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Penny Lane

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


"Penny Lane" is the title of a song by The Beatles, written by Paul McCartney, recorded during the Sgt. Pepper sessions, and released in February, 1967 as one side of a double-A sided single, along with Lennon's "Strawberry Fields Forever". Beatles producer George Martin has stated he believes the pairing of these songs results in probably the greatest single ever released by the group. Both songs were later released on the US Magical Mystery Tour album in November, 1967. The song features contrasting verse-chorus form and was credited "Lennon-McCartney" although McCartney was the sole writer on the song. The song's title is derived from the name of a street in the English city of Liverpool. The area that surrounds its junction with Smithdown Road is also commonly called Penny Lane. Locally the term "Penny Lane" was the name given to Allerton Road and Smithdown Road and its busy shopping area.

McCartney and John Lennon grew up in the area and they spent a lot of time playing on Penny Lane junction as children. The street is an important landmark, sought out by most Beatles fans touring Liverpool. In the past, street signs saying "Penny Lane" were constant targets of tourist theft and had to be continually replaced. Eventually, city officials gave up and simply began painting the street name on the sides of buildings. This is still the case at the Smithdown Road junction, but there is a conventional sign at the other end of the street.

Lyrics and music

The barber shop mentioned in the song was probably a shop owned by a Mr. Bioletti, who has claimed to have cut hair for Lennon, McCartney and George Harrison when they were children. The fire station in the song ("It's a clean machine") was not at Penny Lane junction, but a short walk away along Allerton road. It was on the corner where Allerton Road meets Mather Avenue The station is very close to the site of Quarry Bank School which Lennon attended. Mather Avenue leads to Forthlin Road, home of McCartney. The line about the banker with a motorcar probably refers to an employee of the Penny Lane branch of Barclays bank, which was situated on one of the corners of the junction. However, there were also two other nearby banks.

The song conflates different temporal moments. The sky is referred to as blue, and yet it is raining. Events are apparently occurring in November, since the "pretty nurse" is selling poppies for Remembrance day (November 11), yet the reference to "fish and finger pie" recalls summertime experiences.

Penny Lane's instrumental backing resembles that of The Beach Boys' song God Only Knows, released a few months earlier. McCartney has repeatedly listed God Only Knows as one of his favorite songs of all time. The links between the two songs are especially noticeable in the four-in-the-bar block chords on piano and the loping rhythm of the bass guitar - both of which were played by McCartney.

One innovative feature of the song was the piccolo trumpet solo played by David Mason. This is thought to be the first use of this instrument (a distinctive, specialty instrument pitched an octave higher than the standard B-flat trumpet) in pop music, where it is now (in certain genres) almost a commonplace. McCartney was inspired to use the instrument after hearing Mason's performance in a BBC radio broadcast of the second Brandenburg Concerto by Johann Sebastian Bach [1].

The promotional film for the song was not in fact filmed at Penny Lane — The Beatles were reluctant to travel to Liverpool and so the street scenes were actually filmed in and around Angel Lane in London's East End. The outdoor scenes were filmed at Knole Park in Sevenoaks, where the promotional film for "Strawberry Fields Forever" was also shot. Both videos were selected by New York's MoMA as some of the most influential music videos in the late 1960s.

Penny Lane today

It is a tribute to the creative genius of The Beatles that they were able to take an utterly undistinguished suburban road junction and fashion a memorable song on such a flimsy foundation. Prior to securing international fame, Penny Lane's chief renown was as the terminus for several important bus routes out from the city centre and as the site, in the middle of the roundabout, of a very handily located public convenience. The area remained largely unremarkable for the remainder of the 1960s and the 1970s; its most distinguishing feature was, perhaps, the regular arrival there of tour buses laden with bemused-looking tourists who would alight, take a photograph or two, and then get back on the bus headed towards 251 Menlove Avenue.

