28 May 1937

Volkswagen, the German automobile manufacturer is founded.

Founded1937; 83 years ago (1937)
FoundersGerman Labour Front
Area served
Key people
Dr. Herbert Diess (chairman of the Board of Management of the Volkswagen Passenger Cars brand)
ParentVolkswagen Group

Volkswagen (German: [ˈfɔlksˌvaːɡn̩] (About this soundlisten); English: /ˈvksvɑːɡən, ˈvɒlkswɑːɡən, -wæɡən, ˈfɒlksvɑːɡən/), shortened to VW (German: [faʊ̯ ˈveː] (About this soundlisten)), is a German automaker founded in 1937 by the German Labour Front, known for the iconic "Beetle" and headquartered in Wolfsburg. It is the flagship marque of the Volkswagen Group, the largest automaker by worldwide sales in 2016 and 2017.[1] The group's biggest market is in China, which delivers 40% of its sales and profits.[2][3]

Volkswagen translates to "people's car" in German. The company's current international advertising slogan is just "Volkswagen", referencing the name's meaning.[4][5]


1932–1938: People's Car Nazi project

Model of Porsche Type 12 (Zündapp), Museum of Industrial Culture, Nuremberg

Volkswagen was established in 1937 by the German Labor Front (Deutsche Arbeitsfront) in Berlin.[6] In the early 1930s, cars were a luxury: most Germans could afford nothing more elaborate than a motorcycle. Only one German out of 50 owned a car. Seeking a potential new market, some car makers began independent "people's car" projects – the Mercedes 170H, Adler AutoBahn, Steyr 55, and Hanomag 1.3L, among others.

The trend was not new, as Béla Barényi is credited with having conceived the basic design in the mid-1920s. Josef Ganz developed the Standard Superior (going as far as advertising it as the "German Volkswagen"). In Germany, the company Hanomag mass-produced the 2/10 PS "Kommissbrot", a small, cheap rear-engined car, from 1925 to 1928.[7] Also, in Czechoslovakia, the Hans Ledwinka's penned Tatra T77, a very popular car amongst the German elite, was becoming smaller and more affordable at each revision. Ferdinand Porsche, a well-known designer for high-end vehicles and race cars, had been trying for years to get a manufacturer interested in a small car suitable for a family. He built a car named the "Volksauto" from the ground up in 1933, using many popular ideas and several of his own, putting together a car with an air-cooled rear engine, torsion bar suspension, and a "beetle" shape, the front hood rounded for better aerodynamics (necessary as it had a small engine).[8]

VW logo during the 1930s, initials surrounded by a stylized cogwheel and a spinning propeller that look like a swastika[9]

In 1934, with many of the above projects still in development or early stages of production, Adolf Hitler became involved, ordering the production of a basic vehicle capable of transporting two adults and three children at 100 km/h (62 mph). He wanted all German citizens to have access to cars.[8] The "People's Car" would be available to citizens of the Third Reich through a savings plan at 990 Reichsmarks (equivalent to 3,747 in 2009)—about the price of a small motorcycle (the average income being around 32 RM a week).[10][11]

Despite heavy lobbying in favor of one of the existing projects,[which?] it soon became apparent that private industry could not turn out a car for only 990 RM. Thus, Hitler chose to sponsor an all-new, state-owned factory using Ferdinand Porsche's design (with some of Hitler's design constraints, including an air-cooled engine so nothing could freeze). The intention was that ordinary Germans would buy the car by means of a savings scheme ("Fünf Mark die Woche musst du sparen, willst du im eigenen Wagen fahren" – "Five marks a week you must put aside if in your own car you want to ride"), which around 336,000 people eventually paid into.[12] However, the entire project was financially unsound, and only the Nazi party made it possible to provide funding.[13][Note 1]

Prototypes of the car called the "KdF-Wagen" (German: Kraft durch Freude – "Strength through Joy"), appeared from 1938 onwards (the first cars had been produced in Stuttgart). The car already had its distinctive round shape and air-cooled, flat-four, rear-mounted engine. The VW car was just one of many KdF programs, which included things such as tours and outings. The prefix Volks— ("People's") was not just applied to cars, but also to other products in Germany; the "Volksempfänger" radio receiver for instance. On 28 May 1937, Gesellschaft zur Vorbereitung des Deutschen Volkswagens mbH ("Company for the Preparation of the German Volkswagen Ltd."), or Gezuvor[14] for short, was established by the Deutsche Arbeitsfront in Berlin. More than a year later, on 16 September 1938, it was renamed to Volkswagenwerk GmbH.[15][16]

VW Type 82E

Erwin Komenda, the longstanding Auto Union chief designer, part of Ferdinand Porsche's hand-picked team,[8] developed the car body of the prototype, which was recognizably the Beetle known today. It was one of the first cars designed with the aid of a wind tunnel—a method used for German aircraft design since the early 1920s. The car designs were put through rigorous tests and achieved a record-breaking million miles of testing before being deemed finished.

The construction of the new factory started in May 1938 in the new town of "Stadt des KdF-Wagens" (modern-day Wolfsburg), which had been purpose-built for the factory workers.[15] This factory had only produced a handful of cars by the time war started in 1939. None were actually delivered to any holder of the completed saving stamp books, though one Type 1 Cabriolet was presented to Hitler on 20 April 1944 (his 55th birthday).[15]

War changed production to military vehicles—the Type 82 Kübelwagen ("Bucket car") utility vehicle (VW's most common wartime model), and the amphibious Schwimmwagen—manufactured for German forces. As was common with much of the production in Nazi Germany during the war, slave labor was utilized in the Volkswagen plant, e.g. from Arbeitsdorf concentration camp. The company would admit in 1998 that it used 15,000 slaves during the war effort. German historians estimated that 80% of Volkswagen's wartime workforce was slave labor.[citation needed] Many of the slaves were reported to have been supplied from the concentration camps upon request from plant managers. A lawsuit was filed in 1998 by survivors for restitution for the forced labor.[17] Volkswagen would set up a voluntary restitution fund.[18]

Volkswagen factory

1945–1948: British Army intervention, unclear future

The company owes its post-war existence largely to one man, wartime British Army officer Major Ivan Hirst, REME. In April 1945, KdF-Stadt and its heavily bombed factory were captured by the Americans and subsequently handed over to the British, within whose occupation zone the town and factory fell. The factories were placed under the control of Saddleworth-born Hirst, by then a civilian Military Governor with the occupying forces. At first, one plan was to use it for military vehicle maintenance, and possibly dismantle and ship it to Britain. Since it had been used for military production, (though not of KdF-Wagens) and had been in Hirst's words, a "political animal" rather than a commercial enterprise[citation needed] – technically making it liable for destruction under the terms of the Potsdam Agreement – the equipment could have been salvaged as war reparations.[citation needed] Allied dismantling policy changed in late 1946 to mid-1947, though heavy industry continued to be dismantled until 1951.[citation needed]

One of the factory's wartime 'KdF-Wagen' cars had been taken to the factory for repairs and abandoned there. Hirst had it repainted green and demonstrated it to British Army headquarters. Short of light transport, in September 1945 the British Army was persuaded to place a vital order for 20,000 cars. However, production facilities had been massively disrupted, there was a refugee crisis at and around the factory, and some parts (such as carburettors) were unavailable. With striking humanity and great engineering and management ingenuity, Hirst and his German assistant Heinrich Nordhoff (who went on to run the Wolfsburg facility after the military government ended in 1949) helped to stabilize the acute social situation while simultaneously re-establishing production. Hirst, for example, used his fine engineering experience to arrange the manufacture of carburettors, the original producers being effectively 'lost' in the Russian zone.[19] The first few hundred cars went to personnel from the occupying forces, and to the German Post Office. Some British Service personnel were allowed to take their Beetles back to the United Kingdom when they were demobilised.[20][better source needed]

In 1986, Hirst explained how it was commonly misunderstood that he had run Wolfsburg as a British Army major. The defeated German staff, he said, were initially sullen and unresponsive, having been conditioned by many years of Nazism and they were sometimes unresponsive to orders. At Nordhoff's suggestion, he sent back to England for his officer's uniform and from then on, had no difficulty in having his instructions followed. Hirst can be seen photographed at Wolfsburg in his uniform, although he was not actually a soldier at the time but a civilian member of the military government. The title of 'Major' was sometimes used by someone who had left the Army as a courtesy, but Hirst chose not to use the title.[citation needed]

The post-war industrial plans for Germany set out rules that governed which industries Germany was allowed to retain. These rules set German car production at a maximum of 10% of 1936 car production.[21] By 1946, the factory produced 1,000 cars a month—a remarkable feat considering it was still in disrepair. Owing to roof and window damage, production had to stop when it rained, and the company had to barter new vehicles for steel for production.[citation needed]

The car and its town changed their Second World War-era names to "Volkswagen" and "Wolfsburg" respectively, and production increased. It was still unclear what was to become of the factory. It was offered to representatives from the American, Australian, British, and French motor industries. Famously, all rejected it. After an inspection of the plant, Sir William Rootes, head of the British Rootes Group, told Hirst the project would fail within two years, and that the car "...is quite unattractive to the average motorcar buyer, is too ugly and too noisy ... If you think you're going to build cars in this place, you're a bloody fool, young man."[citation needed] The official report said: "To build the car commercially would be a completely uneconomic enterprise."[22] In an ironic twist of fate, Volkswagen manufactured a locally built version of Rootes's Hillman Avenger in Argentina in the 1980s, long after Rootes had gone bankrupt at the hands of Chrysler in 1978—the Beetle outliving the Avenger by over 30 years.

Ford representatives were equally critical. In March 1948, the British offered the Volkswagen company to Ford, free of charge. Henry Ford II, the son of Edsel Ford, traveled to West Germany for discussions. Heinz Nordhoff was also present, as well as Ernest Breech, chairman of the board for Ford. Henry Ford II looked to Breech for his opinion, and Breech said, "Mr. Ford, I don't think what we're being offered here is worth a dime!"[8] Ford passed on the offer, leaving Volkswagen to rebuild itself under Nordhoff's leadership.[citation needed]

1948–1961: Icon of post war West Germany

1949 Volkswagen "split rear window" Sedan
Volkswagen Cabriolet (1953)
An original 1300 Deluxe, circa 1966.
In the later 1960s, as worldwide appetite for the Beetle finally began to diminish, a variety of successor designs were proposed and, in most cases, rejected by management.

From 1948, Volkswagen became an important element, symbolically and economically, of West German regeneration.[according to whom?] Heinrich Nordhoff (1899–1968), a former senior manager at Opel who had overseen civilian and military vehicle production in the 1930s and 1940s, was recruited to run the factory in 1948. In 1949, Major Hirst left the company—now re-formed as a trust controlled by the West German government and government of the State of Lower Saxony. The "Beetle" sedan or "peoples' car" Volkswagen is the Type 1. Apart from the introduction of the Volkswagen Type 2 commercial vehicle (van, pick-up, and camper), and the VW Karmann Ghia sports car, Nordhoff pursued the one-model policy until shortly before his death in 1968.

Volkswagens were first exhibited and sold in the United States in 1949 but sold only two units in America that first year. On entry to the U.S. market, the VW was briefly sold as a Victory Wagon. Volkswagen of America was formed in April 1955 to standardize sales and service in the United States. Production of the Type 1 Volkswagen Beetle increased dramatically over the years, the total reaching one million in 1955.

The UK's first official Volkswagen Importer, Colborne Garages of Ripley, Surrey, started with parts for the models brought home by soldiers returning from Germany.[20]

Canadian Motors, Limited brought in Canada's first shipment of Volkswagens on 10 July 1952 (shipping order 143075)[citation needed]. The order consisted of 12 vehicles, (3) model 11C, a black, green, and sand colour (3) 11GS, a chestnut brown and two azure blue, (2) 24A-M51 in red, (1)21A in blue, (1) 23A in blue, (1) 22A beige color, and one ambulance[citation needed]. Volkswagens were seen in Canada for the first time at the Canadian National Exhibition in August 1952 and were accepted enthusiastically. (At least one Type 2 bus from this order still exists, and is currently in France undergoing restoration)[citation needed]. The first shipment for Volkswagen Canada reached Toronto in early December 1952. (At least one Type 1 from this first shipment still exists, and was driven on a nationwide tour for Volkswagen Canada's 60th year of business festivities in 2012)[citation needed].

By 1955, sales were on a basis that warranted the building of the Volkswagen plant on a 32-acre (13 ha) site on Scarboro's Golden Mile. To this, a 60,000-square-foot (5,600 m2) building with administration, showrooms, service, repairs and parts was built in 1957, with storage for $4,000,000 of parts[citation needed].

In 1959, VW started production at a plant near São Paulo in Brazil.[23] Volkswagen do Brasil was accused of spying on workers during the time of the military dictatorship in the 1970s and informing police on oppositional activities. In 1976, mass arrests occurred and some VW employees were tortured. In 1979, Brazilian VW workers traveled to Wolfsburg to inform the CEO in person. In 2015, activists and former VW employees in Brazil spoke out in public accused the company's silence about the persecution of its workers. In fall 2016, VW commissioned an expert review of the situation due end of 2017.[24]

On 22 August 1960, Volkswagenwerk GmbH was renamed to Volkswagenwerk AG.

Sales soared throughout the 1960s, peaking at the end of the decade thanks in part to the famous advertising campaigns by New York advertising agency Doyle, Dane Bernbach.[citation needed] Led by art director Helmut Krone, and copywriters Julian Koenig and Bob Levinson, Volkswagen advertisements became[when?] as popular as the car, using crisp layouts and witty copy to lure the younger, sophisticated consumers with whom the car became associated.[citation needed] Even though it was almost universally known as the Beetle (or the Bug), it was never officially labelled as such by the manufacturer, instead referred to as the Type 1.[citation needed]

Although the car was becoming outdated, during the 1960s and early 1970s, American exports, innovative advertising, and a growing reputation for reliability helped production figures surpass the levels of the previous record-holder, the Ford Model T. On 17 February 1972, the 15,007,034th Beetle was sold. Volkswagen could now claim the world production record for the most-produced, single make of car in history. By 1973, total production was over 16 million.

To commemorate its passing the Ford Model T's record sales mark and its victories in the Baja 1000 Mexican races from 1967 to 1971, Volkswagen produced its first limited-edition Beetle. It was marketed as the "Baja Champion SE"[25] in the United States and the "Marathon" Superbeetle in the rest of the world. It featured unique "Marathon Blau" metallic blue paint, steel-pressed 10-spoke 15-inch (38 cm) magnesium-alloy wheels, a commemorative metal plate mounted on the glovebox and a certificate of authenticity presented to the original purchaser. Dealer-installed options for this limited-edition Superbeetle included the following: white stripes running the length of the rocker-panel, a special shifter knob, bumper overriders, tapered exhaust tips, fake walnut inserts in the dashboard (behind the steering wheel and the glovebox cover) as well as Bosch fog lights mounted on the front bumper.[citation needed]

1961–1973: Beetle to Golf

The 1961 Type 1 Beetle had a 36 hp 1200cc four cylinder air-cooled flat-four opposed OHV engine made of aluminum alloy block and heads. By 1966, the Type 1 came with a 1300 engine. By 1967 the Type 1 had a 1500 engine, and 1600 in 1970. The air-cooled engine lost favor in the United States market with the advent of non-leaded gasoline and smog controls. These air-cooled engines were commonly tuned to be fuel-rich in order to control engine over-heating, and this led to excessive carbon monoxide emissions. VW Production equipment was eventually moved to Mexico where vehicle emissions were not regulated. Beetles were popular on the USA West Coast where the limited-capacity cabin heating was less inconvenient. Beetles were popularized on the USA West Coast as beach buggies and dune buggies.

VW expanded its product line in 1961 with the introduction of four Type 3 models (Karmann Ghia, Notchback, Fastback, and Variant) based on the new Type 3 mechanical underpinnings. The name 'Squareback' was used in the United States for the Variant.

In 1969 the larger Type 4 (411 and 412) models were introduced. These differed substantially from previous vehicles, with the notable introduction of monocoque/unibody construction, the option of a fully automatic transmission, electronic fuel injection, and a sturdier powerplant.

In 1964, Volkswagen acquired Auto Union, and in 1969, NSU Motorenwerke AG (NSU). The former company owned the historic Audi brand, which had disappeared after the Second World War. VW ultimately merged Auto Union and NSU to create the modern Audi company, and would go on to develop it as its luxury vehicle marque. The purchase of Auto Union and NSU was a pivotal point in Volkswagen's history, as both companies yielded the technological expertise that proved necessary for VW to survive when demand for its air-cooled models went into decline.

Volkswagen added a "Super Beetle"[26] (the Type 131) to its lineup in 1971. The Type 131 differed from the standard Beetle in its use of a MacPherson strut front suspension instead of the usual torsion bars. The Super Beetle featured a new hooded, padded dash and curved windshield (from 1973 model year on up). Rack and pinion steering replaced recirculating ball steering gears in the model year 1975 and up. The front of the car was stretched 2 inches (51 mm) to allow the spare tire to lie flat, and the combination of these two features increased the usable front luggage space.

In 1973, Volkswagen introduced the military-themed Type 181, or "Trekker" in Europe, "Thing" in America, recalling the wartime Type 82. The military version was produced for the NATO-era German Army during the Cold War years of 1970 to 1979. The U.S. Thing version only sold for two years, 1973 and 1974.

1969 VW Squareback (Type III)

By late 1972, Volkswagen had decided to cancel the nearly finished typ 266, a project for a mid-engined car to replace the Beetle, and to focus on front-wheel-drive, water-cooled cars. Rudolf Leiding, recently made head of Volkswagen, cited noise, heat, and servicing problems with the mid-engine layout, as well as the difficulty of making it a station wagon.[27]

Volkswagen Passat (1973–1977 model)

Volkswagen was in serious trouble by 1973.[28] The Type 3 and Type 4 models had sold in much smaller numbers than the Beetle and the NSU-based K70 also failed to sell. Beetle sales had started to decline rapidly in European and North American markets. The company knew that Beetle production had to end, but faced a conundrum of how to replace it. VW's ownership of Audi/Auto Union proved beneficial. Its expertise in front-wheel drive, and water-cooled engines would help Volkswagen produce a credible Beetle successor. Audi influences paved the way for this new generation of Volkswagens: the Passat, Scirocco, Golf, and Polo.

First in the series was the Volkswagen Passat (Dasher in the US), introduced in 1973, a fastback version of the Audi 80, using many identical body and mechanical parts. Estate/wagon versions were available in many markets. In Europe, the estate/wagon version dominated market share for many years.

In spring 1974, the Scirocco followed. The coupe was designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro. Based on the platform of the not yet released Golf, it was built at Karmann due to capacity constraints at Volkswagen.

