Eating Our Way Through Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
Image Credit: The Beatles in their Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band get-up

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THE BEATLES’ Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band released 56 years ago today, on 26 May 1967. Its pioneering album cover design featured approximately 70 personalities (including the Beatles themselves, in person, and the wax figures of their younger selves courtesy Madame Tussauds). Among the personalities who made the cut, and those who didn’t for various reasons (including Hitler, Jesus and Mahatma Gandhi), there was nary a chef. But the album itself does incorporate several references to food — both directly, in the song lyrics, and tangentially, in the events that inspired or were related to it. Here’s an all-too-brief guide: 


1. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

The concept of the album — with the Beatles taking on fictional alter-egos as members of an Edwardian military band — apparently occurred to Paul McCartney on a flight in 1966. Minor details have varied in the Beatles’ telling of it over the years, but the “hero ingredients” remain the same. 

For instance, the specific “Sgt. Pepper” name Paul has described both as a fun word game (a fan asked him what the “S” and “P” on a pair of shakers, included with an in-flight meal, meant) and an exercise in mishearing. “I was on a plane (in November 1966) with our roadie and we were eating and he said, ‘Can you pass the salt and pepper?’ And I thought he said ‘Sgt. Pepper’. I said, ‘What?’ He said, ‘Salt and pepper’. I said, ‘Oh, I thought you said, ‘Sgt. Pepper!’ So we had a laugh about that and the more I thought about it, I felt, ‘Sgt. Pepper, that’s kind of a cool character’.”

2. With A Little Help From My Friends

While not a track with direct references to food, the lyrics almost starred tomatoes, until Ringo Starr objected. The lines he was originally meant to sing were said to be: “What would you do if I sang out of tune? Would you stand up and throw tomatoes at me?”. But Ringo objected, because he thought fans would take that as an invitation to actually pelt him with tomatoes in public. Ultimately, the lyrics were changed to the ones we know and love: “What would you think if I sang out of tune? Would you stand up and walk out on me?” (No, no, we wouldn't.)

3. Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds

The gorgeously psychedelic lyrics to the song reference tangerines (in connection with trees), marmalade (in connection with skies), and marshmallow pies. All of which we’re ever-willing to try.

4. Getting Better


5. Fixing A Hole


6. She’s Leaving Home

No mentions of food, but of the kitchen, as the scene of the protagonist’s final farewell to her childhood home and hitherto cloistered life, as she seeks independence, love and new adventures. “Wednesday morning at five o'clock / As the day begins / Silently closing her bedroom door / Leaving the note that she hoped would say more / She goes down the stairs to the kitchen / Clutching her handkerchief / Quietly turning the backdoor key / Stepping outside, she is free.”

7. Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!

Again, not a song with direct references to food and in fact, an indirect one for heroin (“Henry the Horse”), but influenced by a vintage circus poster John Lennon came across while filming the video for Strawberry Fields Forever. However, there is one line in Mr. Kite's lyrics that refers to “a hogshead of real fire”, a stunt that circus performers did with barrels/casks (i.e. the ‘hogsheads’) set alight.

8. Within You Without You


9. When I'm Sixty-Four

Wine, and cooking for someone as an act of enduring love, are cited in the lyrics that go: “When I get older losing my hair / Many years from now / Will you still be sending me a Valentine / Birthday greetings bottle of wine … Will you still need me, will you still feed me / When I'm sixty-four?”

10. Lovely Rita

Tea and dinner feature in the plan to woo Rita, who works as a traffic department warden, issuing tickets for those with parking violations. “Lovely Rita meter maid / May I inquire discreetly / When are you free to take some tea with me?” and “Rita! Took her out and tried to win her / Had a laugh and over dinner / Told her I would really like to see her again / Got the bill and Rita paid it / Took her home I nearly made it.”

11. Good Morning Good Morning

Mentions tea once again, in the line: “It's time for tea and meet the wife”. What isn’t mentioned by name, but did reportedly play a role in the creation of the song, was Kellogg’s Corn Flakes — John’s lyrics were apparently inspired by a TV ad for the cereal. (Fittingly, for an English band, there are more than a dozen musical references to tea in the Fab Four's repertoire.)

12. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)

See track 1.

13. A Day in the Life

A third reference to tea, in the lines: “Woke up, fell out of bed / Dragged a comb across my head / Found my way downstairs and drank a cup / And looking up, I noticed I was late / Found my coat and grabbed my hat / Made the bus in seconds flat…” This song also had a food connection that isn’t explicitly stated in the lyrics: Lennon was moved by the death of a friend (“I read the news today, oh boy”), Tara Browne, in a car crash at the age of just 21. Browne was the son of Oonah Guinness — and heir to the iconic Irish stout empire.


On 19 May 1967, The Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein threw a party for them at his London home (a stone’s throw from Buckingham Palace), to celebrate the album launch of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (then just a few days away). The menu for the party sounds casual and fresh: salads, radishes, fruit, cheeses, eggs, cream, hams and “loads of other goodies”. Champagne and cigarettes were circulated among the guests, and we know that George Harrison at least, was nibbling — during conversations with writers — on a stick of celery. George incidentally left the gathering early, apparently miffed with one of the people he was chatting with. Epstein himself died three short months after the party, aged 32.


An unforeseen offshoot of the universal acclaim for Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was a deepening of the rift between The Beatles and their producer, George Martin. With many publications citing Martin as the genius behind their music, by 1968, when the band was recording The White Album, they rarely sought their producer’s inputs. According to one biographer, Martin dealt with the situation by bringing a stack of newspapers and a bar of chocolate to the recording sessions, reading and eating at the back of his glass booth in the studio, and offering his comments only if one of the Fab Four directly asked him a question.