Penny Lane began to evolve into what it has since become in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Towards the end of the 1970s, the businesses that set up shop there included Penny Lane Records, Sven Books (Liverpool's first high-street sex shop), and a wine bar known in the early years as Harper's Bizarre, but is now called Penny Lane Wine Bar. In the mid-1980s, the bus shelter and public convenience were converted into a café that intelligently marketed itself as Sgt. Pepper's. Following privatisation, the Merseyside Passenger Transport Executive bus depot, slightly up the hill past Bioletti's, was knocked down and turned into a shopping precinct, complete with a supermarket and a public house.

Since then, the general Penny Lane area has acquired a distinct trendiness and desirability. The "alternative" businesses (wholefood outlets, charity shops), the now expanded array of cafés, bars, bistros, and takeaway food emporiums in the vicinity, as well as handily located traditional businesses (Woolworths, WH Smiths, Clarke's and Chalkin's cake shops) make the neighbourhood the most sought-after among Liverpool's large student population. Though the song refers to the "Penny Lane junction" on Smithdown Road, the street itself leads down to the Liverpool University student halls of residence, near Sefton Park.

In July 2006, the City of Liverpool proposed renaming certain street names because they were linked to the slave trade. It was soon discovered that Penny Lane, named after James Penny, a wealthy 18th-century slave ship owner and strong opponent of abolitionism, was one of these streets. Ultimately, city officials decided to forego the name change and reevaluate the entire renaming process. This story, however, is still being circulated, see The Observer, page 5, 9th July 2006 [2]


From Journal of Mundane Behavior, February 2001 2(1):

But back to The Beatles: consider if you will, McCartney's "Penny Lane", a portrait of a village virtually teeming with Nowhere Men. Penny Lane is a study in mundanity, the simple sights and sounds of a suburban British neighborhood; it's also one of the most stunningly gorgeous songs in the world. The descriptions of completely generalized, almost homogenous people and practices off set with small details and punctuated by a central contradiction (example: "And the banker never wears a Mac in the pouring rain; very strange"), the revolving chorus ("And mean while back in Penny Lane is in my ears..."), all set to that rich melody, with the horns, the flute, augh! Splendid! Additionally, it contains the lines that probably most influenced my own artistic point of view: "Penny Lane is in my ears and in my eyes/There beneath the blue suburban skies..." The persistence of memory, the importance of experience, the way the smallest visual and aural details build up to form and inform this amazing thing we call A Life, all summed up in these simplest of lines. Or perhaps I'm imagining things. It's been known to happen.

Facts and Figures

  • Penny Lane is named after James Penny, a wealthy 18th century slave ship owner.
  • The original 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 promotional copies had been pressed and sent to radio stations. These records are among the rarest and most valuable Beatles collectibles.
  • The mysterious lyrics "A four of fish and finger pie" are British slang. "A four of fish" refers to fourpennyworth of fish and chips, while "finger pie" is sexual slang of the time, apparently referring to intimate fondlings between teenagers in the bus shelter, which was a familiar meeting place. The combination of "fish and finger" also puns on fish fingers.
  • In Austin, Texas, Penny Lane runs into Burnet Road, a major avenue. An apartment complex on this street is named "Abbey Road Apartments".
  • In August 1987, the piccolo trumpet played by David Mason 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.
  • Upon the release of the "Penny Lane" single, Douglas Adams claimed to have beaten up a child who'd heard the song on the radio, reportedly just to get him to hum the tune.
  • In the 1968 film Wonderwall, Jane Birkin's character, a suicidal model, is named Penny Lane. Also, in the 2000 film Almost Famous, Kate Hudson's character, the famous "Band Aid" who travels with the band is named Penny Lane. Another fictional Penny Lane is a minor character in the animated show Daria.
  • Rolling Stone ranked the song at #449 on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.


  • "Penny Lane" (file info) — play in browser (beta)
    • A short sample of The Beatles' "Penny Lane".
    • Problems listening to the file? See media help.

External links

  • An appreciation of the song from the series of Short Essays on Favorite Songs, Inspired by Nick Hornby's Songbook.
  • Golden Oldies of Music Video a presentation from New York's MoMA originally screened on April 17, 2003
  • Trumpet fan site about the Penny Lane piccolo trumpet solo
  • Street naming controversy
  • The Penny Lane Development Trust
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