The pivotal model emerged as the Volkswagen Golf in 1974, marketed in the United States and Canada as the Rabbit for the 1st generation (1975–1985) and 5th generation (2006–2009). Its angular styling was designed by the Italian Giorgetto Giugiaro. Its design followed trends for small family cars set by the 1959 Mini – the Golf had a transversely mounted, water-cooled engine in the front, driving the front wheels, and had a hatchback, a format that has dominated the market segment ever since. Beetle production at Wolfsburg ended upon the Golf's introduction. It continued in smaller numbers at other German factories (Hanover and Emden) until 1978, but mainstream production shifted to Brazil and Mexico.

In 1975, the Volkswagen Polo followed. It was a re-badged Audi 50, which was soon discontinued in 1978. The Polo became the base of the Volkswagen Derby, which was introduced in 1977. The Derby was for all intents and purposes a three-box design of the Polo. After a second model generation, the Derby was discontinued in 1985, although the body style lived on in the form of the polo classic/polo saloon until 1991.

Passat, Scirocco, Golf, and Polo shared many character-defining features, as well as parts and engines. They built the basis for Volkswagen's turn-around.

1974–1990: Product line expansion

Volkswagen Polo (1975–1979 model)

While Volkswagen's range of cars soon became similar to that of other large European automakers, the Golf has been the mainstay of the Volkswagen lineup since its introduction,[when?] and the mechanical basis for several other cars of the company. There have been eight generations of the Volkswagen Golf, the first of which was produced from the summer of 1974 until the autumn of 1983 (sold as the Rabbit in the United States and Canada and as the Caribe in Latin America). Its chassis also spawned the Volkswagen Scirocco sport coupe, Volkswagen Jetta saloon/sedan, Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet convertible, and Volkswagen Caddy pick-up. North American production of the Rabbit commenced at the Volkswagen Westmoreland Assembly Plant near New Stanton, Pennsylvania in 1978. It would be produced in the United States as the Rabbit until the spring of 1984.[citation needed]The second-generation Golf hatchback/Jetta sedan ran from October 1983 until the autumn of 1991, and a North American version produced at Westmoreland Assembly went on sale at the start of the 1985 model year. The production numbers of the first-generation Golf has continued to grow annually in South Africa as the Citi Golf, with only minor modifications to the interior, engine and chassis, using tooling relocated from the New Stanton, Pennsylvania plant when that site began to build the Second Generation car.[citation needed]

In the 1980s, Volkswagen's sales in the United States and Canada fell dramatically, despite the success of models like the Golf elsewhere. Sales in the United States were 293,595 in 1980, but by 1984 they were down to 177,709.[29] The introduction of the second-generation Golf, GTI and Jetta models helped Volkswagen briefly in North America. Motor Trend named the GTI its Car of the Year for 1985, and Volkswagen rose in the J.D. Power buyer satisfaction ratings to eighth place in 1985, up from 22nd a year earlier.[30] VW's American sales broke 200,000 in 1985 and 1986 before resuming the downward trend from earlier in the decade. Chairman Carl Hahn decided to expand the company elsewhere (mostly in developing countries), and the New Stanton, Pennsylvania factory closed on 14 July 1988.[31] Meanwhile, four years after signing a cooperation agreement with the Spanish car maker SEAT in 1982, Hahn expanded the company by purchasing a majority share of SEAT up to 75% by the end of 1986, which VW bought outright in 1990.[32] On 4 July 1985, Volkswagenwerk AG was renamed to Volkswagen AG.

Volkswagen entered the supermini market in 1975 with the Volkswagen Polo, a stylish and spacious three-door hatchback designed by Bertone. It was a strong seller in West Germany and most of the rest of Western Europe, being one of the first foreign small cars to prove popular in Britain. It had started out in 1974 as the Audi 50, which was only available in certain markets and was less popular. The Polo entered a market sector already being dominated by the Fiat 127 and Renault 5, and which before long would also include the Austin Metro and Ford Fiesta.[citation needed]

In 1981, the second-generation Polo launched as a hatchback (resembling a small estate car). In 1983 the range was expanded, with the introduction of a Coupe (similar to a conventional hatchback), and the Classic (a 2-door saloon).[33] The Polo's practicality, despite the lack of a five-door version, helped ensure even stronger sales than its predecessor. It continued to sell well after a makeover in 1990, finally being replaced by an all-new version in 1994.[34]Also arriving in 1981 were the second generation of the larger Passat and a second generation of the Volkswagen Scirocco coupe.

In 1983 the MK2 Golf was launched. At the beginning of 1988, the third generation Passat was the next major car launch and Volkswagen did not produce a hatchback version of this Passat, despite the rising popularity of the hatchback body style throughout Europe.[citation needed] Just after launching the B3 Passat, Volkswagen launched the Corrado, analogous to the Scirocco, although the Scirocco remained in production until 1992; a third generation of Scirocco was in production 2008-17.[35]


Volkswagen Golf, in North American form

In 1991, Volkswagen launched the third-generation Golf, which was European Car of the Year for 1992. The Golf Mk3 and Jetta Mk3 arrived in North America in 1993. The sedan version of the Golf was badged Vento in Europe but remained Jetta in the United States. The Scirocco and the later Corrado were both Golf-based coupés.

In 1994, Volkswagen unveiled the J Mays-designed Concept One, a "retro"-themed concept car with a resemblance to the original Beetle, based on the platform of the Polo. Due to a positive response to the concept, a production version was developed as the New Beetle, based on the Golf's larger platform.[36]

In 1995 the Sharan was launched in Europe, the result of a joint venture with Ford, which also resulted in the Ford Galaxy and SEAT Alhambra.[37]

The company's evolution of its model range was continued with the Golf Mk4, introduced at the end of 1997 (North America in 1999), its chassis spawned a host of other cars within the Volkswagen Group; the Volkswagen Bora (the sedan known as the Jetta in the United States), SEAT Toledo, SEAT León, Audi A3, Audi TT, and Škoda Octavia. Other main models during the decade include the Polo, a smaller car than the Golf, and the larger Passat for the segment above the Golf.

In 1998 the company launched the new Lupo city car. In 1999 they announced the first "3-litre" car, a lightweight version of the Lupo that could travel 100 km with only 3-liters of diesel—making it the world's most fuel efficient car at the time.[38]

2000–2016: Further expansion

The fifth generation Volkswagen Jetta

Volkswagen began introducing an array of new models after Bernd Pischetsrieder became Volkswagen Group CEO (responsible for all Group brands) in 2002. The sixth-generation VW Golf was launched in 2008, came runner-up to the Opel/Vauxhall Insignia in the 2009 European Car of the Year, and has spawned several cousins: VW Jetta, VW Scirocco, SEAT León, SEAT Toledo, Škoda Octavia and Audi A3 hatchback ranges, as well as a new mini-MPV, the SEAT Altea. The GTI, a "hot hatch" performance version of the Golf, boasts a 2.0 L Turbocharged Fuel Stratified Injection (FSI) direct injection engine. VW began marketing the Golf under the Rabbit name once again in the U.S. and Canada in 2006.

The sixth-generation Passat and the fifth-generation Jetta both debuted in 2005, and Volkswagen announced plans to expand its lineup further by bringing back the Scirocco by 2008. Other models in Wolfgang Bernhard's (Volkswagen brand CEO) "product offensive" include the Tiguan mid-sized SUV in 2008 and a Passat Coupé. In November 2006 Bernd Pischetsrieder announced his resignation as Volkswagen Group CEO and was replaced by Audi worldwide CEO Martin Winterkorn at the beginning of 2007.

The third generation Volkswagen Scirocco

Volkswagen in 2005 maintained North American sales of 224,195. The momentum continued for fiscal 2006, as Volkswagen's North American sales for the year were 235,140 vehicles, a 4.9 percent increase over 2005, despite a slump in domestic North American manufacturer's sales. In conjunction with the introduction of new models, the production location of Volkswagen vehicles also underwent a great change. The 2007 Eos, a hardtop convertible, is produced in a new facility in Portugal. All Golfs/Rabbits and GTIs as of 2006 are manufactured in Wolfsburg, Germany, rather than Puebla, Mexico, where Golfs and GTIs for the North American market were produced from 1989 to 1998, and the Brazilian factory in Curitiba, where Golfs and GTIs were produced from 1999 to 2006 (the Jetta has been primarily manufactured in Mexico since 1989). Volkswagen is also in the process of reconfiguring an automotive assembly plant in Belgium. The new models and investments in manufacturing improvements were immediately noticed by automotive critics. Favorable reviews for Volkswagen's newest cars include the GTI being named by Consumer Reports as the top sporty car under $25,000, one of Car and Driver magazine's "10 Best" for 2007, Automobile Magazine's 2007 Car of the Year, as well as a 2008 Motor Trend comparison ranking the mid-size Passat first in its class.

The seventh-generation Volkswagen Golf

Volkswagen partnered with Daimler AG and other companies to market the BlueTec clean diesel technology on cars and trucks from Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, and other companies and brands. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, four of the ten most fuel-efficient vehicles available for sale in the United States are powered by Volkswagen diesel engines.[39] Volkswagen has offered a number of its vehicles with a TDI (Turbocharged Direct Injection) engine, which lends class-leading fuel economy to several models. They were a three-way tie for 8th (TDI Beetle, TDI Golf, TDI Jetta) and ninth, the TDI Jetta Wagon. In addition, all Volkswagen TDI diesel engines produced from 1996 to 2006 can be driven on 100% biodiesel fuel.[citation needed] For the 2007 model year, however, strict U.S. government emissions regulations have forced Volkswagen to drop most diesels from their U.S. engine lineup, but a new lineup of diesel engines (then thought) compatible to U.S. standards returned to the American market starting with Model Year 2009. These post-2009 Clean Diesel engines are limited to running on 5% (B5) biodiesel only to maintain Volkswagen's warranty. Volkswagen long resisted adding a SUV to its lineup, but relented with the introduction of the Touareg, made in partnership with Porsche, while they worked on the Porsche Cayenne and later the Audi Q7. Though acclaimed as a fine handling vehicle, the Touareg has been a modest seller at best, and it has been criticised by auto reviewers for its absence of a third-row seat, the relatively poor fuel economy, and the high vehicle mass. Volkswagen set plans to add a compact SUV with styling influences from the "Concept A" concept vehicle introduced at the 2006 Geneva Auto Show, and on 20 July 2006, Volkswagen announced that the new vehicle called the Tiguan.

Since the discontinuance of the T4 in 2003 and the decision not to export the T5 to the United States, Volkswagen, coincidentally, lacked a van for its North American lineup. To remedy this, Volkswagen launched the Volkswagen Routan, a badge-engineered Dodge Grand Caravan made for the American and Canadian markets, in 2008.

In September 2006, Volkswagen began offering the City Golf and City Jetta only for the Canadian market. Both models were originally the Mk4 Golf and Jetta but were later replaced with the Brazilian versions of the Golf Mk4 and Bora. Volkswagen's introduction of such models is seen as a test of the market for a subcompact and, if successful, may be the beginnings of a thriving subcompact market for Volkswagen.

In May 2011, Volkswagen completed Chattanooga Assembly in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The Chattanooga Assembly plant marked VW's first plant since the plant at New Stanton was closed down. The facility has produced Volkswagen cars and SUVs specifically designed for the North American markets, beginning with the Passat B7 in 2011. The company recently announced plans to expand further by investing $900 million to add floor space to the factory.[40]

The VW XL1 began a limited production run in 2013. The XL1 is a lightweight and fuel-efficient two-person vehicle (only 795 kg).

The Volkswagen Atlas (a large crossover SUV) began production in late 2016, and aimed to help end several years of losses for Volkswagen in the United States, the world's second-largest auto market.[41][42] On 14 September 2016, Volkswagen announced its partnership with three Israeli cybersecurity experts to create a new company, Cymotive, dedicated to automotive security.[43]

2017–present: Focus on electric vehicles

In 2017, Volkswagen announced plans to place a considerable focus on electric vehicles (EV), with a goal to, by 2025, launch at least 30 EV models, and have 20 to 25 percent of their total yearly sales volume (2-3 million) consist of EVs.[44] In September, Volkswagen CEO Matthias Müller stated that the company aimed to have electric versions of all of its vehicle models by 2030, at a cost of 20 billion euro, and 50 billion euro on acquisition of batteries.[45]

Volkswagen returned to motorsport in 2018 by unveiling its all-electric I.D. R. At the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, Romain Dumas set an all-time course record of just under eight minutes driving the I.D. R.[46]

In September 2018, Volkswagen announced that it would discontinue production of the Beetle (A5) in 2019.[47] Also in September 2018, Volkswagen announced its $100 million investment in Silicon Valley-based solid-state battery startup , becoming the startup's largest automotive investor and gaining representation on its board.[48]

In February 2019, Volkswagen announced that it would launch an entry-level Jetta sub-brand in China aimed at young buyers. It will have three models, a sedan and two SUVS, all three of which will be manufactured in China as a part of Volkswagen's joint-venture with FAW.[49]

In September 2019 at the Frankfurt Motor Show, Volkswagen officially unveiled a refreshed logo (a thinner, two-dimensional version of the previous logo) and new sonic branding, which will accompany the newly-launched ID.3 electric vehicle. Volkswagen stated that the ID.3 signified the start of a "new era" of the company.[50]

In September 2019, Volkswagen also announced a program to allow old Beetle models to be converted to run on electric power. The electric motor and battery updates will be done in partnership with German company eClassics.[51] The electric components used for retrofitting will be based upon those found in the e-up! model.


Volkswagen is the founding and namesake member of the Volkswagen Group, a large international corporation in charge of multiple car and truck brands, including Audi, SEAT, Porsche, Lamborghini, Bentley, Bugatti, Scania, MAN, and Škoda. Volkswagen Group's global headquarters are located in Volkswagen's historic home of Wolfsburg, Germany.[52][53]

Volkswagen Group, as a unit, is Europe's largest automaker, with over 74000 employees and over 7700 dealerships..[54] For a long time, Volkswagen has had a market share over 20 percent.[55]

In 2010, Volkswagen posted record sales of 6.29 million vehicles, with its global market share at 11.4%.[56] In 2008, Volkswagen became the third largest automaker in the world,[57] and, as of 2016, Volkswagen was the second largest manufacturer worldwide.[58] With strong headwinds reported in 2018, predominantly from trade tariffs and new emission standards, Volkswagen Group have limped to the 2018 finish line and astonishingly ended the year with record deliveries of 10.8m vehicles.[59] Volkswagen Group's core markets include Germany and China.[60]

In July 2019, Volkswagen invested $2.6 billion in Argo AI, a startup focused on developing self-driving vehicles.[61]

Worldwide presence

Volkswagen has factories in many parts of the world, manufacturing or assembling vehicles for local markets. In addition to plants in Germany, Volkswagen has manufacturing or assembly facilities in Mexico, the United States, Slovakia, China, India, Indonesia,[62] Russia, Malaysia, Brazil, Argentina, Portugal, Spain, Poland, the Czech Republic, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kenya and South Africa. In 2011, Volkswagen was named in the top 25 largest companies in the world by the Forbes Global 2000.[63][64]

Volkswagen is setting up a new factory in West Java, Indonesia, which started construction in mid-2013.[65] The investment into the new plant, which will produce large transporters and multivans, is valued at $140.

As of May 2014, Volkswagen is planning to start assembling certain engines in India to increase localisation from 70% to 90%.[66]

In January 2016, Volkswagen announced launching a new factory in Algeria during a summit between Angela Merkel and Algerian prime minister Abdelmalek Sellal.[67] This new factory was launched in Relizane, producing Volkswagen Golf VII, Volkswagen Polo, Volkswagen Caddy, Seat Ibiza and Skoda Octavia cars.

Work–life balance

Volkswagen agreed in December 2011 to implement a rule passed by the company's works council aimed at improving work–life balance and avoiding burnout by restricting company email functionality on the firm's BlackBerry smartphones to working periods and the half-hour before and after working periods. About 1,150 of Volkswagen's more than 190,000 employees in Germany were affected by the email restriction.[68]

Relationship with Porsche and the Volkswagen Law

Volkswagen has always had a close relationship with Porsche, the Zuffenhausen-based sports car manufacturer founded in 1931 by Ferdinand Porsche, the original Volkswagen designer and Volkswagen company co-founder, hired by Adolf Hitler for the project. The first Porsche car, the Porsche 64 of 1938, used many components from the Volkswagen Beetle. The 1948 Porsche 356 continued using many Volkswagen components, including a tuned engine, gearbox and suspension.

The two companies continued their collaboration in 1969 to make the VW-Porsche 914 and Porsche 914-6. (The 914-6 had a 6-cylinder Porsche engine, and the standard 914 had a Volkswagen engine.) Volkswagen and Porsche would collaborate again in 1976 on the Porsche 912-E (the USA only) and the Porsche 924, which used many Audi components and was built at Audi's Neckarsulm facilities. The 924 was originally designated for AUDI. Most Porsche 944 models were built there, although they used far fewer VW components.

The Porsche Cayenne, introduced in 2002, shares its entire chassis with the Volkswagen Touareg and Audi Q7, and is built at the same Volkswagen factory in Bratislava that the other SUV's are built.

In September 2005, Porsche announced it would increase its 5% stake in Volkswagen to 20% at a cost of €3 billion, with the intention that the combined stakes of Porsche and the government of Lower Saxony would ensure that any hostile takeover by foreign investors would be impossible.[69] Speculated suitors included DaimlerChrysler, BMW, and Renault. In July 2006, Porsche increased their ownership again to 25.1%.

On 4 March 2005, the European Commission brought an action against the Federal Republic of Germany before the European Court of Justice, claiming that the Volkswagen Law, which prevents any shareholder in Volkswagen from executing more than 20% of the total voting rights in the firm, was illegally restricting the flow of capital in Europe.[70] On 13 February 2007, Advocate General Dámaso Ruiz-Jarabo Colomer submitted an opinion to the court in support of the action.[71] This again opened the possibility of a hostile takeover of VW and so on 26 March of the same year Porsche took its holding of Volkswagen shares to 30.9%. Porsche formally announced in a press statement that it did not intend to take over Volkswagen, but intended the move to avoid a competitor's taking a large stake and to stop hedge funds from dismantling VW.[72] As expected, on 22 October 2007, the European Court of Justice ruled in agreement with Ruiz-Jarabo and the law was struck down.[73][74] In October 2007, the European Court of Justice ruled that the VW law was illegal[75] because it was protectionist. At that time, Porsche held 31% of VW shares – although a smaller proportion of voting rights, due to the Volkswagen Law – and there had been speculation that Porsche would be interested in taking over VW if the law did not stand in its way. The court also prevented the government from appointing Volkswagen board members.[76] The German government then rewrote the Volkswagen law, only to be sued again.[77][78][79] In October 2013, the EU Court of Justice in Luxembourg ruled that the rewritten Volkswagen law "complied in full" with EU rules.[80]

On 26 October 2008, Porsche revealed its plan to assume control of VW. As of that day, it held 42.6% of Volkswagen's ordinary shares and stock options on another 31.5%. Combined with the state of Lower Saxony's 20.1% stake, this left only 5.8% of shares on the market—mostly with index funds that could not legally sell.[81] Hedge funds desperate to cover their short positions forced Volkswagen stock above one thousand euros per share, briefly making it the world's largest company by market capitalisation on 28 October 2008.[82] By January 2009, Porsche had a 50.76% holding in Volkswagen AG, although the "Volkswagen Law" prevented it from taking control of the company.[83]

On 6 May 2009, the two companies decided to join together, in a merger.

