The Making of The Beatles’ Sgt. Peppers

Author: Carl J  //  Category: Classic Tracks, Producers

This video is a fascinating documentary on the making of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band that originally aired in 1992 on British television.

This video gives you an inside, behind the scenes tour of one of the most influential albums of all time from the people who made it. George Martin, Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney, George Harrison all give their personal perspectives on the songwriting and recording of individual tracks, and what was going on with the band and popular culture at the time. They also reveals some amazing secrets from the record. You’ll also see Phil Collins and Brian Wilson share their perspectives on the significance of the album. Throughout, the documentary is bolstered by archival video and photos, and excerpts of never before heard rehearsal tapes and the final masters revealed by George Martin.

The Beatles started recording Sgt. Peppers in 1966 at EMI’s famous Abbey Road Studios. They were on top of the world, but the incessant touring was really taking its toll. They decided they would put their efforts into a dramatic album, a more significant artistic statement that anything they had done before.

Paul McCartney said that “Instead of looking for catchy singles, Sgt. Pepper was more like writing a novel.” He tells us where he got his inspiration for the theme of this album, coming from assumed personas, and “everything on the record comes from the perspective of these imaginary people.” What they ended up with helped usher in the psychedelic era, and raised the bar for all recorded music to follow.

You have to watch this video. Here are some of our favorite moments:

Strawberry Fields & Penny Lane
The first two recording sessions for Sgt. Pepper were Strawberry Fields and Penny Lane. George Martin starts by playing us a charming, very simple version of Strawberry Fields that was never released, he then takes us through multiple versions that show the evolution of the track into the heavily layered psychedelic wash of sound that we’re familiar with. You also get to hear the story behind Penny Lane from Paul McCartney, who describes it as a psychedelic dream of a magical place we all used to go and play as a child.

These first two recordings set the tone for the whole record, but the funny thing is, neither ended up on the record, and you’ll learn why.

Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds
We all know what this song is about. I mean it’s right there in the title: L.S.D.

Wrong…the real story behind Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, is not a drug reference, it was a painting by the young Julian Lennon. That’s not to say that drug use was not part of their creative process. George, Paul, Ringo and George Martin all reflect on the role drugs played in the creation of this album.

Being for the Benefit of Mister Kite
The source of John Lennon’s lyrics for this track actually came from an antique poster advertising a fairground that John had hanging in his house. You’ll see the poster and the lyrics are all right there. George Martin also isolates specific tracks for you on this song, and describes how he and John recorded and spliced together tapes of organ bits that play throughout the background to give the feel of walking around a carnival. You won’t believe your ears when you can clearly hear everything that’s going on.

With a Little Help from My Friends (and tomatoes)
One of the funnier moments comes when Ringo reveals some original alternate lyrics to the song he sang on Sgt Pepper, along with what he went through to get the vocal track right.

Good Morning, Good Morning
Another song that features an interesting use of sound effects and tape splicing is Good Morning,Good Morning. If you listen carefully, at the end of the song there is a series of animal sounds arranged in the order of creatures capable of eating the one before. George says that was a special request from John Lennon. You also learn about and see the Kellog’s breakfast commercial that inspired the song.

More Pet Sounds
There has been a lot of discussion about how the Beach Boy’s Pet Sounds influenced the Beatles for Sgt. Pepper. It was refreshing to hear Paul McCartney be so open about it. He comments on how inspiring the instrument choices were that the Beach Boys used on Pet Sounds and how they were placed in arrangements. I think more importantly though, McCartney says that that how far the Beach Boys went out on that record, really gave them a springboard to take it further with Sgt Peppers. Brian Wilson is also interviewed about this, and he comments that he doesn’t really believe that there was a direct influence on the sounds per se, but more in the spirit of creativity.

McCartney states “we approached the record trying to do the best we can in a far out way, and I still believe that one of the best creative philosophies out there is to try and please yourself.”

The Lasting Influence of Sgt. Pepper
There are a couple of interesting clips with Phil Collins in the video. One in particular, he describes how Sgt Pepper changed his perspective on what popular music could be saying “It was like, oh you can do that…it opened a door and showed everyone that there’s another room, and you could play around in that other room, but it could still be called a commercial record.”

The Role of the Producer
George Martin describes how his role as a producer changed over the years. He says “in 1962, I was really more of an organizer, but by the time of Sgt. Pepper I was more of a realizer of their ideas.” He then goes on with some specific examples. Paul, George, and Ringo also all give their thoughts on what it was like working with Martin, and how that relationship grew as they worked together.

Possibly our favorite moment in the entire documentary is near the end when George Martin is describing A Day in the Life. He gets visibly moved when he plays back a rehearsal tape of the track, and John Lennon’s voice comes on to direct the musicians before playing. It’s really touching.

Whether you’re a Beatles fan or just a lover of the art of recording, we highly recommend you watch this documentary. It’s brilliant.

Thanks to YouTube member Maccalennon for posting these clips. Please post comments with your thoughts about Sgt. Pepper; we’d love to hear your perspective.