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Penny Lane by The Beatles

Album: The Beatles 1967-1970Released: 1967Charted:
1
2
  • Paul McCartney was sitting at a bus shelter waiting for John Lennon to meet him on Penny Lane, a street near their houses. While sitting there Paul jotted down the things he saw, including a barber's shop with pictures of its clients and a nurse selling poppies for Remembrance Day (November 11th or the day World War 1 officially ended). He later turned these into the song we now know. Penny Lane still contains the bank and barber's shop mentioned in the song, however the shelter in the middle of the roundabout where the nurse sells the poppies has now become a restaurant named Sgt. Pepper's Bistro. (thanks, James - St Albans, England)
  • While the song is called "Penny Lane" and is a road in Liverpool, the song is really a reference to the Penny Lane Bus Station (now gone) next to "The shelter in the middle of the roundabout" (now the Sgt. Peppers bistro). When the boys were young they used to meet at this bus station as it was a hub to get them anywhere else they wanted to go and was centrally located to all of them. Please see the Penny Lane Song Images for more.
  • The trumpet part was added after the rest of the song was finished. McCartney was watching the BBC when he saw a group called The New Philharmonia perform Bach's "Brandenburg Concerto #2." He got the idea to add a trumpet part, and asked the group's trumpet player, Dave Mason, to play on this. Mason brought 9 trumpets to the session, eventually deciding to use a B-flat piccolo trumpet. Mason, who is not the same Dave Mason from the group Traffic, played on a few other Beatles songs, including "A Day In The Life," "Magical Mystery Tour," and "All You Need Is Love."
  • Dave Mason played some trumpet for the end of the song, but it was cut out from the final release. It did make it onto the promotional single sent to radio stations, and was also used in the mix released on the Anthology album. Mason died on April 29, 2011 at age 85.
  • John Lennon played piano and George Harrison played the conga drum. There is no guitar.
  • There are some obscene references in this song that were intentional - "Finger Pie" and "keeps his fire engine clean" were sexual slang.
  • The first time The Beatles appeared with facial hair was in the promotional film for this song.
  • Street signs on Penny Lane in Liverpool began disappearing after this was released. The town painted "Penny Lane" on buildings to avoid theft.
  • This was the Beatles' first single since "Please Please Me" 4 years earlier that didn't hit #1 in England.
  • This and "Strawberry Fields Forever" were intended for Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, but Capitol Records decided to release the two songs as a single, partly to regain popularity from John Lennon's "The Beatles are bigger than Jesus" comment. (thanks, Julian - Anaheim, CA)
  • In the movie Almost Famous, Penny Lane is the name of one of the groupies. Kate Hudson was nominated for an Oscar for the role.
  • Lennon's mother Julia at one time worked as a cinema usher and a waitress in Penny Lane. (thanks, Bertrand - Paris, France)
  • Penny Lane in Liverpool England is named after James Penny, an 18th century slave ship owner. (thanks, kelso - mission control, Africa)
  • The trumpet that David Jones played on this track was sold at auction in 1987 for the equivalent of nearly $11,000. (thanks, Bertrand - Paris, France)
  • The lyric "pretty nurse selling poppies from a tray" is believed to refer to Beth Davidson, who married Lennon's boyhood friend, Pete Shotton.
    The reference to the barber, with "photographs of every head he's had the pleasure to have known," was later identified as James Bioletti, who used to cut the hair of Lennon, McCartney and Harrison when they were children.
    The "banker in a motor car" on the other hand was invented by McCartney for the simple reason that it rhymed.
  • Providing some perspective on this song and the songwriting talents of Paul McCartney, Seth Swirsky, who produced the Beatles documentary Beatles Stories and spent years as a staff songwriter for Chappell Music, told us: "He could do so many things, and he could do things that are hard to quantify. Some people might say, 'Well, I like Hall and Oates as songwriters,' let's just say. But they do that 8th note thing where they're just banging on the piano, like 'Kiss On My List,' so you could kind of copy their sound a little bit, or copy their style of writing. Very hard to copy McCartney, because you just don't come out with 'Penny Lane,' where it just changes keys. It's out of a different kind of brain." (Check out our full interview with Seth Swirsky.)
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Comments: 72

After the ''Penny Lane'' single was released the Penny lane street signs kept disappearing,so they started painting the street signs on the buildings... Then the buildings started disappearing!Roy - Slough, United Kingdom
On February 12th 1967, a video of the Beatles performing "Penny Lane" and "Strawberry Fields Forever" was aired on the CBS-TV program 'The Ed Sullivan Show'...
