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
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. The clip shows the band on horseback, trotting around Angel Lane in London (not Penny Lane). By this time, the group had stopped touring, so the only way many fans could see them perform was on music videos like this one. A restored version of the video appears on the 1+ compilation, released in 2015.
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