With the new album beginning to take shape, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” was the obvious choice to be the opening track. It was Paul, apparently, who had the idea to add some sound effects that would make it sound like the beginning of a concert.

Fortunately, when the orchestra had been in the studio on February 10 to record the “orgasm of sound” for “A Day in the Life,” George Martin and Geoff Emerick had had the foresight to record them tuning up. This made for a nice addition to the beginning of the song, along with a couple of bits lifted from EMI’s archive of recordings: laughter from a Beyond the Fringe show and “Audience Applause and Atmosphere, Royal Albert Hall and Queen Elizabeth Hall.” Also, according to Mark Lewisohn,

When “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” was later segued into the album’s following song, “With a Little Help from My Friends,” the edit was masked by one further sound effect: audience screaming from one of the at-this-time unreleased recordings of the Beatles in concert at the Hollywood Bowl!

That’s right, the voices screaming for Billy Shears are those of real Beatles fans at a real Beatles show. With every passing month, it seems, the band was becoming more and more self-referential; this would reach its zenith with the lyrics of “I Am the Walrus” and The Beatles’ in-album commentary.

But that came later. Today, after the tuning, laughing, and applause sounds were added, provisional mono and stereo mixes were made. I think the boys must have been right pleased when they heard the results; it’s a brilliant way to start a record, building tension and atmosphere for 11 lovely seconds, maybe prompting you to turn up the volume to hear what’s going on. Then that thundering bass and screaming guitar cut through the mix, and we’re off. Makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck every time.

In rock’n’roll, as in so many areas of life, sequence is key. If you have a great opener that gets people pumped, and a great closer that leaves them feeling uplifted, you can fudge what comes in between a little bit. This may be one reason why Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is, to some points of view, chronically overrated — it starts strong and finishes strong. The “Pepper”/“Friends” combo is a stunner and by the time “A Day in the Life” is over, you’re grateful for whatever got you there, and not inclined to quibble over details.

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