“Salt and Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” doesn’t have the same ring to it.
But if it weren’t for a moment of confusion about condiments, the 1967 Beatles classic — one of the greatest albums in rock history — would have never become “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”
“I was on a plane with our roadie, and we were eating. And he said, ‘Could you pass the salt and pepper?’ ” says Paul McCartney in the new docuseries “McCartney 3, 2, 1,” which premieres on Hulu Friday. “And I thought he said ‘Sgt. Pepper.’ … So we had a laugh about that, but then the more I thought about it, [I thought] ‘Sgt. Pepper’ — that’s kind of a cool title.”
The story behind that album title is just one of the secrets about the Fab Four that McCartney, 79, spills to legendary producer Rick Rubin over the course of the six-part docuseries that reveals how The Beatles really worked it out — and made the magic happen.
McCartney also shares that the Beach Boys’ 1966 album “Pet Sounds” inspired The Beatles to make their own masterpiece in “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”
“We heard ‘Pet Sounds,’ and [we said], ‘All right, we’ve got to do something better than that.’ So we did ‘Sgt. Pepper,’ ” says McCartney, adding that playing “alter egos of ourselves” — in an Edwardian-era military band — took the pressure off of The Beatles at a time when expectations were sky-high: “This was just some other band.”
But as McCartney goes inside The Beatles’ playbook, it’s clear that there was no method to crafting titanic tunes, and in fact, they were sometimes born in the most inopportune moments. “There was no recording devices, so you had to remember them,” says McCartney of their song ideas. “We realized, you know, we were writing songs that were memorable not ’cause we wanted them to be memorable, [but] because we had to remember them. There was a very practical reasoning.”
On top of that, McCartney couldn’t read or write music — at least when it comes to traditional notation. “What it means that, it’s in here,” he says, pointing to his head. “It’s not all over the paper.”
But The Beatles were all over the place in making their music. “We all knew we had the freedom to goof around,” says McCartney, later adding that “we’d leave accidents a lot of the time,” such as wrong notes and vocal flubs.
Those accidents, though, were all part of the studio experimentation that made The Beatles pop pioneers: “It was like being professors in a laboratory. We were just discovering all these little things.”
Sometimes their ambitions would even push them to trade places — and clash egos — like when McCartney took over for Ringo Starr on drums on “Back in the U.S.S.R.” “I was showing Ringo what I thought the drumming should be. But I think he might have said, ‘Well, you do it,’ ” says McCartney of Starr, who then temporarily left the group for a couple weeks.
But of course, it was John Lennon who would prove to be “the perfect foil” for McCartney. “I loved the way he would always add, like, a little cynicism to the songs,” he says of the manner in which Lennon balanced his sunnier disposition. Case in point: In “Getting Better,” Lennon countered McCartney’s “It’s getting better all the time” line with “It couldn’t get no worse.”
Still, McCartney had a certain insult for Lennon when The Beatles’ two main songwriters were fighting. “He wore glasses, and I didn’t, so if we got into an argument, I would call him ‘Four Eyes,’ ” he says.
Today, though, Sir Paul sees Four Eyes in a completely different light. “At the time, I was just working with this bloke called John,” he says. “Now I look back, and I was working with John Lennon.”