The Beatles became so famous almost overnight that the chance of ever returning to their roots in Liverpool was gone before they even had a chance to breathe. The Fab Four were soon flung across the world amid Beatlemania and nothing would ever be the same again for John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr.
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 Paul 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.”
In the isolated vocal below you can hear the longing the four members of the gorup had for their hometown. Having been whisked away four years prior the group had hardly returned and this song was a sentiment of their rose-tinted view.
The isolated vocal also allows the band to get their Liverpudlian accents across on the word “customer” and, perhaps more importantly, settle a debate. “Once there was a nurse selling poppies — a lot of people thought the lyric was ‘selling puppies,’ but we’re saying ‘poppies,’ which is a Remembrance Day thing for the British Legion. It was all true, basically,” confirms Macca.
It was 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.”
Below you can listen to the isolated vocals of The Beatles love letter to Liverpool, ‘Penny Lane’.