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Fact #150167


Short story:

The Beatles release their new album, Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, in the UK, Europe.

Full article:


Before it, pop music was measured out in singles and photo captions. After it, all was High Art. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was released on June 1, 1967. Steve Turner talks to the people involved in the crucial first months of recording as The Beatles exchanged the attentions of the screaming masses for the even more ravenous demands of their spiritual elders.

On the night of 29 August, 1966, none of the 25,000 fans crammed into the terraces of San Francisco's Candlestick Park could have known that they were witnessing the end of an era. As the final chords of Long Tall Sally were carried away, mingled with screams on the chill breeze which whipped across the open baseball field, The Beatles ran off stage together for the last time.

They ran not to the champagne-laden dressing rooms or a thronged hotel, but to limousines which sped to an airport where their chartered plane flew them away from the hysteria down the Californian coast to Los Angeles, California, USA. There, in a rented house, they spent their last night on the road before flying back to London the following day.

It had been an intense 15-date tour with added pressures due to John Lennon's increasing lack of compromise when discussing Jesus Christ and Vietnam. Ku Klux Klansmen picketed their Memphis concert, public bonfires of Beatle records were organised in Texas and on some dates they had to dodge firecrackers and debris. Speaking five years later Lennon said, "We were all so pressurised that there was hardly any chance of expressing ourselves, especially working at that rate, touring continually, and always kept in a cocoon of myths and dreams. When you are Caesar and everyone is saying how wonderful you are and giving you all the goodies and girls it's pretty hard to break out of that, to say, I don't want to be King. I want to be real."

Since their first British hit in October 1962 they'd played over 350 concerts and almost every day between was packed with television and radio appearances, recording sessions, writing, travelling and press calls. The non-stop schedule had taken its toll. By the end of this fourth American tour they were completely drained of enthusiasm.

"There was nothing special about that last show," recalls Tony Barrow, The Beatles' former press officer. "Indeed it was probably one of the most ordinary concerts they ever gave. It lasted thirty minutes and musically it was far from the best performance they'd given. It was the end of a very tiring tour."

Although it was never planned as a farewell performance, Barrow nevertheless believed the writing was on the wall. "There was the feeling that it was the last concert although it was never announced as such. Certainly it was Brian Epstein's hope that he could persuade them to do more shows. But that was the night Paul McCartney requested that I record the concert as a souvenir for him, something we'd never bothered to do on any other tour, so he obviously saw it as an occassion. It was also the night that George Harrison sank down in the seat next to me on the plane and said, 'Well, that's it; I'm not a Beatle any more'.

"George didn't mean that he intended leaving the band, only that The Beatles, to him, had become synonymous with Beatlemania and, as far as he was concerned, that was all over. What he really meant was that he wanted them to get down to some serious work as a recording band. And, of course, Sgt. Pepper was the outcome of that."

It was appropriate that the performing moptops should die in San Francisco, of all places, because the moustachioed Sgt Pepper and his satin clad band were born right out of the Bay Area's emerging consciousness. Since 1965, local folk musicians, poets and artists had been experimenting with then-legal psychedelic drugs, especially LSD, which had been subject to clinical testing at nearby Stanford University since 1963.

By the summer of 1966, a psychedelic sub-culture had emerged in the city based around LSD and the new mind-expanding sounds of The Grateful Dead, Big Brother And The Holding Company and The Jefferson Airplane. Concerts at The Avalon Ballroom, the Fillmore Auditorium and the Longshoremen's Hall had been turned into total assaults on the senses with the use of tapes, incense, strobes, multiple screen projections and liquid light shows.

In an attempt to simulate the sprawling multi-layered experience of psychedelics, musicians were breaking free from the conventional three minute song barrier and looking beyond Chuck Berry and Scotty Moore for inspiration. They adopted a fresh admiration for free-form jazz blowers like Charlie Parker, investigated feedback and other electronic distortions and turned on to the sound of the sitar and vina.

They were turning on to the religion of India as well. In the teachings of Hinduism they found correspondences to their hallucinogenic ego collapses during which they felt themselves to be one with all creation, one with the Godhead. Acid heads, with their kaftans, bells and beads, were to prove fertile ground for the new breed of entrepreneurial gurus and mystics.

On that August night, on the last stop of The Beatles' 15 concert swing through North America, there seemed to be a generation and culture gap between the scream-age festivities at Candlestick Park and the intense inner voyaging of Haight-Ashbury. Yet for almost a year that gap had been noticeably closing on their albums. Rubber Soul, recorded in October and November 1965, contained The Word, a track Lennon later referred to as his first "message song". The word, of course, was 'love', and the desire for universal love - according to Masters And Houston in their 1966 book The Varieties of Psychedelic Experience - was one of the most prevalent claims of psychedelic users. The album also featured Harrison's trial run on the sitar, an instrument he'd idly picked up on the set of Help!

It comes as no surprise to discover that 1965 was the year in which Harrison and Lennon took LSD for the first time. Slipped into their after-dinner coffees by a hip dentist friend, the drug was to have profound effects upon them and their music, cracking Lennon's ego, sending Harrison in search of non-drug highs and, eventually, turning the naturally conservative McCartney into a man who claimed to have "seen God" and to have been made "more honest".

But it was in April of 1966 that the rearranged perceptions of LSD were to become most obvious. Recording began at EMI Studios in Abbey Road for what was to become Revolver and the single Paperback Writer/Rain. Lennon and Harrison were by this time consuming copious amounts of LSD and marijuana, drugs which could alter the listening experience in various ways, translating sounds into images, fascinating the mind with apparently meaningless patterns and turning notes into glorious sculptures.

Timothy Leary, the Harvard psychotherapist who became an evangelist for LSD, and whose books Lennon had already bought, said that when you turned on, the inner ear became "a trembling membrane seething with tattoos of sound waves... You hear one note of a Bach sonata, and it hangs there, glittering, pulsating, for an endless length of time, while you slowly orbit around it."

Tomorrow Never Knows, originally titled The Void, was an experiment with a series of backward tapes, the lyric based on a rendition of the Tibetan Book Of The Dead which Leary had included in The Psychedelic Experience. Leary believed that the successful trip needed a 'guide' and music was one of the suggested guides for keeping subjects on track. Lennon was no doubt aware that Tomorrow Never Knows, essentially a series of instructions, would be used in this way by the growing number of tripping head-set owners.

Other songs on Revolver made oblique references to the drug experience. Dr Robert, for example, referred to Dr Charles Roberts, a notorious New York 'acid doctor' who operated an office on 48th Street where he administered shots of vitamins laced with methedrine to anyone who could afford it. Hip media folk, including many of the Warhol crowd, were in the habit of giving their friends a visit to Dr Roberts as a present.

She Said, She Said, written mostly by Lennon, was based on conversational scraps from a trippy gathering in Los Angeles when a stoned Peter Fonda kept announcing that he knew what it was like to be dead, a common LSD experience. I'm Only Sleeping, with its backward guitar was, to the initiated, unmistakably a drug reverie.

