles, Bramwell also describes a number of empty boxes, produced by the band’s electronics guru “Magic Alex” Madas, purported to contain a light ray that warded off negative energy. These were about as useful as the legendary “Nothing Boxes,” metallic cubes with eight lights that flashed in random order until the battery died. There were also more functional items, like a slot machine, pinball table, 40-disc KB Discomatic jukebox and an entire room filled with Scalextric toy racing cars (“That’s a hobby I had for about a week,” Lennon told profiler Maureen Cleave).

Lennon made a significant addition to his collection on January 31st, 1967, when the Beatles were filming the promotional video for “Strawberry Fields Forever” at Knole Park in Sevenoaks, Kent. Bramwell, on hand to produce the segment, accompanied Lennon when the shoot broke for lunch. “John wanted to go for a drink, so we walked onto the High Street and about three doors along from our hotel was an antique shop,” he recalls. “He went and fussed around in there and saw a poster stuck on the wall.” It was a framed Victorian circus advertisement, breathlessly hawking the “Grandest Night of the Season” – February 14th, 1843, a Tuesday – more than a century after the applause had died away. “Pablo Fanque’s Circus Royal, Town Meadows, Rochdale, and Positively the Last Night but Three!” the verbose headline trumpeted. “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite, (Late of Wells’s Circus) and Mr. J. Henderson, the Celebrated Somerset Thrower! Wire Dancer, Vaulter, Rider, Etc.”

The poster was dripping with arcane language and comical illustrations, and Lennon had to have it. “He thought it was amusing because of the drawing of the acrobat on it,” says Bramwell. “And he bought it for 10 shillings – about half a dollar.” Once back at Kenwood, it took pride of place in his den, not far from his piano, where it drew smiles from visitors. “It was just a funny poster,” Bramwell remembers. “It read old English. You’d wonder what some of the acts were supposed to be doing!” Indeed, the colorful language is not easy to decipher. The “somersets” undertaken by Mr. J. Henderson (on “solid ground,” no less) refer to somersaults, while the “garters” he was due to leap over were large banners held aloft by two pairs of hands. The “hogshead of real fire” was a colloquial term for a barrel set alight.
Though Lennon likely wasn’t aware of it, the billing featured some of the biggest stars of the Victorian age. Pablo Fanque, born William Darby, earned fame as a talented performer and the first black circus impresario in England, helming one of the country’s most popular shows for three decades. The headlining Mr. Kite was in fact William Kite, depicted on the poster playing a bugle while balancing his head on top of a pole, and Henderson – famous as a gifted tightrope walker, clown and acrobat – often performed an act with his wife, Agnes. It’s pure coincidence that these bygone celebrities, all long forgotten by 1967, wound up on the wall of a modern luminary.
As the Beatles dove headlong into sessions for what would become Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band that February, Lennon found himself short on new material. A glance at the poster provided a welcomed dose of inspiration. “I had all the words staring me in the face one day when I was looking for a song,” he told biographer Hunter Davies. Keeping the archaic syntax intact, he borrowed a title: “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!”

Having found a starting point, the rest came quickly. “Everything in the song is from that poster, except the horse wasn’t called Henry,” he explained to Playboy in 1980. There were a few other minor alterations – the scene was moved from Rochdale to Bishopsgate, and Henderson was actually “late of Wells’s Circus” – but the majority was taken down nearly verbatim, with a degree of haste. “I wrote that as a pure poetic job. I had to write it because it was time to write and I had to write it quick because otherwise I wouldn’t have been on the album,” he admitted to Rolling Stone in 1970. For George Harrison, the process was a testament to his bandmate’s attentive eye for creative possibility. “That’s how you do it. You hear people say stuff, you hear a phrase that sounds good and you write it down and remember it,” he said in a 1992 episode of The South Bank Show. “I think he was just advanced for those days in his awareness that everything could be put into a song.”

Paul McCartney, based in London, made the drive out to Kenwood and together they assembled the lyrics. “We sat in his room and said, ‘OK, what are we going to write?’ And we noticed he had this old circus poster,” McCartney tells Rolling Stone. “So we said, ‘OK!’ We pulled most of the words directly off the poster, and then filled it in together. It had Pablo Fanque’s Fair, the Hendersons and Mr. Kite, a hog’s head of real fire – all those phrases were directly lifted off the poster.”

The serendipitous composition fell perfectly in line with the antique-chic aesthetic that imbued some of the band’s most recent recordings, particularly McCartney’s “When I’m Sixty-Four” and “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” The latter was tinged with the vintage militaria becoming fashionable with London’s hipster elite. “Around that time there were places like I Was Lord Kitchener’s Valet and that brought back into vogue a lot of those old Victorian things and the nice way of putting things – ‘this night’s production will be one of the most splendid ever!’ That attracted us,” McCartney later explained to biographer Barry Miles in Many Years from Now.
Bolstered by the evocative arrangement courtesy of producer George Martin and engineer Geoff Emerick, “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” is an enthralling finale to Sgt. Pepper‘s first side. But Lennon, his own harshest critic, voiced his dissatisfaction with the song soon after its release in an interview with Hunter Davies. “I hardly made up a word, just connecting the lists together. Word for word, really. I wasn’t very proud of that. There was no real work. I was just going through the motions because we needed a new song for Sgt. Pepper at that moment.”
Lennon often cited his most personal songs as his favorite works. It’s possible that “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” veered too far into fiction territory for his liking. “I’m not interested in third party songs,” he told Playboy just before his death, “I like to write about me because I know me.” But in the same interview, he admitted that his opinion of the track had improved. “The song is pure, like a painting, a pure watercolor.”