On 13 August, Volkswagen Aktiengesellschaft's Supervisory Board signed the agreement to create an integrated automotive group with Porsche led by Volkswagen. The initial decision was for Volkswagen to take a 42.0% stake in Porsche AG by the end of 2009, and it would also see the family shareholders selling the automobile trading business of Porsche Holding Salzburg to Volkswagen.[84] In October 2009 however, Volkswagen announced that its percentage in Porsche would be 49.9% for a cost of €3.9 billion (the 42.0% deal would have cost €3.3 billion).[85] On 1 March 2011, Volkswagen has finalized the purchase of Porsche Holding Salzburg (PHS), Austria's leading specialty automobile distributor, for €3.3 billion ($4.55 billion).[86]

In January of 2020, Volkswagen was overtaken by Tesla as the second-most valuable auto maker. [87]


Since 1985, Volkswagen has run the Volkswagen AutoMuseum in Wolfsburg, a museum dedicated specifically to the history of Volkswagen.[88] In addition to visiting exhibits in person, owners of vintage Volkswagens anywhere in the world may order what the museum refers to as a "Birth Certificate" for a set fee of €50—this formal "Zertifikat" indicates basic information known at the time of manufacture (colors, options, port of destination, etc.).[89]

Global sales figures, 2006–2018

Year Global sales (in millions)[90]
2006 5.7
2007 6.2
2008 6.3
2009 6.3
2010 7.3
2011 8.4
2012 9.3
2013 9.7
2014 10.2
2015 10.0
2016 10.3
2017 10.7[91]
2018 10.8[92]

Current models

Up! 2017 Volkswagen Move Up facelift 1.0 Front.jpg City car
  • Hatchback
Gol City car
  • Hatchback
  • Sedan
  • coupé utility
Ameo VW Ameo rear.jpg City car
  • Sedan
Fox (South America) Volkswagen Fox 2015 in Punta del Este 01.JPG Supermini
  • Hatchback
  • Estate
Polo 2018 Volkswagen Polo SE 1.0 Front.jpg Supermini
  • Hatchback
  • Coupé
  • Estate
Vento Vento 2015 Highline.png Subcompact car
  • Hatchback
  • Convertible
Golf Volkswagen Golf VIII IMG 2609.jpg Small family car
  • Hatchback
  • Estate
  • Convertible
Jetta VW Jetta VII P4220677.jpg Small family car
  • Sedan
Arteon 2017 Volkswagen Arteon 4MOTION R-Line 2.0 Front.jpg Large family car
  • Sedan
Passat VW Passat B8 Limousine 2.0 TDI Highline.JPG Large family car
  • Sedan
  • Estate
  • Crossover (Alltrack)
Touran 2018 Volkswagen Touran 1.6.jpg Compact MPV
  • MPV
Sharan 2011-2013 Volkswagen Sharan (7N) 380TSI van (2017-11-27) 01.jpg Large MPV
  • MPV
T-Cross 2019 Volkswagen T-Cross First Edition TSi 1.0.jpg City crossover SUV
  • SUV
T-Roc 2018 Volkswagen T-Roc Front (2).jpg City crossover SUV
  • SUV
Tharu Volkswagen Tharu 01 China 2019-04-04.jpg Small crossover SUV
  • SUV
Tiguan VW Tiguan Allspace Comfortline 4MOTION (II) – Frontansicht, 10. Mai 2018, Düsseldorf.jpg Small crossover SUV
  • SUV
Atlas VW Atlas SE IMG 0742.jpg Large crossover SUV
  • SUV
Touareg 2018 Volkswagen Touareg V6 R-Line TDi Automatic 3.0.jpg Large crossover SUV
  • SUV

Chinese models

Manufactured by Shanghai Volkswagen Automotive and FAW-Volkswagen Automotive for the Chinese market.

2019 FAW-Volkswagen Bora.jpg
Small family car
  • Sedan
Volkswagen Lavida II 01 China 2013-03-03.jpg
Compact saloon
  • Sedan
Volkswagen Lamando China 2015-04-10.jpg
Small family car
  • Sedan
Phideon Volkswagen VW Phideon 2016.jpg Executive car
  • Sedan
Volkswagen new Santana facelift 01.jpg
Small family car
  • Sedan

GTI models

The performance Grand Turismo Injection models. It indicates it has a direct fuel injection. First included in the GTI from 1975, it has been appearing as performance vehicles from Volkswagen.

Polo GTI
VW Polo GTI IMG 0660.jpg
  • Hatchback
Golf GTI
2017 Volkswagen Golf GTi TSi 2.0 Front.jpg
Small family car
  • Hatchback
up! GTI
Dülmen, Automeile auf dem Kartoffelmarkt, VW Up! -- 2019 -- 9883.jpg
City car
  • Hatchback

Electric models

GTE models

GTE are plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.[93] The GTE's engine, electric motor, and transmission are fully shared with the Audi A3 Sportback e-tron:[94]

Golf GTE
2017 Volkswagen Golf GTE S-A 1.4.jpg
Small family car 1.4-liter and an electric motor;
can travel for a full 50 km on electricity only.[94]
Passat GTE
2018 Volkswagen Passat GTE Advance S-A 1.4 Front.jpg
Large family car


VW e-models are all-electric vehicles.[95]

VW e-up! at Hannover Messe.jpg
VW e-Golf LA Auto Show 2013.jpg

R models

R models are exotic and sport vehicles.

Golf R
2017 Volkswagen Golf R TSi S-A facelift 2.0.jpg
Small sports car
  • Hatchback

Historic models

VW Kuebelwagen 1.jpg
VW Schwimmwagen 1.jpg
Sedan, "Beetle, Bug"
VW Oval 1957.jpg
Karmann Ghia
VW Typ 3 front 20080227.jpg
Vw 181 v sst.jpg
Country Buggy
Volkswagen Country Buggy.jpg
Volkswagen 411 Front view Essex.jpg
1971 VW K70 L Front.JPG
Typ 4 412 Variant aus Offenbach.JPG
VW Derby CL front.jpg
VW Corrado 16 V (2010-04-12) ret2.jpg
2002 Volkswagen Lupo E 1.0 Front (1).jpg
New Beetle
2006 Volkswagen New Beetle Luna 1.6 Front.jpg
Golf + VW Golf Plus 2.0 TDI Facelift front-1 20100710.jpg 2004–2009
2009 Volkswagen Routan SE.jpg
Eos 2012 Volkswagen Eos -- 04-01-2011 1.jpg 2006–2015
Phaeton VW Phaeton 3.0 V6 TDI 4MOTION (2. Facelift) – Frontansicht, 10. August 2011, Düsseldorf.jpg 2003–2016
Volkswagen Passat CC 2.0 TSi 2010 (14168908053).jpg
Scirocco 2015 Volkswagen Scirocco GT BlueMotion Tech 2.0.jpg 2008–2017
Beetle 2012 Volkswagen Beetle -- NHTSA 2.jpg 2011-2019

Electric and alternative fuel vehicles

Pure ethanol vehicles

VW pure ethanol prototype car developed by Volkswagen do Brasil in 1978.

Volkswagen do Brasil produced and sold pure ethanol-powered (E100 only) vehicles in Brazil, and production was discontinued only after they were supplanted by more modern Flex Fuel technology. As a response to the 1973 oil crisis, the Brazilian government began promoting bioethanol as a fuel, and the National Alcohol Program -Pró-Álcool- (Portuguese: Programa Nacional do Álcool) was launched in 1975.[96][97][98] Compelled by the 1979 energy crisis, and after development and testing with government fleets by the CTA at São José dos Campos, and further testing of several prototypes developed by the four local carmakers, including Volkswagen do Brasil, pure ethanol vehicles were launched in the Brazilian market.[96][97] Gasoline engines were modified to support hydrous ethanol characteristics and changes included compression ratio, amount of fuel injected, replacement of materials that would get corroded by the contact with ethanol, use of colder spark plugs suitable for dissipating heat due to higher flame temperatures, and an auxiliary cold-start system that injects gasoline from a small tank in the engine compartment to help starting when cold. Within six years, around 75% of all Brazilian passenger cars were manufactured with ethanol engines.[96][99]

Production and sales of pure ethanol vehicles tumbled beginning in 1987 owing to several factors, including a sharp decline in gasoline prices as a result of the 1980s oil glut, and high sugar prices in the world market, shifting sugarcane ethanol production from fuel to sugar. By mid-1989, a shortage of ethanol fuel supply in the local market left thousands of vehicles in line at gas stations or out of fuel in their garages, forcing consumers to abandon ethanol vehicles.[98][100]

Flexible-fuel vehicles

Brazilian 2003 VW Gol 1.6 Total Flex.jpg

The 2003 VW Gol 1.6 Total Flex was the first full flexible-fuel vehicle launched in Brazil, capable of running on any blend of gasoline and E100. In March of that year, on its fiftieth anniversary, Volkswagen do Brasil launched in the local market the Gol 1.6 Total Flex, the first Brazilian commercial flexible fuel vehicle capable of running on any mix of E20-E25 gasoline and up to 100% hydrous ethanol fuel (E100).[101][102][103][104] After the pure ethanol fiasco, consumer confidence in ethanol-powered vehicles was restored, allowing a rapid adoption of the flex technology. This was facilitated by the fuel distribution infrastructure already in place throughout Brazil, with more than 30 thousand fueling stations, a heritage of the Pró-Álcool program[105]

Owing to the success and rapid consumer acceptance of the flex-fuel versions, by 2005 VW had sold 293,523 flex-fuel cars and light-duty trucks, and only 53,074 gasoline-only automobiles,[106] jumping to 525,838 flex-fuel vehicles and only 13,572 gasoline-only cars and 248 gasoline-only light trucks in 2007,[107] and reaching new car sales of 564,959 flex-fuel vehicles in 2008, representing 96% of all new cars and light-duty trucks sold in that year.[108] VW do Brasil stopped manufacturing gasoline-only vehicles models for the local market in 2006,[102] and all of the remaining gasoline-only Volkswagen models sold in Brazil are imported. The flex-fuel models currently produced for the local market are the Gol, Fox, CrossFox, Parati, Polo Hatch, Polo Sedan, Saveiro, Golf, and Kombi.[109] By March 2009, Volkswagen do Brasil had attained the milestone mark of two million flex-fuel vehicles produced since 2003.[110][111]

Hybrid vehicles

The Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid gets 48 mpg highway.

Volkswagen and Sanyo have teamed up to develop a battery system for hybrid cars.[112] Volkswagen head Martin Winterkorn has confirmed the company plans to build compact hybrid electric vehicles. He has stated "There will definitely be compact hybrid models, such as Polo and Golf, and without any great delay", with gasoline and diesel power. For example, Golf is the ideal model to go hybrid as the Golf 1.4 TSI was recently awarded the "Auto Environment Certificate" by the Oko-Trend Institute for Environmental Research, and was considered as one of the most environmentally friendly vehicles of 2007.[113] Also underway at Volkswagen's Braunschweig R&D facilities in Northern Germany is a hybrid version of the next-generation Touareg.[114]

VW intends all future models to have the hybrid option. "Future VW models will fundamentally also be constructed with hybrid concepts," VW head of development Ulrich Hackenberg told Automobilwoche in an interview. Hackenberg mentioned that the car based on the Up! concept seen at Frankfurt Motor Show,[115] as well as all future models, could be offered with either full or partial hybrid options. The rear-engine up! will go into production in 2011. Nothing has been said about plug-in hybrid options.[116]

Volkswagen announced at the 2010 Geneva Motor Show the launch of the 2012 Touareg Hybrid, scheduled for 2011.[117][118] VW also announced plans to introduce diesel-electric hybrid versions of its most popular models in 2012, beginning with the new Jetta, followed by the Golf Hybrid in 2013 together with hybrid versions of the Passat.[119][120] In 2012, the Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid set the world record to become the fastest hybrid car at 187 mph.

Plug-in electric vehicles

In November 2009, Volkswagen announced it has hired Karl-Thomas Neumann as its group chief officer for electric traction.[121] VW's Chief of research, Jürgen Leohold, said in 2010 the company has concluded hydrogen fuel-cell cars are not a viable option.[122][123]

As of May 2016, the Volkswagen Group offers for retails customers nine plug-in electric cars, of which, three are all-electric cars: the Volkswagen e-Up!, e-Golf and Audi R8 e-tron, and six are plug-in hybrids: the Volkswagen Golf GTE, Passat GTE, Audi A3 Sportback e-tron, Q7 e-tron quattro, Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid and Cayenne S E-Hybrid.[124] Also two limited production plug-in hybrids were manufactured beginning in 2013, the Volkswagen XL1 (250 units) and the Porsche 918 Spyder (918 units).[125][126] Total cumulative sales of all Volkswagen brand electrified cars since the start of their respective production is expected to reach about 103,000 by the end of 2016.[124]

In order to comply with increasingly strict carbon dioxide emission limits in major markets, the VW Group expects to sell about one million all-electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles a year worldwide by 2025. The Group plans to expand its plug-in range with 20 new pure electric and plug-in hybrid cars, including two cars to compete with Tesla Motors, the Porsche Mission E all-electric car and the Audi e-tron quattro, which is expected to become the brand's first mass-production electric vehicle. According to Thomas Ulbrich, VW brand production chief, the carmaker has the capacity to build as many as 75,000 battery-electric and plug-in hybrids a year if demand rises. Volkswagen announced in October 2015 that "it will develop a modular architecture for battery-electric cars, called the MEB. The standardized system will be designed for all body structures and vehicle types and will allow the company to build emotionally appealing EVs with a range of up to 310 mi (500 km)."[124] In June 2016, VW launched a program to develop 30 all-electric cars in 10 years, and sell 2–3 million electric cars per year by 2025.[127] Due to lower manpower requirements for electric motors than for piston engines, VW expects a gradual workforce reduction as numbers of electric cars increase.[128][129] VW considers battery factory ownership as too expensive.[130]


Environmental record

The Volkswagen XL1, with potential mileage as high as 261 mpg, is the most fuel-efficient car in the world

In 1974 Volkswagen paid a $120,000 fine to settle a complaint filed by the Environmental Protection Agency over the use of so-called "defeat devices" that disabled certain pollution-control systems. The complaint said the use of the devices violated the U.S. Clean Air Act.[131]

In 1996, Volkswagen first implemented its seven environmental goals in Technical Development with themes involving climate protection, resource conservation, and healthcare, through objectives such as reducing greenhouse emissions and fuel consumption, enabling alternative fuels, and avoiding hazardous materials.[132] The goals have been revised in 2002 and 2007. Volkswagen was the first car manufacturer to apply ISO 14000, during its drafting stage and was re-certified under the standards in September 2005.[citation needed]

In 2011, Greenpeace began criticising Volkswagen's opposition to legislation requiring tighter controls on CO2 emissions and energy efficiency, and launched an advertising campaign parodying VW's series of Star Wars-based commercials.[132][133]

In 2013, the Volkswagen XL1 became the most fuel-efficient production car in the world, with a claimed combined fuel consumption of 261 mpg (0.90-liter/100 km). Driving style has huge impact on this result – "normal" driving produces mileage in the 120 mpg range (1.96-liter/100 km).[134]

Model year 2017 VW vehicles sold in the US average 26.5 mpgUS, about 6% better than the average for all manufacturers. For comparison among major automakers, Honda lead at 29.4 mpgUS while FCA, the owner of Jeep, Ram, Chrysler, Fiat, and Dodge brands, lagged at 21.2 mpgUS.[135]

US diesel emission fraud

The 2009 Volkswagen Jetta Diesel Sedan was awarded Green Car of the Year. The award was rescinded in early October 2015.

On 18 September 2015, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said beginning in 2008 the automaker improperly installed engine control unit (ECU) software determined to be a "defeat device", in violation of the Clean Air Act, to circumvent environmental regulations of NOx emissions by diesel engine 2009–2015 model year Volkswagen and Audi cars. The software detects when the cars were being subject to emissions testing, and then fully enabled ECU emission controls to successfully pass.[136][137] However, during normal driving conditions, emission control software was shut off in order to attain greater fuel economy and additional power, resulting in as much as 40 times more pollution than allowed by law.[138][139] Consumer Reports tested a 2011 Jetta SportWagen TDI and found in emissions mode its 0–60 mph time increased by 0.6 seconds and its highway fuel economy dropped from 50 mpg to 46 mpg.[140] Volkswagen admitted to using the defeat device, and has been ordered to recall approximately 482,000 cars with four-cylinder 2.0-liter TDI engines.[141] United States federal penalties may include fines ranging up to US$18 billion, and possibly criminal charges.[142] On 28 June 2016, Volkswagen agreed to pay a settlement of $15.3 billion, the largest auto-related consumer class-action lawsuit in the United States history.[143]

In May 2014, the EPA was first alerted to the issue by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), reporting results[144] of research commissioned for them by West Virginia University's Center for Alternative Fuels, Engines and Emissions (CAFEE).[145][146] After 15 months of denying the emissions control systems were deliberately gamed and instead claiming discrepancies due to "technical" reasons, on 21 August Volkswagen acknowledged to the EPA and California Air Resources Board (CARB) their emission controls systems were rigged. This was followed by a formal announcement of admission to regulators on 3 September which took place immediately after the EPA threatened to withhold approval for their 2016 cars.[147] Volkswagen's initial public response came on 20 September, when a spokesman said they would stop all US sales of the diesel models affected. Chairman Martin Winterkorn issued an apology and said Volkswagen would cooperate with investigators.[148] Since emission standards in Canada are close to those in the US, Volkswagen Canada also halted sales of the affected diesel models.[149] on 22 September 2015, Volkswagen spokesman admitted that the defeat device is installed in ~11 million vehicles with Type EA 189 diesel engines worldwide.[150]

On the first business day after the news, Volkswagen's stock price declined 20% and declined another 17% the following day, the same day a social media advertisement with Wired about "how diesel was re-engineered" was removed as well as a series of YouTube ads titled "Diesel Old Wives’ Tales".[151][152][153] On Wednesday, 23 September, Volkswagen chief executive officer Martin Winterkorn resigned.[154] Volkswagen hired Kirkland & Ellis law firm for defense, the same firm that defended BP during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.[155]

Former Volkswagen AG CEO Martin Winterkorn in March 2015

On 2 November 2016, the EPA issued a second notice of violation (NOV) pertaining to certain diesel 3.0-liter V6 equipped Audis, Volkswagen Touaregs and Porsche Cayennes.[156] The EPA found beginning with the 2009 model year all vehicles powered by the V6 were non-compliant.[157] During testing the EPA, CARB and Transport Canada discovered software that activates pollution reduction systems when the automobiles are being driven under federal test conditions, otherwise during real world driving these devices are inactive.[158][159] Volkswagen disputed the EPA's findings stating their software was legally permitted,[160] however shortly after Volkswagen issued a stop-sale for the EPA's disputed vehicles and additional models the EPA did not question.[161]

In March 2016, the US Federal Trade Commission sued Volkswagen for false advertising, because Volkswagen's "clean diesel" vehicles were less environmentally friendly than advertised.[162]

In November 2016, Volkswagen and its labour unions agreed to reduce the workforce by 30,000 people until 2021 as a result of the costs from the violations. However, 9,000 new jobs would come by producing more electric cars.[163] Volkswagen also announced plans to become the world leader in electric cars, producing 1 million VW-EVs by 2025 and 3 million by the group,[164] and a VW manager stated that its diesel cars would not become available in the United States.[165]

On 11 January 2017, Volkswagen agreed to plead guilty to the emissions-cheating scandal and to pay $4.3 billion in penalties. Six Volkswagen executives were charged.[166][167] The following day, one of the indicted executives was ordered to be held without bail pending trial as it was feared that he would flee to Germany and extradition would be impossible.[168][169] Senior VW management staff were warned not to travel to the US by lawyers working for the company.[170] On 23 January 2017, a US judge approved a $1.2 billion settlement in which 650 American dealers, "who, like consumers, were blindsided by the brazen fraud that VW perpetrated," would receive an average of $1.85 million.[171] The whole scandal was covered in Series 1 of Netflix's 2018 series called "Dirty Money[172]" in the episode entitled "Hard Knox".