Even the innocent sounding Tamla take-off Got To Get You Into My Life was, according to Lennon in a later interview, to do with McCartney's curious, yet cautious, attitude towards LSD. Again the cover, drawn by Klaus Voormann, a friend of The Beatles since Hamburg days, offered a tantalising clue to the contents.

Yet before recording Sgt. Pepper, The Beatles had no direct experience of the San Francisco culture which was to blow world-wide in the summer of 1967 along with their album. McCartney was to fly in the day after the final mix in April to attend a Jefferson Airplane rehearsal and it wasn't until August 8 that Harrison took his well-publicised walkabout in Haight-Ashbury and laid his blessings on what he declared "the beautiful people".

Most of what they picked up prior to Sgt. Pepper was through an informed collection of London-based friends. In 1963 McCartney had begun seeing a teenage actress, Jane Asher , whose father Dr Richard Asher was a Wimpole Street psychiatrist and whose mother was a teacher at the Royal College of Music. Through the Ashers, in whose West End home he was to live during the height of Beatlemania, he was intoduced to solid middle class London society, to the world of theatre, opera and classical music and, through Jane's older brother Peter, to two young men playing a vital role in London's experimental art scene - bookseller Miles and gallery owner John Dunbar.

Dunbar, a Cambridge graduate later to marry Marianne Faithfull, managed the Indica Gallery in Masons Yard while Miles ran Indica Books in Southampton Row. Between them they had contact with the most creative spirits in contemporary painting, sculpture, performance art, literature, poetry and avant garde music, not only in Europe but in America. Through Miles, McCartney was to meet poet Allen Ginsberg and LSD manufacturer Michael Hollingshead and to be kept up to date with the major US underground newspapers. All The Beatles had accounts at the Indica Bookshop and requested that anything "interesting" be automatically sent on to them, whether books, records or magazines.

Through Dunbar, McCartney became familiar with the films of Antonioni and the magnetic machines of the Greek sculptor Takis. Together they'd go out with 16mm cameras and shoot random scraps which they'd then take home and overlay with self-composed electronic music. Early in 1966 he'd also become one the the first British owners of a video recorder, a gift from Capitol Records, and said that he planned to shoot "weird shapes and patterns and light, and record special weird music to go with it."

"He wasn't especially interested in the art scene at first," recalls Dunbar, "but he was just generally being turned on to things. Acid had come along by that time and it made a big difference. I think all The Beatles had taken it by then and it did tend to open them up. They stopped being so straight. Paul was a bit of a latecomer but I think eventually he just didn't want to be left out."

"On the one hand," Miles remembers, "he was moving in theatrical circles, listening to the BBC Third Programme and visiting plays like Peter Brook's Marat-Sade, and on the other he was being exposed to all the underground papers like the East Village Other and the L A Free Press. It was a very creative period for him. Lennon was going through a very neurotic phase whereas McCartney was on a roll. He had this nice house, a lovely music room and a beautiful girlfriend. He was in a very creative period and it happened to coincide with the recording of Sgt Pepper."

When Miles launched Interational Times, the first London 'underground' newspaper, in October 1966. McCartney was at the lauch party held at The Roundhouse in Camden, mingling, in his Arab robes, with the kaftans, military jackets and painted bodies. Here he saw his frst psychedelically-painted car, a Buick borrowed from the Robert Fraser Gallery, heard the Soft
Machine and Pink Floyd and, like most of the 2,500 party goers, witnessed the first light-show he had ever seen.

Pink Floyd and Soft Machine were the star graduates of the psychedelic London club scene centred on the UFO club in Tottenham Court Road. They were creating new sounds based not on direct experience of San Francisco psychedelia, but on what they imagined it to be. Even the International Times' reviewer seemed in awe of the "weird things" they did to the event with their "scary feedback sounds, slide projections playing on their skin and spotlights flashing in time with the drums."

Interviews at the time show McCartney becoming serious about his self-education, obviously still reeling under the effects of LSD and excitedly referring to avant garde artists such as 19th century French dramatist and poet Alfred Jarry and the contemporary German electronic composer Karlheinz Stockhausen.

To Alan Freeman he confessed he was listening to classical music, reading plays, learning to read music and had taken up painting. He expressed ambitions to write a film score and direct a Beatles television show. His conversation pulsated with a sense of discovery and an urge to push the group even further.

"As far as The Beatles are concerned," he told Freeman, "we can't just stop where we are or there's nothing left to do. We can go on trying to make popular records and it can get dead dull if we're not trying to expand and move on into other things. Unless you're careful you can be successful and unsuccessful at the same time."

In an extensive interview with Miles for International Times, he let himself ramble for the first time in a way he never could for Fleet Street's showbiz columnists. "With any kind of thing my aim seems to be to distort it, to distort it from what we know it as," he told him one afternoon over tea at his St John's Wood home. "Even with music and visual things to change it from what it is to what it could be. To see the potential in it all. To take a note and wreck it and see in that note what else there is in it. What a simple act like distorting it has caused. To take a film and to superimpose on top of it so that you can't quite tell what it is any more, it's all trying to create magic, it's all trying to make things happen so that you don't know why they've happened. I'd like a lot more things to happen like they did when you were kids, when you didn't know how the conjuror did it, and were happy just to see it there and say, well, it's magic. I use 'magic' instead of 'spiritual' because 'spiritual' sounds as if it fits into too many of the other categories." He spoke of his old idols - Chuck Berry, Carl Perkins, Bo Diddley, Elvis Presley - being superseded by people like tenor eaxophonist Albert Ayler and American composer John Cage. "The idols now, the people that I can appreciate now, are all much more hidden away in little back corners, through performing for themselves.

"You've got to sort out these people. You've got to look much more because Stockhausen isn't played on Radio London every day, so there's not much chance of his becoming an idol overnight."

Lennon, assumed to be the more natural investigator of the avant garde,was at the same time spending much of his non-working time at home in Weybridge with his wife Cynthia and son Julian. "He'd spend a lot of his time in bed with a notepad," says Cynthia. "When he woke up he'd write a few
words down and then maybe go over to the piano. He'd listen to music, gawp at television and read newspapers. He was basically dropping out from what was happening, thinking about things and resting. Everything he was doing outside the home was pretty high-powered."

He was feeling restless, not at all happy with the suburban domesticity that suited his more conventional wife. Acid's destruction of ego, said to make he user feel at one with the Godhead, had, in Lennon's case, only worsened his natural insecurity. Instead of becoming everything, he'd become, in his own eyes, nothing. "I destroyed me ego," he was to say later, "and I didn't believe I could do anything, and I let people do what they wanted. I was just nothing. I was shit."

"He was stoned out of his mind most of the time," remembers Beatles' biographer Hunter Davies. "He wasn't talking and he was fed up with Cyn as well. He didn't know where his life was going and he was fed up with being a Beatle."

LSD had terrified Cynthia. She'd only taken it thinking that it would bring her closer to John. In fact it pushed them further apart. It brought new and strange people into their life with whom she didn't feel comfortable. Although it promised to bring a flourishing of art and abounding feelings of love, Lennon was closing up.

