It was twenty years ago today
Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play.
They've been going in and out of style
But they're guaranteed to raise a smile.
So may I introduce to you
The act you've known for all these years--
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band!

[Orchestral break]

         We're Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
         We hope you will enjoy the show.
         Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
         Sit back and let the evening go.
         Sgt. Pepper's lonely, Sgt. Pepper's lonely
         Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

                   It's wonderful to be here.
                   It's certainly a thrill.
                   You're such a lovely audience.
                   We'd like to take you home with us.
                   We'd love to take you home!

I don't really want to stop the show
But I thought that you might like to know
That the singer's going to sing a song
And he wants you all to sing along.
So let me introduce to you
The one and only Billy Shears
And Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band!

Billy Shears…

Though the Beatles had conceived the beginning and the end of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, working on Day in the Life and this introduction about the same time, it took longer to get this introduction onto record than the more elaborately composed finale. In no musical sense is the introduction an overture of the recordings on the album; rather, it draws from music hall entertainment to create the suggestion of a live show. The Beatles would use a similar formula for Magical Mystery Tour’s eponymous introduction.

This is a Paul McCartney composition trying to re-imagine the Beatles as another group entirely, one in which Ringo Starr could be Billy Shears. It didn’t work; nobody for an instant thought Ringo Starr was Billy Shears or that the Beatles were what they now said they were, a bunch of Lonely Hearts. McCartney had perhaps hoped to abstract a rock band into musical theater, a production like the cartoon movie Yellow Submarine. It didn’t turn out that way. Their audience knew too much about the flavor of their real personalities, and then there was Lennon trying to be authentic and Harrison working at being taken seriously as a musician. Maybe that provides an insight into why this song took a bit longer to record.

The introduction serves to part the curtain on a variety show, with much fancy dress and unusual effects never before heard. Crowd responses are dubbed in just like on TV. Yes, there’s even a laugh track! That’s entertainment! Except it wasn’t. The laugh track attached to Harrison’s contribution to the album, Within You and Without You, seemed to suggest Harrison’s lyric was too heavy and we should all lighten up; this is supposed to be fun! Oh, you mean fun in the sense of I just had to laugh / I saw the photograph of the fatal auto accident in Day in the Life?

It strikes me that introductions to an album format were difficult for artists during the psychedelic period, when the idea of a rock album was being developed. Pledging My Time by Bob Dylan was a missed opportunity. Up to this point, the only other successful introduction to an album was the Doors’ Break On Through. Only a half dozen remarkable introductions would follow. (The Stones’ Sing This All Together, the Doors’ Strange Days, the Kinks’ Village Green Preservation Society, the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s And the Gods Made Love / Electric Ladyland, the United States of America’s American Metaphysical Circus, and the Pretty Things’ SF Sorrow is Born are the only successful introductions I can think of before the Who’s Tommy overture released in 1969.)