The very next day on February 13th Capital Records released it, and six days later on February 19th it entered Billboard's Hot Top chart at position #85; and on March 10th "Penny Lane" peaked at #1 (for 1 week) and spent 10 weeks on the Top 100 (and for 5 of those 10 weeks is was on the Top 10)...
When they reached #1 they kept "Happy Together" by the Turtles from making #1, they had jumped from #8 to #2, but the following week they did bumped the Fab Four out of the top spot...
And of course the flip-side of "Penny Lane" also charted, "Strawberry Fields Forever", reached #8 (for 1 week) and stayed on the Top 100 for 9 weeks...
R.I.P. John, George, and Mr. Sullivan (1901 - 1974).
Barry - Sauquoit, Ny
Years ago, I took the "Magical Mystery Tour" bus in Liverpool. When on Penny Lane the guide said that the line "Very Strange" from the song was because of a law office on the street which was "Strange and Strange" attorneys. And I saw the door with those names on it. However I can't find any confirmation of this in any of the discussions or the info sites. Anybody know anything?Lowry Cook - Romney, Wv
I recently played both "Penny Lane" and the Beach Boys "California Girls" on the piano. I noticed an amazing similarity in both the cord progression and the melody. Try humming the beginning to both songs in the same tempo, and you might see what I mean. I later learned that "California Girls" was released first.Dually - Seattle, Wa
I grew up near Penny Lane in the 80's, and my boyfriend currently lives there. I was astounded to discover as a child that someone had thought my Penny Lane was important enough to write a song about!Jenny - Liverpool, United Kingdom
"Paul is Dead" conspiracy note: (remember that Paul supposedly died in a car crash) "And then the fireman rushes in/ from the pouring rain/very strange..." He has just come from the crash site, "You won't believe what just happened!"Edward - Henderson, Nv
I've heard that "Penny Lane"/'Strawberry Fields Forever" went out as a single because of the wish for new Beatles recording at that time. Recall that the UK had had the "oldies" album for Christmas 1966 because of the Beatles having no new album at that time.Carl - Apg, Md
Short video here of David Mason who played the piccolo trumpet on this famous track. Sadly David died quite recently ( April 2011 ) aged 85, and although he played with many fine orchestras during his long career in music he will be most fondly remembered as the guy who gave ' Penny Lane ' its distictive sound. http://youtu.be/mQyBRS8Nby8David - Wolverhampton, United Kingdom
The Beatles originally were going to do a concept album of songs about their childhoods, before they got the idea of "Pepper." Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields were written as the first songs for this album. Always thought it was amazing how much each of the songs reveals about the men they became. Paul's very much a nice portrait of a suburban adolescence, while John's is already dealing with pain and not fitting in.Jim - Woodland Park, Nj
The Beatles second two-sided Top 10 record; 'Penny Lane' peaked at #1 while 'Strawberry Fields Forever' reached #8. By the way 'We Can Work It Out' b/w with 'Day Tripper' was their 1st two-sided Top 10 record, with being #1 and #5 respectively!!!Barry - Sauquoit, Ny
Contrary to above, "four of fish and finger pie" are not unrelated. They are intentionally tied together with the concept of fish fingers (which is another, related British expression). Also, the risque-ness of the description of that phrase may be lightened by simply explaining that it's about getting to third base with a girl. The bigger one makes it, the naughtier it sounds.Dennis - Fayetteville, Ga
Penny lane, Words of Love (originally Buddy Holly) Here, There, and everywhere..are just beautiful beyond words. There are groups were phenomenal such as The Who, Herman's Hermits and Stones etc..then there was the Beatles. Enough said!Kurt - Phoenix, Az
Listening to Penny Lane is like going on a musical journey.The imagery in the lyrics is astounding.You could just picture in your mind's eye the places and the people that were there.The melody is strong and complex in it's arrangement.This is pop song writing at it's best.A masterpiece.George - Belleville, Nj
We're aware that November 11 is Veterans Day in the States. In Canada, and I'm assuming the UK November 11 is Remembrance Day. Don't forget that this is a British song, not an American one.K - Nowhere, On
I really wish some of you would get your facts straight before commenting on stuff. when you say that John and Paul had really diverce childhoods yes they did. But Penny Lane is a place where JOHN lived near and JOHN lived near Strawberry Fields. John lived with his aunt, in a more...upper class type area. While Paul lived in I'm not quite sure but a lesser class of a place. And I'm also named after this song! (: by my grandma! hahaPenny - Salem, Or
This is a great Wintertime song. I remember rolling with my older brother and my uncle on a Saturday morning though Dauphin Street and Old Mobile back in 1994, which looks like New Orleans crossed with England, and seeing the people going about their business in Bienville Square (catching the bus, feeding the pigeons, etc.) and that song has been ingrained in my brain ever since.Kevin - Mobile, Al
The Cinema John's mum worked in was infact not on penny lane, but next to Picton clock, it was called the Abbey Cinema. its a supermarket now...Luke - Liverpool, United Kingdom
one of my favorite beatles song.Paul - Columbia, Sc
One of histories examples of a perfectly crafted song....Clubber Lange - Ocean Gate, Nj
November 11 is Veteran's Day. It was originally called Armistice Day and Remembrance Day, the day World War 1 officially ended.