"There was a change of style, a change of dress and a change of attitude," agrees Cynthia. "I was aware of something happening but, like Mr Jones in Dylan's song, I didn't know what it was. Going through what we'd been through together over such a short period of time it was difficult to hang on and to know what was happening."

Lennon confessed in 1970 that he must have literally been on a thousand trips. John Dunbar recalls one of them. "I remember going to the 14 Hour Technicolour Dream at Alexandra Palace with John. He was totally done up on acid and we started a literal ten day trip. We went off to Ireland and bought an island which we'd seen advertised in The Times. We bought it because it seemed like a good idea at the time."

In the second week of November 1966, just as Sgt. Pepper was about to be recorded, Dunbar had arranged for a little-known Japanese artist to exhibit her work at the Indica Gallery under the title Unfinished Paintings and Objects. A performance artist, film maker, sculptor, poet and painter, Yoko Ono was married to Tony Cox, an American artist who also acted as her producer and promoter. On Dunbar's advice Cox called Lennon, who neither he nor Yoko really knew anything about, to ask if he'd like to attend the exhibition. "It was funny really because The Beatles were pop stars and that was always considered to be beneath the realm of true artists," says Cox. "We were at the forefront of the avant garde. This was real art and what everyone else was doing was relatively unimportant, so we didn't follow pop music. The reason we called John up was because he was a respected patron. He was the only Beatle who came close to appreciating what was going on, that was an important factor. When Yoko met him she didn't really know who John was. She didn't have a clue. I probably wouldn't have recognised him either. That seems almost impossible to believe now, but we were almost religious about our work."

Lennon turned up and what he saw was a collection of concept pieces based on her bookGrapefruit, which had been published in Tokyo in 1964. Apple Piece, for example, consisted of nothing more than a plexiglass column with a fresh apple placed on top. Nail Piece comprised of a hammer, a block of wood, a nail and the instruction to knock the nail into the wood.

"The piece that attracted John," recalls Cox, "was a painting on the ceiling which had a fly speck of a word in its centre. From the floor it looked like a dot. You had to climb up a stepladder and when you reached the painting there was a magnifying glass hanging from it. When you looked through the glass you saw that the speck was actually the word YES."

Ono's work was teasingly haikuish, disorientating and provoking in its simplicity. Lennon was attracted by its humour and child-like innocence. In her stage performances she asked people to sit inside a huge black bag and undress, invited members of the audience to take clippings out of her clothes and organised 40 bicycles to ride off stage and into the stalls. She was soon to become a part of his life and profoundly affect his thinking. Yet while Lennon's association with the avant garde was regarded as a step of artistic maturity, Ono was starting to be dimissed by other 'serious' artists for hanging out with a pop star. Says Cox, "the truth of the matter is that John was an artist who was working as a pop star and he found himself in Yoko. There's no question about that."

Five years after the meeting, Lennon was to explain to me, "It's amazing we think so alike coming from different parts of the earth. She's from a very upper class Japanese family and went to school with princes and I'm from wherever. We made a calendar up with quotes fromGrapefruit and quotes from my books and the ideas behind them were quite similar. But Yoko was much further out than me. I was pretty far out but she really opened me up with all her work."

While Lennon and McCartney used their newly-found spare time to survey the new London art scene and to become tuned to the psychedelic culture coming across from America, Harrison was pursuing his interest in Indian religion and music. With wife Patti, a model whom he'd met on the set of A Hard Day's Night, he went to Bombay for six weeks to study as a private pupil in the home of master sitarist Ravi Shankar.

The two musicians had met the previous year. "It was a chance meeting in a friend's house in London," says Shankar. "At that time I had just vaguely heard the name of The Beatles. I knew they were very popular but I had not heard a single song. I didn't know much about them. It was nice to
see his humility though, and to know that he wanted to learn.

"I told him that he had to come to India and he did. Within that period he found out the whole seriousness. He realised that it was too late for him to start and that because he was so famous as one of The Beatles he had so many commitments that he couldn't give that much time to learning.
He's never undergone a discipline. He couldn't sit for hours and hours and for years and years. That was out of the question. So he himself left it, but he left with very good grace, with all the love and understanding and respect for the music."

Interviewed by Miles for International Times before Sgt. Pepper was released, Harrison showed himself to be preoccupied with thoughts of God-realisation, Krishna, meditation, yoga, cosmic vibrations and the world of illusion. He recommended Paramhansa Yogananda's Autobiography Of A Yogi ("it's a far-out book, it's a gas"), referred to Shankar as his "musical guru" and claimed that "through the musical you reach the spiritual".

Asked if he was concerned with communication he replied, "Oh yes, of course. We are all one. I mean communication, just the realisation of human love reciprocated, it's such as gas. It's a good vibration which makes you feel good. These vibrations that you get through yoga, cosmic chants and things like that, I mean it's such a buzz. It buzzes you right into the astral plane."

The London that Harrison and the other Beatles returned to after their end of tour jaunts to India, Kenya, France, Spain and Germany was a London that Time had voted, in April of that year. 'The Swinging City'. Attention was focused on the just launched mini-skirt, the proliferation of discotheques and new permissive sexual attitudes.

In June, three more pirate radio ships had taken to the waves; in July England's football team had won the World Cup; Hugh Hefner had opened the first European Playboy Club in Park Lane and in South London the Italian film director Antonioni was filming Blow Up. Despite rising unemployment, the flickerings of trouble in Ulster, financial crises facing the Wilson government and a strike by seamen, the American magazine's view of a swinging capital of a swinging country was gladly bought by the populace.

Not all observers, however, were convinced. Christopher Booker saw it as a "last, unexpected narcissistic spree". Anthony Lewis, writing in the New York Times, commented, "The atmosphere in London can be almost eerie in its quality of relentless frivolity. There can rarely have been a greater contrast between a country's objective situation and the mood of its people."

When, by November, it was suspected that The Beatles had no plans for future tours there was hand-wringing and anger. On November 14 crowds of fans protested outside Brian Epstein's London home, demanding a British tour. The Sunday Times wrote, "Last week it emerged that the Beatle phenomenon was ending. Beatlemania is at an end."

It was inconceivable to most people that a non-touring Beatles could exist. To be a pop group without going out on stage and testing the screams seemed an impossibility. But The Beatles had bucked enough trends before. They'd produced albums with 14 killer songs rather than a hit and 13 quick fillers. They'd introduced the idea of B-sides strong enough to compete with their own A-sides. Could they now continue a group career as recording artists - pop musicians who performed only in the studio?

On the evening of November 24, 1966, The Beatles arived at EMI's Abbey Road Studios to begin a series of sessions that would take them through to April 2, 1967, producing the most highly acclaimed pop album ever. Never before, or since, has a recording been surrounded by such anticipation. All that producer George Martin would say at the time was, "Tonight we shall just be working on some Bits And Pieces. I don't know what will emerge."

Each Beatle album of the past three years had broken new ground. A Hard Day's Night was the first all Lennon-McCartney release at a time when writing your own songs was still considered remarkable. For a pop musician to play anthing other than a guitar or a set of drums was also cause for comment. When, on Beatles For Sale, Harrison played an African drum, McCartney a hammond organ and Ringo Starr a timpani, these were considered by Derek Taylor, who supplied the sleevenotes, "some novelties" which were "slipped in" by The Beatles and "their recording manager George Martin".