Canadian emissions charges

On December 9, 2019, Environment and Climate Change Canada charged Volkswagen AG with importing nearly 128,000 cars into Canada that did not meet its emissions standards, but reached a plea deal with the agency in a case involving 60 charges stemming from devices installed to defeat emissions testing.[173]

Collaboration with dictatorship

In 2015, activists and former VW employees in Brazil spoke out in public accusing the company of being silent about the persecution of its workers, which was during Brazil's military dictatorship from 1964-1985.[174] VW's security personnel informed Brazil's political police on eventual oppositional activities. In 1976, mass arrests occurred and some VW employees were tortured.[175]


The Volkswagen Polo in Christchurch, New Zealand. The Volkswagen Polo won the 2010 World Car of the Year
The Volkswagen up! won the 2012 World Car of the Year

Volkswagen was named the fourth most influential car of the 20th century in the 1999 Car of the Century competition, for its Volkswagen Type 1 'Beetle" model. It trailed only the Ford Model T, BMC Mini, and Citroën DS.[176]

Volkswagen has produced four winners of the 50-year-old European Car of the Year award.

Volkswagen has produced five winners of the United States Motor Trend Car of the Year award – the original Car of the Year designation, which began in 1949.

Volkswagen has already produced four winners of the recently developed World Car of the Year award.


Formula racing

  • In 1963, Formula Vee circuit racing, with cars built from easily available Beetle parts, started in the United States. It quickly spread to Europe and other parts of the world. It proved very popular as a low-cost route into formula racing.[178]
  • In 1971, Volkswagen of America started the more powerful Formula Super Vee, which became famous for hothousing new talent.[citation needed] In the 11 years it ran, until 1982, it produced a stable of world-famous Formula One drivers—names like Niki Lauda, Jochen Mass, Nelson Piquet, Jochen Rindt and Keke Rosberg. Volkswagen also notched up several victories, and the championship in Formula Three.
  • In July 2011 Wolfgang Dürheimer, the director of Bugatti and Bentley, told German magazine Auto, Motor und Sport that "if [the VW group] is at the forefront of the auto industry, I can imagine us competing in Formula 1 in 2018. We have enough brands to pull it off."[179] They did not compete in F1 in 2018.

World Rally Championship

Dakar Rally

  • In 1980, Volkswagen competed with the Audi-developed Iltis, placing 1st, 2nd, 4th and 9th overall.
  • In 2003, the Hanover-based team entered with a 2WD buggy named Tarek, finishing 6th overall and 1st in the 2WD and Diesel class.
  • In 2005, an updated Race-Touareg with slightly more power entered, with driver Bruno Saby finishing 3rd overall and 1st in the Diesel class.
  • In 2006, the revised Race-Touareg entered, with driver Giniel de Villiers finishing 2nd overall and 1st in the Diesel class.
  • Volkswagen won the 2009, 2010 and 2011 Dakar Rally, held in South America.

Volkswagen motorsport worldwide

  • Europe: In 1998 the company founded the ADAC Volkswagen Lupo Cup, founded in 1998 (renamed Polo Cup in 2003, and Volkswagen Scirocco R-Cup from 2010 to 2014), and started the ADAC New Beetle Cup in 2000. In 2004, Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles entered the European Truck Racing series with the Volkswagen Titan truck – it became a back-to-back champion for the 2004 and 2005 series.
  • United States: In 1976, Volkswagen entered the under-2000-cc Trans-Am Series, with the Scirocco, and they won their class outright.[180] Beginning in 2008 Volkswagen introduced the Jetta TDI Cup. The Jetta TDI Cup is an SCCA sanctioned race series that features 25 drivers between the ages of 16 and 26 driving slightly modified 2009 Jetta TDIs. The series features 10 events at 8 different road courses across North America. There is $50,000 prize money at stake over the course of the series in addition to the $100,000 prize awarded to the champion of the series at the conclusion of the last race.[181]
  • Argentina: Many Volkswagen models have competed in TC 2000, including the 1980 to 1983 champion Volkswagen 1500 and the 1994 champion Volkswagen Gol.
  • In 1999 and 2000, VW won the F2 Australian Rally Championship with the Golf GTI.
  • Finland: In 2002, VW won the Finnish Rally Championship in a7/(F2), with a Golf Mk4 KitCar, with Mikko Hirvonen. In 1999 and 2000, VW won the Finnish Rally Championship in a7/(F2) with a Golf Mk3 KitCar. In 2000, 2001 and 2002, VW won the Finnish Racing Championship in Sport 2000 with a Golf Mk4.[182]
  • Austria: From 1967 until 1974, the Austrian sole distributor Porsche Salzburg entered the VW Beetle (1500, 1302S and 1303S) in Europe-wide rallies. Victories were achieved in 1972 and 1973 in the overall Austrian championship, on Elba, in the Acropolis rally (first in class). Top drivers were Tony Fall (GB), Achim Warmbold (D), Günter Janger (A), Harry Källström(S).


  • Jonas Kiefer: VW Typenatlas, Serienfahrzeuge. 2. Auflage. Delius Klasing, Bielefeld 2002, ISBN 3-7688-1271-5.
  • Rudi Heppe: VW Personenwagen. Podszun, Brilon 2001, ISBN 3-86133-209-4.
  • Halwart Schrader: VW Personenwagen seit 1945, Band 1, Typenkompass. Motorbuch Verlag, Stuttgart 2001, ISBN 3-613-02105-6.
  • Halwart Schrader: VW Personenwagen seit 1945, Band 2, Typenkompass. Motorbuch Verlag, Stuttgart 2001, ISBN 3-613-02186-2.
  • Werner Oswald: Deutsche Autos, Band 2, 1920–1945. 2. Auflage. Motorbuch Verlag, Stuttgart 2005, ISBN 3-613-02170-6.
  • Werner Oswald: Deutsche Autos, Band 3, 1945–1990, Ford, Opel und Volkswagen. 1. Auflage. Motorbuch Verlag, Stuttgart 2001, ISBN 3-613-02116-1.

See also


  1. ^ Tooze notes: "Even if the war had not intervened, developments up to 1939 made clear that the entire conception of the 'people's car' was a disastrous flop." Tooze (2006) p.156).


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Further reading

  • William Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (50th Anniversary Edition) (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1990)
  • Andrea Hiott, Thinking Small (New York: Ballantine Books, 2012)

External links

27 May 1933

The Walt Disney Company releases the cartoon Three Little Pigs, with its hit song “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?”

"Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?" is a popular song written by Frank Churchill with additional lyrics by Ann Ronell,[1] which originally featured in the 1933 Disney cartoon Three Little Pigs, where it was sung by Fiddler Pig and Fifer Pig (voiced by Mary Moder and Dorothy Compton, respectively)[2] as they arrogantly believe the Big Bad Wolf (voiced by Billy Bletcher) is not a serious threat.[2] The song's theme made it a huge hit during the 1930s and it remains one of the most well-known Disney songs, being covered by numerous artists and musical groups. Additionally, it was the inspiration for the title of Edward Albee's 1963 play Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Re-use by Disney

The song was reused in the sequels to Three Little Pigs, and its writing was re-enacted in the "Cavalcade of Songs" episode on the Disneyland television series in 1955.[3] It featured in the Sing Along Songs video I Love to Laugh and has been included in numerous Disney recordings.

Disneyland Records produced a re-recording of the song in 1958, released concurrently as a single in Disney's "Wonderful Records" series of 45s and on the Mickey Mouse Club LP "Four Disney Stories," conducted by Tutti Camarata. It was a re-enactment of the original cartoon in audio, with noticeable differences being all three pigs voiced by Gloria Wood (unlike the originals, where Practical Pig was voiced by Pinto Colvig), the Big Bad Wolf having a more menacing voice (this time by Jimmy MacDonald), and a few additional verses and dialogue that was not present in the original cartoon. This version was also released on an album in the early 1960s entitled "The Story and Songs of Walt Disney's Three Little Pigs" and a few other compilation albums, and also included on Disney's read-along book-and-audio adaptations of the cartoon.

Cover versions

LL Cool J version

"Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?"
Single by LL Cool J
from the album Simply Mad About the Mouse
  • "I Need a Beat"
  • "I Can't Live Without My Radio"
ReleasedJuly 7, 1991
GenreGolden age hip hop
New jack swing
Children's music
Songwriter(s)Ann Ronell, Frank Churchill
Producer(s)B. A. Robertson, DJ Eddie F, LL Cool J
LL Cool J singles chronology
"6 Minutes of Pleasure"
"Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?"
"Strictly Business"

"Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?" was covered by American rapper LL Cool J on the Disney album Simply Mad About the Mouse: A Musical Celebration of Imagination. It was released as a single in 1991 for Columbia Records and was produced by DJ Eddie F and LL Cool J. It sampled Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean".[4] LL Cool J's version did not make it to the Billboard charts.

Ben Bernie's 1933 version

Charlie and his Orchestra recorded a German version in English during World War II with propaganda lyrics.

Track listing


  1. "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?" – 3:50


  1. "I Need A Beat" – 4:31
  2. "I Can't Live Without My Radio" – 5:27

Other cover versions

The song has been covered by many artists, including:[1]


  1. ^ a b "WHO S AFRAID OF THE BIG BAD WOLF". ACE Title Search. American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. Retrieved February 5, 2020.
  2. ^ a b "Three Little Pigs (1933)". The Internet Movie Database. Retrieved October 16, 2008.
  3. ^ "Three Little Pigs". Disney Archives. The Walt Disney Company. Retrieved October 16, 2008.
  4. ^ "LL Cool J's Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf sample of Michael Jackson's Billie Jean". WhoSampled. Retrieved March 15, 2012.
  5. ^ Dave Bullock. "PiNkY & PeRkY ; Rare Records for Sale". Pinky & Perky's website. Retrieved November 9, 2008.
  6. ^ Coleman, Brian (2009). Check the Technique: Liner Notes for Hip-Hop Junkies. Random House Publishing Group. ISBN 0-307-49442-X. Retrieved October 17, 2014.

External links

26 May 1967

The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is released

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
The Beatles, holding marching band instruments and wearing colourful uniforms, stand near a grave covered with flowers that spell "Beatles". Standing behind the band are several dozen famous people.
Studio album by
Released26 May 1967 (1967-05-26)
Recorded6 December 1966 – 21 April 1967
StudioEMI and Regent Sound, London
ProducerGeorge Martin
The Beatles chronology
A Collection of Beatles Oldies
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
The Beatles
The Beatles North American chronology
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
Magical Mystery Tour

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is the eighth studio album by the English rock band the Beatles. Released on 26 May 1967 in the United Kingdom[nb 1] and 2 June 1967 in the United States, it spent 27 weeks at number one on the UK Albums Chart and 15 weeks at number one on the Billboard Top LPs chart in the US. It was lauded by critics for its innovations in production, songwriting and graphic design, for bridging a cultural divide between popular music and high art, and for reflecting the interests of contemporary youth and the counterculture. It won four Grammy Awards in 1968, including Album of the Year, the first rock LP to receive this honour.

In August 1966, the Beatles permanently retired from touring and began a three-month holiday. During a return flight to London in November, Paul McCartney had an idea for a song involving an Edwardian military band that formed the impetus of the Sgt. Pepper concept. Sessions began on 24 November at EMI Studios with two compositions inspired by the Beatles' youth, "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Penny Lane", but after pressure from EMI, the songs were released as a double A-side single and left off the album.

In February 1967, after recording the title track, McCartney suggested that the album represent a performance by the fictional Sgt. Pepper band. This alter ego group further inspired the band to experiment artistically. During the recording sessions, there was no thought of reproducing the songs in concert, and the band were free to continue the technological experimentation marked by their previous album Revolver, this time without an absolute deadline for completion. With producer George Martin and engineer Geoff Emerick, the group approached the studio as an instrument, colouring much of the recordings with sound effects and tape manipulation, as exemplified on "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds", "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!" and "A Day in the Life". Recording was completed on 21 April 1967. The cover, which depicts the Beatles posing in front of a tableau of celebrities and historical figures, was designed by the pop artists Peter Blake and Jann Haworth.

Sgt. Pepper is regarded by musicologists as an early concept album that advanced the use of extended form in popular music while continuing the artistic maturation seen on the Beatles' preceding releases. An important work of British psychedelia, the album incorporates a range of stylistic influences, including vaudeville, circus, music hall, avant-garde, and Western and Indian classical music. It is described as one of the first art rock LPs, a progenitor to progressive rock, and the starting point of the album era. In 2003, the Library of Congress placed Sgt. Pepper in the National Recording Registry as "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".[2] Rolling Stone ranked it as the greatest album of all time. It is one of the best-selling albums of all time, with more than 32 million copies sold worldwide as of 2011, and remains the UK's best-selling studio album. Professor Kevin Dettmar, writing in The Oxford Encyclopedia of British Literature, described it as "the most important and influential rock-and-roll album ever recorded".[3]


We were fed up with being the Beatles. We really hated that fucking four little mop-top approach. We were not boys, we were men ... and thought of ourselves as artists rather than just performers.[4]

Paul McCartney

By 1966, the Beatles had grown weary of live performance.[5] In John Lennon's opinion, they could "send out four waxworks ... and that would satisfy the crowds. Beatles concerts are nothing to do with music anymore. They're just bloody tribal rites."[6] In June that year, two days after finishing the album Revolver, the group set off for a tour that started in West Germany.[7] While in Hamburg they received an anonymous telegram stating: "Do not go to Tokyo. Your life is in danger."[8] The threat was taken seriously in light of the controversy surrounding the tour among Japan's religious and conservative groups, with particular opposition to the Beatles' planned performances at the sacred Nippon Budokan arena.[8] As an added precaution, 35,000 police were mobilised and tasked with protecting the group, who were transported from hotels to concert venues in armoured vehicles.[9] The Beatles then performed in the Philippines, where they were threatened and manhandled by its citizens for not visiting First Lady Imelda Marcos. The group were angry with their manager, Brian Epstein, for insisting on what they regarded as an exhausting and demoralising itinerary.[10]

The group, with disc jockey Jim Stagg, while on their final tour in August 1966

The publication in the US of Lennon's remarks about the Beatles being "more popular than Jesus" then embroiled the band in controversy and protest in America's Bible Belt.[11] A public apology eased tensions, but a US tour in August that was marked by reduced ticket sales, relative to the group's record attendances in 1965, and subpar performances proved to be their last.[12] The author Nicholas Schaffner writes:

To the Beatles, playing such concerts had become a charade so remote from the new directions they were pursuing that not a single tune was attempted from the just-released Revolver LP, whose arrangements were for the most part impossible to reproduce with the limitations imposed by their two-guitars-bass-and-drums stage lineup.[13]

On the Beatles' return to England, rumours began to circulate that they had decided to break up.[14] George Harrison informed Epstein that he was leaving the band, but was persuaded to stay on the assurance that there would be no more tours.[11] The group took a three-month break, during which they focused on individual interests.[15] Harrison travelled to India for six weeks to study the sitar under the instruction of Ravi Shankar[16] and develop his interest in Hindu philosophy.[17] Having been the last of the Beatles to concede that their live performances had become futile,[18] Paul McCartney collaborated with Beatles producer George Martin on the soundtrack for the film The Family Way[19] and holidayed in Kenya with Mal Evans, one of the Beatles' tour managers.[20] Lennon acted in the film How I Won the War and attended art showings, such as one at the Indica Gallery where he met his future wife Yoko Ono.[21] Ringo Starr used the break to spend time with his wife Maureen and son Zak.[22]

Inspiration and conception

While in London without his bandmates, McCartney took the hallucinogenic drug LSD (or "acid") for the first time, having long resisted Lennon and Harrison's insistence that he join them and Starr in experiencing its perception-heightening effects.[23][24] According to author Jonathan Gould, this initiation into LSD afforded McCartney the "expansive new sense of possibility" that defined the group's next project, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Gould adds that McCartney's succumbing to peer pressure allowed Lennon "to play the role of psychedelic guide" to his songwriting partner, thereby facilitating a closer collaboration between the two than had been evident since early in the Beatles' career.[25] For his part, Lennon had turned deeply introspective during the filming of How I Won the War in southern Spain in September 1966. His anxiety over his and the Beatles' future was reflected in "Strawberry Fields Forever",[26] a song that provided the initial theme, regarding a Liverpool childhood, of the new album.[27] On his return to London, Lennon embraced the city's arts culture, of which McCartney was a part,[28] and shared his bandmate's interest in avant-garde and electronic-music composers such as Karlheinz Stockhausen, John Cage and Luciano Berio.[29][30]

In November, during his and Evans' return flight from Kenya, McCartney had an idea for a song that eventually formed the impetus of the Sgt. Pepper concept.[16] His idea involved an Edwardian-era military band, for which Evans invented a name in the style of contemporary San Francisco-based groups such as Big Brother and the Holding Company and Quicksilver Messenger Service.[31][nb 2] In February 1967, McCartney suggested that the new album should represent a performance by the fictional band.[34] This alter ego group would give them the freedom to experiment musically by releasing them from their image as Beatles.[35] Martin recalled that the concept was not discussed at the start of the sessions,[36] but it subsequently gave the album "a life of its own".[37]

