‘Sgt. Pepper’ Lives … Onstage!

The “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album kicked off The Beatles’ “studio” period, when they made music that they didn’t think adequately could be re-created in concert. That’s no longer the case, however, as Rick Glover details. …

It’s hard to grasp that, only nine months before the press event to promote the new album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” The Beatles were taking their final bow as a touring unit on the stage of Candlestick Park.

After that show, the Boys decided — for several reasons, in reality — that the concert stage was no longer for them, ostensibly because the music they were making was not able to be performed live. That last show only included two songs from the two most recent albums — and none from the just released “Revolver.”

Retreating to the studio would allow the band to focus on the recording process and use the studio itself as an instrument. The result was, of course, the masterpiece that is used as a line of demarcation in the history of popular music: Before “Pepper” or After “Pepper.”

Macca on his 1990 world tour.

But, did the changes and complexity of the music really need to be contained in the studio? Well, maybe at that time, but flash forward, say, a few decades and it appears the various former Beatles, especially Paul McCartney, rethought the decision. Since 1989, when McCartney returned to the stage for live performances, songs from the “studio period” have featured regularly in the set list — and no album has been featured more than “Sgt. Pepper.”

In fact, it is possible to assemble a nearly complete live version of the “Sgt. Pepper” album from various live performances of tunes from this benchmark album.

“Pepper” was conceptually a McCartney vehicle and shows his breadth of musical influences, as well as other influences of the time. So it’s not surprising he has embraced the album for his concert tours.

The opening title track of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” with a segue into the reprise near the end of the album, was performed throughout the 1989-90 tours, and was performed as recently as 2005 alongside U2 at Live Aid (with a horn section in full Pepper regalia).

Teaming up at Radio City Music Hall.

Paul and Ringo performed “With a Little Help From My Friends” in New York at Radio City Music Hall (with somewhat of a missed opportunity, by NOT performing the “Sgt. Pepper” intro to the song), and “With a Little Help” has been a mainstay of Ringo’s All Starr Band set lists.

“Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” was performed at John Lennon’s very last concert performance, at Madison Square Garden with Elton John.

“Getting Better” was a staple on Macca’s Back in the U.S. tour in 2002, along with “She’s Leaving Home” and the reprise of the title track into “The End” to close the show up through 2004.

“Fixing a Hole” was a highlight on Paul’s US tour in 2005 — and was performed for McCartney’s VH1 “Unplugged” special.

“Lovely Rita” and “Mr. Kite” were both featured on the most recent One on One tours, with the latter given a groovy psychedelic lighting treatment with lots of black-lights and lasers.

The album finale of “A Day in the Life” has been in and out of Paul’s set list for a few tours, also given special lighting and graphics for appropriate atmosphere.

That only leaves three tracks from the album that haven’t been performed live by a Beatle — “Within You Without You,” “Good Morning Good Morning” and, oddly enough, “When I’m 64,” which would have been perfect on Paul’s tour about 10 years ago!

Lennon with Elton John at Madison Square Garden.

So, a whopping 10 of 13 titles from “Pepper” have been performed live — 77 percent of the tracks on the album, which is the highest percentage of ANY Beatles album!

Here’s a look at the percentages of songs from The Beatles’ albums that have been performed live by a Beatle in the years since the group broke up:

“Please Please Me” — three songs (of 14) routinely performed in concert: “Please Please Me,” “Love Me Do” (by both Ringo and Paul) and “I Saw Her Standing There” — for 21 percent (28 percent if you throw in the one-off performance of “Twist and Shout” with Bruce Springsteen at the Hard Rock Calling concert in 2012).

“With The Beatles” — Four of 14, for 29 percent: “All My Loving,” “I Wanna Be Your Man” (by Ringo, Paul and Ringo and Paul together) and “Till There Was You,” and Harrison doing “Roll Over Beethoven”.

“A Hard Day’s Night” — four of 13 tunes performed live (title track, “And I Love Her,” “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “Things We Said Today”) for 31 percent.