For Help! there were even more novelties - electric pianos, flutes, a Steinway and, on Yesterday, a string quartet. By this time The Beatles had built a reputation for surprises, tricks of melody, style, arrangement, instrumentation and lyric which continually pushed them out of reach of any imitators.

Rubber Soul had introduced Harrison on sitar and by the time they arrived at Revolver the heat was on for further change. It was then that backward-taping came into their lives. On the single Rain - despite Lennon's own claims to stoned discovery - Martin ran the vocal backwards as the song played out while Lennon was out of the studio, and then on tracks such as I'm Only Sleeping, Harrison overdubbed guitar while the recording was played backwards. When the track was played normally you had backwards guitar, a sound that built up slowly and then burned out suddenly like a rocket.

But by far the most staggering departure in Beatle music had been the final track on the second side, Tomorrow Never Knows, where great ripples of disconnected sound were heard over a persistent drum beat and the voice of Lennon sounded as though it was coming up a shaft from the centre of the earth. The lyric, delivered in a prayer-like monotone, was an invitation to "surrender to the void", to annihilate the ego.

The idea for the soundtrack had been McCartney's. He'd discovered that by removing the erase-head of his Grundig tape recorder and putting a loop on he could saturate the tape with a single sound. He suggested to Martin that a number of these, faded in and out, could be used as a backing.

The eventual recording, using tapes submitted by each Beatle, required eight machines throughout Abbey Road being linked to the mixing room, with tape loops being held in tension by pencils. For the vocal, Lennon told Martin he wanted to sound like the Dalai Lama standing on a mountaintop. "He said he wanted to hear the words but not him," remembers Martin. "What we came up with was putting his voice through a Leslie speaker. There were fears amongst some people that The Beatles had gone too far. You could sense it in some of the questions fired at them. Would they ever become completely electronic? Were they going to desert pop for 'serious' music? Was there a danger in becoming too 'way out'?"

Even McCartney didn't seem too sure. "Eventually we may get a bit too way-out," he admitted. "I hope not. But I Don't know."

Expectations were high enough to draw crowds of up to 500 fans each day outside the studios as The Beatles worked from early afternoon until midnight or later, for the first time able to work at their leisure, like painters or sculptors, without budgetary restraints or touring commitments.
They would come in, wearing neckerchiefs, kipper ties, Afghan coats, kaftans and psychedelic shirts, with scraps of words and music, tapes with home made electronic sounds, and build their new material from scratch. Work on sound which would today take place in a musician's home studio, had to wait to be tried out on EMI's now-celebrated 4-track Studer in Studio 2.

"You couldn't work out effects ahead of time in those days," points out Miles. "You really had to play it to see how it sounded. EMI hadn't invested money in recording equipment and we were years behind the Americans who'd had eight-track recorders back in the late 1950s."

Enormously exciting for the group, who were beginning to identify with Picasso's work-method of painting over and over the same canvas until the desired theme emerged, this process could be excruciatingly boring for everyone else.

Hunter Davies, then working on his authorised biography of The Beatles, tells of seeing the once indispensable road crew of Mal Evans and Neil Asinall sitting around with nothing to do, waiting to be asked to go out and buy cigarettes.

"Although you knew that by being involved on a Beatles track you were making history," remembers Abbey Road engineer Peter Vince, "it always meant sitting around doing nothing a lot of the time waiting for them to come up with ideas of what they wanted. But you had to be there because suddenly they'd get the idea and they'd want to go straight for it. They were the innovators of working through the night and very long hours. Prior to them everyone went home at 10pm."

A constant stream of celebrities, musicians, writers and friends were brought in to see the boys record, ranging from Spike Milligan and The Byrds to a young man who arrived on McCartney's doorstep to announce that he was Jesus Christ.

"There were so many bloody odd people it wasn't true," recalls Martin. "I used to have to ignore them and just push on with what I had to do."

In the next studio were Pink Floyd, recording their debut album Piper At The Gates Of Dawn with Norman Smith, an engineer who'd worked on Revolver. Conscious of their release from the imprisonment of live Beatlemania, The Beatles were throwing off their iconic teen appeal looks, opting for the image of maturer European artists. All grew moustaches, Harrison temporarily wore a beard and Lennon, with army regulation haircut because of How I Won The War, kept the National Health spectacles issued to Private Gripweed. It was an unconscious message to the world telling it how they wanted to be received from now on.

With Lennon disorientated through his domestic and drug problems, control of the project had fallen to McCartney who was brimming with ideas, keen to record and still enjoying being a Beatle. "People make the mistake of thinking Pepper must have been Lennon's album because he was so hip," says Miles. "Actually he was taking so many drugs and trying to get rid of his ego that it was much more McCartney's idea."

Two recent albums had impressed McCartney. Pet Sounds, by The Beach Boys, illustrated the luxury of multitrack recording. One of that album's tracks, Good Vibrations, was a studio masterpiece, made possible by editing 35 separate takes together. Freak Out, by Frank Zappa's Mothers Of Invention, was less sophisticated, but with its four sides and tracks lasting between two and 12 minutes it suggested a new approach to album-making. Miles, who supplied each Beatle with a copy of Freak Out after seeing a mail order advert in the East Village Other, remembers, "McCartney told me at the time that they were going to make their own Freak Out. It was the first pop album that was not a set of singles strung together. No-one had thought of using that space that way before."

As McCartney himself later explained, "Normally [The Beatles' new album) would just be a collection of songs with a nice picture on the cover, nothing more. So the idea was to do a complete thing that you could make what you like of, just a little magic presentation."

Essential to this progress was George Martin, one of the few stable figures in their world. Older than them and well outside their slipstream of youthful fashion and drugs, he was an astute and imaginative producer with a gracious manner and a wealth of recording experience which included working with comedy, light orchestral, jazz and Scottish country music. They used him as their translator, describing different sounds they'd heard, asking for apparently impossible splices and mixes which resulted in makeshift innovations, and always begging him to come up with something new. A magic was created between their naive expectations of what could be done and his great wealth of musical knowledge, their youthful exuberance and his avuncular concern, their druggy waywardness and his straightness.

"I was their pimp in sounds," says Martin. "They were always wanting something different. John was always wanting me to turn him on to something." Although hostile to drugs and sceptical of their benefit to the creative process, he nevertheless had a remarkable natural ability to think in terms of 'sound pictures'. Long before meeting The Beatles, he'd been experimenting with tapes, producing an experimental album in 1957 called Ray Cathode with the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.

"Every album with The Beatles was a new beginning." says Martin of the expectations for what was to become Sgt. Pepper, "and after Revolver we were looking forward to doing something new. When Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields were played to me, I knew we had a new wave coming through and I was urging the boys to give me more."