Portions of Sgt. Pepper reflect the Beatles' general immersion in the blues, Motown and other American popular musical traditions.[38] The author Ian MacDonald writes that when reviewing their rivals' recent work in late 1966, the Beatles identified the most significant LP as the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds, which Brian Wilson, the band's leader, had created in response to the Beatles' Rubber Soul.[39] McCartney was highly impressed with the "harmonic structures" and choice of instruments used on Pet Sounds, and said that these elements encouraged him to think the Beatles could "get further out" than the Beach Boys had.[40] He identified Pet Sounds as his main musical inspiration for Sgt. Pepper, adding that "[we] nicked a few ideas",[41] although he felt it lacked the avant-garde quality he was seeking.[42] Freak Out! by the Mothers of Invention has also been cited as having influenced Sgt. Pepper.[43] According to the biographer Philip Norman, during the recording sessions McCartney repeatedly stated: "This is our Freak Out!"[44] The music journalist Chet Flippo stated that McCartney was inspired to record a concept album after hearing Freak Out![43]

Indian music was another touchstone on Sgt. Pepper, principally for Lennon and Harrison.[45] In a 1967 interview, Harrison said that the Beatles' ongoing success had encouraged them to continue developing musically and that, given their standing, "We can do things that please us without conforming to the standard pop idea. We are not only involved in pop music, but all music."[46] McCartney envisioned the Beatles' alter egos being able to "do a bit of B.B. King, a bit of Stockhausen, a bit of Albert Ayler, a bit of Ravi Shankar, a bit of Pet Sounds, a bit of the Doors".[47] He saw the group as "pushing frontiers" similar to other composers of the time, even though the Beatles did not "necessarily like what, say, Berio was doing".[48]

Recording and production

Recording history

A colour image of a large room with a piano in the middle
Abbey Road Studio Two, where nearly every track on Sgt. Pepper was recorded[49]

Sessions began on 24 November 1966 in Studio Two at EMI Studios (subsequently Abbey Road Studios), marking the first time that the Beatles had come together since September.[50] Afforded the luxury of a nearly limitless recording budget, and with no absolute deadline for completion,[51] the band booked open-ended sessions that started at 7 pm and allowed them to work as late as they wanted.[39] They began with "Strawberry Fields Forever", followed by two other songs that were thematically linked to their childhoods: "When I'm Sixty-Four", the first session for which took place on 6 December,[52] and "Penny Lane".[53] "Strawberry Fields Forever" made prominent use of Mellotron, a keyboard instrument on which the keys triggered tape-recordings of a variety of instruments, enabling its user to play keyboard parts using those voices.[54]

"Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Penny Lane" were subsequently released as a double A-side in February 1967 after EMI and Epstein pressured Martin for a single.[55] When it failed to reach number one in the UK, British press agencies speculated that the group's run of success might have ended, with headlines such as "Beatles Fail to Reach the Top", "First Time in Four Years" and "Has the Bubble Burst?"[56] In keeping with the band's approach to their previously issued singles, the songs were then excluded from Sgt. Pepper.[57] Martin later described the decision to drop these two songs as "the biggest mistake of my professional life".[58] In his judgment, "Strawberry Fields Forever", which he and the band spent an unprecedented 55 hours of studio time recording, "set the agenda for the whole album".[59] He explained: "It was going to be a record ... [with songs that] couldn't be performed live: they were designed to be studio productions and that was the difference."[60] McCartney declared: "Now our performance is that record."[61]

Music papers started to slag us off ... because [Sgt. Pepper] took five months to record, and I remember the great glee seeing in one of the papers how the Beatles have dried up ... and I was sitting rubbing my hands, saying "You just wait."[62]

Paul McCartney

According to the musicologist Walter Everett, Sgt. Pepper marks the beginning of McCartney's ascendancy as the Beatles' dominant creative force. He wrote more than half of the album's material while asserting increasing control over the recording of his compositions.[27][nb 3] In an effort to get the right sound, the Beatles attempted numerous re-takes of McCartney's song "Getting Better". When the decision was made to re-record the basic track, Starr was summoned to the studio, but called off soon afterwards as the focus switched from rhythm to vocal tracking.[64] Much of the bass guitar on the album was mixed upfront.[65] Preferring to overdub his bass part last, McCartney tended to play other instruments when recording a song's backing track. This approach afforded him the time to devise bass lines that were melodically adventurous – one of the qualities he especially admired in Wilson's work on Pet Sounds – and complemented the song's final arrangement.[66] McCartney played a grand piano on "A Day in the Life" and a Lowrey organ on "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds", while Martin played a Hohner Pianet on "Getting Better", a harpsichord on "Fixing a Hole" and a harmonium on "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!"[67]

Although Harrison's role as lead guitarist was limited during the sessions, Everett considers that "his contribution to the album is strong in several ways."[68] In addition to providing sitar and tambura on his composition "Within You Without You", and swarmandal on "Strawberry Fields Forever", Harrison played tambura on "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" and "Getting Better".[69][nb 4] As on Revolver,[71] the Beatles also increasingly used session musicians, particularly for classical-inspired arrangements.[40] Norman comments that Lennon's prominent vocal on some of McCartney's songs "hugely enhanced their atmosphere", particularly "Lovely Rita".[72]

Within an hour of completing the last overdubs on the album's songs, on 20 April 1967, the group returned to Harrison's "Only a Northern Song", the basic track of which they had taped in February.[73] The Beatles overdubbed random sounds and instrumentation before submitting it as the first of four new songs they were contracted to supply to United Artists for inclusion in the animated film Yellow Submarine.[74] In author Mark Lewisohn's description, it was a "curious" session, but one that demonstrated the Beatles' "tremendous appetite for recording".[73] During the Sgt. Pepper sessions, the band also recorded "Carnival of Light", a McCartney-led experimental piece created for the Million Volt Light and Sound Rave, held at the Roundhouse Theatre on 28 January and 4 February.[75][nb 5]

The album was completed on 21 April with the recording of random noises and voices that were included on the run-out groove, preceded by a high-pitched tone that could be heard by dogs but was inaudible to most human ears.[77] The Beatles took an acetate disc of the album to the American singer Cass Elliot's flat off King's Road in Chelsea, where at six in the morning they played it at full volume with speakers set in open window frames. The group's friend and former press agent, Derek Taylor, remembered that residents of the neighbourhood opened their windows and listened without complaint to what they understood to be unreleased Beatles music.[78]

Technical aspects

A colour image of a grey recording machine
One of EMI's Studer J37 four-track tape recorders, the machines used to record Sgt. Pepper

In his book on ambient music, The Ambient Century: From Mahler to Moby, Mark Prendergast views Sgt. Pepper as the Beatles' "homage" to Stockhausen and Cage, adding that its "rich, tape-manipulated sound" shows the influence of electronic and experimental composer Pierre Schaeffer.[79] Martin recalled that Sgt. Pepper "grew naturally out of Revolver", marking "an era of almost continuous technological experimentation".[80] The album was recorded using four-track equipment, since eight-track tape recorders were not operational in commercial studios in London until late 1967.[81] As with previous Beatles albums, the Sgt. Pepper recordings made extensive use of reduction mixing, a technique in which one to four tracks from one recorder are mixed and dubbed down onto a master four-track machine, enabling the engineers to give the group a virtual multitrack studio.[82] EMI's Studer J37 four-track machines were well suited to reduction mixing, as the high quality of the recordings that they produced minimised the increased noise associated with the process.[83] When recording the orchestra for "A Day in the Life", Martin synchronised a four-track recorder playing the Beatles' backing track to another one taping the orchestral overdub. The engineer Ken Townsend devised a method for accomplishing this by using a 50 Hz control signal between the two machines.[84]

Listening to each stage of their recording, once they've done the first couple of tracks, it's often hard to see what they're still looking for, it sounds so complete. Often the final complicated, well-layered version seems to have drowned the initial simple melody. But they know it's not right, even if they can't put it into words. Their dedication is impressive, gnawing away at the same song for stretches of ten hours each.[85]

Hunter Davies, 1968

The production on "Strawberry Fields Forever" was especially complex, involving the innovative splicing of two takes that were recorded in different tempos and pitches.[86][87] Emerick remembers that during the recording of Revolver, "we had got used to being asked to do the impossible, and we knew that the word 'no' didn't exist in the Beatles' vocabulary."[88] A key feature of Sgt. Pepper is Martin and Emerick's liberal use of signal processing to shape the sound of the recording, which included the application of dynamic range compression, reverberation and signal limiting.[89] Relatively new modular effects units were used, such as running voices and instruments through a Leslie speaker.[90] Several innovative production techniques feature prominently on the recordings, including direct injection, pitch control and ambiophonics.[38] The bass part on "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" was the first example of the Beatles recording via direct injection (DI), which Townsend devised as a method for plugging electric guitars directly into the recording console.[91] In Womack's opinion, the use of DI on the album's title track "afforded McCartney's bass with richer textures and tonal clarity".[91]

Some of the mixing employed automatic double tracking (ADT), a system that uses tape recorders to create a simultaneous doubling of a sound. ADT was invented by Townsend during the Revolver sessions in 1966 especially for the Beatles, who regularly expressed a desire for a technical alternative to having to record doubled lead vocals.[92] Another important effect was varispeeding, a technique that the Beatles used extensively on Revolver.[90] Martin cites "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" as having the most variations of tape speed on Sgt. Pepper. During the recording of Lennon's vocals, the tape speed was reduced from 50 cycles per second to 45, which produced a higher and thinner-sounding track when played back at the normal speed.[93] For the album's title track, the recording of Starr's drum kit was enhanced by the use of damping and close-miking. MacDonald credits the new recording technique with creating a "three-dimensional" sound that, along with other Beatles innovations, engineers in the US would soon adopt as standard practice.[94]

Artistic experimentation, such as the placement of random gibberish in the run-out groove, became one of the album's defining features.[95] Sgt. Pepper was the first pop album to be mastered without the momentary gaps that are typically placed between tracks as a point of demarcation.[91] It made use of two crossfades that blended songs together, giving the impression of a continuous live performance.[96][nb 6] Although both stereo and monaural mixes of the album were prepared, the Beatles were minimally involved in what they regarded as the less important stereo mix sessions, leaving the task to Martin and Emerick.[98] Emerick recalls: "We spent three weeks on the mono mixes and maybe three days on the stereo."[99] Most listeners ultimately only heard the stereo version.[100] He estimates that the group spent 700 hours on the LP, more than 30 times that of the first Beatles album, Please Please Me, which cost £400 to produce.[101] The final cost of Sgt. Pepper was approximately £25,000 (equivalent to £457,000 in 2019).[102]

Band dynamics

Author Robert Rodriguez writes that while Lennon, Harrison and Starr embraced the creative freedom afforded by McCartney's band-within-a-band idea, they "went along with the concept with varying degrees of enthusiasm".[103] According to Barry Miles, Lennon resented McCartney's direction of the band as well as how, aside from "Strawberry Fields Forever", he himself was now supplying "songs to order" rather than "writing from the heart" as he had on Revolver.[104] Everett describes Starr as having been "largely bored" during the sessions, with the drummer later lamenting: "The biggest memory I have of Sgt. Pepper ... is I learned to play chess".[68] Speaking in 2000, Harrison said he had little interest in McCartney's concept of a fictitious group and that, after his experiences in India, "my heart was still out there … I was losing interest in being 'fab' at that point."[105] Harrison added that, having enjoyed recording Rubber Soul and Revolver, he disliked how the group's approach on Sgt. Pepper became "an assembly process" whereby, "A lot of the time it ended up with just Paul playing the piano and Ringo keeping the tempo, and we weren't allowed to play as a band as much."[106]

In Lewisohn's opinion, Sgt. Pepper represents the group's last unified effort, displaying a cohesion that deteriorated immediately following the album's completion and entirely disappeared by the release of The Beatles in 1968.[107] Martin recalled in 1987 that throughout the making of Sgt. Pepper, "There was a very good spirit at that time between all the Beatles and ourselves. We were all conscious that we were doing something that was great." He said that while McCartney effectively led the project, and sometimes annoyed his bandmates, "Paul appreciated John's contribution on Pepper. In terms of quantity, it wasn't great, but in terms of quality, it was enormous."[108]



Sgt. Pepper, according to American musicologist Allan F. Moore, is composed mainly of rock and pop music, while Michael Hannan and Naphtali Wagner both believed it is an album of various genres; Hannan said it features "a broad variety of musical and theatrical genres".[109] According to Hannan and Wagner, the music incorporates the stylistic influences of rock and roll, vaudeville, big band, piano jazz, blues, chamber, circus, music hall, avant-garde, and Western and Indian classical music.[110] Wagner felt the album's music reconciles the "diametrically opposed aesthetic ideals" of classical and psychedelia, achieving a "psycheclassical synthesis" of the two forms.[111] Musicologist John Covach describes Sgt. Pepper as "proto-progressive".[112]

We didn't really shove the LP full of pot and drugs but, I mean, there was an effect. We were more consciously trying to keep it out. You wouldn't say, "I had some acid, baby, so groovy," but there was a feeling that something had happened between Revolver and Sgt. Pepper.[106]

John Lennon, 1968

Concerns that some of the lyrics in Sgt. Pepper refer to recreational drug use led to the BBC banning several songs from British radio, such as "A Day in the Life" because of the phrase "I'd love to turn you on", with the BBC claiming that it could "encourage a permissive attitude towards drug-taking."[113] Although Lennon and McCartney denied any drug-related interpretation of the song at the time, McCartney later suggested that the line referred to either drugs or sex.[114] The meaning of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" became the subject of speculation, as many believed that the title was code for LSD.[115] The song was banned by the BBC,[116] as was "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!", for its reference to "Henry the Horse", a phrase that contains two common slang terms for heroin.[117] Fans speculated that Henry the Horse was a drug dealer and "Fixing a Hole" was a reference to heroin use.[118] Others noted lyrics such as "I get high" from "With a Little Help from My Friends", "take some tea" – slang for cannabis use – from "Lovely Rita" and "digging the weeds" from "When I'm Sixty-Four".[119]

The author Sheila Whiteley attributes Sgt. Pepper's underlying philosophy not only to the drug culture, but also to metaphysics and the non-violent approach of the flower power movement.[120] The musicologist Oliver Julien views the album as an embodiment of "the social, the musical, and more generally, the cultural changes of the 1960s".[121] The album's primary value, according to Moore, is its ability to "capture, more vividly than almost anything contemporaneous, its own time and place".[122] Whiteley agrees, crediting the album with "provid[ing] a historical snapshot of England during the run-up to the Summer of Love".[123] Several scholars have applied a hermeneutic strategy to their analysis of Sgt. Pepper's lyrics, identifying loss of innocence and the dangers of overindulgence in fantasies or illusions as the most prominent themes.[124]

Side one

"Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band"

Sgt. Pepper opens with the title track, starting with 10 seconds of the combined sounds of a pit orchestra warming up and an audience waiting for a concert, creating the illusion of the album as a live performance.[126][nb 7] Womack describes the lyric as "a revolutionary moment in the creative life of the Beatles" that bridges the gap – sometimes referred to as the fourth wall – between the audience and the artist.[129] He argues that, paradoxically, the lyrics "exemplify the mindless rhetoric of rock concert banter" while "mock[ing] the very notion of a pop album's capacity for engendering authentic interconnection between artist and audience".[129] In his view, the mixed message ironically serves to distance the group from their fans while simultaneously "gesturing toward" them as alter egos, an authorial quality that he considers to be "the song's most salient feature".[129]

Womack credits the recording's use of a brass ensemble with distorted electric guitars as an early example of rock fusion.[129] MacDonald agrees, describing the track as an overture rather than a song, and a "shrewd fusion of Edwardian variety orchestra" and contemporary hard rock.[128] The musicologist Michael Hannan describes the track's unorthodox stereo mix as "typical of the album", with the lead vocal in the right speaker during the verses, but in the left during the chorus and middle eight.[130] The song's arrangement utilises a rock and roll oriented Lydian mode chord progression during the introduction and verses that is built on parallel sevenths, which Everett describes as "the song's strength".[131] The five-bar bridge is filled by an Edwardian horn quartet that Martin arranged from a McCartney vocal melody.[128] The track turns to the pentatonic scale for the chorus, where its blues rock progression is augmented by the use of electric guitar power chords played in consecutive fifths.[131][nb 8]

"With a Little Help from My Friends"

McCartney acts as the master of ceremonies near the end of the "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" track, introducing Starr as an alter ego named Billy Shears.[91] The song then segues into "With a Little Help from My Friends" amid a moment of crowd cheer that Martin had recorded during a Beatles concert at the Hollywood Bowl.[133] Womack credits Starr's baritone lead vocals with imparting an element of "earnestness in sharp contrast with the ironic distance of the title track".[133] Lennon and McCartney's call-and-response backing vocals ask Starr questions about the meaning of friendship and true love.[134][nb 9] In the final verse, the question and answer relationship is reversed, as the backing singers ask leading questions and Starr provides unequivocal answers.[136] In MacDonald's opinion, the lyric is "at once communal and personal ... [and] meant as a gesture of inclusivity; everyone could join in."[137] Womack agrees, identifying "necessity of community" as the song's "central ethical tenet", a theme that he ascribes to the album as a whole.[134] Everett notes the track's use of a major key double-plagal cadence that would become commonplace in pop music following the release of Sgt. Pepper.[136] The song ends on a vocal high note that McCartney, Harrison and Lennon encouraged Starr to achieve despite his lack of confidence as a singer.[138]

"Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds"

Despite widespread suspicion that the title of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" contained a hidden reference to LSD, Lennon insisted that it was derived from a pastel drawing by his four-year-old son Julian. A hallucinatory chapter from Lewis Carroll's 1871 novel Through the Looking-Glass, a favourite of Lennon's, inspired the song's atmosphere.[140] McCartney later commented that although the title's apparent drug reference was unintentional, the lyrics were purposely written for a psychedelic song.[141]

The first verse begins with what Womack characterises as "an invitation in the form of an imperative" through the line: "Picture yourself in a boat on a river", and continues with imaginative imagery, including "tangerine trees", "rocking horse people" and "newspaper taxis".[142] In Womack's view, with the merging of Lennon's lyrics and McCartney's Lowrey organ introduction "the Beatles achieve their most vivid instance of musical timbre".[143] In addition to the tambura drone, Harrison contributed a lead guitar part that doubles Lennon's vocal over the verses in the style of a sarangi player accompanying an Indian khyal singer.[144][145] The musicologist Tim Riley identifies the track as a moment "in the album, [where] the material world is completely clouded in the mythical by both text and musical atmosphere".[146] According to MacDonald, "the lyric explicitly recreates the psychedelic experience".[115]

"Getting Better"

MacDonald considers "Getting Better" to contain "the most ebullient performance" on Sgt. Pepper.[147] Womack credits the track's "driving rock sound" with distinguishing it from the album's overtly psychedelic material; its lyrics inspire the listener "to usurp the past by living well and flourishing in the present".[142] He cites it as a strong example of Lennon and McCartney's collaborative songwriting, particularly Lennon's addition of the line "couldn't get no worse", which serves as a "sarcastic rejoinder" to McCartney's chorus: "It's getting better all the time".[148] Lennon's contribution to the lyric also includes a confessional regarding his having been violent with female companions: "I used to be cruel to my woman".[148] He explained: "I was a hitter. I couldn't express myself and I hit".[148] In Womack's opinion, the song encourages the listener to follow the speaker's example and "alter their own angst-ridden ways": "Man I was mean, but I'm changing my scene and I'm doing the best that I can."[148]

MacDonald characterises the intro as "blithely unorthodox", with two staccato guitars – one panned left and one right – playing the dominant against the subdominant of an F major ninth chord, with the tonic C resolving as the verse begins. The dominant, which acts as a drone, is reinforced through the use of octaves played on a bass guitar and plucked on piano strings.[149][nb 10]

"Fixing a Hole"

"Fixing a Hole" deals with McCartney's desire to let his mind wander freely and to express his creativity without the burden of self-conscious insecurities.[151][nb 11] Womack interprets the lyric as "the speaker's search for identity among the crowd", in particular the "quests for consciousness and connection" that differentiate individuals from society as a whole.[148] MacDonald characterises it as a "distracted and introverted track", during which McCartney forgoes his "usual smooth design" in favour of "something more preoccupied".[153] He cites Harrison's electric guitar solo as serving the track well, capturing its mood by conveying detachment.[153] Womack notes McCartney's adaptation of the lyric "a hole in the roof where the rain leaks in" from Elvis Presley's "We're Gonna Move".[154]

"She's Leaving Home"

In Everett's view, the lyrics to "She's Leaving Home" address the problem of alienation "between disagreeing peoples", particularly those distanced from each other by the generation gap.[155] McCartney's "descriptive narration", which details the plight of a "lonely girl" who escapes the control of her "selfish yet well-meaning parents", was inspired by a piece about teenage runaways published by the Daily Mail.[156] It is the first track on Sgt. Pepper that eschews the use of guitars and drums, featuring a string nonet with a harp and drawing comparison with "Yesterday" and "Eleanor Rigby", which use a string quartet and octet respectively.[157][nb 12]

"Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!"

