The Beatles began sessions for the album in late November 1966 with a series of recordings that were to form an album thematically linked to their childhood. The initial results of this effort produced "Strawberry Fields Forever", "When I'm Sixty-Four" and "Penny Lane". "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Penny Lane" were released as a double A-sided single in February 1967 after EMI and Epstein pressured Martin for a single. Once the single was released the childhood concept was abandoned in favour of Sgt. Pepper, and in keeping with the group's usual practice, the single tracks were not included on the LP (a decision Martin states he now regrets). They were released only as a single in the UK and Canada at the time, but were included as part of the American LP version of Magical Mystery Tour (which was issued as a six-track double EP in Britain). The Harrison composition "Only a Northern Song" was also recorded during the Sgt. Pepper sessions but did not see a release until the soundtrack album for the animated film Yellow Submarine, released in January 1969.
As EMI's premier act and the world's most successful rock group, the group had almost unlimited access to Abbey Road Studios. By 1967, all of the Sgt. Pepper tracks could be recorded at Abbey Road using mono, stereo and four-track recorders. Although eight-track tape recorders were already available in the US, the first eight-tracks were not operational in commercial studios in London until late 1967, shortly after the album was released. Like its predecessors, the recording made extensive use of the technique known as "bouncing down" (also known at that time as a "reduction mix"), in which a number of tracks were recorded across the four tracks of one recorder, which were then mixed and dubbed down onto one or several tracks of the master four-track machine. This enabled the Abbey Road engineers to give the group a virtual multi-track studio.
New modular effects units were used, like the wah-wah pedal and fuzzbox, and running voices and instruments through a Leslie speaker. Several then-new production effects feature extensively on the recordings. One of the most important was automatic double tracking (ADT), a system that used tape recorders to create a simultaneous doubling of a sound. Although it had long been recognised that using multitrack tape to record "doubled" lead vocals produced a greatly enhanced sound, it had always been necessary to record such vocal tracks twice; a task which was both tedious and exacting. ADT was invented especially for the band by EMI engineer Ken Townsend in 1966, mainly at the behest of Lennon, who hated tracking sessions and regularly expressed a desire for a technical solution to the problem. ADT quickly became a near-universal recording practice in popular music. Martin, having fun at Lennon's expense, described the new technique to an inquisitive Lennon as a "double-bifurcated sploshing flange". The anecdote explains one variation of how the term "flanging" came to be associated with this recording effect. Also important was varispeeding, the technique of recording various tracks on a multi-track tape at slightly different tape speeds, which was used extensively on their vocals in this period. The speeding up of vocals became a widespread technique in pop production. The band also used the effect on portions of their backing tracks (as on "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds") to give them a "thicker" and more diffuse sound.
"Within You Without You" was recorded on 15 March with Harrison on vocals, sitar and tambura; the other instruments (tabla, dilruba, swarmandel, and an additional tambura) were played by four London-based Indian musicians. None of the other Beatles participated in the recording. For the 17 March recording of "She's Leaving Home", McCartney hired Mike Leander to arrange the string section as Martin was occupied producing one of his other artists, Cilla Black.
The lyrics for Lennon's song "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!", were adapted from a Victorian circus poster for Pablo Fanque's circus, which Lennon had bought at an antique shop in Kent on the day of filming the promotional clip for "Strawberry Fields Forever" there. The sound collage was created by Martin and his engineers, who collected recordings of calliopes and fairground organs, which were then cut into strips of various lengths, thrown into a box, mixed up and edited together in random order, creating a long loop which was mixed in during final production.
This album also makes heavy use of keyboard instruments: a grand piano is used on tracks such as "A Day in the Life", a Lowrey organ is used for "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds", a harpsichord can be heard on "Fixing a Hole", and Martin played a harmonium on "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!". An electric piano, upright piano, Hammond organ and glockenspiel can also be heard on the record. Harrison used a tambura on several tracks, including "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" and "Getting Better".
The thunderous piano chord that concludes "A Day in the Life", and the album, was produced by assembling three grand pianos in the studio and playing an E chord on each simultaneously. Together on cue, Lennon, Starr, McCartney and assistant Mal Evans hammered the keys on the assembled pianos and held down the chord. The sound from the pianos was then mixed up with compression and increasing gain on the volume to draw out the sound to maximum sustain.
British pressings of the album (in its original LP form that was later released on CD), end with a 15-kilohertz high-frequency tone (put on the album at Lennon's suggestion and said to be "especially intended to annoy your dog"), followed by an endless loop of laughter and gibberish made by the run-out groove looping back into itself. The loop (but not the tone) made its US debut on the 1980 Rarities compilation, titled "Sgt. Pepper Inner Groove". However, it is only featured as a two-second fragment at the end of side two rather than an actual loop in the run-out groove. The CD version of "Sgt. Pepper Inner Groove" is actually a bit shorter than that one found on the original UK vinyl pressing. The sound in the loop caused some controversy when it was interpreted as a secret message. McCartney later told his biographer Barry Miles that in the summer of 1967 a group of kids came up to him complaining about a lewd message hidden in it when played backwards. He told them, "You're wrong, it's actually just 'It really couldn't be any other'". He took them to his house to play the record backwards to them, and it turned out that the passage sounded to him very much like "We'll fuck you like Superman". McCartney recounted to Miles that "we had certainly had not intended to do that but probably when you turn anything backwards it sounds like something ... if you look hard enough you can make something out of anything". When the album was remastered for LP release in 2012, it took several attempts to successfully reproduce the run-out groove effect.
Read more about this topic: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
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