Although both songs were ostensibly childhood memories of Liverpool locations, Lennon had been plunged into an introspective mood about his own alienation as a visionary, while McCartney produced a bright and idealised view of suburban life, packed with detailed human activity and overseen by blue skies. The dreamlike quality of Strawberry Fields prefigured Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds and A Day In The Life, whereas McCartney's jauntiness carried on through Getting Better, Lovely Rita and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. "I think they were seeing a lot of each other and influencing each other," says Martin. "At that stage Paul was very much finding the intellectual life and enjoying it. John's exploration, at that time, was within himself."

McCartney, now living close to Abbey Road in his Cavendish Avenue house, would arrive at the studios with a clear idea of the production he wanted. For Penny Lane he wanted a high trumpeting sound he'd heard during a television recording of a Bach Brandenburg Concerto and so Martin booked David Mason of the London Symphony Orchestra to play piccolo trumpet.

Lennon was less able to translate the sounds in his imagination into clear instructions. "He was the least articulate of the three writers," says Martin. "I would have to dig deep into his brain to find out what he wanted me to do. In the case of Strawberry Fields, which he first played to me as a slow song on an acoustic guitar, he wasn't really sure what he wanted. He had a mellotron to play with and he was a little unsure. The first time we recorded the song, it turned out much heavier than expected. So, I wasn't very surprised when he said he'd like me to do it again. That was the first time we'd ever remade a Beatles song. He said he wanted a score with cellos and trumpets. I was surprised at that. But it worked well."

The career readjustment had meant that they'd not released a single since Eleanor Rigby in August 1966. Engrossed as they were in new recording possibilities, the fact of their longest absence from the Billboard charts didn't concern them. Brian Epstein had to ask them for something new and, reluctantly, Martin gave up the best of three songs already recorded - Strawberry Fields Forever and Penny Lane.

Quite unlike any previous Beatles single, Strawberry Fields whetted appetites. Although its lack of concession to chart pop meant that it was the first Beatles release since From Me To You in April of 1963 not to make Number 1 (Engelbert Humperdinck's Release Me kept it from the top), it confirmed that the experiment with Dr Martin at the Abbey Road laboratory was working.

As they toiled through afternoons and nights, a generation pinned its hopes on the result. The contract with EMI may have required one album, but the contract with their public demanded something with the artistry of the Sistine Chapel and the profundity of the Revelation Of St John. As New York critic Robert Chistgau recalled later that year, "The album was awaited in much the same spirit as instalments of Dickens must have been a century ago. Everyone was a little edgy: could they do it again?"

Strawberry Fields Forever and Penny Lane, released in February '67, were the first fruits of the sessions and they didn't disappoint. As American rock critic Greil Marcus commented, "If this extraordinary music was merely a taste of what The Beatles were up to, what would the album be like?"

Flushed with the excitement of being off the road for the first time since their teens, stimulated by the burgeoning alternative arts scene and perceptually altered by drugs, they were at the height of their creative powers, working on songs that they'd only ever have to perform in the studio.

This was no longer a rehearsal for a new show, this was art. Elvis, Chuck and Buddy had been temporarily displaced by Lewis Carroll, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Albert Jarry. As their expectations of themselves grew, so did those of their audience. What was being awaited was not a long-playing record but a statement, an artistic interpretation of a collective vision.

Strawberry Fields Forever had been achieved by splicing together the best parts of two versions. The slow-motion vocal came through having to slow one down to match the key of the other. Sandwiched between these sessions was When I'm Sixty-Four, the beginning of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

The song, hardly a foretaste of things to come, was a McCartney tribute to his father Jim, 64 in 1967, recorded in the dance band style McCartney senior had played during the inter-war years. "It was a pastiche, a kind of a send-up of the old stuff," says George Martin. "Paul always had that sneaking regard for the old rutti-tutti music."

It was a regard not shared by Lennon, who later announced, "I would never even dream of writing a song like that."

"John sneered at a lot of things," Martin points out, "but that was part of the collaboration between the two of them. They tended to be rivals. Their collaboration as songwriters was never Rodgers And Hart, it was always more Gilbert And Sullivan. If John did something, Paul would wish he'd thought of it and go away and try to do something better and vice versa. It was a very healthy spirit of competition."

The first song of the new year, started on January 19, 1967, was an example of an effective Lennon-McCartney collaboration and an indicator of just how far they were able to stretch pop. Not only was it longer than anything they'd recorded before but it involved more musicians and challenged more conceptions of what could be done in the studio.

As with many of the new songs, it arose out of newspaper items. On 18 December, 1966, Tara Browne, a 21-year-old friend of The Beatles who'd been present during some of the Revolver sessions, had been tragically killed. Due to receive a £1 million inheritance on his 25th birthday, Browne typified the young upper-crust who'd recently begun to socialise with the new pop hierarchy.

Browne had been driving down Redcliffe Gardens, South Kensington, towards Chelsea in his light blue Lotus Elan in the early hours of the morning with 19-year-old model Suki Potier beside him. A white Volvo saloon pulled out of a side street and shot accross their path. In order to protect Potier, Browne swerved into a stationary van. He suffered extensive head injuries and died later in hospital.

Lennon read of the death the next day in a Daily Mail story headed "Guinness Heir Saved Girl's Life In Crash" which explained that the young socialite, who had been living at The Ritz, was a friend of Paul McCartney and had flown The Lovin' Spoonful to Ireland to play at this 21st birthday party. Two children survived him from a marriage made when he was only 17.

At home in Weybridge, Lennon began to write a weary, sad song on the piano which opened, "I read the news today, oh boy, about a lucky man who made the grade" going on to fictionalised the death as one that had happened at traffic lights in broad daylight. He added an oblique reference to his own recently completed film How I Won The War, and then pulled in another news item about a Blackburn city councillor who was complaining about the state of local roads which, according to him, contained at least 4,000 unfilled holes.

The juxtaposition of tragedy and trivia produced a detached view of events, like a selection of snapshots, but Lennon knew it was an unfinished song. He took it to McCartney who came up with an equally unfinished song which he thought "just happened to fit."

"It was about me remembering what it was like to run up the road to catch the bus to school, having a smoke and going into class," he told illustrator Alan Aldridge later that year. "We decided, bugger this, we're going to write a turn-on song. It was a recollection of my school days - I would have a Woodbine then, and somebody would speak and I would go into a dream. That was the only song on the album written as a deliberate provocation."

"Definitely a reference to marijuana," says Martin, who's quick to add that Fixing A Hole was never about shooting heroin and Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds was not about LSD. "I thought 'found my way upstairs and had a smoke' was a drug reference at the time. They always used to disappear and have a little puff. They never did it in front of me. They always went downstairs to the canteen and Mal (Evans, roadie) used to guard it."

The McCartney song was stitched into the Lennon song by orchestration and the whole piece concluded with what Lennon called "a musical orgasm". A 41-piece orchestra was booked by Martin into EMI's Studio 1 on February 10, dressed up in costumes and party noses and told to race from the lowest to the highest note within a particular E major chord inside 24 bars.

"John wanted to start from nothing, increase in tension and build up to the most overpowering sound," says Martin. When the last note for the end section had finished, engineer Geoff Emerick pushed up the faders in order to pick up every lingering sound until, after 41 seconds, all you could hear was the air conditioning.