Please note that Veterans Day (Remembrance Day) now commemerates veterans who served in all wars, but originally it was created for the commemoration of the end of WWI on November 11.
Freddy - Tipp City, Oh
In Austin, TX, there is a street called Penny Lane off of Burnet Road. On Penny Lane, there is a set of apartments called "Abbey Road". I thought this was rather awesome, and begged my parents for us to move there. xDKate - Austin, Tx
I used to hate this song due to my mother naming me after is but the song is growning on me as I get older. Thank you BEATLESPenny - Clayton, In
I absolutely LOVE the picollo trumpet used in this songPhillip - Indianapolis, In
Paul McCartney said that John Lennon helped with the third verse,otherwise its mainly a McCartney song,as a rule with Beatles songs whoever sung lead was the main composerNoel - Slough, United Kingdom
My wife and I loved this song so much we named our daughter "Penny Lane" Now that she's gotten a little older, it turned out to be the perfect name for her...she's just so full of life, just like this song.Tony - Carlsbad, Ca
Arguably the crowning achievement of what many consider the greatest band of all time, it's also the clearest possible example of the dichotomy between John and Paul -- the A-side (Penny Lane) is whimsical, inclusive, a little naughty, a story that creates a whole world from small details, while the B-side (Strawberry Fields Forever) is personal, reflective, psychedelic and ultimately a statement of an outsider. A high-water mark for both men.Bertrand - Paris, France
The cleanest, sleekest recording the Beatles ever made, if you are into that sort of thing. Listen to it just before or after "Revolution" or "Everybody's Got Something to Hide..." or "Dig a Pony" and you'll see what I mean. You can't compare it to any of these songs, so it is great just for being what it is.Forrest - Rochester, Mn
"keeps his fire engine clean"is about drugs, not sexSuzannah - Williamsport , Md
the beatles were goodJoe - London, Vt
oldies.about.com/od/thebeatles

This song featured some of the more demanding recording sessions in the Beatles' history. Four piano tracks were used, one being fed through a Vox amplifier to produce the feedback that crops up from time to time. An outside bass player was brought in to add acoustic bass to Paul's electric, heard in the line about "the banker sitting waiting for a trim." Tracks featuring John and George on guitar were eventually edited out of the final mix, as was an arrangement for two oboes and its alto cousin, the cor anglais. Almost none of the piano or vocal tracks are left as is; McCartney's vocal is noticeably sped up, and most other tracks were recorded slower or faster than necessary and then adjusted to match, creating an surreal, daydreamy feeling.
Liam - New York, Ny
The note says there's no guitar. However on the Anthology 2, the guitar can be heard before Paul's suitable ending.Daniel Celano - Philadelphia, Pa
"Four of fish" - Actually, Paul should have written "Four of Chips" as chips (fries) were sold at 4 pence per portion in Liverpool back in 1967 - fich cost much more.

Murray
Murray - Liverpool, England, England
Yes, rizzo, you're right, Nov 11 was the end of WWI. 'The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month' in 1918 when the cease-fire was agreed to, and this was called Remembrance Day. Charles Ives wrote a short piece with this title, I believe. Anyway, this day was known in the US as Armistice Day until 1954, when it morphed into Veterans' Day. VE Day, ending WWII in Europe, was May 7-8, 1945, and VJ Day, ending the war in Japan, and thus, WWII, was Aug 14-15,1945.... By the way, what part of 'nowhere' are you from? Just curious -- I used to live there.Fred - Laurel, Md
This is a cute song. I like the first fact! My city has a Penny Lane, but it only has a small development.Krista - Elyria, Oh
The Sgt. Peppers Bistro restaurant that now stands where the "shelter in the middle of the roundabout" used to be, has apparently closed. As of late March 2007, its facade was in very bad shape, and the glass windows were smeared with white paint.Rick - San Juan, United States
I am a teenage who loves The Beatles. I love this song too. It's a awesome song. Penny Lane is actually a real place.Krissy - Boston, Ma
The feedback was caused by a harmonium recorded through a guitar amplifier and also a piano part was recorded thorough guitar amplifier that gives the piano a vibrating type sound. The song features the first known use of piccolo trumpet in rock and the song went number one in the states and number two in the UK.
