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"Penny Lane" is a song by the English rock band the Beatles that was released in February 1967 as a double A-side single with "Strawberry Fields Forever". It was written primarily by Paul McCartney, but credited to the Lennon–McCartney songwriting partnership. The lyrics refer to Penny Lane, a street in Liverpool, and makes mention of the sights and characters that McCartney recalled from his upbringing in the city.

"Penny Lane"
US picture sleeve
Single by the Beatles
A-side"Strawberry Fields Forever" (double A-side)
Released13 February 1967 (1967-02-13)
Format7-inch record
Recorded29 December 1966 – 17 January 1967
StudioEMI, London
Producer(s)George Martin
The Beatles singles chronology
"Yellow Submarine" / "Eleanor Rigby"
"Penny Lane" / "Strawberry Fields Forever"
"All You Need Is Love"
Audio sample
Music video
"Penny Lane" on YouTube

The Beatles began recording "Penny Lane" in December 1966, intending it as a song for their album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Instead, after it was issued as a single to satisfy record company demand for a new release, the band adhered to their policy of omitting previously released singles from their albums. The song features numerous key changes that occur mid-verse and between its choruses. Session musician David Mason played a piccolo trumpet solo over its bridge section.

"Penny Lane" was a top-five hit across Europe and topped the US Billboard Hot 100. In Britain, due to chart protocol regarding double A-sides, it was the first Beatles single since "Please Please Me" in 1963 to fail to reach number 1 on the Record Retailer chart. In November 1967, "Penny Lane" was included on the US Magical Mystery Tour album. In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked the track at number 456 on its list of the "500 Greatest Songs of All Time". In 2006, Mojo ranked the song at number 9 of "The 101 Greatest Beatles Songs".


Background and inspirationEdit

A Liverpool Penny Lane street sign

During the 1960s Penny Lane was a significant bus terminus for several routes, and buses with "Penny Lane" displayed were common throughout Liverpool. The name Penny Lane is also used for the area that surrounds its junction with Smithdown Road, Smithdown Place (where the terminus was located) and Allerton Road, including a busy shopping area.[citation needed] In 2009, McCartney reflected:

"Penny Lane" was kind of nostalgic, but it was really a place that John and I knew; it was actually a bus terminus. I’d get a bus to his house and I'd have to change at Penny Lane, or the same with him to me, so we often hung out at that terminus, like a roundabout. It was a place that we both knew, and so we both knew the things that turned up in the story.[6]

Lennon's original lyrics for "In My Life" included a reference to Penny Lane. After recording for "In My Life" began, McCartney mentioned to an interviewer that he wanted to someday write a song about Penny Lane. McCartney was later spurred to write the song once presented with Lennon's "Strawberry Fields Forever".[7] Lennon co-wrote the lyrics to "Penny Lane" with McCartney. He recalled in a 1970 interview: "The bank was there, and that was where the trams sheds were and people waiting and the inspector stood there, the fire engines were down there. It was reliving childhood."[8]

Beatles biographer Ian MacDonald suggested an LSD influence, and that the lyrical imagery points to McCartney first taking LSD in late 1966. MacDonald concluded that the lyric "she feels as if she's in a play / she is anyway" was one of the more "LSD-redolent phrases" in the Beatles' catalogue.[9] Music critics Roy Carr and Tony Tyler similarly described the subject matter as "essentially 'Liverpool-on-a-sunny-hallucinogenic-afternoon'".[10]

Composition and lyricsEdit

Tony Slavin (the white building on the corner) occupies the location of the original Bioletti's barbershop mentioned in the song as "a barber showing photographs / of every head he's had the pleasure to know".

The song has a double tonic structure of B major verse (in I–vi–ii–V cycles) and A major chorus connected by formal pivoting dominant chords.[11] In the opening bars in B major, after singing "In Penny Lane" (in an F–B–C–D melody note ascent) McCartney sings the major third of the first chord in the progression (on "Lane") and major seventh (on "barber") then switches to a Bm chord, singing the flattened third notes (on "know" with a i7 [Bm7] chord) and flattened seventh notes (on "come and go" [with a VImaj7 [Gmaj7] chord] and "say hello" [with a V7sus4 [F7sus4] chord]).[12] This has been described as a profound and surprising innovation involving abandoning mid-cycle what initially appears to be a standard I–vi–ii–V doo-wop pop chord cycle.[13]

