Released in 1978, the production starred the Bee Gees and Peter Frampton, and inflicted significant damage to both of their careers. In a new episode of his Paul McCartney: A Life in Lyrics podcast, the former Beatle explained he was certain it would flop because the band’s songwriting was inspired by radio plays rather than TV or movies.
“You just get into it – you can see the characters as if you’re in a room with them,” he said of listening to audio productions as a boy. “For the imagination radio was great. And as I met friends like John [Lennon], George [Harrison], we all harked back to that. It was very much our period – we grew up without television.”
He added: “What I love is you get your own picture. This is why, when they came to film Sgt. Pepper with the Bee Gees, I said, ‘This is never going to work.’ Because everyone has their own image from Sgt. Pepper, the album. And so, if you select one image, that’s never going to be enough. Because your vision is different from mine.
“I often think this with my audiences – every single person in those 40,000 people is having a different experience. I’m singing this song. Someone thinks it’s sad, someone thinks it’s dramatic, someone thinks it’s funny. And I’m fascinated by that idea: that everyone’s perception is completely different.”
Paul McCartney Proud of ‘Penny Lane’ Lyrics
The episode was based around “Penny Lane,” which was originally planned to appear on Sgt. Pepper before being released as a standalone single instead. McCartney explained: “It was a place that featured very much in my life and in John’s life. It was near a church, where I was a choir chorister. A lot of stuff happened there. I used that [bus] terminus a lot, to go to John’s, for instance. The scenery, it’s quite accurate. And the nice thing is, in writing it, John knew exactly where I was talking about.”
Adding that he was “proud of the way certain lines just fell out,” he continued: “It all happened; the fire station is a bit further away but like any good play you put it all in the one place… It’s kind of filmic… it’s a little play.”
Referring to the lines about a girl selling poppies from a tray – an annual British tradition of remembering those who died in wartime or in military service – McCartney noted: “Funnily enough, a lot of Americans thought she’s selling puppies. It’s a rather interesting image, a tray full of puppies!”
Watch the Beatles’ Video for ‘Penny Lane’
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Gallery Credit: Nick DeRiso
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