When was it recorded? Feb. 1-2 and Mar. 3 & 6, 1967 / Apr. 1, 1967
When was it first released, and on which album? Jun. 1, 1967 on “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” (obviously)
Who wrote it? McCartney
Have I heard this song before? Yes and yes
What my research dug up:
“I’m willing to make the argument (though not comprehensively within the space of a single page of text) that looking all the way back on it, the Beatles had always had a great capability and penchant for ‘style bending’… and that given a running start from ‘Revolver,’ nowhere is this peculiar source of strength more evident than on ‘Sgt. Pepper.’ And as is its compositional prerogative, the first track surely sets the tone.” – Alan Pollack (“Notes on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”)
According to the Beatles Bible, “On The Beatles’ final US tour in 1966, Paul McCartney was struck by the inventiveness of the West Coast hippy groups, with names such as Quicksilver Messenger Service, Jefferson Airplane, and Big Brother and the Holding Company. In November that year, on a post-holiday flight from Nairobi to England, he came up with the idea of an alter ego for the band, which would perform an entire album before an audience.” Another version of this story includes the factoid that Mal Evan inspired the name “Sergeant Pepper” by asking Paul “what the letters S and P stood for on the salt and pepper sachets on their in-flight meal trays” (BB), which seems like kind of a stupid thing to do, but I wasn’t there so what do I know?
Quoth Richie Unterberger, the song “Sgt. Pepper’s” “was a bit of an anomaly for the group in that it wasn’t intended so much as an outstanding track per se as it was one that could serve for the theme tune of the entire LP.” The song opens with chattering and an orchestra tuning, sound effects which were recorded during sessions for “A Day in the Life” (which I talked about on Day 44).
The Beatles recorded nine takes of “Sgt. Pepper” on Feb. 1, 1967, though only the first and last takes were complete (BB). Paul, John and George recorded vocals the next day. The song then sat on the shelf for a month until a French horn part and a lead guitar solo were added on Mar. 3. Three days later the crowd and orchestra sound effects I just mentioned were added, along with a segue into “With a Little Help From My Friends.” According to the Beatles Bible, those screams were provided by “Beatlemaniacs from the recordings of The Beatles live at the Hollywood Bowl.”
The Beatles’ assistant Neil Aspinall suggested a reprise of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” to bookend the album.
“I used to share a flat in Sloane Street with Mal. One day in February Paul called, saying that he was writing a song and asking if he and Mal could come over. That song was the start of ‘Sgt Pepper.’ At my place he carried on writing and the song developed. At the end of every Beatles show, Paul used to say, ‘It’s time to go. We’re going to go to bed, and this is our last number.’ Then they’d play the last number and leave. Just then Mal went to the bathroom, and I said to Paul, ‘Why don’t you have ‘Sgt. Pepper’ as the compère of the album? He comes on at the beginning of the show and introduces the band, and at the end he closes it. A bit later, Paul told John about it in the studio, and John came up to me and said, ‘Nobody likes a smart-arse, Neil’… That was when I knew that John liked it and that it would happen.” — Neil Aspinall (Anthology)
Apart from the strings for “Within You Without You,” “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)” was the final song recorded for the album. The Fab Four recorded nine takes on Apr. 1, 1967. Take Five appeared on “Anthology 2.”
Take Nine was used for overdubs. According to Wikipedia, the mono and stereo versions of this song vary more than on the original “Sgt. Pepper’s” song.
Quoth Wikipedia, “When the Beatles’ recording contract with EMI expired in 1976, EMI was free to re-release music from The Beatles’ catalogue, and in 1978 – 11 years after the original album release – released ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’/’With a Little Help from My Friends’ as the A-side of a single with ‘A Day in the Life” as the B-side.’” This single was released Aug. 14, 1974 in the US and peaked at #71 on the charts. It was released Sept. 30 in the UK and peaked at #63.
SPLHCB is not the most lyrically intriguing number, but like Pollack wrote, there’s a lot of genre-blending in the instrumentation occuring that I can sit back and appreciate. Plus I love the energy of the reprise.