Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Fireman Rushes In

The next song we look at is the flip side of the "Strawberry Fields Forever" single and it is an original Lennon/McCartney composition written mainly by Paul entitled "Penny Lane".

"Penny Lane" is inspired by a real street in Liverpool and the surrounding locations mentioned in the song are still there. The roundabout, the barber shop, the fire station, etc. Maybe the nurse selling poppies has moved on never know. Both of these songs were released as a single in the UK (Parlophone R 5570) on February 17 1967 and as a single in North American (Capitol 5810) on February 13 1967. This is considered one of the greatest singles ever released by the Beatles as far as influence and creativity goes. It was also the first single in the UK not to reach number one as this spot was taken (at the time) by Englebert Humperdinck's "Release Me". The single was originally rush-released by EMI in order to try and push new Beatles product out to the waiting public. It must be remembered that the last time original Beatles material had been released in the UK was with the "Revolver" LP and that the time period between August and February had seemed like an eternity for a pop group in the 60s.

"Penny Lane" is also very musically interesting. It is very much a Paul song and the verse tends to follow the B major scale while the chorus tends to lead in the A major scale. At the end of the tune, the chorus then changes key and switches back to it's original B major scale. The bass guitar on this track ( which was recorded alone as an overdub, thus beginning this practice during most of 1967 ) is outstanding as well as the piano backing the picollo trumpet solo. I would say that this is probably one of my favourite Beatles' songs from the catalogue and highlights the creative energy that overtook the Beatles during thier psychedelic period.
Recording for this masterpiece started life as "Untitled" on Thursday December 29 1966 at EMI studio two. At this session, the main instrument used was the piano. Six takes of solo piano played by Paul were completed with only takes five and six complete. This piano was recorded on track one and the Paul overdubbed another piano through a Vox amp reverberated which was added via track two. A tambourine and a third piano were added onto track three ( the track three piano was recorded at half speed so that it sounded very fast when played back). Percussion and harmonium were added to track four. There were two mono mixes attempted of the work thus far (both from take six).

The next day on December 30 1966, The Beatles were once again in EMI studio two. The first task for the engineer was to bounce down the four track recording down to one track and thereby created a take 07. Onto take 07 overdubs included a Paul lead vocal backed by John. The voices were recorded slightly slow so that they sounded slightly sped up on playback. Once this was accomplished, two more mono mixes were conducted for demo purposes only and none of these were ever commercially released. This was the last professional task undertaken by The Beatles for the year 1966.

A new year and a very creative one at that began with more recording and working on the "Penny Lane" song. The date was Wednesday January 04 1967 and once again from EMI studio two. On this evening, Paul added another vocal onto track three and John added a piano while George simultaneously added a guitar onto track two. The next day on January 05 1967 and from the same location, Paul re-did his vocal track. The song was tackled again the next day on January 06 1967 with the addition of Paul playing his bass guitar, John on rhythm guitar and Ringo playing his drums. The instruments were recorded slightly slower in order to sound speeded up on playback. All four tracks were full and reduced into take 08. Handclaps, more piano and the scat singing were overdubbed onto take 08. Once again, the tape was reduced to take 09.

On Monday January 09 1967, it was decided to add some flutes and trumpet to this wonderful melody. Overdubbing of four flutes and two trumpets was conducted at EMI studio two. Once this was completed, two more rough mono mixes were attempted and completed at this session. Some of the January 09 1967 session can be heard on the vinly bootleg LP "Arrive Without Travelling". The next day on January 10 1967, a fire hand bell and scat singing were overdubbed onto the existing take 09 of the current version of "Penny Lane".

Two days later on January 12 1967, another set of brass instruments was added to "Penny Lane". This included two more trumpets, two cor anglais, a double bass and two oboes. This version as it stands can be heard on the bootleg "Turn Me On Deadman". Two mono mixes were conducted at this session.

Finally, on January 17 1967, it was decided by Paul McCartney that he would be using an instrument that he had viewed on television recently and had liked the sound of the instrument. The instrument in question was a B-flat piccolo trumpet. Paul had viewed it during a performance of Bach's Brandenburg Concerto Number 2 and had enjoyed the sound and range of the trumpet. David Mason was brought in by the Beatles and he was recruited to play the solo in "Penny Lane" on his B-flat piccolo trumpet. The story goes that Paul sang to notes to Mr. Mason in EMI studio two and Mr. Mason simply played the high notes asked of him by Paul. Once completed, three mono mixes were made (mixes 9 to 11) with the Mr. Mason solo and trumpet flourish at the end. The mono mix 11 was sent to Capitol Records in the USA for distribution in North America. This mix ended up on promotional copies of the North American single only and can be distinguished by the trumpet flourish at the end which is not heard on the commercial single.

On Wednesday January 25 1967, the previous mono mix with the trumpet flouish at the end was improved upon and the flourish was eventually eliminated while three more mono mixes were conducted at this session from the control room of EMI studio one. When "Penny Lane" was originally released, it was deemed a single but appeared on the "Magical Mystery Tour" US and Canada LP. Since there was no stereo mix at this stage, the song is presented on the original LPs in "duophonic"- in other words, fake stereo. Finally, a stereo mix was completed on September 30 1971 (four years after the mono mix) and originally appeared on German Apple copies of "Magical Mystery Tour". The "Magical Mystery Tour" CD also featured the true stereo mix.

As a point of interest, a stereo version of the song with the end trumpet flourish arificially added on can be heard on the North American version of Capitol's LP "Rarities". A new mix with the original brass solo (without trumpet) and single tracked vocal can be heard on the Apple/EMI 3-LP/2-CD "Anthology 2".

As well as the single, "Penny Lane" is available on the North American (and now UK) LP/CD "Magical Mystery Tour" as well as the Apple compilation 2-LP/2-CD "The Beatles 1967-1970" and the first song on side two of the Capitol LP "20 Greatest Hits" (North American version). It is also featured on the Apple/EMI 2-LP/CD "1".

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