Sal, Bardonia, NY
Sal - Bardonia , Ny
They say there's no guitar, but then what's producing the feedback? BTW, in addition to its prominent role in the outro, the feedback can be heard subtly in the background towards the end of the trumpet solo.Fyodor - Denver, Co
acually penny lanes name was

lady goodman in almost famous
Pete - London, England
The lyrics about a nurse selling poppies from a tray and feeling as though she's in a play could be a nod to the play "Pygmaelion", which the musical "My Fair Lady" was based on.Patrick - Tallapoosa, Ga
Actually, a "mack" is British slang for a raincoat, I believe.Kayla - Coeur D' Alene, Id
Erica, You got it. I believe the song is exactly that. Your analogy, your experience is a total reflection. Isn't it funny how things come to light sometimes?Lee - Clearwater, Fl
This comes #449 on rolling stones list of 500 greatest songsZach - Philly, Ks
I think the horn section in this song is totally wicked. It really makes the song what it is.Julian - Anaheim, Ca
Well, i may completely off, but i had a very awaking experience to this song. Last year on the first day of spring my friends and i decided to take 2ci, which is a hulluination. But anyways, we were driving around in this neighborhood and penny lane came on. To me it seemed like this song was just about everything, normal, washing cars on a saturday afternoon, kids playing in the streets, familys taking walks, just enjoying a great saturday afternoon. Before this time i never really got the song. But to me its just about looking around, smiling, and just being happy with the simple things in life?Erica - Austin, Tx
I think the whole song is shot through with subtle references to suburban sexual perversions. There are references to masturbation, role play, contraception (maybe just rubber?), and fingering - and excellent song! One that, lyrically, seems so pure and innocent yet, when you analyse it . . . Or is it just me?Jimmi - Basingstoke, Finland
Paul said the "four a fish and finger pie" lyric was intended as a nod "to all the Liverpool lads who like a bit of smut." He was convinced the American audience wouldn't get it. They didn't.Ken - Louisville, Ky
i'd like to revise the last song fact... penny lane was not a groupie... she was a BANDAIDEllen - Boston, Ma
This song is very cute, amazing.George - Itaberaba, Brazil
the best beatles song everJaydm - Brisbane, Australia
Rememberance Day, November 11th, is the day World War I ended. World War Two ended sometime in May I believe (that day goes by VE-Day, Wictory in Europe Day).Rizzo - Nowhere, United States
Jeph, Liverpool, England
We over here in America are upset that Clinton got elected also! Of course he could pronounce the Noun 'Intern'...
Tony Butler - San Diego, Ca
First of all, British or American, you should know that mac is short for macintosh. Secondly, who gives a f#$$ about grammar. It's factual matter that matters, atleast on a website thats devoted to it.Nelson - Left Field
The line 'four of fish and finger-pies ...' is a deliberate 'naughty' reference - in fact the two parts of the phrase are unrelated. "Four of fish" means four portions of fish and chips - finger pie is ..um.. (jeez how do I explain this politely) ... the sort of fumblings that take place with a girlfriend in the dark and involves 'insertion' of fingers. Nod * Wink *Ian - Redmond, Wa
That trumpet part at the end drove me crazy for years! I lived in central NJ at the time it was released. 77WABC-AM in NYC had a "World Exclusive" on Penny Lane for a day or so. They would play it several times an hour, with their announcer intoning "77WABC, New York" and stuff like that every few seconds, talking over the record so that competing radio stations couldn't record it off the air, and play it on their stations! This version of the song, with its piccolo trumpet ending, seared itself into my brain. Shortly thereafter, the song was released with the "feedback" ending, and that's all you ever heard. I wondered for years what happened to that trumpet, until the Anthology came out. Another mystery solv-ed...Frank - Westminster, Sc
Penny Lane got to No 1 in the U.S. on 18 March 1967 for one week, unlike Strawberry Fields, which did not get to No 1 in the U.S. or U.K. A victory, perhaps, for Paul over John.John - London, United States
dave mason was offered £1000 for his efforts on this song, or 10% of the royalties for this song.
