"John came into the control room on that first day and said, 'We're never going to tour again, and we're going to make an album that's got sounds on it and things on it that no-one's ever heard before'."And with that The Beatles' Sgt Pepper's project was born.
John Lennon was talking to a 21-year-old engineer at Abbey Road studios called Geoff Emerick.
The next Beatles album didn't have a name, let alone a concept, but the band already knew it had to be different. Very different.
Along with his assistant engineer, 18-year-old Richard Lush, and under the gaze of producer George Martin, Emerick cajoled the primitive equipment into creating the extraordinary soundscapes for a band that had no respect for the limitations of the four track tape.
Geoff Emerick now lives in Los Angeles, while Richard Lush has lived in Australia since the 1970s. Both of them spoke to 7.30 about the making of one of the most influential albums of the 20th century.
Listen to the Sgt Pepper's album on Spotify
Video: Geoff Emerick and Richard Lush in the Abbey Road Studio control room with George Martin (ABC News)
Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club BandRecorded: February 1-2, March 3 & 6, 1967
Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band provided the binding idea for the album. It's a rocking song re-imagined before the sort of live audience the Beatles had just shunned.
The crowd noise on the opening track was taken from a recording Martin had made of Dudley Moore and Peter Cook's Beyond The Fringe comedy revue in Cambridge.
The Sgt Pepper's concept was dreamt up by Paul McCartney but the sessions that produced the album started months before its title track was recorded.
On November 24, 1966, Lennon came into Abbey Road and dropped his first take of Strawberry Fields. It was an epic song that inspired Paul McCartney to write Penny Lane. Both songs referenced their Liverpudlian days.
By January 1967, EMI was desperate for an "outstanding commercial success" and Martin suggested a double-A side single of Strawberry Fields/Penny Lane.
Featuring two enduring, classic tracks, the release was almost incomprehensibly kept from the top position on the British charts by Engelbert Humperdinck's Please Release Me.
With A Little Help From My FriendsRecorded: March 29-30, 1967
Written by Paul for Ringo, its original first couple of lines were: "What would you do if I sang out of tune? / Would you stand up and throw tomatoes at me?"
Ringo refused point-blank to sing that lyric, fearing it would become a reality on stage.
So the second line was changed to: "Would you stand up and walk out on me?"
But that wasn't the only thing about the song that Ringo had trouble with.
Never confident in his singing, Ringo had to be coached by Lennon and McCartney to hit the final note of the last line in the song.
Richard Lush: "Every time I think of [With A Little Help From My Friends] I think of Ringo standing there in number two on the microphone with John and Paul standing next to him conducting him and egging him on and thumbs up and 'c'mon'. This was about six in the morning he was told to do that vocal and we dropped the ending, the last 'friends' on the track, probably about 15 times. The last note was the problem mainly because it was high. It was a long note, one pitch, it's quite hard to do, you know, unless you're Pavarotti or something."
Lucy In The Sky With DiamondsRecorded: February 28, March 1-2, 1967
Richard Lush: "John had a vision of this thing. He was very technicolour and we've got to capture that. 'George Martin - this is your job.' You know, what do we do? And George had a bit of a think about it and we did the basic backing track. We had Ringo, George Martin played harmonium, and it went on sort of forever. And the harmonium for those people who don't know what it is, it's actually a pipe organ and you have two pedals that you have to keep going, so you're pedalling this thing like a bicycle with your feet to get any sound, otherwise nothing comes out. So that pushes the bellows, so George Martin was playing that and this was like two in the morning or something and I can just see him lying on the floor with his… he was just so knackered. And then we ended up with Mal, the roadie, then sort of was lying on the floor face down, pushing these pedals with his hands. It was quite interesting. George was sitting at the keyboard, and Mal was sort of underneath his legs just pushing these pedals."
Andrew Probyn: Mal Evans of course being the old roadie for the Beatles.
Lush: "That's right, God bless him. Mal and Neil, the two foot soldiers that were there all the time for them."
Geoff Emerick: "All the time we were just looking and looking and looking for new ways of doing things. The saving grace to me was something I worked with on the Revolver album which was a Fairchild 660 Limiter, where that drum sound comes from, where the whole drum kit went through that limiter and it really gave it a pounding, punchy sound. So guitars went through that, vocals definitely went through the Fairchild 660. So that was my big... that made things sound really great. So that was a big helping hand, you know."
Getting BetterRecorded: March 9, 10, 21 and 23, 1967
Mostly written by McCartney, this song's title was inspired by Jimmy Nicol who temporarily replaced Ringo Starr on the 1964 tour of Australia, Hong Kong, Holland and Denmark. Nicol, whenever he was asked how he was dealing with being fill-in for a tonsillitis-struck Ringo, would say, "It's getting better."
Photo: John Lennon and Ringo Starr inspect the cardboard cut-outs used in the cover-shoot for Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. (Supplied)
Fixing A HoleRecorded: February 9 and 21, 1967
Fixing A Hole was part recorded at Regent Sound Studio in Tottenham Court Road because the Abbey Road studios was fully booked on February 9. It was the first time the Beatles had worked in a studio not owned by EMI, although the recording was finished 12 days later at Abbey Road.