The Pablo Fanque Circus Royal poster from 1843 on which the song is based

Lennon adapted the lyrics for "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!" from an 1843 poster for Pablo Fanque's circus that he purchased at an antique shop in Kent on the day of filming the promotional film for "Strawberry Fields Forever".[160] Womack views the track as an effective blending of a print source and music: "The interpretive power of the mixed-media application accrues its meaning through the musical production with which the group imbues the Ur-text of the poster."[161] MacDonald notes Lennon's request for a "fairground production wherein one could smell the sawdust", an atmosphere that Martin and Emerick attempted to create with a sound collage that comprised randomly assembled recordings of harmoniums, harmonicas and calliopes.[162][nb 13] MacDonald describes the song as "a spontaneous expression of its author's playful hedonism".[164] Everett thinks that the track's use of Edwardian imagery thematically links it with the album's opening number.[165]

Side two

"Within You Without You"

We're not trying to outwit the public. The whole idea is to try a little bit to lead people into different tastes.[166]

George Harrison, 1967

Harrison wrote the Hindustani classical music-inspired "Within You Without You" after the decision was made to discard "Only a Northern Song".[167] The lyrics reflect Harrison's immersion in the teachings of the Hindu Vedas while its musical form and Indian instrumentation, such as sitar, tabla, dilrubas and tamburas, recall the Hindu devotional tradition known as bhajan.[168] Harrison recorded the song with London-based Indian musicians from the Asian Music Circle; none of the other Beatles participated in the recording.[169]

The track features a tempo rubato that is without precedent in the Beatles' catalogue.[170] The pitch is derived from the eastern Khamaj scale, which is akin to the Mixolydian mode in the West.[171] MacDonald regards the song as "the most distant departure from the staple Beatles sound in their discography", and a work that represents the "conscience" of the LP through the lyrics' rejection of Western materialism.[172] Womack calls it "quite arguably, the album's ethical soul" as a concise reflection of the Beatles' and the counterculture's perspective during the Summer of Love era.[170] The track ends with a burst of laughter that some listeners interpret as a mockery of the song, but Harrison explained: "It's a release after five minutes of sad music ... You were supposed to hear the audience anyway, as they listen to Sergeant Pepper's Show. That was the style of the album."[173][nb 14] Martin used the moment of levity as a segue for what he describes as the album's "jokey track" – "When I'm Sixty-Four".[175]

"When I'm Sixty-Four"

MacDonald characterises McCartney's "When I'm Sixty-Four" as a song "aimed chiefly at parents", borrowing heavily from the English music hall style of George Formby, while invoking images of the illustrator Donald McGill's "seaside postcards".[177] Its sparse arrangement includes chimes, clarinet and piano.[178] Everett singles it out as a case of McCartney's "penchant for the audience-charming vaudeville ... that Lennon detested".[179] Moore characterises the song as a synthesis of ragtime and pop, adding that its position following "Within You Without You" – a blend of Indian classical music and pop – demonstrates the diversity of the album's material.[180] Moore credits Martin's clarinet arrangement and Starr's use of brushes with establishing the music hall atmosphere, which is reinforced by McCartney's vocal delivery and the recording's use of chromaticism, a harmonic pattern that can be traced to Scott Joplin's "The Ragtime Dance" and The Blue Danube by Johann Strauss.[181] Varispeeding was used on the track, raising its pitch by a semitone in an attempt to make McCartney sound younger.[182] Everett comments that the lyric's protagonist is sometimes associated with the Lonely Hearts Club Band, but in his opinion the song is thematically unconnected to the others on the album.[179]

"Lovely Rita"

Womack characterises "Lovely Rita" as a work of "full-tilt psychedelia" that contrasts sharply with the preceding track.[183] He identifies the song as an example of McCartney's talent for "creating imagistic musical portraiture", yet he also considers it to be a work that foreshadows the "less effectual compositions" that the Beatles would record post-Sgt. Pepper.[183] MacDonald describes the song as a "satire on authority" that is "imbued with an exuberant interest in life that lifts the spirits, dispersing self-absorption".[184]

"Good Morning Good Morning"

"Good Morning Good Morning" was inspired by a television commercial for Kellogg's Corn Flakes, from which Lennon adapted a jingle as the song's refrain. The track uses the bluesy mixolydian mode in A, which Everett credits with "perfectly express[ing] Lennon's grievance against complacency".[185] Lennon later dismissed the song as "a throwaway piece of garbage", while McCartney viewed it as Lennon's reaction to the frustrations of domestic life.[186] Womack highlights the song's varied time signatures, including 5/4, 3/4 and 4/4, calling it a "masterpiece of electrical energy".[187] MacDonald notes Starr's "fine performance" and McCartney's "coruscating pseudo-Indian guitar solo", which he credits with delivering the track's climax.[188] A series of animal noises are heard during the fade-out that are sequenced – at Lennon's request – so that each successive animal is large enough to devour the preceding one.[188] Martin said he spliced the sound of a chicken clucking at the end of the track to overlap with a guitar being tuned in the next one, making a seamless transition between the two songs.[189]

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

"Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)" returns as a segue to the album's finale. The hard-rocking song was written after the Beatles' assistant, Neil Aspinall, suggested that since "Sgt. Pepper" opened the album, the fictional band should make an appearance near the end.[190] The reprise omits the brass section from the title track and features a faster tempo.[191] MacDonald notes the Beatles' apparent excitement, which is tangibly translated during the recording.[190]

"A Day in the Life"

As the last chord of the "Sgt. Pepper" reprise plays, an acoustic guitar strumming offbeat quavers begins,[nb 15] introducing what Moore describes as "one of the most harrowing songs ever written".[194] "A Day in the Life" consists of four verses by Lennon, a bridge, two aleatoric orchestral crescendos and an interpolated middle part written and sung by McCartney. The first crescendo serves as a segue between the third verse and the middle part, leading to a bridge known as the "dream sequence".[194][nb 16]

The idea to use an orchestra was McCartney's; he drew inspiration from Cage and Stockhausen.[197] The 24-bar crescendos feature forty musicians selected from the London and Royal Philharmonic Orchestras and tasked with filling the space with what Womack describes as "the sound of pure apocalypse".[198] Martin said that Lennon requested "a tremendous build-up, from nothing up to something absolutely like the end of the world".[199] Lennon recalled drawing inspiration for the lyrics from a newspaper: "I was writing the song with the Daily Mail propped up in front of me at the piano ... there was a paragraph about 4000 [pot]holes in Blackburn, Lancashire".[200][nb 17] For "A Day in the Life", he wanted his voice to sound like Elvis Presley on "Heartbreak Hotel". Martin and Emerick obliged by adding 90 milliseconds of tape echo.[202] Womack describes Starr's performance as "one of his most inventive drum parts on record", a part that McCartney encouraged him to attempt despite his protests against "flashy drumming".[198]

The thunderous piano chord that concludes the track and the album was produced by recording Lennon, Starr, McCartney and Evans simultaneously sounding an E major chord on three separate pianos; Martin then augmented the sound with a harmonium.[203] The final piano chord was recorded 12 days later.[204] Riley characterises the song as a "postlude to the Pepper fantasy ... that sets all the other songs in perspective", while shattering the illusion of "Pepperland" by introducing the "parallel universe of everyday life".[205] MacDonald describes the track as "a song not of disillusionment with life itself, but of disenchantment with the limits of mundane perception".[206]

As "A Day in the Life" ends, a 15-kilohertz high-frequency tone is heard; it was added at Lennon's suggestion with the intention that it would annoy dogs.[207][nb 18] This is followed by the sounds of backwards laughter and random gibberish that were pressed into the record's concentric run-out groove, which loops back into itself endlessly on any record player not equipped with an automatic needle return. Lennon can be heard saying, "Been so high", followed by McCartney's response: "Never could be any other way."[209][nb 19][nb 20]


According to Womack, with Sgt. Pepper's opening song "the Beatles manufacture an artificial textual space in which to stage their art."[91] The reprise of the title song appears on side two, just prior to the climactic "A Day in the Life", creating a framing device.[190] In Starr's opinion, only the first two songs and the reprise are conceptually connected.[27] Lennon agreed and in 1980 he commented: "Sgt. Pepper is called the first concept album, but it doesn't go anywhere ... it works because we said it worked."[212] He was especially adamant that his contributions to the LP had nothing to do with the Sgt. Pepper concept. Further, he suggested that most of the other songs were equally unconnected, stating: "Except for Sgt. Pepper introducing Billy Shears and the so-called reprise, every other song could have been on any other album".[212]

In MacFarlane's view, the Beatles "chose to employ an overarching thematic concept in an apparent effort to unify individual tracks".[213] Everett contends that the album's "musical unity results ... from motivic relationships between key areas, particularly involving C, E, and G".[209] Moore argues that the recording's "use of common harmonic patterns and falling melodies" contributes to its overall cohesiveness, which he describes as narrative unity, but not necessarily conceptual unity.[214] MacFarlane agrees, suggesting that with the exception of the reprise, the album lacks the melodic and harmonic continuity that is consistent with cyclic form.[215]

In a 1995 interview, McCartney said that the Liverpool childhood theme behind the first three songs recorded during the Sgt. Pepper sessions was never formalised as an album-wide concept, but acknowledged that it served as a "device" or underlying theme throughout the project.[39] MacDonald identifies allusions to the Beatles' upbringing throughout Sgt. Pepper that are "too persuasive to ignore". These include evocations of the postwar Northern music-hall tradition, references to Northern industrial towns and Liverpool schooldays, Lewis Carroll-inspired imagery (acknowledging Lennon's favourite childhood reading), the use of brass instrumentation in the style of park bandstand performances (recalling McCartney's visits to Sefton Park),[216] and the album cover's flower arrangement akin to a floral clock.[217] Norman partly agrees, saying that "In many ways, the album carried on the childhood and Liverpool theme with its circus and fairground effects, its pervading atmosphere of the traditional northern music hall that was in both its main creators' [McCartney and Lennon's] blood."[218][nb 21]


Front cover

Pop artists Peter Blake and Jann Haworth designed the album cover for Sgt. Pepper.[219] Blake recalled of the concept: "I offered the idea that if they had just played a concert in the park, the cover could be a photograph of the group just after the concert with the crowd who had just watched the concert, watching them." He added, "If we did this by using cardboard cut-outs, it could be a magical crowd of whomever they wanted."[220] According to McCartney, he himself provided the ink drawing on which Blake and Haworth based the design.[221] Their uniforms were tailored on request by the group before Blake's involvement.[222] The cover was art-directed by Robert Fraser and photographed by Michael Cooper.[219]

The front of the LP includes a colourful collage featuring the Beatles in costume as Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, standing with a group of life-sized cardboard cut-outs of famous people.[223] Each of the Beatles sports a heavy moustache, after Harrison had first grown one as a disguise during his visit to India.[17] The moustaches reflected the growing influence of hippie style trends, while the group's clothing, in Gould's description, "spoofed the vogue in Britain for military fashions".[224] The centre of the cover depicts the Beatles standing behind a bass drum on which fairground artist Joe Ephgrave painted the words of the album's title.[nb 22] In front of the drum is an arrangement of flowers that spell out "Beatles".[227] The group are dressed in satin day-glo-coloured military-style uniforms that were manufactured by the London theatrical costumer M. Berman Ltd. Next to the Beatles are wax sculptures of the bandmembers in their suits and moptop haircuts from the Beatlemania era, borrowed from Madame Tussauds.[228]

The cover collage includes 57 photographs and nine waxworks that depict a diversity of famous people, including actors, sportsmen, scientists and – at Harrison's request – the Self-Realization Fellowship gurus Mahavatar Babaji, Lahiri Mahasaya, Sri Yukteswar and Paramahansa Yogananda.[229] Inglis views the tableau "as a guidebook to the cultural topography of the decade", demonstrating the increasing democratisation of society whereby "traditional barriers between 'high' and 'low' culture were being eroded".[230][nb 23] The final grouping included Stockhausen and Carroll, along with singers such as Bob Dylan and Bobby Breen; film stars Marlon Brando, Tyrone Power, Tony Curtis, Marlene Dietrich, Mae West, and Marilyn Monroe; artist Aubrey Beardsley; boxer Sonny Liston and footballer Albert Stubbins. Also included were comedians Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy and writers H.G. Wells, Oscar Wilde and Dylan Thomas.[230], as well as the Eastern deities Buddha, Lakshmi and Kali.[231][nb 24]

Adolf Hitler, Mahatma Gandhi[220] and Jesus Christ were requested by Lennon to appear on the cover, but rejected. As a legal precaution, permission was sought from all those still living. Mae West initially refused, rhetorically asking what she would "be doing in a lonely hearts club", until a personal letter from the Beatles changed her mind.[233] Actor Leo Gorcey's image was painted out after he requested a fee.[234] When McCartney was asked why the Beatles did not include Elvis Presley among the musical artists, he replied: "Elvis was too important and too far above the rest even to mention ... he was more than merely a ... pop singer, he was Elvis the King."[235] The final cost for the cover art was nearly £3,000 (equivalent to £55,000 in 2019), an extravagant sum for a time when album covers would typically cost around £50 (equivalent to £900 in 2019).[236]

Back cover, gatefold and cut-outs

A colour image of four men in brightly coloured suits of cyan, magenta, yellow and orange
Sgt. Pepper's inner gatefold. McCartney (in blue) wears a badge on his left sleeve that bears the initials O.P.P. Proponents of the Paul is dead theory read them as O.P.D., which they interpret as "Officially Pronounced Dead".[237] According to Martin the badge was a gift from a fan; the initials stand for "Ontario Provincial Police".[238][nb 25]

The 30 March 1967 photo session with Cooper also produced the back cover and the inside gatefold, which musicologist Ian Inglis describes as conveying "an obvious and immediate warmth ... which distances it from the sterility and artifice typical of such images".[227] McCartney explained: "One of the things we were very much into in those days was eye messages ... So with Michael Cooper's inside photo, we all said, 'Now look into this camera and really say I love you! Really try and feel love; really give love through this!' ... [And] if you look at it you'll see the big effort from the eyes."[241] The album's inner sleeve featured artwork by the Dutch design team the Fool that eschewed for the first time the standard white paper in favour of an abstract pattern of waves of maroon, red, pink and white.[227]

The album's lyrics were printed in full on the back cover, the first time this had been done on a rock LP.[242] Included as a bonus gift was a sheet of cardboard cut-outs designed by Blake and Haworth. These consisted of a postcard-sized portrait of Sgt. Pepper, based on a statue from Lennon's house that was used on the front cover, a fake moustache, two sets of sergeant stripes, two lapel badges, and a stand-up cut-out of the Beatles in their satin uniforms.[236] Moore writes that the inclusion of these items helped fans "pretend to be in the band".[243]


The album was previewed on the pirate radio station Radio London on 12 May and officially on the BBC Light Programme's show Where It's At, by Kenny Everett, on 20 May.[244] Everett played the entire album apart from "A Day in the Life".[245] On 26 May, Sgt. Pepper was given a rush-release in the UK, where it had originally been scheduled for 1 June. The US release followed on 2 June.[246] It was the first Beatles album where the track listings were exactly the same for the UK and US versions.[247] The band's eighth LP,[248] it topped the Record Retailer albums chart (now the UK Albums Chart) for 23 consecutive weeks, with a further four weeks at number one in the period through to February 1968.[249] The record sold 250,000 copies in the UK during its first seven days on sale there.[246][nb 26]

Sgt. Pepper was widely perceived by listeners as the soundtrack to the Summer of Love,[253] during a year that author Peter Lavezzoli describes as "a watershed moment in the West when the search for higher consciousness and an alternative world view had reached critical mass".[254] Rolling Stone magazine's Langdon Winner recalled:

The closest Western Civilization has come to unity since the Congress of Vienna in 1815 was the week the Sgt. Pepper album was released. In every city in Europe and America the radio stations played [it] ... and everyone listened ... it was the most amazing thing I've ever heard. For a brief while the irreparable fragmented consciousness of the West was unified, at least in the minds of the young.[255]

According to Riley, the album "drew people together through the common experience of pop on a larger scale than ever before".[256] Writing in his book Electric Shock, Peter Doggett describes the release as "An Event" and "the biggest pop happening" to take place between the Beatles' debut on American television in February 1964 and Lennon's murder in December 1980.[257] The album's impact was felt at the Monterey International Pop Festival, the second event in the Summer of Love, organised by Taylor and held over 16–18 June in county fairgrounds South of San Francisco.[258][259] Sgt. Pepper was played in kiosks and stands there, and festival staff wore badges carrying Lennon's lyric "A splendid time is guaranteed for all".[46]