"I was as amazed as they were at what had evolved," recalls Cynthia Lennon, who was there for the recording. "From four boys with guitars they'd become Sgt. Pepper with a full-blown orchestra. It was fantastic and had all happened in such a short time." Martin, surveying the musicians in fancy dress, began to worry whether they hadn't at last gone over the top. "We were enjoying ourselves so much I wondered whether we were being self-indulgent."

At this point there was no controlling idea for the album and the song about a character called Sgt. Pepper, started on February 1, was just another track. The Lonely Hearts Club Band of Sgt. Pepper was, in McCartney's mind, "a bit of a brass band, but also a rock band because they've got the San Francisco thing." Lennon later amplified, "the whole West coast, long-named group thing was coming in. You know, people were no longer The Beatles or The Crickets - they were suddenly Fred And His Incredible Shrinking Grateful Airplanes."

"It's not a great song," admits Martin. "It was only after we'd done it that Paul said why don't we make the band Pepper, and Ringo Billy Shears, and it gives a nice beginning to the thing. Later on he said why don't we have a Reprise to wrap it up? All we had to do then was try to make everything else fit in.

"But the songs, if you listen to them, have no connection at all. It wasn't really a concept album at all. It was just a question of my trying to make a coherent thing by doing segues as much as possible." Lennon said much the same thing: "Sgt. Pepper is called the first concept album, but it doesn't go anywhere. All my contributions to the album have nothing to do with this idea of Sgt. Pepper and his band."

It was impossible to order songs to get a continuous theme as everything was being written on the run, drawn from personal encounters, newspaper stories and ringing phrases. With their two best songs already siphoned off as singles, pressure increased to produce new material.

During the first week of February they briefly left Abbey Road to make promotional films for the single with Swedish director Peter Goldmann. In Sevenoaks, Kent, for the Strawberry Fields sequence, Lennon went into a junk shop and bought a Victorian circus poster announcing the appearance of Pablo Fanques Circus Royal at Town Meadows, Rochdale, on February 14 1843. This "Last Night But Three!" was "Being For the Benefit Of Mr Kite last of Wells' Circus and Mr J Henderson, the Celebrated Somerset Thrower!"

Lennon took the words, almost exactly, and wrote a song which perfectly suited Martin's taste for 'sound pictures'. "I saw the poster," Martin remembers, "and I knew what he was driving at. I knew that he wanted to smell the sawdust." While that song was gestating, Lennon went back to the studios, on February 16, to record Good Morning, Good Morning, a song he was later to declare, "a throwaway, a piece of garbage".

The fact that Lennon was happy to contribute 'throwaways', written on demand, illustrates his personal crisis and his growing isolation from The Beatles. So too does the lazy way Good Morning was conceived, sitting in front of his television with the sound muted, picking on the 'good morning' slogan of a Kelloggs Cornflake commercial for his title.

But in writing about the sterility of an ordinary day Lennon was writing about himself, revealing the emptiness of life in Weybridge with Cynthia. It was a portrait of a man with 'nothing to say' with no real communication with his wife, oppressed with the dullness of suburbia and craving a thrill. It was John Lennon as Nowhere Man.

Sounds Incorporated , an instrumental group from Kent signed by Brian Epstein in 1964, were brought in to play saxohone, trombone and French horn. Sound effects of chickens and a hunt in full chase (supplied by enginer Stewart Elton from his personal collection) topped and tailed the song.

Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite, Lennon's poster song, was considered by Lennon another 'throwaway'. He told Hunter Davies in 1968, "I wasn't proud of that. There was no real work. I was just going through the motions because we needed a new song for Sgt. Pepper at that moment." By 1980 though he'd revised that opinion, telling Playboy, "It's so cosmically beautiful… The song is pure, like a painting, a pure watercolour."

A painting in sound was how Martin saw it at the time. Failing to find a hand-operated steam organ - they were by then all run on punch cards - he set about recreating the sound on Hammond organ and with tapes. "John and I played together on the organ. John played the tune and I played the swirly bits, chromatic runs up and down. I couldn't get them fast enough so we double-speeded it, and John had to play the tune an octave down, and really slow."

But Martin wasn't totally satisfied with the result. It didn't have, he said, the 'wash' at the back of the picture. Sound archives were raided and he came up with several steam organ recordings which he transferred to tape. Then he had an engineer cut the tape into short sections and throw them on the floor. "I picked them up and edited them all together again," says Martin.

Fixing A Hole was McCartney being uncharacteristically introspective, trying to breach flaws in his personailty. "It's about the hole in your make-up which lets the rain in and stops your mind going where it will," he later explained. 'The silly people who run around/they worry me/and never ask why they don't get in my door' were the fans who constantly besieged his home, often camping outside on the pavement for days.

"If only they knew that the best way to get in is not to do that, because obviously anyone who is going to be straight and like a real friend and a real person is going to get in… Sometimes I invite them in, but it starts not to be not really the point, because I invited one in and the next day she was in the Daily Mirror with her mother saying we were going to get married."

Lennon liked Fixing A Hole because it was McCartney singing about himself. Lovely Rita he dismissed - "That's Paul writing a pop song" - because it concealed the writer's feelings. An encounter with one of St John's Wood's first female traffic wardens appears to have provoked the creation. Now 65 and retired, Mrs Meta Davies remembers a morning in the spring of 1967 when she ticketed the Beatle's car. "He was on a meter showing excess so I gave him a ten shilling ticket," she says. "I'd just put it on when he came along and took it off. He looked at it and, as he was walking away, turned back and said, 'Is your name really Meta?'

"I told him it was, and we chatted for a few minutes. Then he said, 'That would be a good idea for a song. Do you mind if I use it?' And that was that. Off he went. Then, months later, I heard Lovely Rita Meter Maid on the radio. I never was a Beatles fan but you couldn't help hearing their music."

What actually emerged was a faintly racy song about seducing a woman in uniform, the kink accentuated by the presence of a sister or two. Orgasmic moans punctuated the fade out. Meta absolves herself explaining that she was only the starting point for the idea. McCartney's description of the uniforms which made her 'look a little like a military man', she says is accurate. "The uniform was the same as the RAF but black," she says. "It was quite masculine."

Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, started on March 2, was Lennon the lover of surrealism, consciously evoking Alice In Wonderland, one of his favourite books, and enjoying a little Goonish word-play. "John told me that some of his lyrics had been inspired by Goon Show dialogue," says Spike Milligan, who'd been a guest at the session for Fixing A Hole. "We used to talk about 'Plasticine ties' and it crept into Lucy with the 'Plasticine porters with looking glass ties'."

Martin caught the mood perfectly with an organ opening, played by McCartney, where a bell-like overchord effect made it sound like a celeste, and Lennon's phased voice on the chorus. Techniques such as phasing and double tracking, commonplace today, had to be improvised backin 1967.

"We didn't have a phasing device," says Martin, "so we used to feed back the image and then move it slightly away from the double track. We used to have a vari-speed device which was a bloody great cumbersome box, valve operated, where you could get your two tapes running very closely together. We actually manually altered the speed."

