Let me count you down – Favourite Beatles recordings from the 1960s, part one: Number 204 The Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band run-out groove

I have compiled my own completely subjective ascending list of favourite tracks recorded by The Beatles from 1962 to 1970, which includes a total of 204 recordings, from officially released singles, EPs and LPs.

The list omits Christmas fan recordings and any solo material recorded during the timeframe.

Where there are different versions of the same track, medleys or German language versions, I have counted that as one track and placed it according to my highest estimation in the rundown.

Generally speaking, The Beatles didn’t release “bad” records, so I’m not saying that because a particular one appears low in the list it means I don’t like it, merely that I prefer others.

My intention is to make this a regular blog feature and I will therefore be writing my assessment of each cut – again in a completely subjective way, so feel free to disagree – in 204 separate entries.

Firstly then, at number 204 – The Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band run-out groove:

Date of UK release: Friday 26th May 1967

UK format: LP – Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, side two, run-out groove

UK singles chart highest position: N/A

Official songwriter credit: You don’t really ‘write’ a piece like this

Principal writer(s): I’m going to say all of them + whoever was around when they recorded it

Lead vocal: Who knows

Track duration: Potentially forever

Date recorded: Friday 21 April 1967 ( – Saturday 22 April 1967 early morning?)

Location of recording/mixing: EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Producer/Engineer: George Martin/Geoff Emerick

Performed live by The Beatles: Don’t be silly

Before CDs and way before streaming and downloads, we had the long-player and as has been documented to the nth degree, this band were very proficient at producing them.

In 1967, The Beatles unleashed magnum opus Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band to an eager fanbase, wider public and unsuspecting array of critics – some of which had famously written them off after relatively (for them) long periods of LP silence (around five months while they were making the album, plus the time added since the release of their previous new collection in August 1966).

And so it was, later… the album that changed it all blah blah… a familiar narrative but, as we know, hard to argue with – although I have contended that a lot of the advancement heard on this LP was already evident on Revolver (had any of those responsible for Sgt Pepper’s rave reviews been actually paying attention instead of dismissing everything that wasn’t classical as “ritual dance music”, they might have noticed).

One of the many novelties associated with Pepper (as it is widely affectionately referred to, especially by the album’s principal creative force- that’s Sir Paul to you and I now) was the cutting of meaningless sonically manipulated chatter and noise into the run-out groove.

The idea was that in doing so, advantage could be taken of the mechanics of the stylus on the record jumping and repeating the gibberish theoretically forever, though in reality until the record player wore out or the listener had enough of hearing it.

This piece of aural craziness clearly would only work on vinyl and the effect loses its impact on cassette, compact disc or other digital formats.

Just for good measure, so they say, between the long epic piano chord which brings the album’s proper closer A Day In The Life to an end and the potentially endless spiral of repeated gibberish in the groove, we have a sound pitched on a frequency designed to entertain our four-legged friends for a moment – though I’ve never asked a dog to confirm that.

Apparently, the US version of the album didn’t include this treat at all, at the time.

Predictably, there has been much (largely futile) debate about what can be heard as the needle spins out… some say it’s the words, “never could be any other way”, which I’ll admit is plausible.

To my ears it’s always been, “never keeping early, half awake”.

In reality though, like most gibberish, it probably literally is just that.

Looking at this with an entirely open mind, it is interesting to note that this ‘sound collage’ clearly predates the (infamous) one on The White Album from 1968, entitled Revolution 9 and could theoretically go on for longer…

So far as I know, on Sgt Pepper’s run-out groove we have the willing participation (or at least passive endorsement) of all the group on something deeply unconventional or perhaps meant as a joke, whereas Revolution 9 is usually regarded as a piece of Lennon-Ono work and frequently derided by critics as a waste of time… that is for another entry.

I don’t necessarily see why on Sgt Pepper it is art but on The White Album it’s rubbish, though I know it’s not quite the same thing.

Some say if you play the Pepper one backwards you can discern something even more ridiculous… but then again, why would you?

True, The Beatles had made quite extensive use of backwards vocals and instrumental audio already, some of which does make sense if you reverse it (Rain – for example, contains the words of the song backwards) however this is not something to get hung (up) about.

That’s for conspiracy theorists and “Paul is dead” peddlers who want to dissect every bit of stray sound or audio spill and ascribe some significance to it.

Needless to say, numerous others messed around with reverse effects, to varying degrees of success (Napoleon XIV, I’m thinking of you, plus other groups in later years) as indeed they have with run-out grooves, it’s all part of the rich vinyl experience.

Latterly there was a trend for ‘hidden tracks’ on CDs.

For me, if The Beatles want to tell me something forwards that’s fine… but I’m not going to waste time looking for messages in reverse in a run-out groove… especially when there’s so much good material to enjoy on the rest of the album.

I suppose, if one were not content with the vast body of work available to us courtesy of the Fab Four, one could reverse their entire catalogue (I’m sure people have), thereby doubling the quantity of tracks…

It’s fair to say that when people heard this for the first time, it was simply another facet in a listening experience that was about to break down a lot of boundaries and set new standards which everyone else has been aiming for ever since, incidentally making this one of the most owned and played pieces of audio nonsense in the history of recorded sound.

Why is it at number 204 on this list?

I suspect most people wouldn’t choose to listen to this one over, say, Hey Jude or In My Life… myself included and it ultimately is an oddity rather than a proper track.

However, don’t be put off by that – there will be plenty of surprises as we count down, I’m sure.

Check back soon for number 203!


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