"Penny Lane" is a song by English rock band the Beatles. Written by Paul McCartney, the song is credited to the Lennon–McCartney partnership. Written in response to John Lennon's "Strawberry Fields Forever", the song's lyrics were written about a real street in Liverpool, England.
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". The single was the result of the record company wanting a new release after several months of no new Beatles releases. Although the song did not top the charts in Britain, it was still a top ten hit across Europe. The song was later included on the band's US album, Magical Mystery Tour, despite not appearing on the British double EP of the same name.
In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked "Penny Lane" at number 456 on its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
The song's title is derived from the name of a street near Lennon's childhood home for his first five years (Newcastle Road, just off Church Road), in the band's hometown, Liverpool, England. McCartney and Lennon would meet at Penny Lane junction to catch a bus into the centre of the city. During 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 believed to be 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 number 1 in the singles charts, stalling one place below Engelbert Humperdinck's "Release Me". On the national chart compiled by Melody Maker magazine, however, the combination topped the singles list for three weeks. In the United States, 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 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 of Johann Sebastian Bach's second 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. According to lead sound engineer Geoff Emerick, David Mason "nailed it" at some point during the recording; Paul McCartney tried to get him to do another take but producer George Martin insisted it wasn't necessary, sensing Mason's fatigue. This is known[by whom?] as one of the few times the producer's decision overruled that of the already superstar Beatles. Emerick also notes in his book that prior to this recording, the high "E" was considered unobtainable by trumpet players and has been expected of them since said performance on the record. Mason was paid 27 pounds and 10 shillings for his performance on the recording. "Penny Lane"'s production effects include percussion effects and 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 Rarities compilation 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 Paul McCartney – lead, harmony and backing vocals, three pianos and bass John Lennon – harmony and backing vocals, two pianos, congas and handclaps George Harrison – backing vocal, handbell and handclaps Ringo Starr – drums, tambourine George Martin – piano, production, orchestration David Mason – piccolo trumpet solo Ray Swinfield, P. Goody, Manny Winters – flutes, piccolos Leon Calvert, Freddy Clayton, Bert Courtley, Duncan Campbell – trumpets, flugelhorn Dick Morgan, Mike Winfield – oboes, cor anglais Frank Clarke – double-bass 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 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 sings the major third of the first chord in the progression (on "Lane") and major 7th (on "barber") then switches to a Bm chord, singing the flattened 3rd notes (on "know" with a i7 [Bm7] chord) and flattened 7th notes (on "come and go" [with a ♭VImaj7 [Gmaj7] chord] and "say hello" [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 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 A Liverpool Penny Lane street sign A 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 numbers 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. The lyrics as printed on the compilation album The Beatles: 1967–1970, 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 A view down Penny Lane at the opposite end from the roundabout, approaching the junction with Greenbank Road near to Sefton Park. A view down Penny Lane at the opposite end from the roundabout, approaching the junction with Greenbank Road near to Sefton Park. 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 know". 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 know". 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 Penny Lane junction on Smithdown Road, the street itself also leads down at the other end to the University 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.
According to Barry Miles, the fireman and fire engine referred to in the lyrics are based upon the fire station at Mather Avenue, which is "about half a mile down the road" from Penny Lane. The station is still in use today.
Promotional film This is the "shelter in the middle of the roundabout." As of March 2008, it is in a state of disrepair. 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. Both films – directed by the Swede Peter Goldmann – were selected by New York's MoMA 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 bus shelter – but none of the Beatles attended.
Song ownership Northern Songs, the publishing company that owned all but four of the Beatles songs, was acquired by ATV – a media company owned by Lew Grade in 1969. By 1985 the company was being run by serial Australian entrepreneur Robert Holmes à Court, who decided to sell the catalogue to Michael Jackson.
Before the sale, he offered his 16-year-old daughter Catherine the chance to keep any song "in her name" from the catalogue. She chose "Penny Lane" as it was her favourite - despite her father's urging to choose "Yesterday", which was by far the biggest royalty-earning song on the books (and is in the top four global royalty earning songs of all time).
Catherine Holmes à Court-Mather is still the owner of "Penny Lane"'s copyright today, one of only five Beatles songs not owned by Sony/ATV Music Publishing.
Charts Chart (1967) Peak position Australian Go-Set National Top 40 1 Belgian Singles Chart 4 Canadian RPM 100 1 Irish Singles Chart 2 UK Singles Chart 2 US Billboard Hot 100 1 West German Media Control Chart 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 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). The Rutles' song "Doubleback Alley" is a pastiche of this song. Count Basie recorded a swing version on his record Basie on the Beatles, which also includes other Lennon-McCartney songs such as "Hey Jude" and "Get Back" (1969).