The Beatles' Sgt Pepper at 50: 12 awesome facts about the iconic record

Who is Sgt Pepper? Which are the album's most popular tracks? 50 years on, The Beatles' eighth album is still a pop cultural landmark.

It's 50 years since the release of the album that some might say changed the face of pop music forever.

Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was The Beatles' eighth album, and the group had already shown themselves to be a huge influence – but with Sgt Pepper, the stakes were raised considerably.

With a massive (seriously) re-issue of the record - packed with rarities, demos, remasterings, you name it - out this month to mark its anniversary, we look back at the how the record came together, its most popular songs in the digital age and the impact of this pop cultural landmark with 12 surprising facts.

1. The Beatles weren't in a good place before they recorded the album

After becoming disillusioned with touring - screaming crowds at gigs had masked just how ropey their live performances had become, and on discovering how bad they sounded, they decided to jack it in altogether – the band took a break from each other.

On reconvening, at the end of 1966, John, Paul, George and Ringo realised that freeing themselves from the burden of touring an album meant they could be more experimental, and use instruments and techniques that would be difficult to recreate in the live environment.

2. It's a concept album, which the band were not keen on the idea of (except Paul McCartney)

After recording the title track, inspired by an Edwardian-era military band, Paul McCartney came up with the concept of presenting the entire album as if that band had performed it. It later emerged that the rest of the band were not massively into this idea – sorry to spoil the magic for any fans – and Ringo claimed his greatest memory of the recording sessions was learning to play chess, as he was so bored.

Paul assumed creative control, John Lennon felt his own writing wasn't "from the heart" and the band worked into the night at the famous Abbey Road studios. So, all in all, a pretty miserable experience for at least two quarters of the Fab Four. Oh.

Thank heavens, then, for the music!

MORE: Look back at all the Beatles' UK hit singles and albums in their Official Chart archive


The Beatles in 1967 (Rex)

3. The album's biggest tracks weren't singles.

Back in the 1960s, it was more common for singles to be separate entities altogether, so singles wouldn't usually be included on an album – even Number 1s! Although part of the Sgt Pepper sessions, the Beatles' classic hits Strawberry Fields Forever and Penny Lane were rush-released as a single when management and the record label got twitchy at there being no Beatles releases in the last five minutes.

This turned out to be a controversial move – the double-A side missed the Number 1 spot, their first official release to do so in four years, after a string of consecutive chart-toppers. (Think the moment when Stop ended Spice Girls' run of Number 1s, but times a million – this was big news.) So some of the biggest tracks on Sgt Pepper, that even the most casual fan of the Beatles would know, were never singles at all. That's how embedded into pop culture the album is!

ARCHIVE: The Beatles' Official Top 50 biggest selling singles

Sgt Pepper's most famous tracks:

4. Lucy in the Sky of Diamonds

Long rumoured to be a reference to hallucinogenic drug LSD – which the Beatles were no strangers to, tbh – the inspiration for this classic actually comes from a painting by John's then-young son Julian. He drew his mate Lucy. In the sky. With diamonds. So there you go. It's been covered a number of times, most notably by Elton John – who took it to Number 10 in 1974. It's both the most downloaded and the most streamed song off Sgt Pepper.

5. With A Little Help From My Friends

Remarkably, this song has topped the Official Singles Chart THREE times. Even more remarkably, the Beatles' version is not among them. Joe Cocker did it first, in 1968, followed by Wet Wet Wet 20 years later. More recently, Pop Idol finalists Sam and Mark had a Number 1 with it in 2004. it's the second most downloaded song off the album.

MORE: See all the times A Little Help From My Friends charted in the UK

6. Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

The title track itself is fairly popular, despite never making the Top 40 in its own right. Appearing on the album twice – both as a complete song and also an energetic reprise as the penultimate track, Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is a huge fan favourite and even the reprise has been covered a few times – the Flaming Lips stretched it out to five minutes plus!

7. A Day in the Life

Another song that was rumoured to include drug references, except this time, they were true. The resulting furore led to the song being banned from some radio stations, but it's still enjoying massive popularity – it's the third most popular Sgt Pepper download.

8. When I'm 64

Way before Ed Sheeran was promising to love his girlfriend "until we're 70", the Beatles were already worried about what would happen to them in their mid sixties. Supposedly one of the first songs Paul McCartney ever wrote, at the age of 16, it finally found a home – and instant, eternal fame – on Sgt Pepper. 

MORE: Details of the 50th anniversary reissue of Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

9. Sgt Pepper's tracks ranked by number of individual downloads:

1 LUCY IN THE SKY WITH DIAMONDS
2 WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM MY FRIENDS
3 A DAY IN THE LIFE
4 WHEN I'M SIXTY-FOUR
5 SGT PEPPER'S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND
6 SHE'S LEAVING HOME
7 GETTING BETTER
8 LOVELY RITA
9 WITHIN YOU WITHOUT YOU
10 BEING FOR THE BENEFIT OF MR KITE!
11 FIXING A HOLE
12 GOOD MORNING GOOD MORNING

 

10. Sgt Pepper's tracks ranked by number of streams:

1 LUCY IN THE SKY WITH DIAMONDS
2 SGT PEPPER'S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND
3 A DAY IN THE LIFE
4 WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM MY FRIENDS
5 WHEN I'M SIXTY-FOUR
6 SHE'S LEAVING HOME
7 GETTING BETTER
8 LOVELY RITA
9 BEING FOR THE BENEFIT OF MR KITE!
10 FIXING A HOLE
11 WITHIN YOU WITHOUT YOU
12 GOOD MORNING GOOD MORNING

© 2017 Official Charts Company

11. Sgt Pepper is one of the UK's best-selling albums of all-time

Sgt Pepper went in at Number 8 on the Official Albums Chart on 28th May 1967 and climbed to Number 1 the week after, where it stayed for an astonishing 23 straight weeks. It would celebrate four more weeks at the top and spent just under nine months in the Top 10.

Overall, Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band has sold an incredible 5.16 million copies in the UK, making it one of the biggest selling albums of all time in this country. Worldwide, it's reported to have sold over 32 million copies.

MORE: The UK's Official 60 biggest selling albums of all time

12. The album's cultural impact is still felt today

The album's famous cover, which depicted some of the biggest names in contemporary popular culture and from history, has been imitated many times, and the band's imagery from this period is perhaps one of the most endearing – aside from their original "mop top" look.


Sgt Pepper's album artwork

While we now think it's normal for artists to take months and months to record a new album, this was actually pretty unusual until the Beatles took three months to put Sgt Pepper together, and they are credited by many with introducing the idea that an album is an expression of an artist, rather than a mere collection of songs.

Article image: Rex