“Beatles For Sale” — Two tracks of the 14 from this record regularly have been performed regularly — “Eight Days a Week” and “I’ll Follow the Sun” — but Paul also has performed “Kansas City” twice (only in that city), which would score this album at 21 percent.

“Help!” — “The Night Before,” “Another Girl,” “I’ve Just Seen a Face” and “Yesterday” have been performed individually, and the title track as part of a “Lennon Medley” performed on the 1990 tour. That’s five of 14, for 36 percent.

“Rubber Soul” — Five of 14 from this record, with George doing “If I Needed Someone” and Paul performing “Drive My Car,” “You Won’t See Me,” “The Word” and “I’m Looking Through You,” for 36 percent.

Onstage in 2005.

“Revolver” — Eight of 14 songs have been performed from this album: George did “I Want to Tell You” and “Taxman,” Ringo does “Yellow Submarine,” and Paul has done “Eleanor Rigby,” “Here There and Everywhere,” “Good Day Sunshine,” “For No One” and “Got to Get You Into My Life,” for 57 percent.

“Magical Mystery Tour” — Scored as an album (not the EP), the title track, “The Fool on the Hill,” “Your Mother Should Know,” “Hello Goodbye,” “Strawberry Fields Forever” (also as part of the “Lennon Medley” of 1990), “Penny Lane” and “All You Need Is Love” all have been done by McCartney. That’s seven of the 11 tracks, but is still only 64 percent.

The White Album (“The Beatles”): Ringo doing “Don’t Pass Me By” and George performing “Piggies” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” (which Macca also has done) plus Macca’s performances of “Back in the USSR,” “Ob-La-Di Ob-La Da,” “Blackbird,” “I Will,” “Birthday,” “Mother Nature’s Son” and “Helter Skelter,” as well as a one-off performance of “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road,” adds up to a tally of 11 of the 30 songs here, for 37 percent. (This album has the most tracks performed live of any title, though the percentage is less than for “Pepper.”)

“Yellow Submarine” — The title song (as previously mentioned, performed by Ringo, and also occasionally done partially by Paul), “All Together Now” and, again, “All You Need Is Love,” so that’s three of the total 13 tracks, for 23 percent, or, if you discount the seven George Martin tracks on the album, three of six Beatles tracks, for 50 percent.

“Abbey Road” — Live performances of “Something” (by both George and Paul), “Here Comes the Sun” by George, “Come Together” by John, plus Macca doing“You Never Give Me Your Money” and the four-song closing medley, and the occasional Ringo one-off of “Octopus’s Garden,” count as nine of 17 titles for 53 percent. (A couple of songs from this album, “Oh! Darling” and “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” are sorely missing from the concert stage!)

“Let It Be” — Seven of 12 titles performed: “Two of Us,” “Let It Be,” “I’ve Got a Feeling,” “One After 909,” “The Long and Winding Road,” “Get Back” and “For You Blue” from the Concert for George, for 58 percent performed live.

Finally, Harrison concerts also featured “Old Brown Shoe,” originally a 1969 nonalbum B-side that later was included on various compilation albums. We won’t get into those albums, but it’s worth noting as another late-period Beatles track later done live by one of them.

Paul also chose four out of the five Beatles songs he performed on the Wings Over the World tour in 1976 from the Fabs’ post-touring days.

So, today’s technology has provided the ability to adequately perform songs that previously the band had perceived as unable to be played live — overcoming the limitations that took The Beatles off the stage and into the studio.

— Rick Glover

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3 Responses to ‘Sgt. Pepper’ Lives … Onstage!

  1. mediawally says:

    By the by, Paul has used bits from “When I’m 64” presiding over at least one of his on-stage “fan proposal” moments, which I came across while preparing my presentation for the Sgt. Pepper Symposium in Ann Arbor. So on that technicality I dropped that song from my list of “never” performed. Certainly never performed in a full, proper presentation, though.

  2. dodl says:

    Paul didn’t do Fixing A Hole on Unplugged, it was included on the Up Close special. Just for the facts.

  3. Jim says:

    Also from the white album, John did Yer Blues on the Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus.

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