The song features contrasting verse–chorus form.[14] To get from the verse "In the pouring rain – very strange" McCartney uses an E chord as a pivot, (it is a IV chord in the preceding B key and a V in the looming A key) to take listeners back into the chorus ("Penny Lane is in my ears ..."). Likewise to get back from the chorus of "There beneath the blue suburban skies I sit, and meanwhile back ...", McCartney uses an F7 pivot chord, which is a VI in the old A key and a V in the new B key. The lyrics "very strange" and "meanwhile back" reflect these tonal shifts.[15]

Lyrically there are several ambiguous and surreal images. The song is seemingly narrated on a fine summer day ("beneath the blue suburban skies"), yet at the same time it is raining ("the fireman rushes in from the pouring rain") and approaching winter ("selling poppies from a tray" implies Remembrance Day, 11 November). Ian MacDonald stated: "Seemingly naturalistic, the lyric scene is actually kaleidoscopic. As well as raining and shining at the same time, it is simultaneously summer and winter."[16] According to Barry Miles, the fireman and fire engine referred to in the lyrics are based upon the fire station at Mather Avenue, which is "about half a mile down the road" from Penny Lane.[17] "Four of fish and finger pies" are British slang. "A four of fish" refers to fourpennyworth of fish and chips, while "finger pie" is sexual slang of the time, referring to intimate fondlings between teenagers in the shelter, which was a familiar meeting place.[nb 1] The combination of "fish and finger" also puns on fish fingers.[18]


Main recordingEdit

Production began in Studio 2 at Abbey Road on 29 December 1966[19] with piano as the main instrument.[20] McCartney intended the song to have a "clean" sound akin to the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds album.[21] Engineer Geoff Emerick recalled McCartney playing Pet Sounds repeatedly during recording session breaks, adding that "it wasn't altogether unsurprising [when] he wanted 'a really clean American sound'" for "Penny Lane".[22][nb 2] Initially, McCartney recorded keyboard parts onto the individual tracks of the four-track tape: a basic piano rhythm on track one; a second piano, recorded through a Vox guitar amplifier with added reverb, on track two; a prepared piano producing a "honky-tonk" sound on track three; and percussion effects and a harmonium playing high notes fed through the guitar amplifier on track four.[24][25][26] On 30 December, the four tracks were mixed together to form the first track of a new tape.[24]

On 4 January 1967, the Beatles' first session of the new year, Lennon and George Harrison overdubbed contributions on piano and lead guitar, respectively, and McCartney added a lead vocal, which he then replaced the following day. Further overdubs, on 6 January, included Ringo Starr's drums, McCartney's bass guitar and Lennon's rhythm guitar, as well as handclaps, congas, harmony vocals and more piano.[27] Following another reduction mix, brass and woodwind instruments, including four flutes, were added on 9 and 12 January,[28] from a score by producer George Martin, guided by McCartney's suggested melody lines.[24] On 10 January, the Beatles overdubbed effects such as scat harmony singing and a handbell, the latter in recognition of the fireman and fire engine mentioned in the lyrics. The second overdubbing session for the classical instrumentation, on 12 January, featured two further trumpets, two oboes, two cors anglais and a double bass.[28]

Piccolo trumpet soloEdit

McCartney was dissatisfied with the initial attempts at the song's instrumental fill, and was inspired to use a piccolo trumpet after seeing trumpeter David Mason play the instrument during a BBC television broadcast of the second Brandenburg Concerto by Johann Sebastian Bach.[28] On 17 January, Mason recorded the instrumental solo used for the final mix.[29] Martin later wrote, "The result was unique, something which had never been done in rock music before."[30] The solo is in a mock-Baroque style for which the piccolo trumpet (a small instrument built about one octave higher than the standard instrument) is particularly suited, having a clean and clear sound which penetrates well through thicker midrange textures.[31] According to Emerick, Mason "nailed it" at some point during the recording; McCartney tried to get him to do another take but Martin insisted it wasn't necessary, sensing Mason's fatigue.[32][nb 3] Mason was paid £27 and 10 shillings for his performance on the recording.[28][nb 4]

