“Penny Lane” from Magical Mystery Tour
The iconic character in the movie Almost Famous notwithstanding, Penny Lane is a place, not a person. Paul wrote this loving tribute to a street in his hometown of Liverpool. In the Barry Miles biography Many Years from Now, McCartney talked about the song and Penny Lane itself:
“It was childhood reminiscences: there is a bus stop called Penny Lane. There was a barber shop called Bioletti’s with head shots of the haircuts you can have in the window and I just took it all and arted it up a little bit to make it sound like he was having a picture exhibition in his window. It was all based on real things; there was a bank on the corner so I imagined the banker, it was not a real person, and his slightly dubious habits and the little children laughing at him, and the pouring rain.
“The fire station was a bit of poetic license; there’s a fire station about half a mile down the road, not actually in Penny Lane, but we needed a third verse so we took that and I was very pleased with the line “It’s a clean machine.” I still like that phrase, you occasionally hit a lucky little phrase and it becomes more than a phrase. So the banker helped me with the third verse, as often was the case. We were writing childhood memories: recently faded memories from eight or ten years before, so it was a recent nostalgia, pleasant memories for both of us. All the places were still there, and because we remembered it so clearly we could have gone on.“
Lennon and McCartney
This song and the flip side of the double-A-sided single – “Strawberry Fields Forever” – are an object lesson of Lennon and McCartney at the peak of their creative collaborative powers. And if you would like a true visual and auditory treat to go with today’s Beatles song, scroll 31 minutes into this special show in the East Room of the Barack Obama White House:
Play Elvis Costello’s rendition of “Penny Lane.” And I’ll defy you not to get goosebumps when Master Sergeant Matthew Harding of the Marine Corps Band absolutely nails the piccolo trumpet solo. The entire hour and a half show is all-star performances of some of Paul McCartney’ songs, capped by McCartney himself and his band.
Think of Penny Lane
I’d invite all of you to think of “Penny Lane” as an invitation to pay attention to what is going on in your community. Notice what is happening, what is not happening, who is in need, what you’re willing to do to be involved. These would be important goals for any community, and especially during any challenging time.
Find out more about the songs the Beatles wrote in Tim Hatfield’s great book:
When We Find Ourselves in Times of Trouble: The Beatles: All Their Songs with Encouraging Words for Challenging Times
KINDLE (OR DOWNLOAD THE FREE APP TO READ ON YOUR LAPTOP)
This book addresses all the songs of the Beatles, from their earliest demos to Abbey Road, in a conversational, accessible format. Special attention is devoted to the band’s creative process and its influence on and synergistic relationship with the culture at large. The book’s genesis was the author’s hope that a daily Beatles song could provide a brief respite from the significant stress and uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic, and beyond that, from the challenges of any personally difficult time – our times of trouble.