he took the £1000
Catherine - London, England
my last name is lane and my father wanted to name me penny but my mother said it was too cheap.Trisha - Sanfrancisco, Ca
Actually, it was John that lived in the "Penny Lane" district of Liverpool. Paul liked coming to that area to visit John when they were teenagers because it was livlier than the area he lived.Ken - Louisville, Ky
It is quite clear when listening to Penny Lane and Strawberry fields forever that John and Pauls memories of their childhood are very different... resulting in an upbeat song about penny lane for Paul and a slightly darker Strawberry fields forever for JohnJustin - Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Steve, John Lennon Didn't write all the lyrics, but nor did paul, it was co-written, paul did most of the song, like the musical part of it, paul was the most musically gifted out of the band, he was indeed the only one who could actually read music, as for what u sed abt him being upset? i don't know abt that, i thought it was a double a-side with strawberry fields, but i really don't know. As I sed john lennon came up with the idea of writing a song abt his child hood memmories of the egbeth area (as its called now i think) and the pair took it from there. I'm not going to get into an immature slaggin match abt american and british language skills, as far as i'm concerned we all talk like w***ers, but i must say no most liverpudlian children don't have very good grammer skills! I'm sorry if u don't like what i sed i only wanted to give a you an idea of what its like nowadays in liverpool - from someone who actually lives there.Jeph - Liverpool, England
Hi, Jeph from Liverpool. If John Lennon came up with the idea, and, wrote the lyrics and, collaborated with Paul, and Paul McCartney merely put the final "touches" on the song, then please explain why John was so upset about this song being the A side to his B side "I Am The Walrus".

By the way, do they no longer teach grammar in Liverpool?

Stevo, Cincinnati, OH.
Steve - Cincinnati, Oh
Hi americans, i live right by penny lane actually, and its actually not much there at all. Paul McArtney didn't write the song, like many beatles songs it was a joint effort between Him and Lennon, with lennon coming up with the idea for the lyrics, while mcartney put the finishing touches on it. The barber shop is now a unisex salon, the sign posts are mostly all bolted down to brick walls, and the ones that aren't are painted over with yellow/blue paint, the junction at the top of penny lane, which joins it to smithdown road is the junction also include the road menlove avenue, where lennon lived, and mather avenue, which includes a small road off it where paul lived. The area isn't too unlike the video, but i've never seen horses go down it. Strawberry fields is a tiny place nearby aswell, that song was abt lennons exeperiances while high. If you ever come to liverpool, the best thing to visit is probably the beatles tour, or cavern club on matthew st. but its worthwile having a look at the other things like penny lane, there is a yellow submarine tour bus which takes u round all the site. By the way when did we critize americans americans for using slang? most of our language nowadays has americanisms in, and we don't have a problem with that! We do however have a problem with your country appointing the most powerful position in the world to a man who cannot pronounce any noun under the sun!!!!Jeph - Liverpool, England
I saw a television interview with George Martin. He said that the morning after McCartney heard Bach's "Brandenburg Concerto#2" he came into the studio and asked what kind of trumpet he had heared.Martin told him and McCartney asked if they could possible get one. Martin said it was almost like a small boy asking for a toy.That must have been a wonderful time.David - Waco, Tx
Glad that someone appears to have realized that this song is about an orgy.Matt - Durham, Nh
A Mac is short for Macintosh, or raincoat.Cap - Earth
Point, but what is a mac, out of curiousity ?Dominic - Pittsburgh, Pa
I find it even stranger that no one in America even knows what a mac is in the first place. It's ironic that we are criticized for our slang-infested form of English, while you Brits make up slang for every noun under the sun.Travis - Lawrence, Ks
I love that line "The little children laugh at (the banker) behind his back, and the banker never wears a mac, in the pouring rain-very strange".
I think it's funny that it would be so strange to all those scouse kids in the sixties not wearing a mac in the rain when nowadays no one wears macs!
I also like the way you can hear the liverpool accent when Paul sings "blue suburban skies" and "customer".
Catherine - Glasgow, England
This song was released with Lennon's 'Strawberry Fields Forever' as a double 'A' side single in February 1967.Charles - Charlotte, Nc
While Kate Hudson was nominated for the role of Penny Lane in 'Almost Famous', Marcia Gay Harden actually took home the supporting actress Oscar for 'Pollock.'Todd - Atlanta, Ga
Childhood nostalgia was a popular topic in England at the time. The Kinks released "Waterloo Sunset" not long after this.Barry - Seattle, Wa