American radio stations interrupted their regular scheduling, playing the album virtually non-stop, often from start to finish.[260] Emphasising its identity as a self-contained work, none of the songs were issued as singles at the time.[261][262] Instead, the Beatles released "All You Need Is Love" as a single, in July, after performing the song on the Our World satellite broadcast on 25 June,[263] before an audience estimated at 400 million.[264] According to sociomusicologist Simon Frith, the international broadcast served to confirm "the Beatles' evangelical role" amid the public's embrace of Sgt. Pepper.[265]

The album occupied the number one position on the Billboard Top LPs chart in the US for 15 weeks, from 1 July to 13 October 1967.[266] With 2.5 million copies sold within three months of its release,[267] Sgt. Pepper's initial commercial success exceeded that of all previous Beatles albums.[118] In the UK, it was the best-selling album of 1967[268] and of the decade.[269]

Principal shooting for a Sgt. Pepper television film was scheduled for October and November, with director Keith Green and a screenplay by Ian Dallas. Given a £34,000 budget (equivalent to £622,000 in 2019), it was to have been a 52-minute colour film that featured musical segments for each of the album's tracks. Over a third of the film would have been dedicated to an "A Day in the Life" sequence.[270] Instead, the group accommodated McCartney's ideas for what became the Magical Mystery Tour film.[271]

Contemporary critical reception

Sgt. Pepper's arrival in late spring 1967 came at a most opportune moment in Western cultural history: mainstream journalism had at last warmed to the idea that the "rock" world ... could produce a lasting masterpiece that transcended the genre's lowly origins, while a new and legitimate niche called "rock journalism" was working up its own head of steam ... [E]veryone wanted the Beatles to succeed – and to lead. The wind was at their back, and they knew it.[272]

– Beatles biographer Robert Rodriguez, 2012

The release of Sgt. Pepper coincided with a period when, with the advent of dedicated rock criticism, commentators sought to recognise artistry in pop music, particularly in the Beatles' work, and identify albums as refined artistic statements.[273][274] In America, this approach had been heightened by the "Strawberry Fields Forever" / "Penny Lane" single,[275] and was also exemplified by Leonard Bernstein's television program Inside Pop: The Rock Revolution, broadcast by CBS in April 1967.[273] Following the release of the Beatles' single, in author Bernard Gendron's description, a "discursive frenzy" ensued as Time, Newsweek and other publications from the cultural mainstream increasingly voiced their "ecstatic approbation toward the Beatles".[275]

The vast majority of contemporary reviews of Sgt. Pepper were positive, with the album receiving widespread critical acclaim.[276] Schaffner said that the consensus was aptly summed up by Tom Phillips in The Village Voice, when he called the LP "the most ambitious and most successful record album ever issued".[277] Among Britain's pop press, Peter Jones of Record Mirror said the album was "truly fine ... clever and brilliant, from raucous to poignant and back again", while Disc and Music Echo's reviewer called it "a beautiful and potent record, unique, clever, and stunning".[278] In The Times, William Mann described Sgt. Pepper as a "pop music master-class" and wrote admiringly of its use of "vivid" bass lines that partly recalled the Alberti tradition in classical music.[279] He also commented that, so considerable were the album's musical advances, "the only track that would have been conceivable in pop songs five years ago" was "With a Little Help from My Friends".[280] Having been among the first British critics to fully appreciate Revolver,[281] Peter Clayton of Gramophone magazine said that the new album was "like nearly everything the Beatles do, bizarre, wonderful, perverse, beautiful, exciting, provocative, exasperating, compassionate and mocking". He found "plenty of electronic gimmickry on the record" before concluding: "but that isn't the heart of the thing. It's the combination of imagination, cheek and skill that make this such a rewarding LP."[282] Wilfrid Mellers, in his review for New Statesman, praised the album's elevation of pop music to the level of fine art.[279]

Newsweek's Jack Kroll called Sgt. Pepper a "masterpiece" and compared its lyrics with literary works by Edith Sitwell, Harold Pinter and T. S. Eliot, particularly "A Day in the Life", which he likened to Eliot's The Waste Land.[283] The New Yorker paired the Beatles with Duke Ellington, as artists who operated "in that special territory where entertainment slips into art".[284][285] One of the few well-known American rock critics at the time, and another early champion of Revolver, Richard Goldstein wrote a scathing review in The New York Times.[286] He characterised Sgt. Pepper as a "spoiled" child and dismissed it as "an album of special effects, dazzling but ultimately fraudulent".[287][288] Although he admired "A Day in the Life", comparing it to a work by Wagner,[289] he said that the songs lacked lyrical substance such that "tone overtakes meaning", an aesthetic he blamed on "posturing and put-on" in the form of production effects such as echo and reverb.[290] As a near-lone voice of dissent, Goldstein was widely castigated for his views.[291][nb 27] Four days later, The Village Voice, where Goldstein had become a celebrated columnist since 1966, reacted to the "hornet's nest" of complaints, by publishing Phillips' highly favourable review.[293] According to Schaffner, Goldstein was "kept busy for months" justifying his opinions,[294] which included writing a defence of his review, for the Voice, in July.[295][nb 28]

Among the commentators who responded to Goldstein's critique,[297] composer Ned Rorem, writing in The New York Review of Books, credited the Beatles with possessing a "magic of genius" akin to Mozart and characterised Sgt. Pepper as a harbinger of a "golden Renaissance of Song".[277] Time quoted musicologists and avant-garde composers who equated the standard of the Beatles' songwriting to Schubert and Schumann, and located the band's work to electronic music;[298] the magazine concluded that the album was "a historic departure in the progress of music – any music".[118] In his appreciation of the Beatles in the journal Partisan Review, Richard Poirier wrote: "listening to the Sgt. Pepper album one thinks not simply of the history of popular music but the history of this century."[299] Kenneth Tynan, the London Times' theatre critic, said the album represented "a decisive moment in the history of Western civilisation".[300] In his December 1967 column for Esquire, Robert Christgau described Sgt. Pepper as "a consolidation, more intricate than Revolver but not more substantial". He suggested that Goldstein had fallen "victim to overanticipation", identifying his primary error as "allow[ing] all the filters and reverbs and orchestral effects and overdubs to deafen him to the stuff underneath, which was pretty nice".[301]

Retrospective appraisal

Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic5/5 stars[302]
The A.V. ClubB+[303]
The Daily Telegraph5/5 stars[304]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music5/5 stars[305]
MusicHound Rock5/5[306]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide5/5 stars[309]
The Village VoiceA[311]

Although few critics in 1967 agreed with Goldstein's criticism of the album, many later came to appreciate his sentiments.[300] Detractors typically bemoan McCartney's dominant role, the "lightweight" and "bourgeois" manner of his songs, the reliance on studio innovation, the unconvincing concept, Harrison's seemingly obstructed input and the influence of drugs on Lennon's reduced involvement.[312] In his 1979 book Stranded: Rock and Roll for a Desert Island, Greil Marcus wrote that, by 1968, Sgt. Pepper appeared vacuous against the emotional backdrop of the political and social upheavals of American life, and he described it as "playful but contrived" and "a Day-Glo tombstone for its time".[313] Marcus believed that the album "strangled on its own conceits" while being "vindicated by world-wide acclaim".[314][nb 29] In a 1976 article for The Village Voice, Christgau revisited the "supposedly epochal Works of Art" from 1967 and found that Sgt. Pepper appeared "bound to a moment" amid the year's culturally important music that had "dated in the sense that it speaks with unusually specific eloquence of a single point in history". Christgau said of the album's "dozen good songs and true", "Perhaps they're too precisely performed, but I'm not going to complain."[311][nb 30]

Lester Bangs – the so-called "godfather" of punk rock journalism – wrote in 1981 that "Goldstein was right in his much-vilified review ... predicting that this record had the power to almost singlehandedly destroy rock and roll."[318][nb 31] He added: "In the sixties rock and roll began to think of itself as an 'art form'. Rock and roll is not an 'art form'; rock and roll is a raw wail from the bottom of the guts."[320] In another 1981 assessment, for the magazine The History of Rock, Simon Frith described Sgt. Pepper as "the last great pop album, the last LP ambitious to amuse everyone".[321]

In his feature article on Sgt. Pepper's 40th anniversary, for Mojo, John Harris said that, such was its "seismic and universal" impact and subsequent identification with 1967, a "fashion for trashing" the album had become commonplace.[322][nb 32] He attributed this to iconoclasm, as successive generations identified the album with baby boomers' retreat into "nostalgia-tinged smugness" during the 1970s, combined with a general distaste for McCartney following Lennon's murder in 1980. Citing its absence from the NME's best-albums list in 1985 after it had topped the magazine's previous poll, in 1974, Harris said that its lack of critical favour in the UK was such that it had become "the most underrated album of all time", adding:

Though by no means universally degraded ... Sgt. Pepper had taken a protracted beating from which it has perhaps yet to fully recover. Regularly challenged and overtaken in the Best Beatle Album stakes by Revolver, the White Album, even Rubber Soul, it suffered more than any Beatles record from the long fall-out after punk, and even the band's Britpop-era revival mysteriously failed to improve its standing.[322]

Writing in the 2004 edition of The Rolling Stone Album Guide, Rob Sheffield described Sgt. Pepper as "a revelation of how far artists could go in a recording studio with only four tracks, plenty of imagination, and a drug or two", but also "a masterwork of sonics, not songwriting".[324] In his review for Rough Guides, Chris Ingham predicted that Sgt. Pepper would "continue to cast its considerable spell" despite its "inevitable" detractors.[312] Among reviews of the 2009 remastered album, Neil McCormick of The Daily Telegraph wrote: "It is impossible to overstate its impact: from a contemporary Sixties perspective it was utterly mind-blowing and original. Looking back from a point when its sonic innovations have been integrated into the mainstream, it remains a wonky, colourful and wildly improbable pop classic, although a little slighter and less cohesive than it may have seemed at the time."[304] Mark Kemp, writing for Paste, said the album was a "blast of avant-rock genius" but also "one of rock's most overrated albums".[307] In the NME's 2014 article "25 Albums With The Most Incredible Production", Emily Barber described Sgt. Pepper as "kaleidoscopic" and an "orchestral baroque pop masterpiece the likes of which has rarely been matched since".[325]

According to BBC Music critic Chris Jones, while Sgt. Pepper has long been subsumed under "an avalanche of hyperbole", the album retains an enduring quality "because its sum is greater than its whole ... These guys weren't just recording songs; they were inventing the stuff with which to make this record as they went along."[326] Although the lyrics, particularly McCartney's, were "a far cry from the militancy of their American peers", he continues, "what was revolutionary was the sonic carpet that enveloped the ears and sent the listener spinning into other realms."[327] Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic considers the album to be a refinement of Revolver's "previously unheard-of level of sophistication and fearless experimentation" and a work that combines a wide range of musical styles yet "Not once does the diversity seem forced". He concludes: "After Sgt. Pepper, there were no rules to follow – rock and pop bands could try anything, for better or worse."[302]

Influence and legacy

Development of popular music

In 1987, Anthony DeCurtis of Rolling Stone described Sgt. Pepper as the album that "revolutionized rock and roll".[328] Rolling Stone's Andy Greene and Scott Plagenhoef of Pitchfork credit it with marking the beginning of the album era.[308][329] For several years following its release, straightforward rock and roll was supplanted by a growing interest in extended form, and for the first time in the history of the music industry sales of albums outpaced sales of singles.[330] In Gould's description, Sgt. Pepper was "the catalyst for an explosion of mass enthusiasm for album-formatted rock that would revolutionize both the aesthetics and the economics of the record business in ways that far out-stripped the earlier pop explosions triggered by the Elvis phenomenon of 1956 and the Beatlemania phenomenon of 1963".[331]

In Sgt. Pepper's intricate aural tapestry is the sound of four men rebelling against musical convention and, in doing so, opening wide the door for the sonic experimentation that launched hard rock, punk, metal, new wave, grunge and every other form of popular music that followed.[332]

– Christopher Scapelliti, writing in Guitar World, June 2007

Moore says that "The beginnings of progressive rock are normally traced to [Sgt. Pepper]", a development he attributes to the album's self-conscious lyrics, its studio experimentation, and its efforts to expand the barriers of conventional three-minute tracks.[333][nb 33] MacFarlane writes that, despite concerns regarding its thematic unity, Sgt. Pepper "is widely regarded as the first true concept album in popular music".[213] According to Riley, "Strictly speaking, the Mothers of Invention's Freak Out! has claims as the first 'concept album', but Sgt. Pepper was the record that made that idea convincing to most ears."[335][nb 34] Author Martina Elicker similarly writes that, despite earlier examples, it was Sgt. Pepper that familiarised critics and listeners with the notion of a "concept and unified structure underlying a pop album", thus originating the term "concept album".[337] Carys Wyn Jones locates Pet Sounds and Sgt. Pepper to the beginning of art rock; Julien considers the latter a "masterpiece of British psychedelia".[338]

According to historian David Simonelli, Sgt. Pepper established the standard for rock musicians, particularly British acts, to strive towards in their self-identification as artists rather than pop stars, whereby, as in the Romantic tradition, creative vision dominated at the expense of all commercial concerns.[339] The album influenced Jefferson Airplane's After Bathing at Baxter's, the Rolling Stones' Their Satanic Majesties Request and the Mothers of Invention's We're Only in It for the Money,[340] the last of which parodied the Sgt. Pepper cover collage.[246] Author Doyle Greene writes that, although the Beatles are usually viewed as modernists, Sgt. Pepper "can be heard as a crucial postmodernist moment", through its incorporation of self-conscious artistry, irony and pastiche, and "arguably marked rock music's entry into postmodernism as opposed to high-modernism".[341] During the 1970s, glam rock acts co-opted the Beatles' use of alter ego personas.[342] Carla Bley named the Beatles album her greatest influence,[343] and her avant-garde jazz opus Escalator Over the Hill (1971) was intended as a jazz response to Sgt. Pepper.[344][345][346][347]

Contemporary youth and counterculture

The Beatles three months after the release of Sgt. Pepper, filming a musical segment for the Magical Mystery Tour television film

In the wake of Sgt. Pepper, the underground and mainstream press widely publicised the Beatles as leaders of youth culture, as well as "lifestyle revolutionaries".[348] In Moore's description, the album "seems to have spoken (in a way no other has) for its generation".[349] An educator referenced in a July New York Times article was reported to have said on the topic of music studies and its relevance to the day's youth: "If you want to know what youths are thinking and feeling, ... you cannot find anyone who speaks for them or to them more clearly than the Beatles."[350]

Sgt. Pepper was the focus of much celebration by the counterculture.[351] The American psychologist and counterculture figure Timothy Leary labelled the Beatles "avatars of the new world order"[352] and said that the LP "gave a voice to the feeling that the old ways were over" by stressing the need for cultural change based on a peaceful agenda.[123] Ian MacDonald wrote that the album's impact was cross-generational as "Young and old alike were entranced", and era-defining, in that the "psychic shiver" it inspired across the world was "nothing less than a cinematic dissolve from one Zeitgeist to another". He also said that in the context of 1967, Sgt. Pepper conveyed the psychedelic experience so effectively to listeners unfamiliar with hallucinogenic drugs that "If such a thing as a cultural 'contact high' is possible, it happened here."[353] According to author Michael Frontani, the Beatles "legitimiz[ed] the lifestyle of the counterculture", just as they did popular music, and formed the basis of Jann Wenner's scope on these issues when launching Rolling Stone magazine in late 1967.[354]

Many rock critics and fans responded unfavourably to subsequent records by other artists in the view that they were unsuccessful attempts at matching the Beatles' studio artistry on Sgt. Pepper.[355] These included the Beach Boys' Smiley Smile and the Rolling Stones' Their Satanic Majesties Request.[356] Discussing the latter, Wenner referred to "the post–Sgt. Pepper trap of trying to put out a 'progressive,' 'significant' and 'different' album, as revolutionary as the Beatles. But it couldn't be done, because only the Beatles can put out an album by the Beatles."[357][nb 35] Wenner's beliefs of the Beatles' superiority as artists and pursuers of countercultural ideals – argued predominately on the influence of Sgt. Pepper – were shared by many and repeated in the vast majority of articles for Rolling Stone.[358]

Simon Frith, in his overview of 1967 for The History of Rock, said that Sgt. Pepper "defined the year" by conveying the optimism and sense of empowerment at the centre of the youth movement. He added that the Velvet Underground's The Velvet Underground & Nico, an album that contrasted sharply with the Beatles' message by "offer[ing] no escape", became more relevant in a cultural climate typified by "the Sex Pistols, the new political aggression, the rioting in the streets" during the 1970s.[265] In a 1987 review for Q magazine, Charles Shaar Murray asserted that Sgt. Pepper "remains a central pillar of the mythology and iconography of the late '60s",[359] while Colin Larkin states in his Encyclopedia of Popular Music: "[it] turned out to be no mere pop album but a cultural icon, embracing the constituent elements of the 60s' youth culture: pop art, garish fashion, drugs, instant mysticism and freedom from parental control."[360]

Cultural legitimisation of popular music

In The Oxford Encyclopedia of British Literature, Kevin Dettmar writes that Sgt. Pepper achieved "a combination of popular success and critical acclaim unequaled in twentieth-century art ... never before had an aesthetic and technical masterpiece enjoyed such popularity."[3] Through the level of attention it received from the rock press and more culturally elite publications, the album achieved full cultural legitimisation for pop music and recognition for the medium as a genuine art form.[279][361] Riley says that pop had been due this accreditation "at least as early as A Hard Day's Night" in 1964.[362] He adds that the timing of the album's release and its reception ensured that "Sgt. Pepper has attained the kind of populist adoration that renowned works often assume regardless of their larger significance – it's the Beatles' 'Mona Lisa'."[363] At the 10th Annual Grammy Awards in 1968, Sgt. Pepper won in the categories of Album of the Year, Best Album Cover, Graphic Arts, Best Engineered Recording, Non-Classical and Best Contemporary Album.[364] Its win in the Album of the Year category marked the first time that a rock LP had received this honour.[365][366]

Among the recognised composers who helped legitimise the Beatles as serious musicians at the time were Luciano Berio, Aaron Copland, John Cage. Ned Rorem and Leonard Bernstein.[367] According to Rodriguez, an element of exaggeration accompanied some of the acclaim for Sgt. Pepper, with particularly effusive approbation coming from Rorem, Bernstein and Tynan, "as if every critic was seeking to outdo the other for the most lavish embrace of the Beatles' new direction".[368][nb 36] In Gendron's view, the cultural approbation represented American "highbrow" commentators (Rorem and Poirier) looking to establish themselves over their "low-middlebrow" equivalent, after Time and Newsweek had led the way in recognising the Beatles' artistry, and over the new discipline of rock criticism.[370] Gendron describes the discourse as one whereby, during a period that lasted for six months, "highbrow" composers and musicologists "jostl[ed] to pen the definitive effusive appraisal of the Beatles".[371]