Along with A Day In The Life, Lucy is the song most easily identifiable with Pepper. The tangerine trees, Marmalade skies and cellophane flowers were perfect pop representations of the summer of love and hallucinogens, and acronym lovers soon spotted that Lucy Sky Diamonds spelled LSD.

Masters and Houston confirm that 'feeling just like Alice In Wonderland' is a common psychedelic experience but the acronymic title had been given to Lennon by his young son Julian when he announced a school drawing was of his friend Lucy O'Donnell, and that she was in the sky, with diamonds. "I remember him coming home from school with it and showing it to his Dad who was sitting down," says Cynthia.

"At the time he didn't say, Oh my God. What a great title for a song, but it obviously stuck. It was just a simple child-like drawing of a little girl in the sky with stars. It was the usual house and trees and stars, and the little girl was Lucy, a girl from his school."

Lucy O'Donnell, now 24 and working with nursery children herself, has only known for the past 10 years that she is Lucy In The Sky. Julian Lennon she can remember clearly, but, of course, not the drawing. The school they attended together as infants, Heath House, was run by two old ladies and has since been demolished.

"I can remember Julian's face clearly," she says, "and I can remember another boy called Mickey. But I can't remember anyone else. We used to sit alongside each other in proper old-fashioned desks. Julian and I were a couple of little menaces from what I've been told."

While writing his 1968 biography, Hunter Davies was allowed unique insights into The Beatles' creative process, not only becoming a fly-on-the-wall at Abbey Road but sitting in on song-writing sessions in McCartney's music room.

Getting Better he saw grow from a chance remark to a recorded song. "I was walking around Primrose Hill with Paul and his dog Martha one spring morning," he remembered. "It was the first spring-like morning of that year. It was bright and sunny and Paul was thinking about the weather. He turned to me and said, 'It's getting better', meaning that spring was here.

"Then he started laughing and I asked him what and he told me that it reminded him of something a reserve drummer they'd used in 1964 when Ringo fell ill used to say at the end of every concert. John and Paul would ask him how things were going and he'd always say, 'Oh, it's getting better.' It became a joke phrase."

Back home McCartney began working out a tune on his guitar. Lennon came round in the afternoon. "They'd each give the other bits of songs they'd written. Now and again they'd have written whole songs but mostly it was half a song and the other one would help finish it. So Paul played that song, explained it to John, and they recorded the first part of it the next evening."

Martin recalls one of Lennon's studio additions to the song. "John was late for the session. Paul was at the piano in Studio 2 demonstrating to me what the song was going to sound like. At the moment he sang, I've got admit it's getting better/Getting better all the time, John came through the door and actually sang, Well, it can't get no worse."

Peter Vince was engineer for the recording (which featured, among other things, George Harrison on tamboura and Martin striking the strings of a piano). "Nothing was ever straightforward with The Beatles," he recalls. "The basic bass and drum track didn't take long, but everything else took ages."

The second night of recording, when the vocals were added, was the one time when Lennon was actually tripping in the studio. "I didn't know he was on LSD then," explains Martin. "He was feeling rotten and I felt sorry for him. I told him he needed fresh air. He was looking very green. I couldn't take him outside because of all the kids. I had to take him up on the roof."

The only song without a Martin score was She's Leaving Home, started on March 17, which was arranged by Mike Leander for harp and strings. A McCartney song with splashes of Lennon, it told of a girl escaping the clutches of her parents in search of "fun".

Based on a Daily Mirror story, it made light of the parents' anguish, the bewilderment of waking up to face a goodbye note. It was The Beatles at their most generational, trying to answer every parent who'd wondered where they'd gone wrong. In 1967, 90,000 teenage Americans were to become runaways, many of them taking Timothy Leary's advice to "Turn on, tune in and drop out."

The Reprise to Sgt. Pepper was recorded on March 29 and then, the following day, the final track, With A Little Help From My Friends. Written with Ringo Starr in mind and originally titled Bad Finger Boogie, it was composed one afternoon at Cavendish Avenue.

"They knew it would have to be for the kids, a sing-along type of song," says Hunter Davies, present while they were writing it. "They thought the album was missing this sort of song and I sat with them as they tried to get all the rhymes right. I've got a list at home of all the ones they didn't use.

"When they got stuck they'd go back and sing a rock 'n' roll song or an Englebert Humperdinck song or just bugger around. Then they'd go back to the job in hand. This day Paul suddenly sat down and played on his guitar a song which he called at the time The Foolish Man On The Hill. He sang it through and John said, 'That's pretty good, you must write it down.' Paul said he would remember it."

On the afternoon of 30 March the four Beatles went along to photographer Michael Cooper's studio in Flood Street, Chelsea, dressed in satin suits hired from Bermans, the theatrical costumiers.

The original cover, a psychedelic design by Dutch artists Simon Posthuma and Marijke Koger - who later did something similar for Incredible String Band on their album 5,000 Spirits - had been vetoed by Robert Fraser, unofficial art advisor to The Beatles, who felt it would be judged by posterity as simply another piece of 1967 acid art.

Instead he suggested fine artist Peter Blake, a man who'd painted the group in 1963 and had a rising reputation in the Pop Art movement. Blake seemed eminently suitable. He'd seen The Beatles as early on as 1962, had used Bo Diddley and Elvis Presley as subjects for his painting and had a strong affection for rock'n'roll.

Fraser and Blake met with Lennon and McCartney to talk over ideas. The starting point was the concept of Sgt. Pepper and his band just having completed an open air concert in a park. The first sugestion was that they should be seen posing with a crowd of admirers after the show.

"From that came the idea of a life size constructed collage," remembers Blake. "We thought that if we did that we could have anyone in the crowd. That opened up a whole magical area."

Taken by the idea of inventing their own audience, they each compiled lists of "favourite people". Blake contributed W.C. Fields, Dion/bio/">Dion, Tony Curtis, Shirley Temple, Sonny Liston and sculptor H. C. Westerman.

Lennon wanted his literary heroes Oscar Wilde, Lewis Carroll and Edgar Allan Poe. McCartney added his new avant garde affections Stockhausen and William Burroughs. Fraser suggested writer Terry Southern and artist Wallace Berman.

All of Harrison's suggestions were Indian gurus, among them Sri Yukteswar Giri, Paramhansa Yogananda, Sri Mahauatara Babaji and Sri Lahriri Mahasaya. Ringo, an outsider to much of what was now going on, simply went along with everyone else's choice.

In the end over 60 heroes were selected, their photographs enlarged, hand-tinted and then pasted to hardboard silhouettes. The set took two weeks to construct. "The idea was that you'd just done a great gig and these were the people you'd love to have had in the audience," says Blake.

On the day The Beatles, standing in line with wax models of themselves as emerging beat stars, posed in front of the gallery of heads which were positioned in rows six inches apart. At their feet were "favourite objects": brass instruments hired by McCartney, a hookah, Lennon's television, a gnome picked up by Blake and an egg-shaped ornament plucked by Hunter Davies from McCartney's mantelpiece that afternoon.