She's Leaving HomeRecorded: March 17 & 20, 1967
McCartney had wanted George Martin to arrange a score for the strings on this track — four violins, two violas, two cellos, a double-bass and a harp. But Martin was busy with other artists. McCartney asked freelance producer Mike Leander to write the score. Martin was hurt by what he perceived was a slight but agreed to produce and conduct the strings session on March 17. Sheila Bromberg was on harp, making her the first woman to play on a Beatles recording.
Geoff Emerick: "Paul was the romantic, for want of a better word. And John was the aggressive guy, the rough and tumble type guy. So the combination of those two things made the arrangements and I made those tracks the way they are."
Photo: Richard Lush (back) in the studio with John Lennon and George Harrison (Supplied: Richard Lush)
Being For The Benefit of Mr KiteRecorded: February 17 & 20, March 28-31, 1967
Sgt Pepper's contrasted the ways Lennon and McCartney wrote songs. Emerick told 7.30 that McCartney is one of the great songwriters, putting him alongside the likes of American composer/lyricist Irving Berlin.
Whereas McCartney's songwriting was more steeped in musical tradition, Lennon was a magpie, pinching ideas and inspiration from his surrounds. Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds was inspired by a painting his four-year-old-son Julian had brought home. The words for Being For The Benefit of Mr Kite came from an 1843 circus poster Lennon had found in an antiques shop in Sevenoaks, Kent, bought when the band was filming the promo clip for Strawberry Fields.
Pablo Fanque (b. 1810) was the first black circus owner in Britain.
Within You Without YouRecorded: March 15 & 22, April 3 & 4, 1967
An Indian-sounding song by George Harrison, Within You Without You blended East with West. Harrison had been taking sitar lessons from Ravi Shankar since the previous year. Indian musicians played tabla, swordmandel, dilruba and a tamboura. They were complemented by eight violinists and three cellists from the London Symphony Orchestra, recorded in a separate session.
Within You Without You has divided fans and even those who worked on it.
Geoff Emerick: "Many years afterwards, 15 years after doing it, I've listened to it (and) I start liking it. It was knowing the effort and work aspect that had gone into creating it from our side and all the little things that Richard did with double-tracking. Because the Indians knew, not the Indians who played on the record, because all the Indians were trying to cover it, but they knew there was a funny texture on all those instruments. They couldn't figure out what it was, because they were double-tracked."
No other Beatle performed on the song.
Or did they?
Richard Lush: (George Harrison) got given his song, Within You Without You, and we had a lot of fun recording that. Especially mixing it. We put a lot of flanging on his sitar.
Andrew Probyn: And I think that was the first time that you had a modern sound that involved both Indian and classical and rock music?
Lush: Yeah, I think it was quite adventurous for its time. I think it's a great blend of East and West. East meets West, as it were.
Probyn: And you don't remember the other Beatles being there for that session?
Lush: No, they were never there … there was one, and if you listen very carefully at the end of one of the sessions, there's a little bit of tambourine. Now, somebody walked into the studio while we were doing whatever it was, picked up a tambourine and started playing along. And that's the only bit – an exclusive here – that's the only piece of somebody else other than George or his Indian friends.
Probyn: Who was that?
Lush: Don't know.
Probyn: Not much of an exclusive is it then!
Lush: It's an exclusive. It was either John or Paul or Ringo. They walked in downstairs, we couldn't see who did it. But we thought 'Oh there's a tambourine playing along, who's doing that?'
When I'm Sixty FourRecorded: December 6, 8, 20 & 21, 1966
What sounded like a music hall standard had its origins in the 1950s. McCartney had written an earlier version of this song before the Beatles had formed. And the band occasionally played the tune around a piano at Liverpool's Cavern Club. A vaudevillian track, it fitted neatly into the variety show concept devised by McCartney for Sgt Pepper's. As well as drums, Ringo plays tubular bells on the track.
Lovely RitaRecorded: February 23 & 24, March 7 & 21, 1967
All sorts of strange techniques were used to create interesting sounds on Lovely Rita. Geoff Emerick put sticky tape over the tape machine's capstan to distort the piano. And the kazoo noise was created by humming through combs wrapped in toilet paper.
Geoff Emerick: "They were stuck for the solo. And in fact I suggested the piano solo, believe it or not, because they were really in a tizwaz about what solo to put on it. So then Paul shouted up because I was at the top of the stairs and Paul said, 'oh, you play it'. So I'm so nervous, you know, in those days. So I said no I can't do it. I wanted a shimmer behind the piano, because to get a sound of a piano that no one had heard again. So what I did, I used an echo, the echo chamber on it which was at the back of (studio) number two, and we could send the signal of the piano via a tape machine into the echo chamber, which would give some sort of delay. I stuck sticky tape on all the guide rollers of the tape machine. So when the tape went through it was wobbling all over the place, right? Again if the manager had come in, I probably would have got fired or got into terrible trouble. So I wobbled the tape going through the heads right, of the tape machine, and wobbled the echo, or the piano into the sound into the chamber. And that was like the sound behind the piano, but now you can actually get that sound as a plug in, cos most plug-ins now are based on the things we used to do."
