The song Paul McCartney wrote when he was tired of being in The Beatles
Arguably one of the greatest albums in living memory, The Beatles 1967 classic Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was not only a generational moment but it provided some much needed respite for the Fab Four.
The album and the songs on it gave John, Paul, George and Ringo something they had craved for such a long time—they no longer had to be in The Beatles. There was one song in which this concept was realised and saw Macca push the band towards conceptual bliss.
Of course, the song in question is the album’s opener, their plan of action. ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ was the first song that came to Paul McCartney when he was trying to conceive what the next album may be like. But why such a long name? “‘Sgt. Pepper’ is Paul after a trip to America and the whole West Coast long-named group thing was coming in,” remembers Lennon.
“You know, when people were no longer the Beatles or the Crickets— they were suddenly Fred And His Incredible Shrinking Grateful Airplanes, right? So I think he got influenced by that and came up with this idea for the Beatles.”
The idea and the concept were relatively simple and underpinned by one thing, the band could no longer be The Beatles. As Macca remembers back in 1984: “It was an idea I had, I think, when I was flying from L.A. to somewhere. I thought it would be nice to lose our identities, to submerge ourselves in the persona of a fake group.”
Having lived the majority of his life permanently attached to one group, it must’ve felt liberating to know that you would be departing, if only for an album. “We would make up all the culture around it and collect all our heroes in one place. So I thought, A typical stupid-sounding name for a Dr. Hook’s Medicine Show and Traveling Circus kind of thing would be ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.’ Just a word game, really.”
It allowed the band to truly experiment on the album. While the song was simple and imbued with the ragtime joy of golden-hued nostalgia, there was something deliberate about this new concept that was anything but conforming.
Macca was candid in 1994 when he spoke of the song, the album and the desperate need to break out of their perceived structure. “We were fed up with being Beatles. We really hated that fucking four little mop-top boys approach. We were not boys, we were men.”
To hear McCartney so vehemently defend his position is unusual and suggests the weight of being in the band was much larger than anyone had expected. “It was all gone, all that boy shit, all that screaming, we didn’t want anymore, plus, we’d now got turned on to pot and thought of ourselves as artists rather than just performers… then suddenly on the plane I got this idea.
“I thought, ‘Let’s not be ourselves. Let’s develop alter egos so we’re not having to project an image which we know. It would be much more free.'”
It was. the song and the album gave The Beatles the license to lose themselves in the music and allow their creativity to run wild. It’s fair to say that without this song and this album, The Beatles wouldn’t have produced perhaps their finest work in the following records.