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"Penny Lane"

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Outdoor table banquet scene from the Beatles' "Penny Lane" promo clip (1967)
The band's first release of 1967 double-A'd the poppy "Penny Lane" with its 'Liverpool twin', the swirling soundscape of "Strawberry Fields". Producer George Martin considered the pairing to be 'probably their greatest single ever' and always regretted their not being used on the subsequent Sgt Pepper album. I still find it incomprehensible that the latter track isn't part of the 1 compilation. Their coupling on The Blue was a far more adequate testament.

Having said that, it's only thanks to a single week on the topspot in the States that either of the two was eligible for inclusion on 1: in the UK it was held at Number 2 by the distinctly unhip and unhippie Engelbert Humperdinck.

Although nothing like as psychedelically suggestive as John's drifting trip back to 'the town where they were born', Paul's jolly jaunt down "Doubleback Alley" isn't without its own tints of surrealism, such as the macless banker "in the pouring rain" "beneath the blue suburban skies" (and that in November, if the Remembrance Day poppies are any indication...) It also incorporated numerous pieces of recording trickery, most notably the speeding up of the vocal and the piccolo trumpet (the precise reverse of the voice/brass treatment on "Strawberry Fields"). In his avowed determination to outdo Pet Sounds, he considered the mixing desk — like the fire engine — to be "a clean machine".

I've always found it kind of curious that Lennon and McCartney both came up with Liverpool songs independently, though virtually simultaneously. It's also interesting to compare their increasingly divergent approaches to writing and production.

Macca's insistence on take after take to 'get it absolutely right' would become increasingly typical of his obsessive approach to studio work from that time on. No fewer than six piano parts were laminated into the final mix, courtesy of John, Paul and George Martin. George Harrison clanged the firebell, and a curious collection of other instruments "come and go" to help fix the Merseyside scene firmly in your ears and in your eyes.

These personality changes were, as everybody is doubtless aware, due to Paul no longer being Paul at all. Paul had, in fact, died along with the band's buddy who "blew his mind out in a car", just before Christmas, and had been replaced by — according to who you believed who believed it — either a moustachioed double (possibly Canadian) or an android (probably not built by Magic Alex, as it did seem to function). The band — all 'in the know', of course — subsequently began to plant clues about the fact in songs and on album sleeves...

Blue Suburban Lies!

He'd actually grown the pre-Pepper 'tash to hide a split lip, which he'd acquired when he fell off a moped a couple of months before. Ironically, he had been accompanied by Tara Browne, who later inspired that reference in "A Day In The Life". Just a moment: falling off a moped?!! Oh boy — he must've been as off his face as whoever started the 'greatly exaggerated' reports of his demise in the first place!

An so, it was "meanwhile back" in and around London that they filmed themselves strolling round Liverpool:

Very strange...

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