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How The Animals inspired one of The Beatles greatest songs


The Beatles may have appeared out of nowhere, in a flurry of feverish audiences and record-breaking singles, but, in truth, their work was highly inspired by some of their favourite artists. From Chuck Berry to Roy Orbison, the sonic structures of rock and roll’s finest could be heard in almost all of their earliest songs. John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr’s penchant for lifting inspiration from their contemporaries didn’t end there either.

By the time the band were approaching arguably their most creative and expansive albums in Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, they were still more than happy to lean on the work and attitudes of other bands to help prop up their creations. One such song, which was earmarked for the album but never quite made the cut was the brilliant ‘Penny Lane’, which the Fab Four had The Animals to thank for.

Perhaps one of the most poignant reflections of this comes in their song from 1967, ‘Penny Lane’. Released as a double A-side with ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ it was a track built on the foundations of their hometown and deeply rooted in their past. As with everything The Beatles did ‘Penny Lane’ is largely constructed from the band’s own experiences. Though credited to Lennon-McCartney the song was primarily written by McCartney and saw the singer share his idyllic notions of Liverpool.

“Penny Lane was a place in Liverpool that we were very nostalgic for,” Macca once told Billboard. “It was a terminal where John and I got the bus to go to each other’s houses. And all the things in the song are true. We never saw a banker in a plastic mac [raincoat] — we made him up — but there was a barber, there was a bank. There was a fire station.”

“John and I would always meet at Penny Lane,” McCartney explained of the song’s real-life roots. “That was where someone would stand and sell you poppies each year on British Legion poppy day. When I came to write it, John came over and helped me with the third verse, as often was the case. We were writing childhood memories — recently faded memories from eight or ten years before, so it was recent nostalgia, pleasant memories for both of us. All the places were still there, and because we remembered it so clearly we could have gone on.”

It was also one of the first songs the band shared without a single guitar and actually had its roots more in 18th-century classical music than pop music. “I heard Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos and asked George Martin what the high trumpet was. He said, ‘It’s a piccolo trumpet,’ so we got the best piccolo trumpet player in town, and I wrote a piece for him at the recording session. I wanted to make a very clean record. It was all very magical, really.”

As well as Bach, The Animals, one of the British invasion bands who had also found success in the US, had a big impact on the record. In 1966, before the single was released and most likely before the song was ever composed, Eric Burdon, the Animals’ singer and leader, inspired McCartney with his unique take on songwriting.

“I like some of the things the Animals try to do,” McCartney recalled in 1966, “like the song Eric Burdon wrote about places in Newcastle on the flip of one of their hits. I still want to write a song about the places in Liverpool where I was brought up. Places like The Docker’s Umbrella which is a long tunnel through which the dockers go to work on Merseyside, and Penny Lane near my old home.”

McCartney would clearly take this opportunity with both hands, make good on his promise and deliver arguably one of The Beatles most beloved songs with ‘Penny Lane’. Listen to it below.