PBS will explore the creation and profound musical influence of the Beatles‘ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, with a new hour-long documentary, Sgt. Pepper’s Musical Revolution, premiering Saturday, June 3rd at 8 p.m. ET. In an exclusive clip, British composer-broadcaster Howard Goodall unpacks Paul McCartney‘s groundbreaking Baroque-rock hybrid “Penny Lane,” piece by piece.
The host opens by dissecting the construction of McCartney’s elaborate piano arrangement. “Paul made his own contribution to the subdividing of beats,” he says. “He takes Little Richard’s eight even beats to a bar and makes them into four even beats in a bar, which is a musical version, I suppose, of replacing jogging with walking.”
Goodall then isolates each of the song’s four layered pianos to demonstrate how the parts work together harmonically and tonally. “We can follow the trail of them all by unpicking the track, layer by layer, like an archeological dig, in the original masters,” he says. “It’s a fantastic demonstration of how the Beatles put together their songs by using the studio as part of the creative process.”
McCartney’s true genius on “Penny Lane” was melding a rock backing track with non-rock instrumentation – he used the 19th-century foot-pumped reed organ the harmonium on the track – and classical elements.
“Paul and John [Lennon]’s magpie-like search for instrumental colors that were unusual, half-forgotten or unexpected is one of the most distinctive features of the Sgt. Pepper project,” Goodall says. “Alongside classical woodwind and brass, ‘Penny Lane’ also gives pride of place to a so-called piccolo trumpet, a sound that was last fashionable in 1750.”
McCartney’s inspiration for the song’s piccolo trumpet solo was watching a performance of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 on TV. David Mason’s regal fanfare remains a unique sonic surprise on Sgt. Pepper’s.
“When this Baroque-style melody is superimposed on the throughly contemporary backing on ‘Penny Lane,’ it creates, like so much on Sgt. Pepper, a new hybrid sound,” Goodall enthuses. “Not a copy. Not a clone. A totally new combination.”
Sgt. Pepper’s Musical Revolution features material previously unaccessible outside of Abbey Road Studios, including recordings of studio chatter and isolated instrumental and vocal tracks. The documentary also traces the evolution of other key tracks on the LP, along with the band members’ personal stories and biographical connections to the music.
The doc coincides with the 50th anniversary of Sgt. Pepper’s. Last week marked the release of a massive reissue of the LP, featuring a new stereo mix by late producer George Martin’s son, Giles Martin, and 34 previously unreleased recordings.