Photo: Geoff Emerick, Paul McCartney, George Martin and Richard Lush (left to right) in McCartney's studio in 1984. (Supplied: Richard Lush)
Good Morning Good MorningRecorded: February 8 & 16, March 13, 28 & 29, 1967
Lennon's Good Morning Good Morning came from a Kellogg's cornflakes TV advertisement. The suburban nature of the track doesn't end there. When Lennon sings "It's time for tea and Meet the Wife", he was referring to a BBC TV sitcom starring Thora Hird. The order of the animal noises on the track – birds, cats, dogs, a horse, sheep, tigers and an elephant - was guided by Lennon's instruction that they should be capable of eating or petrifying the one before.
Geoff Emerick: "The way I work is like painting a picture in tonalities and stuff. There's a certain sound I might pick up on, while they're routining it. So for instance, the next time I'm going to mike the piano differently, so I might mic it from underneath which no one would do, you know. So all the time I'm looking for different ways of doing things. There was an air duct under the floor, which used to sort of resonate and I think I taped a little thin condenser mic on the floor over the air duct, which you could hear the drums sometimes, and a lot of quite close mic-ing, with little condenser mics really, really close on to things."
Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club (Reprise)Recorded: April 1, 1967
The last song to be recorded for Sgt Peppers, it found the Beatles in a good mood.
Richard Lush: "The reprise I remember fondly because it was just one of those special nights when they were playing great. They were all there together, which didn't always happen. And we were in a different studio, we were in studio one, which is the main classical studio which normally didn't have pop music done in it. We built little houses for everybody to be close to each other in. It was just great. The vibe of them playing that night was just fantastic."
Probyn: Something special in the air?
Lush: "It was brilliant. I'd love to be able to have that on video somewhere."
Probyn: Do you think it would be just the fact they were going on holidays?
Lush: "A bit of that, a bit of that, but every now and then they would really be like that. There's a couple of other songs on the White Album where they were like that. It's just a moment when the bands really firing, you know?"
A Day In the LifeRecorded: January 19-20, February 3, 10 and 22, 1967
A masterpiece of songwriting and technical endeavour, the final track on Sgt Pepper's stitches together two unfinished songs, one by Lennon, the other by McCartney.
But this was no simple task. Lennon left a 24-bar gap that had to be filled before McCartney's song.
A 40-piece orchestra was brought in to fill the "empty" 24-bar section. Only the first eight bars were scored. The musicians were instructed to play the lowest E on their instrument and gradually ascend to the highest E.
Originally there was talk of having a 90-piece orchestra to create an enormous cacophony.
Geoff Emerick: "George Martin, he says, 'No we can't afford a 90-piece orchestra'."
"So Ringo then said well let's have a 45-piece orchestra and put it on twice. Everyone sniggered and smiled."
But that's what they did.
Emerick: "The first orchestral take was put on track four of the first four-track."
"We then put on a second machine with another four tracks and no-one told the orchestra, well, because if you'd told the orchestra you were doing that, you'd have to pay them extra money. But eventually they found out and they were actually paid."
Richard Lush: "John's vocal of course was amazing. I mean every time I hear it, it just sends shivers down my spine. The hardest thing was actually mixing it, because we had the orchestra on one machine, on one tape and we had the backing track and singing on another. So we had to lock those together."
Emerick: "Richard and I set up rough monitor mix that night after session, and the control room — it was number one studio in Abbey Road, or EMI as it was then. Everyone was trying to cram in there, a lot of the guests that had been asked. Richard and I set it up and we played it back and it was like going from square black and white film, into cinemascope technicolour although it was just mono. And there was absolute silence at the end. Again, no-one had ever, ever, ever heard anything like it in their lives. And Ron Richards was sitting down here on the side of the console, and Ron was the producer of the Hollies, and Ron had his head in his hands and said, 'I'm going to give the business up, there's no way I could get anywhere near this'. And he was really down."
The song, and the album, famously finishes with one final, massive E major chord.
Richard Lush: "We got every piano in the building into the studio and every person that could play the chord, even people that couldn't play the piano were playing this chord to make it sound huge. I mean, there was no such thing as doing something normal on that track."
It was 50 years ago today...
Photo: Geoff Emerick (l) and Richard Lush (r) in studio recording a Sgt Pepper's 40th anniversary album in 2007 (Supplied: Richard Lush)
Richard Lush: "Because the songs were so good and so memorable to record, it doesn't seem as long ago as what it is. It doesn't seem 50 years. I mean, 50 years is a long time. Doesn't seem that long, seems maybe 30. Doesn't seem 50. Makes me feel older than what I am."
Geoff Emerick: "I'm just proud of it, I guess, because of what it is. When we finished it we knew that it was perfect and it was special. But we didn't know that it was going to get bigger and bigger and bigger every week, even in 50 years time. I'm just proud of it to be honest with you, that's all I can say."