It was 50 years ago today, the Beatles taught the world to play. That’s of course a twist on the opening lyrics to the Beatles’ album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which was released 50 years ago, on May 26, 1967.
Sgt. Pepper’s may well be the most famous album of all time. Here are 30 facts you may not know about the landmark release.
Returning from a vacation in Kenya, Paul McCartney came up with the idea of an album by the Beatles in an alter-ego group that he later dubbed “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”
Only two of the songs really fit that concept, but the idea opened the creative floodgates.
The album represents an estimated 700 hours of work.
Please Please Me, the Beatles’ first album, was recorded in less than 10 hours.
Sgt. Pepper’s has been certified by the RIAA for U.S. shipments of 11 million copies.
No other album released before 1968 has been certified at such a high level.
The album cover, which depicts such famous people as Marilyn Monroe and W.C. Fields, became iconic in its own right.
It brought art directors Peter Blake and Jann Haworth a Grammy for Best Album Cover, Graphic Arts. Haworth was the first woman to win in that category.
Two VIPs were painted out of the cover collage at the last minute.
Actor Leo Gorcey was painted out because he requested a fee. Indian leader Ghandi was painted out at the request of the Beatles’ record company, which was afraid of sparking a controversy like the one that followed John Lennon’s 1966 remark “We’re more popular than Jesus now.”
Screen legend and eternal sex symbol Mae West, then 73, initially declined to give her consent to having her image on the cover.
“No, I won’t be on it,” she said. “What would I be doing in a lonely hearts club?” After the Beatles wrote her a letter, she changed her mind.
The collage of famous faces includes two other famous rock stars, Bob Dylan and Dion DiMucci (the former lead singer of Dion & The Belmonts).
In addition, a Shirley Temple doll wears a sweatshirt that says “Welcome The Rolling Stones, Good Guys.”
Sgt. Pepper’s was among the first rock albums to feature the complete lyrics to the songs on the back cover.
This soon became commonplace. Sgt. Pepper’s was also among the first rock albums with a gatefold cover (an album that opens up, like a book).
The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson and Lennon/McCartney drew inspiration from each other’s work.
The Beach Boys’ classic single “Good Vibrations” was headed to No. 1 in both the U.S. and the U.K. just as the Sgt. Pepper’s sessions were starting. Top that, Beatles!
The Beatles made the cover of Time in September 1967, about four months after the album’s release. They were the first rock act to make the cover of Time.
Even Elvis Presley had never made the cover.
“With a Little Help From My Friends” was one of the last true Lennon/McCartney collaborations.
The two also worked together on “She’s Leaving Home,” which was principally written by Paul, and “A Day in the Life,” which was principally written by John.
John Lennon‘s song “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” was inspired by an 1843 circus poster.
In January 1967, Lennon purchased a framed 1843 Victorian circus advertisement from an antique shop in Kent, England. Later in the studio, he “had all the words staring me in the face one day when I was looking for a song,” he told biographer Hunter Davies.
Two songs on the album wound up with titles that were different from their working titles.
The working title of “A Day in the Life” was “In the Life Of…” The working title of “With a Little Help from My Friends” was “Bad Finger Boogie.”
“It’s Only a Northern Song,” recorded during the sessions, didn’t appear on the album.
However, it was used on the soundtrack to the group’s 1969 film Yellow Submarine.
No singles were released from Sgt. Pepper’s.
“All You Need Is Love” was a No. 1 hit while the album was No. 1, but it wasn’t from the album. (The Beatles released a medley of two songs from the album in 1978, to coincide with the release of a movie based loosely on the album.)
The Beatles had a No. 1 hit, “Penny Lane,” in March 1967, less than three months before the album’s release.
But the group didn’t include the song (or its celebrated flipside, “Strawberry Fields Forever”) on Sgt. Pepper’s. Now that’s confidence!
Brian Epstein, the Beatles’ manager, died on Aug. 27, 1967, while Sgt. Pepper’s was No. 1 around the world.
Epstein, who had managed the Beatles since January 1962, died of an accidental barbiturate and alcohol overdose. He was just 32.
Sgt. Pepper’s was the first Beatles album to win a Grammy for Album of the Year.
The group had lost in that category the two previous years to Frank Sinatra, who was nominated again in 1967 for a collabo with Antonio Carlos Jobim. This time, the Beatles simply couldn’t be denied.
Sgt. Pepper’s brought their longtime producer George Martin his first two Grammys.
The legendary producer would win his last two Grammys 40 years later, for his work on the Beatles’ Love album.
Sgt. Pepper’s also won a Grammy for Best Engineered Recording—Non Classical.
The award went to Geoff E. Emerick, who would win twice more in that category for his work on Abbey Road and Paul McCartney & Wings’ 1973 album, Band on the Run.
But Sgt. Pepper’s didn’t sweep the Grammys like you might expect.
It lost in two performance categories to the 5th Dimension’s “Up, Up and Away.” “A Day in the Life” (which the Beatles co-arranged with George Martin) lost an arrangement award to Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe.”
Sgt. Pepper’s was the first album to enter the chart inside the top 10 since Sinatra’s Swingin’ Session!!! in February 1961.
It was the first album by a contemporary pop or rock act to debut inside the top 10 since Elvis Presley’s G.I. Blues soundtrack in October 1960.
Sgt. Pepper’s kept another classic album from ever reaching No. 1.
The Doors peaked at No. 2 for two weeks in September. That album contained the No. 1 hit “Light My Fire,” and such other classics as “Break on Through (to the Other Side)” and “The End.”
Bobbie Gentry, who was all but unknown when 1967 began, knocked Sgt. Pepper’s out of the No. 1 spot with her debut album, Ode to Billie Joe.
Gentry had also bumped the Beatles out of the No. 1 spot on the Hot 100. “Ode to Billie Joe” unseated “All You Need Is Love.”
Sgt. Pepper’s wasn’t the longest-running No. 1 album of 1967.
More of the Monkees held the top spot for 18 weeks. But Sgt. Pepper’s humbled the Monkees in one way: It knocked that group’s third album out of the No. 1 spot after just one week. Headquarters spent the next 11 weeks at No. 2.
Two songs from the album later became significant hits for other artists.
Joe Cocker’s heartfelt version of “With a Little Help from My Friends” became his first Hot 100 hit in November 1968. Elton John’s “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” was a No. 1 smash in January 1975.
A 1978 movie based loosely on the album was a notorious bomb.
It tarnished the reputations of its co-stars, the Bee Gees and Peter Frampton, and derailed the record company that released the soundtrack album, RSO Records.
Sadly, two of the Beatles died before reaching the age mentioned in the song “When I’m Sixty-Four.”
John Lennon was gunned down at age 40 in 1980; George Harrison died of cancer at age 58 in 2001.
Paul McCartney and U2 teamed to sing the title song from the album at the Live 8 concert in July 2005.
That live recording became a Hot 100 hit that month.
The last line of copy in the album credits is “A splendid time is guaranteed for all.”
Even Kanye West wouldn’t have the ego to put such a boast on his album. But the album more than lived up to the claim.