Alternate mixesEdit

The original US promo single mix of "Penny Lane" had an additional flourish of piccolo trumpet notes at the end of the song. This mix was quickly superseded by one without the last trumpet passage, but not before a handful of copies had been pressed and sent to radio stations. These recordings are among the rarest and most valuable Beatles collectibles. "Penny Lane" was mixed in stereo for the first time in 1971, for a West German issue of the Magical Mystery Tour LP, and in 1980 this mix of the song, with the addition of the trumpet ending, was included on the US Rarities compilation and the UK set The Beatles Box.[34] A remix of the song released on the outtakes compilation Anthology 2 in 1996 also included the trumpet coda.[35] The original promo single mix was made available again in 2017, when it was included on a CD of mono mixes in the six-disc 50th-anniversary edition of Sgt. Pepper.[36] The two- and six-disc anniversary editions also featured a new remix of "Penny Lane" prepared by Giles Martin, designed to allow the keyboard parts to be heard distinctly.[24]


When a new Beatles single was requested by manager Brian Epstein, due to pressure from EMI,[37][38] Martin told him that the band had recorded "Penny Lane" and "Strawberry Fields Forever", which Martin considered to be the band's best songs up to that point.[39] The two songs were released as a double A-side single, in a fashion identical to that of the Beatles' previous single, "Eleanor Rigby" / "Yellow Submarine".[38][40] The release took place in the United States on 13 February 1967[41] and in the United Kingdom on 17 February.[42] It was the first single by the Beatles to be sold with a picture sleeve in the UK, a practice rarely used there at that time.[43][44]

In Britain, "Strawberry Fields Forever" / "Penny Lane" was the first Beatles single since "Please Please Me" in 1963 to fail to reach number 1 on Record Retailer's chart (later the UK Singles Chart).[45] The single was held at number 2 behind Engelbert Humperdinck's "Release Me",[46][47] because, even though the Beatles' record sold considerably more, its double A-side status meant that the two sides were deemed to be individual releases.[48] On the national chart compiled by Melody Maker magazine, the combination topped the singles list for three weeks.[49] In the United States, the song became the band's 13th single to reach number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, doing so for a week before being knocked off by the Turtles' "Happy Together". With "Penny Lane" as the favoured side, the single was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America on 20 March 1967.[50]

Since the Beatles usually did not include songs released as singles on their albums, both "Penny Lane" and "Strawberry Fields Forever" were left off the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album, a decision Martin later regretted.[51] Against the Beatles' wishes, the two songs were included on the US Magical Mystery Tour album in November 1967.[52] In 2017, both songs were included on the two-disc and six-disc 50th-anniversary editions of Sgt. Pepper.

Promotional filmEdit

The promotional film for "Penny Lane" was, together with the clip for "Strawberry Fields Forever", one of the first examples of what became known as a music video.[53][54] The section of the music video featuring scenes with the Beatles for the song was not filmed at Penny Lane, as the Beatles were reluctant to travel to Liverpool. Street scenes were shot in January 1967 in and around Angel Lane in Stratford, London. The broken sequence of Lennon walking alone was filmed on the King's Road (at Markham Square) in Chelsea. The outdoor scenes were filmed at Knole Park in Sevenoaks on 30 January.[55] Scenes shot at Penny Lane include an overhead shot of the roundabout and green Liverpool buses. The promotional film for "Strawberry Fields Forever" was also shot at the same location, during the same visit.[56]

In their avoidance of any performance-related content, the clips developed the promotional medium the Beatles had introduced in 1966 with their clips for "Paperback Writer" and "Rain".[57][58] McCartney predicted at the time of the single's release: "In the future all records will have vision as well as sound. In twenty years time, people will be amazed to think we just listened to records."[57] In 1985, the "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Penny Lane" clips were the oldest selections included in the New York Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)'s exhibition of the most influential music videos.[59] The two films occupied a similar place in MoMA's 2003 "Golden Oldies of Music Video" exhibition, where they were presented by avant-garde artist Laurie Anderson.[60]

The promo film is included in the Beatles' 2015 video compilation 1.[61]

Influence and legacyEdit

According to historian David Simonelli, further to "Tomorrow Never Knows" in 1966, "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Penny Lane" "establish[ed] the Beatles as the most avant-garde [pop] composers of the postwar era". He also says:

With this double-sided single, the Beatles planted the flag of Romanticism squarely at the center of psychedelic rock. They emphasized innocence, childhood as purity, improvisation, and the spirits of individuality and community united as one. For the next three to five years, these ideals would dominate rock music on both sides of the Atlantic. The Beatles' vision dominated the entire rock music world.[5]

In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked "Penny Lane" at number 456 on its list of the "500 Greatest Songs of All Time".[62] In Mojo's list of "The 101 Greatest Beatles Songs", published in 2006, the song appeared at number 9. In his commentary on the track, Neil Innes admired McCartney's melodic gifts and the key changes, and he described the song as "mould-breaking" with lyrics that "ran like a movie".[63]

Song ownershipEdit

Northern Songs, the publishing company that owned all but four of the Beatles songs, was acquired by ATV – a media company owned by Lew Grade in 1969. By 1985 the company was being run by Australian entrepreneur Robert Holmes à Court, who decided to sell the catalogue to Michael Jackson.

