Disney Channel to air making of 'Sgt. Pepper'

September 26, 1992|By Steve McKerrow | Steve McKerrow,Staff Writer

Some things you may not know about "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," the landmark album by the Beatles celebrating a 25th birthday this year:

* Some of the material was inspired by the Beach Boys' album "Pet Sounds."

* The song "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" was not a subtle reference to LSD, but came from a whimsical drawing by John Lennon's son, Julian.

* And the refrain for "Good Morning, Good Morning" sprang from a commercial for Kellogg's Corn Flakes.

"The Making of Sgt. Pepper," an absorbing cable documentary premiering at 9 p.m. tomorrow on The Disney Channel, offers many such trivia tidbits.

Even better, we get a bittersweet sense of the whimsy and astonishing creativity that produced what the show calls "the first psychedelic album," the recording that ratified the Fab Four as more than just another rock and roll band.

"When I first met them they really couldn't write a decent song. 'Love Me Do' was the best they could give me," recalls longtime record producer George Martin, host of the program.

Yet as he sits at a console cuing up a variety of rehearsal takes from the album, the producer adds wistfully, "they blossomed as songwriters in a way that was just breathtaking."

"Sgt. Pepper," released in June 1967, marked that blossoming and returned the group to the top of the charts after a self-imposed hiatus at the end of a long, controversial concert tour. (Among other things, John had made headlines by saying the Beatles were more popular than Jesus, and the group had barely gotten out of the Philippines alive after snubbing President Ferdinand Marcos, the documentary recounts.)

"The record could go on tour, that was the theory," says Paul McCartney of the group's intent when they entered the Abbey Road studios in November 1966 to begin recording "Sgt. Pepper."

And he indicates the album's key breakthrough was the whimsical idea to adopt an old-fashioned "Uncle Joe's Medicine Show" format, in which the music was imagined from the perspective of a fictional band's characters rather than hewing to the rigid rhythms of the rock and roll Beatles.

What a strange and wondrous melange was created!

George Harrison brought a variety of ideas and instruments back from India to mix together on "Within You, Without You," and he acknowledges in the documentary the rest of the group indulged him and were not even present for much of the taping.

John found an old side-show poster from which all the lyrics for "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite" were lifted.

Paul heard a classical trumpet player named David Mason (who is interviewed in the show) playing Bach's "Brandenburg Concerto" on TV, and hired him to contribute soaring fanfares to the album.

And though it was above his vocal range, Ringo Starr even agreed to leave the ending high note in the vocal for "With a Little Help From My Friends" -- but only after refusing to sing the line, "would you stand up and throw tomatoes at me?" (The album, of course, has him singing ". . . would you stand up and walk out on me?")

"It was much more of an overall kind of concept," says Paul of the album.

Indeed, we learn that two songs released as singles, "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Penny Lane," were originally recorded as the first two cuts of "Sgt. Pepper."

"In those days, we didn't include singles in albums because we thought it was rather conning the public," recalls producer Mr. Martin, who adds he now regrets the decision.

Mr. Martin's recall of the studio sessions might justify him as being a fifth Beatle for the album, for it is clear new ground was also broken in the mixing of tape tracks and non-musical sounds. "Sgt. Pepper" was among the first recordings to use a four-track sound system, allowing the album's uniquely merged sounds.

Too modestly, perhaps, Mr. Martin says his role evolved into becoming "the realizer of their ideas."

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