Plants had been bought from Clifton Nurseries in Camden Town and a floral design made of The Beatles' name. "A short time later I was told marijuana plants were used, that someone was having a joke on me," says Blake. "Now I'm told they weren't marijuana plants at all."

Four of the elected favourites had to go, Lennon's choice of Jesus Christ was quashed early on but Hitler and Gandhi were all made up and ready to go. Hitler was eventually removed to the wings while Gandhi, directly above the wax figure of Diana Dors in the finished photograph, was airbrushed out in favour of a palm leaf. Bowery Boy Leo Gorcey, the one celebrity who requested a fee for appearing, also suffered the airbrush.

But McCartney didn't want the fun to stop with the front cover. He had wanted "a little magical presentation" and that meant more surprises. It meant a gatefold cover like The Mothers Of Invention's Freak Out (which had impressed McCartney so much at the time of the Sgt. Pepper sessions), a centrefold portrait and, for the first time, the entire printed lyrics.

Later he revealed, "We were going to have a little envelope in the centre with things you can buy at Woolworths." In other words, a Jamboree Bag with sweets, jokes, games and plastic gifts. but marketing sense prevailed. Posthuma and Koger were offered the consolation prize of colouring the inner bag and Blake designed a sheet of cardboard cut-outs based on the Pepper theme to be slipped in the empty left side of the jacket.

Every previously blank space had to be utilised to create a total work of art. Instead of the brief moments of silence between tracks. Martin segued most of the songs so that the album could be a seamless listening experience. "I did it in order to make the songs more coherent," he explains. "I wanted the album to be more of a unit."

In the centre spiral a tantalising burst of backward tape was inserted which it was believed could be used as a mantra when the stylus got stuck in it. "You get a pure buzz after a while", McCartney assured, "because it's so boring it ceases to mean anything."

"I remember doing that," says Miles (McCartney's close friend and, then, editor of International Times). "It lasts for 1.2 secondds or something and supposedly had a secret message. That took a whole evening to do. It was just a random clip taken from twenty minutes of tape that they recorded standing around a microphone all completely stoned."

The final sequencing was "more or less" left to Martin. "There were obviously suggestions," he says. "It's not all that mysterious though if you think about it. Sgt. Pepper obviously had to start and A Little Help From My Friends had to follow on. Day In The Life had to finish. Nothing could follow that. Within You Without You I put at the start of side two because I couldn't think where else to put it. That and When I'm Sixty-four were the alien tracks to me."

Within You Without You was five minutes and six seconds of Harrison in India, featuring a dilruba, three tambouras, one tabla and a swordmandel on the basic track and three cellos and eight violins on the overdub. The song had been written on harmonium at his friend Klaus Voorman's Hampstead home after a weighty late night conversation, its lyric suggesting a mystical solution of surrender to the force of love which supposedly flows through all living things. The track was a premonition of The Beatles' own path later that year to the feet of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and of All You Need Is Love.

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Beatles' eighth album, produced at the then-staggering cost of £25,000, was released in Britain on June 1 and in America on June 2. On June 3 it made Number 1 in the Melody Maker charts, staying there for 22 weeks. It entered the Billboard charts on 24 June remaining for 121 weeks.

The music press hardly knew what to do with it. It's stock vocabulary of "toe-tapping", "nice beat" and "one for all the family" was made redundant overnight.

Allen Evans, reviewing for NME, summarised it as "ten tunes, all varied and interesting", thought it a "very good LP" and predicted that it would sell "like hot cakes". His song-by-song reactions make interesting reading today. With A Little Help From My Friends is a "very pleasant beat-and-melody tune". Lucy In The Sky is "about a girl and a pier, with its electric lights". Lovely Rita has a "Jog-beat which will get your toes moving". Disc And Music Echo voted it "a masterpiece of musical genius" and fared much better at describing the new sounds.

It was left to the heavies and news magazines to put the whole thing in perspective, comparing the new offering not to teen dance music but to poetry, painting or "serious music". Newsweek drew comparisons between A Day In The Life and T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land. The Times wrote of "glissandos", The New Statesman of "a song cycle" and The Times Literary Supplement thought The Beatles "a barometer of our times".

In its celebrated cover story later that year, Time magazine called the group "messengers from beyond rock'n'roll" and said they were "leading an evolution in which the best of current post-rock sounds are becoming something that pop music has never been before: an art form."

The album had 20-year-old Californian Jann Wenner sending a 2,000 word review to High Fidelity wich was rejected as "too hyperbolic". Not frustrated, the young man went on to found a new rock music paper which could take the length.

The single notable 'bad' review was given by Richard Goldstein in the New York Times. Then 23, Goldstein was the best-known pop critic in America. He confessed he was disappointed with the record, finding it "busy, hip and cluttered." Robert Christgau, writing with six months' hindsight, defended Goldstein from his attackers, saying that "although he may have been wrong, he wasn't that wrong. Sgt. Pepper is not the world's most perfect work of art. But that is what The Beatles fans have come to assume their idols must produce."

Although by then, the album had sold 2 1/2 million copies, and had been compared to the work of Schubert, Tennyson and Pinter, Christgau refused to be bullied by figures and rhapsodic claims. "Sgt. Pepper is a consolidation," he concluded, "more intricate than Revolver, but not more substantial."

From the perspective of 20 years, Christgau's parsimonious praise seems accurate. Although Pepper was the album, more than any other single album, which ushered in the new age of rock, it contained perhaps too many innovations. The power of 'the song' was abandoned to the total package, the new was always given precedence over the familiar.

But for anyone who handed cash over the counter in 1967, the collection of songs is obscured by the event, the shortcomings papered over with memories of smells, friendships, jackets, shirts, dreams. Langdon Winner's oft-quoted remarks from 1968 may err on the side of hyperbole but at least they suggest the spirit of the reception. "For a brief while the irreparably fragmented consciousness of the West was unified," he wrote. "At least in the minds of the young."

The lasting significance of the album has been in stretching the boundaries of what was then called pop. Lennon, McCartney and Martin had taken their cues from art rather than show-business and had worked on the basis that if something could be imagined, it could be done. Every convention of recording, presenting and packaging a pop album was challenged in one six month period, and we've lived with the implications ever since.

But what does George Martin feel was the real achievement of Sgt. Pepper? "I think what was significant was that we were able to translate images into sound pictures," he says. "The lovely thing was that we weren't inhibited.

"There were no major technical innovations. We were still working on four track, although sometimes linking two machines. We got round the limitations by subterfuge and ingenuity. We'd already made the major breakthrough which was Artificial Double Tracking."

Does he then feel that the album has been the subject of undue praise and attention?
"No, I don't think so," he says. "It's had plenty but I think it's been a just amount because it was a pretty important album."

Martin's own favourite Beatle album, he says, is Abbey Road, a conscious attempt to return to the Sgt. Pepper days. "I didn't think we'd ever get back again after Let It Be. I was dispirited by the irrationality of John. When Paul asked me to come back and produce like I had done I said I could only do that if I had their collaboration."

And what would he say to anyone who dared deny that Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was a significant album? "I'd say, Tell me an album that was better."