Penny Lane

From Academic Kids

"Penny Lane"
Single by The Beatles
From the album Magical Mystery Tour
Single Released 13 February 1967 (UK)
17 February 1967 (USA)
Single Format vinyl record (7")
Recorded 29 December 1966-17 January 1967
Abbey Road Studios, London
Genre Pop
Song Length 3:03
Record label Parlophone/EMI
Producer George Martin
Chart positions 2 (UK)
1 (US)
The Beatles single chronology
"Eleanor Rigby"/"Yellow Submarine"
"Strawberry Fields Forever"/"Penny Lane"
"All You Need Is Love"

Penny Lane is a street in the English city of Liverpool. The area that surrounds its junction with Smithdown Road is also commonly called Penny Lane.

Penny Lane is now famous worldwide as it is the title of a hit song by The Beatles, written by Paul McCartney, recorded during the Sgt. Pepper sessions, and released in February, 1967 as one side of a double-A sided single, along with Lennon's Strawberry Fields Forever. Both singles were later released on the US Magical Mystery Tour album in November, 1967. The song features contrasting verse-chorus form.

McCartney and John Lennon grew up in the area and they spent a lot of time playing on Penny Lane junction as children. The street is an important landmark, sought out by most 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 is still the case at the Smithdown Road junction, but there is a conventional sign at the other end of the street.

The barber shop mentioned in the song was probably a shop owned by a Mr. Bioletti, who has claimed to have cut hair for Lennon, McCartney and George Harrison when they were children.

One innovative feature of the song was the piccolo trumpet solo played by David Mason. This is thought to be the first use of this instrument (a distinctively higher version of the standard trumpet) in pop music, where it is now (in certain genres) almost a commonplace. McCartney was reportedly inspired to use the instrument after hearing Mason's performance in a BBC radio broadcast of the second Brandenburg Concerto by Johann Sebastian Bach.

The promotional film for the song was not in fact filmed at Penny Lane – The Beatles were reluctant to travel to Liverpool and so the street scenes were actually filmed in and around Angel Lane in London's East End. The outdoor scenes were filmed at Knole Park in Sevenoaks, where the promotional film for Strawberry Fields Forever was also shot. Both videos were selected by New York's MoMA as some of the most influential music videos in the late 1960s.

Penny Lane today

It is a tribute to the creative genius of The Beatles that they were able to take an utterly undistinguished suburban road junction and fashion a memorable song on such a flimsy foundation. Prior to securing international fame, Penny Lane's chief renown was as the terminus for several important bus routes out from the city centre and as the site, in the middle of the roundabout, of a very handily located public convenience. The area remained largely unremarkable for the remainder of the 1960s and the 1970s; its most distinguishing feature was, perhaps, the regular arrival there of tour buses laden with bemused-looking tourists who would alight, take a photograph or two, and then get back on the bus headed towards 251 Menlove Avenue.

Penny Lane began to evolve into what it has since become in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Towards the end of the 1970s, the businesses that set up shop there included Penny Lane Records, Sven Books (Liverpool's first high-street sex shop), and a wine bar known, at least in the early years, as Harper's Bizarre. In the mid-1980s, the bus shelter and public convenience were converted into a café that intelligently marketed itself as Sgt. Pepper's. Following privatisation, the Merseyside Passenger Transport Executive bus depot, slightly up the hill past Bioletti's, was knocked down was turned into 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 in the vicinity, as well as handily located traditional businesses (Woolworths, WH Smiths, Clarke's and Chalkin's cake shops) make the neighbourhood one of 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 leads down to the Liverpool University student halls of residence.


From Journal of Mundane Behavior, February 2001 2(1):

But back to The Beatles: consider if you will, McCartney's "Penny Lane", a portrait of a village virtually teeming with Nowhere Men. Penny Lane is a study in mundanity, the simple sights and sounds of a suburban British neighborhood; it's also one of the most stunningly gorgeous songs in the world. The descriptions of completely generalized, almost homogenous people and practices off set with small details and punctuated by a central contradiction (example: "And the banker never wears a Mac in the pouring rain; very strange"), the revolving chorus ("And mean while back in Penny Lane is in my ears..."), all set to that rich melody, with the horns, the flute, augh! Splendid! Additionally, it contains the lines that probably most influenced my own artistic point of view: "Penny Lane is in my ears and in my eyes/There beneath the blue suburban skies..." The persistence of memory, the importance of experience, the way the smallest visual and aural details build up to form and inform this amazing thing we call A Life, all summed up in these simplest of lines. Or perhaps I'm imagining things. It's been known to happen.

External links

  John Lennon Missing image
Paul McCartney

The Beatles George Harrison Ringo Starr  

History of the Beatles | Long-term influence | British Invasion | Classic rock era | Paul is Dead rumours | Apple Records | George Martin | Geoff Emerick | Brian Epstein | Beatlesque | Discography | Bootlegs | Beatlemania

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