In penny Lane there is a fireman with an hourglass
And in his pocket is a portrait of the Queen
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Penny Lane in Liverpool
(thanks, Stephan Rinke)
George Martin, Beatles producer, is quoted as saying that "Penny Lane," together with "Strawberry Fields Forever," produced the best single ever pressed. The two songs do enjoy a special kind of kinship; both of them express nostalgia for places and times past. Both of them do so in a sweet, cheerful way. And both of them together make a centerpiece for what made the Lennon-McCartney songwriting team so special. While Lennon-McCartney are credited together with the authoring of "Penny Lane," it is mainly Paul McCartney's work, just as John Lennon takes the more credit for "Strawberry Fields." Together, they made something so much more than the sum of their parts.
Penny Lane is a real place. In fact, it is so real that it touched off a rash of fans stealing street signs, until Liverpool, England, city officials gave up replacing the signs and just painted the name of the streets on the side of buildings. Stealing the building's brick wall would prove to be too much effort, even for Beatles fans. In 2007, new theft-proof signs were specially created, and Penny Lane can once again display its name like any other street.
It is a street that is postcard-perfect in being a typical Liverpool setting. It's a narrow two-laner, lined with row houses and two-story shops and lofts, and for stretches it's hugged on one side by lush trees and greenery. While you can poke around playing scavenger-hunt trying to find the barber shop, banker, fire station, and poppy stand, it is doubtless that these artifacts have been washed away by the tides of time, and any close approximations that stand today will probably be in homage to the song.
Curiously, no mention is made of the train tracks the street crosses with a little bridge. With all of the other sound effects included between verses, the sound of a train would have been an interesting addition. Perhaps they felt the song was packed enough already.
A view down Penny Lane Street
Not all of the artifacts mentioned in "Penny Lane" are gone without a trace, however. There is a fish and chips shop near the midpoint, which could be the place referenced by the phrase "four of fish" - this means fourpennyworth of fish and chips. Also, because the song meanders through different times in the same location (references to blue skies and rain, to selling poppies for Remembrance Day and summer activities), the events of the song are more likely a pastiche of memories from the area.
One prominent landmark from the song is still intact: the "shelter in the middle of the roundabout." Look on the far east end of the street, where it merges with Church Road, and find a building on an island by itself with a fence around it. It's a rectangular white building with dark brown bay window part facing Church Road, and wall sections in between each window, which are gray with two white diamonds per section. Over the windows is written "Sgt. Pepper's Bistro," a business which bought out the bus shelter and converted it into a restaurant for Beatles fans. It is quite abandoned today.
And there it is! Bask in the magic for a moment. Don't worry, this area is used to tourists.
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