"Penny Lane" is a song by the Beatles, written primarily by Paul McCartney. It was 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". Both songs were 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 "Penny Lane" at #456 on its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Background[edit source | editbeta]Edit

The song's title is derived from the name of a street near Lennon's childhood home for his first 5 years (Newcastle Road, just off Church Road), in the band's hometown, Liverpool. McCartney and Lennon would meet at Penny Lane junction in the Princes Park area to catch a bus into the centre of the city. At the time, in 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. Penny Lane is named after James Penny, an 18th-century slave trader.

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.

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 band. Both songs were later included on the US Magical Mystery Tour album in November 1967. In the UK, the pairing famously failed to reach No. 1 in the singles charts, stalling one place belowEngelbert Humperdinck's "Release Me". In the US 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".

The single was released following the success of the double A-side "Yellow Submarine"/"Eleanor Rigby", when Brian Epstein enquired if the band had any new material available. 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.

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[edit source | editbeta]Edit

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 ofBach'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 Raritiescompilation 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.

Personnel[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Personnel per Ian MacDonald

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.

Lyrics and music[edit source | editbeta]Edit

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. In the opening bars in B major, after singing "In Penny Lane" (in an F#-B-C#-D# melody note ascent) McCartney uses major 3rds(on "Lane" and "Pocket") and major 7ths (on "a fireman" and "a portrait") then switches to a Bm key involving flattened 3rd notes (on "Queen" with a i7 [Bm7] chord) and flattened 7th notes (on "engine clean" [with a ♭VImaj7 [Gmaj7] chord] and "clean machine" [with a V7sus4 [F#7sus4] chord]). 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. 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.

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.

The song features contrasting verse-chorus form. 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.". 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'."

Context[edit source | editbeta]Edit

[1][2]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 Nos 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.[23] The lyrics as printed on the compilation album The Beatles: 1967–1970 (aka the "Blue Album"), however, are "Full of fish and finger pies" which are incorrect. In the remastered version, the lyrics read as "For a fish and finger pies," which is also incorrect.

Penny Lane today[edit source | editbeta]Edit

[3][4]A view down Penny Lane at the opposite end from the roundabout, approaching the junction with Greenbank Road near to Sefton Park.[5][6]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 have known".

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. 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. Though the song refers to the "Penny Lane junction" on Smithdown Road, the street itself also leads down at the other end to theUniversity 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.

The fireman and fire engine referred to in the lyrics are based upon the fire station at Mather Avenue. This is some distance, "about half a mile down the road", from Penny Lane. The station is still in use today.

Promotional film[edit source | editbeta]Edit

[7][8]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. 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 on 30 January 1967. The promotional film for "Strawberry Fields Forever" was also shot at the same location, during the same visit (during The Beatles stay in Sevenoaks, Lennon wandered into an antiques gallery and purchased the poster for Pablo Fanque's Circus Royal that would inspire the song, "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!"). Both films—directed by the Swede Peter Goldmann—were selected by New York'sMoMA 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 'shelter in the middle of the roundabout', but none of the Beatles attended.

Charts[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Chart (1967) Peak


Canada CHUM Chart 1
UK Singles Chart 2
U.S. BillboardHot 100 1
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

Cover versions[edit source | editbeta]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).
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