Saturday, March 18, 2017

50 years ago: The Beatles hit #1 with “Penny Lane”

Penny Lane

The Beatles

Writer(s): John Lennon, Paul McCartney (see lyrics here)

Released: February 13, 1967

First Charted: February 17, 1967

Peak: 11 US, 12 CB, 2 GR, 12 HR, 1 CL, 2 UK, 11 CN, 15 AU, 1 DF (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): 1.0 US, 0.2 UK, 1.2 world (includes US + UK)

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): 4.0 radio, 111.0 video, -- streaming


Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

In December 1966, the Beatles began work on “an album that…would have an over-arching theme: their hometown” LW of Liverpool, England. They wrote “When I’m Sixty Four,” “Strawberry Fields Forever,” and “Penny Lane” – the latter two abour real locations in Liverpool – and then the project stalled. The first song ended up on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, “an album that…would be seen as the eefining artistic moment of the 1960s.” LW The other two were released on a contractually required new single in February 1967. They would also later be released on the U.S. album Magical Mystery Tour, which was an expansion of the double-EP of the same name in England.

Both songs climbed the charts with “Strawberry Fields Forever” reaching #8 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100, while “Penny Lane” went to #1. In the UK, the double A-side single reached #2. It marked the first time since the release of “Please Please Me” in January 1963 that a new Beatles’ single missed the top of the UK charts, FB bringing an end to their streak of seven consecutive #1 singles in the UK. SF

“Penny Lane” was Paul McCartney’s “answer to John Lennon’s childhood-memory ballad, ‘Strawberry Fields Forever.’” JA The latter “is introspective” LW while “Penny Lane” “looks cheerfully outward into a world of observed curiosities.” LW It also “had the clear melodic leaps and falls and artful dancing rhythms that so clearly bear McCartney’s stamp.” LW

Paul was inspired to write it while sitting at the Penny Lane bus roundabout waiting for John. He wrote down images of what he saw and it became the song. SF He explained that it is “part fact, part nostalgia.” FB For example, there is a barbershop there, but with photos of hairstyles rather than “every head [the barber’s] had the pleasure to know.” The barber was later identified as James Bioletti, who used to cut John, Paul, and George Harrison’s hair when they were kids. SF

John Lennon and producer George Martin both play piano on the song while Ringo Starr is on drums. Harrison plays the conga drum and provides the firebell. FB The song does not feature guitar. SF The song also features a baroque trumpet, which Paul told Martin he wanted to use JA after observing the New Philharmonia perform Bach’s “Brandenburg Concerto #2” on the BBC. SF Paul sang the part how he wanted it and Martin transcribed it so it could played on the trumpet. SF


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First posted 3/26/2022; last updated 11/25/2022.

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