Before the sale, Holmes à Court offered his 16-year-old daughter Catherine the chance to keep any song "in her name" from the catalogue. She chose "Penny Lane" as it was her favourite – despite her father's urging to choose "Yesterday", which was by far the biggest royalty-earning song on the books (and is in the top four global royalty earning songs of all time).[citation needed]

The 250-or-so songs sold to Jackson form the "crown jewel" of Sony/ATV Music Publishing, a 50-50 joint venture between the late singer and Sony Corp. But Catherine Holmes à Court-Mather is still the copyright owner of "Penny Lane" today, one of only five Lennon-McCartney Beatles songs not owned by Sony/ATV Music Publishing.[64]


According to Ian MacDonald:[65]

The Beatles
Additional musicians

Charts and certificationsEdit

Cover versionsEdit

  • Paul Mauriat recorded an instrumental version of "Penny Lane" on his Album nº 5 (1967).
  • Al Di Meola included an instrumental version of the song on his CD All Your Life (2013).
  • James Booker recorded the song on his album Live At Montreux (Montreux Sounds, 1997) as part of a medley with "I Saw Her Standing There" and "One Hell of a Nerve".
  • The Rutles' song "Doubleback Alley" is a pastiche of this song.
  • Count Basie recorded a swing version on his album Basie on the Beatles (1969), which also includes other Lennon–McCartney songs such as "Hey Jude" and "Get Back".
  • Elvis Costello—whose mother grew up less than a mile from Penny Lane—performed the song at the White House on 2 June 2010, accompanied by McCartney's band and a trumpeter from the United States Marine Band, when McCartney was given the Gershwin Award.[81]


  1. ^ According to MacDonald, this phrase was most likely Lennon's idea.[8]
  2. ^ McCartney said he especially admired the "harmonic structures" of the songs on Pet Sounds and the choice of instruments used in Brian Wilson's musical arrangements, and that these elements encouraged him to think the Beatles could "get further out" than the Beach Boys had.[23]
  3. ^ Emerick also comments in his autobiography that prior to this recording the high E was considered unreachable by trumpet players, but has been expected of them since the performance on the record.[32]
  4. ^ In August 1987, the piccolo trumpet Mason played on "Penny Lane" and two other Beatles tracks ("All You Need Is Love" and "Magical Mystery Tour") was sold in an auction at Sotheby's for $10,846.[33]



  1. ^ Philo 2014, p. 119.
  2. ^ Willis 2014, p. 220.
  3. ^ Courrier, Kevin (2009). Artificial Paradise: The dark side of the Beatles' utopian dream. Michigan: Praeger. p. 157. ISBN 0-313-34586-4.
  4. ^ Heylin, C (2007). The Act You've Known for All These Years: The Life, and Afterlife, of Sgt. Pepper. London: Canongate Books. p. 153. ISBN 1-84195-955-3.
  5. ^ a b Simonelli 2013, p. 106.
  6. ^ Harper, Simon. "Paul McCartney Interview: The story behind the classics". Clash. Retrieved 8 July 2015.
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  8. ^ a b MacDonald 2005, p. 222.
  9. ^ MacDonald 2005, p. 223.
  10. ^ Carr & Tyler 1978, p. 62.
  11. ^ Pedler 2003, p. 658.
  12. ^ Pedler 2003, pp. 658-659.
  13. ^ Pedler 2003, p. 659.
  14. ^ Beatles Interview Database 2009.
  15. ^ Pedler 2003, pp. 348–349.
  16. ^ MacDonald 2005, p. 179.
  17. ^ Miles 1997, p. 307.
  18. ^ Mann, Brent (2005). Blinded By the Lyrics: Behind the Lines of Rock & Roll's Most Baffling Songs. New York, NY: Kensington Publishing Corp. p. 171.
  19. ^ Lewisohn 1988, p. 91.
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External linksEdit