"Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" is a song written by Paul McCartney (credited to Lennon–McCartney), and first recorded and released in 1967, on the the Beatles' album of the same name. The song appears twice on the album: as the opening track (segueing into "With a Little Help from My Friends"), and as "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)", the penultimate track (segueing into "A Day in the Life"). As the title track, the lyrics introduce the fictional band that performs on the album.
Since its original album release, the song has also been released on singles, on compilation albums, and has been performed by several other artists including Jimi Hendrix, U2, and a comic interpretation by Bill Cosby, using the opening to John Phillip Sousa's Washington Post March as the instrumental bridge.
In November 1966, on the flight back to England after a holiday, McCartney conceived an idea in which an entire album would be role-played, with each of the Beatles assuming an alter-ego in the "Lonely Hearts Club Band", which would then perform a concert in front of an audience. The inspiration is said to have come when roadie Mal Evans innocently asked McCartney what the letters "S" and "P" stood for on the pots on their in-flight meal trays, and McCartney explained it was for salt and pepper. This then led to the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Bandconcept, as well as the song.
The group's road manager Neil Aspinall suggested the idea of Sgt. Pepper being the compère, as well as the reprise at the end of the album. According to his diaries, Evans may have alsocontributed to the song. John Lennon attributed the idea for Sgt. Pepper to McCartney, although the song is officially credited to Lennon–McCartney. The song was recorded in Abbey Road's number 2 studio, with Martin producing, and Geoff Emerick engineering. Work on the song started on 1 February 1967, and after three further sessions the recording was complete on 6 March 1967.
On the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album, the song opens to the sound of a chattering audience, and an orchestra tuning up, which was taken from the 10 February orchestra session for "A Day in the Life". The crowd sounds edited into the song were recorded in the early '60s by Martin, during a live recording of the stage show Beyond the Fringe. When the song itself begins, the band introduces its members. The song's structure is:
- Introduction (instrumental)
- Bridge (instrumental)
- Instrumental bridge and transition into "With a Little Help from My Friends".
"Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)" is a somewhat modified repeat of the opening song at a faster tempo with heavier instrumentation. The track opens with McCartney's count-in (retained in the manner of "I Saw Her Standing There", the first song on their first album); between 2 and 3, Lennon jokingly interjects "Bye!". Starr starts the song proper by playing the drum part unaccompanied for four bars, at the end of which a brief bass glissando cues the full ensemble of two distorted guitars, bass, drums and overdubbed percussion. While the original track had stayed largely in the key of G major (except for transient modulation to F and perhaps C in the bridges), the reprise starts in F and features a rare example in the Beatles' output of modulation, to G. The mono and stereo mixes of the song differ slightly: the former has a fractionally different transition from the previous song, and includes crowd noise and laughter in the opening bars that are absent from the stereo mix.
The idea for a reprise was Aspinall's, who thought that as there was a "welcome song", there should be a "goodbye song". The song contains broadly the same melody as the opening version, but with different lyrics and omitting the "It's wonderful to be here" section. At 1:18, it is one of the Beatles' shorter songs (the shortest is "Her Majesty" at 0:23). The reprise was recorded on 1 April 1967, two months after the version that opens the album. At the end of the track, Martin's pre-recorded applause sample segues into the final track of the album, "A Day in the Life".
It was originally released in the UK on 1 June 1967, and in the US on 2 June 1967 on the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band LP.
When the Beatles' recording contract with EMI expired in 1976, EMI was free to re-release music from The Beatles' catalogue, and in 1978 – 11 years after the original album release – released "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band"/"With a Little Help from My Friends" as the A-side of a single with "A Day in the Life" as the B-side. The single was released on Capitol in the US on 14 August (closely following the US release of the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band film), reaching #71 on 30 September 1978 where it stayed for 2 weeks. The single was released on Parlophone in the UK in September.
|US||Billboard Hot 100||71|
The original recording of the song is included on the following Beatles compilation albums: 1967-1970 (1973), Yellow Submarine Songtrack (1999). A run-through of the reprise is included on the outtakes album Anthology 2 (1996). In 2006, the reprise was re-released on the album Love, which was a theatrical production by Cirque du Soleil. The updated version is a remix featuringsamples of other Beatles' songs.
The notebook used by McCartney containing the lyrics for "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" and other songs was put up for sale in 1998.
- Paul McCartney – lead vocal, bass guitar, lead guitar
- John Lennon – backing vocal
- George Harrison – backing vocal, rhythm guitar
- Ringo Starr – drums
- George Martin – organ, producer
- Neill Sanders – French horn
- James W. Buck – French horn
- Tony Randell – French horn
- John Burden – French horn
- Paul McCartney – lead vocal, bass, Hammond organ
- John Lennon – lead vocal, rhythm guitar
- George Harrison – lead vocal, lead guitar
- Ringo Starr – lead vocal, drums, tambourine, maracas
In 1967, Jimi Hendrix played the song live at the Saville Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue, which was leased by Brian Epstein, only three days after it had been released on record, with McCartney and George Harrison in the audience. Another live version by Hendrix recorded at the Isle of Wight Festival was included on a posthumous live album, Blue Wild Angel: Live at the Isle of Wight.
"Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" was never performed live by the Beatles. It was performed by three of The Beatles (McCartney, Harrison, and Starr) plus Eric Clapton on 19 May 1979, at Clapton's wedding party. Paul McCartney played it live on the 1989/1990 Paul McCartney World Tour. On subsequent tours he would play the reprise version and use that as a segue into "The End". When the performance is released, it usually is listed as "Sgt. Pepper's/The End," shortening the name of the song. When Paul performs it, he usually adds the count-in after the drum part begins, as opposed to Paul's count-in preceding the drum opening. 
McCartney and U2 played the song at the start of the Live 8 concert in Hyde Park, London on 2 July 2005. The song, starting with "It was twenty years ago, today", was chosen amongst others to commemorate that Live 8 took place approximately twenty years after Live Aid. The single was released for charity on iTunes, and set a world record for the fastest-selling online song of all time.
In 2007, Bryan Adams and Stereophonics recorded the album's two versions of the song for It Was 40 Years Ago Today, a television film with contemporary acts recording the album's songs using the same studio, technicians and recording techniques as the original.
In 2011, Robbie Williams performed the song on Take That's Progress tour, replacing "Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" with "Robbie Williams and the Take That Band", and "Mr Martin told the Band to play", a reference to Take That's manager in the 90's Nigel Martin-Smith.
In 2013, the song was performed by Ryder Lynn (Blake Jenner), Marley Rose (Melissa Benoist), Jake Puckerman (Jacob Artist), and Wade "Unique" Adams (Alex Newell) in the Glee episode "Tina in the Sky with Diamonds".