Aside from the attention afforded the album in literary and scholarly journals, the American jazz magazines Down Beat and Jazz both began to cover rock music for the first time, with the latter changing its name to Jazz & Pop as a result.[372] In addition, following Sgt. Pepper, established American publications such as Vogue, Playboy and the San Francisco Chronicle started discussing rock as art, in terms usually reserved for jazz criticism.[373] Writing for Rolling Stone in 1969, Michael Lydon said that reviewers had had to invent "new criticism" to match pop's musical advances, since: "Writing had to be an appropriate response to the music; in writing about, say, Sgt. Pepper, you had to try to write something as good as Sgt. Pepper. Because, of course, what made that record beautiful was the beautiful response it created in you; if your written response was true to your listening response, the writing would stand on its own as a creation on par with the record."[374]

Studio as instrument

Equal credit [for Sgt. Pepper] is now justifiably placed with George Martin ... He shaped glorious songs, fantazmagorical lyrics with melody and harmony and pushed recording technique into unknown waters.[375]

Colin Larkin, writing in the Guinness Book of Top 1000 Albums, 1994

In MacFarlane's opinion, Sgt. Pepper's most important musical innovation is its "integration of recording technology into the compositional process".[376][nb 37] He credits Edgard Varèse's Poème électronique as the piece of music that made this advance feasible, by "expand[ing] the definition of sound recording from archival documentation to the reification of the musical canvass"; he identifies "A Day in the Life" as the Sgt. Pepper track that best exemplifies this approach.[378]

According to Julien, Sgt. Pepper represents the "epitome of the transformation of the recording studio into a compositional tool", marking the moment when "popular music entered the era of phonographic composition."[379] The musician and producer Alan Parsons believes that with Sgt. Pepper "people then started thinking that you could spend a year making an album and they began to consider an album as a sound composition and not just a musical composition. The idea was gradually forming of a record being a performance in its own right and not just a reproduction of a live performance."[380]

In his book Sonic Alchemy, David Howard says that many acts, "from the Rolling Stones to the Four Seasons to the Ultimate Spinach", soon imitated the album's innovative production techniques, and that as a result of Sgt. Pepper, the producer's role "ballooned almost overnight".[381] In this regard, Lennon and McCartney complained that Martin had received too much attention for his role in the album's creation,[382] so beginning a feeling of resentment by the Beatles towards their longtime producer.[383][nb 38]

Graphic design

Inglis notes that almost every account of the significance of Sgt. Pepper emphasises the cover's "unprecedented correspondence between music and art, time and space".[385] After its release, album sleeves were no longer "a superfluous thing to be discarded during the act of listening, but an integral component of the listening that expanded the musical experience".[385] The cover helped to elevate album art as a respected topic for critical analysis whereby the "structures and cultures of popular music" could henceforth justify intellectual discourse in a way that – before Sgt. Pepper – would have seemed like "fanciful conceit".[386] He writes: Sgt. Pepper's "cover has been regarded as groundbreaking in its visual and aesthetic properties, congratulated for its innovative and imaginative design, credited with providing an early impetus for the expansion of the graphic design industry into popular music, and perceived as largely responsible for the connections between art and pop to be made explicit."[386]

Sgt. Pepper contributed to the popular trend for military-style fashions as adopted by London's boutique shops.[387] Riley describes the cover as "one of the best-known works that pop art ever produced",[388] while Norman calls it "the most famous album cover of all time".[389] In 1968, the band followed Sgt. Pepper with their self-titled LP known as the "White Album". Its plain white sleeve was chosen to contrast the wave of psychedelic imagery and album covers inspired by Sgt. Pepper.[390] In the late 1990s, the BBC included the Sgt. Pepper cover in its list of British masterpieces of twentieth-century art and design, placing it ahead of the red telephone box, Mary Quant's miniskirt, and the Mini motorcar.[236] In 2008, the bass drum skin used on the front cover sold at auction for €670,000.[391]

Continued interest and recognition

Sgt. Pepper appeared on the Billboard albums chart in the US for 175 non-consecutive weeks through 1987.[392] The album sustained its immense popularity into the 21st century while breaking numerous sales records.[393] With certified sales of 5.1 million copies, it is the third-best-selling album in UK chart history and the best-selling studio album there.[394] It is one of the most commercially successful albums in the US, where the RIAA certified sales of 11 million copies in 1997.[395] By 2000, Sgt. Pepper was among the top 20 best-selling albums of all time worldwide.[396] As of 2011, it had sold more than 32 million copies worldwide, making it one of the highest-selling albums of all time.[397]

Sgt. Pepper has topped many "best album" lists.[398] It was voted in first place in Paul Gambaccini's 1978 book Critic's Choice: Top 200 Albums,[399] based on submissions from around 50 British and American critics and broadcasters including Christgau, Marcus, Dave Marsh and Ed Ward,[400] and again in the 1987 edition.[401] In Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies (1981), it appears in "A Basic Record Library" of 1950s and 1960s recordings.[402] In 1994, it was ranked first in Colin Larkin's All Time Top 1000 Albums.[403] He described it as "the album that revolutionized, changed and re-invented the boundaries of modern popular music".[375][nb 39] Among its appearances in other critics' polls, the album topped the BBC's "Music of the Millennium" albums list in 1998 and was ranked third in Q's 2004 list "The Music That Changed the World".[407] In 2003, it was one of 50 recordings chosen by the Library of Congress to be added to the National Recording Registry, honouring the work as "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".[2]

In 2003, Rolling Stone placed Sgt. Pepper at number one in the magazine's list of the "500 Greatest Albums of All Time", ranking the same upon a revised list in 2012,[408] describing it as "the pinnacle of the Beatles' eight years as recording artists".[409][nb 40] The editors also said that Sgt. Pepper was "the most important rock and roll album ever made", a point to which June Skinner Sawyers adds, in her 2006 collection of essays Read the Beatles: "It has been called the most famous album in the history of popular music. It is certainly among the most written about. It is still being written about."[412] In 2006 it was chosen by Time as one of the 100 best albums of all time.[413] Writing that same year, Dettmar described Sgt. Pepper as "quite simply, the most important and influential rock-and-roll album ever recorded".[3] It is featured in Chris Smith's 2009 book 101 Albums That Changed Popular Music, where Smith highlights the album among the most "obvious" choices for inclusion due to its continued commercial success, the wealth of imitative works it inspired, and its ongoing recognition as "a defining moment in the history of music".[414]

The Sgt. Pepper mythology was reimagined for the plot of the 1969 animated film Yellow Submarine. In the film, the Beatles travel to Pepperland and rescue Sgt. Pepper's band from evildoers, the Blue Meanies. The album outtake "Only a Northern Song" was selected for inclusion in the film's soundtrack, in addition to "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds", "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band", "With a Little Help from My Friends" and a small portion of "A Day in the Life".[415] The album also inspired the 1974 off-Broadway musical Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band on the Road, directed by Tom O'Horgan,[416] and the 1978 film Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, produced by Robert Stigwood.[322] In 1977, the LP won Best British Album at the inaugural Brit Awards.[417]

Sgt. Pepper has been the subject of many tribute albums,[418] including a multi-artist CD available with the March 2007 issue of Mojo and a 2009 live album, Sgt. Pepper Live, by the American band Cheap Trick.[407] Other tribute recordings include Sgt. Pepper Knew My Father, a multi-artist charity compilation released by the NME in 1988, and Big Daddy's 1992 Sgt. Pepper's album, a release that Moore recognised as "the most audacious" of all the interpretations of the Beatles' LP up to 1997.[419] Mark Morris choreographed Pepperland to the Beatles' "Penny Lane" and four of the songs from Sgt. Pepper, arranged by Ethan Iverson, plus six original compositions by Iverson. This work received its world premiere in Liverpool on 25 May 2017, as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations of the album's release.[420]

Track listing

Original release

All songs written by Lennon–McCartney, except "Within You Without You" by George Harrison. Track lengths and lead vocals per Mark Lewisohn, Ian MacDonald and Kevin Howlett.[421][422]

Side one
No.TitleLead vocalsLength
1."Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band"McCartney2:00
2."With a Little Help from My Friends"Starr2:42
3."Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds"Lennon3:28
4."Getting Better"McCartney with Lennon2:48
5."Fixing a Hole"McCartney2:36
6."She's Leaving Home"McCartney with Lennon3:25
7."Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!"Lennon2:37
Total length:19:34
Side two
No.TitleLead vocalsLength
1."Within You Without You"Harrison5:05
2."When I'm Sixty-Four"McCartney2:37
3."Lovely Rita"McCartney2:42
4."Good Morning Good Morning"Lennon2:42
5."Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)"Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr1:18
6."A Day in the Life"Lennon with McCartney5:38
Total length:20:02

50th anniversary editions

Sgt. Pepper 50th anniversary billboard in London

On 26 May 2017, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was reissued for the album's 50th anniversary as a six-disc box set. The first CD contains a new stereo remix of the album produced by Giles Martin. Created using modern and vintage technology, the 2017 mix retains more of the idiosyncrasies that were unique to the original mono version of Sgt. Pepper. Unlike the original album, first-generation tapes were used rather than their subsequent mixdowns, resulting in a clearer and more spacious sound.[423] The other discs contain alternative mixes and previously unreleased session tapes. The set includes four CDs as well as a documentary and 5.1 surround sound mixes of the album in both DVD and Blu-ray form.[424]

Sgt. Pepper's Musical Revolution, a documentary produced by Apple Corps and written and presented by Howard Goodall, was televised on the BBC, PBS and Arte to commemorate the anniversary.[425] The occasion was also celebrated with posters, billboards and other decorations at notable locations around the world, including a billboard in Times Square.[426] The 50th anniversary edition of Sgt. Pepper topped the UK Albums Chart after its release.[393]

Deluxe edition, disc one — 2017 stereo remix of original album
Deluxe edition, disc two — alternate takes in the original album order (tracks 14–18 omitted from the double vinyl release)
1."Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" (Take 9)2:37
2."With a Little Help from My Friends" (Take 1 – False Start and Take 2 – Instrumental)3:15
3."Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" (Take 1)3:40
4."Getting Better" (Take 1 – Instrumental and Speech at the End)2:19
5."Fixing a Hole" (Speech And Take 3)3:28
6."She's Leaving Home" (Take 1 – Instrumental)3:49
7."Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!" (Take 4)3:08
8."Within You Without You" (Take 1 – Indian Instruments)5:33
9."When I'm Sixty-Four" (Take 2)3:00
10."Lovely Rita" (Speech and Take 9)3:05
11."Good Morning Good Morning" (Take 8)2:47
12."Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)" (Take 8)2:00
13."A Day in the Life" (Take 1 With Hummed Last Chord)4:52
14."Strawberry Fields Forever" (Take 7)3:17
15."Strawberry Fields Forever" (Take 26)3:19
16."Strawberry Fields Forever" (Stereo Mix – 2015)4:10
17."Penny Lane" (Take 6 – Instrumental)2:56
18."Penny Lane" (Stereo Mix – 2017)3:00
Total length:60:15
Super deluxe edition, disc one — 2017 stereo remix of original album
Super deluxe edition, disc two — early session highlights, sequenced in chronological order of their first recording dates
1."Strawberry Fields Forever" (Take 1)2:40
2."Strawberry Fields Forever" (Take 4)3:00
3."Strawberry Fields Forever" (Take 7)3:17
4."Strawberry Fields Forever" (Take 26)3:19
5."Strawberry Fields Forever" (Stereo Mix – 2015)4:10
6."When I'm Sixty-Four" (Take 2)3:00
7."Penny Lane" (Take 6 – Instrumental)2:56
8."Penny Lane" (Vocal Overdubs and Speech)1:47
9."Penny Lane" (Stereo Mix – 2017)3:00
10."A Day in the Life" (Take 1)4:41
11."A Day in the Life" (Take 2)4:49
12."A Day in the Life" (Orchestra Overdub)0:56
13."A Day in the Life (Hummed Last Chord)" (Takes 8, 9, 10 and 11)1:55
14."A Day in the Life (The Last Chord)"2:53
15."Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" (Take 1 – Instrumental)2:34
16."Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" (Take 9 and Speech)2:37
17."Good Morning Good Morning" (Take 1 – Instrumental, Breakdown)1:04
18."Good Morning Good Morning" (Take 8)2:47
Total length:51:25
Super deluxe edition, disc three — as above
1."Fixing a Hole" (Take 1)3:00
2."Fixing a Hole" (Speech and Take 3)3:28
3."Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!" (Speech from Before Take 1; Take 4 and Speech at the End)3:08
4."Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!" (Take 7)2:35
5."Lovely Rita" (Speech and Take 9)3:05
6."Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" (Take 1 and Speech at the End)3:40
7."Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" (Speech, False Start and Take 5)4:08
8."Getting Better" (Take 1 – Instrumental and Speech at the End)2:19
9."Getting Better" (Take 12)2:45
10."Within You Without You" (Take 1 – Indian Instruments Only)5:33
11."Within You Without You" (George Coaching the Musicians)3:56
12."She's Leaving Home" (Take 1 – Instrumental)3:49
13."She's Leaving Home" (Take 6 – Instrumental)3:48
14."With a Little Help from My Friends" (Take 1 – False Start and Take 2 – Instrumental)3:15
15."Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)" (Speech And Take 8)2:00
Total length:50:29
Super deluxe edition, disc four — 1967 mono mix of original album (not listed) with 6 bonus tracks
14."Strawberry Fields Forever" (Original Mono Mix)4:08
15."Penny Lane" (Original Mono Mix)3:02
16."A Day in the Life" (Unreleased First Mono Mix)4:43
17."Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" (Unreleased Mono Mix – No. 11)3:49
18."She's Leaving Home" (Unreleased First Mono Mix)3:42
19."Penny Lane" (Capitol Records U.S. Promo Single – Mono Mix)3:01
Total length:62:17


According to Mark Lewisohn and Ian MacDonald:[427]

The Beatles

Additional musicians and production

  • Sounds Incorporated – the saxophone sextet on "Good Morning Good Morning"[428]
  • Neil Aspinall – tambura, harmonica[429]
  • Geoff Emerickaudio engineering; tape loops, sound effects[430][nb 41]
  • Mal Evans – counting, harmonica, alarm clock, final piano E chord[432]
  • George Martin – producer, mixer; tape loops, sound effects; harpsichord on "Fixing a Hole", harmonium, Lowrey organ and glockenspiel on "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!", Hammond organ on "With a Little Help from My Friends", piano on "Getting Better", piano solo on "Lovely Rita"; final harmonium chord.[433]
  • Session musicians – four French horns on "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band": Neill Sanders, James W. Buck, John Burden, Tony Randall,[342] arranged and conducted by Martin and McCartney; string section and harp on "She's Leaving Home", arranged by Mike Leander and conducted by Martin; tabla, dilrubas, tamboura and swarmandal on "Within You Without You", played by members of the Asian Music Circle, with eight violins and four cellos arranged and conducted by Harrison and Martin; clarinet trio on "When I'm Sixty-Four": Robert Burns, Henry MacKenzie, Frank Reidy, arranged and conducted by Martin and McCartney; saxophones on "Good Morning Good Morning", arranged and conducted by Martin and Lennon; and forty-piece orchestra, including strings, brass, woodwinds and percussion on "A Day in the Life", arranged by Martin, Lennon and McCartney, and conducted by Martin and McCartney.[434]


Weekly charts


In the US, the album sold 2,360,423 copies by 31 December 1967 and 3,372,581 copies by the end of the decade.[485]

Region Certification Certified units/sales
Argentina (CAPIF)[486] 2× Platinum 120,000^
Argentina (CAPIF)[486]
1987 CD issue
3× Platinum 180,000^
Australia (ARIA)[487] 4× Platinum 280,000^
Brazil (Pro-Música Brasil)[488] Gold 100,000*
Canada (Music Canada)[489] 8× Platinum 800,000^
France (SNEP)[491] Gold 717,400[490]
Germany (BVMI)[492] Platinum 500,000^
Italy (FIMI)[493] Platinum 100,000*
Japan (Oricon Charts) 208,000[444]
New Zealand (RMNZ)[494] 6× Platinum 90,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[496] 17× Platinum 5,340,000[495]
United States (RIAA)[497] 11× Platinum 11,000,000^

*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone


  1. ^ According to author Allen J. Wiener, the album's intended release date of 1 June has been "traditionally observed" over the ensuing decades, yet the true release date was 26 May.[1]
  2. ^ McCartney has said that the idea for the title came from his mishearing Evans asking for "salt and pepper" over a meal.[32] According to Larry Portis, the "Sergeant Pepper" referred to in the song is "the ghost of either Will Pepper or his son Harry S. Pepper", described by Portis as "two outstanding figures in English show business". Will Pepper was the manager of an Edwardian concert party called "Will C. Pepper's White Coons".[33]
  3. ^ In Emerick's opinion, the recording of Sgt. Pepper marks the emergence of McCartney as the Beatles' de facto producer, as Martin was increasingly absent near the end of late-night sessions that often lasted until dawn.[63]
  4. ^ In a 2017 interview, Starr said with regard to Harrison's guitar contributions: "Actually, Paul and I were talking about him when we were both listening to Sgt Pepper's for the [50th] anniversary and saying how important George's work on guitar was on that record."[70]
  5. ^ In his description of "Carnival of Light", author Barry Miles likens it to "The Return of the Son of Monster Magnet", the closing track on Freak Out![76]
  6. ^ "Sgt. Pepper" was crossfaded into "With a Little Help from My Friends" and the "Sgt. Pepper" reprise was crossfaded into "A Day in the Life".[97]
  7. ^ The crowd noises on "Sgt. Pepper" were gleaned from the Abbey Road archive, including "Volume 28: Audience Applause and Atmosphere, Royal Albert Hall and Queen Elizabeth Hall" for the murmuring, and Martin's recording of a 1961 comedy show, Beyond the Fringe, for the laughter. The screaming that is heard as the song segues into "With a Little Help from My Friends" was overdubbed from one of Martin's recordings of the Beatles performing at the Hollywood Bowl.[127] According to MacDonald, they also used recordings of ambient sounds captured during the 10 February orchestral session for "A Day in the Life".[128]
  8. ^ The song's lead guitar part was played by McCartney, who replaced an effort by Harrison that he had spent seven hours recording.[132]
  9. ^ McCartney and Lennon came up with the call-and-response format of questions and answers when writing the song together at McCartney's home in St John's Wood, in mid-March 1967.[135]
  10. ^ McCartney's bass line accents non-roots on the recording's downbeat.[150]
  11. ^ The backing track for "Fixing a Hole" was recorded at Regent Sound Studio, in west London, after EMI refused to cancel another band's booking when the Beatles wanted to schedule a last minute session at Abbey Road.[152]
  12. ^ For the 17 March recording of "She's Leaving Home", McCartney hired Mike Leander to arrange the string section as Martin was occupied producing one of his other artists, Cilla Black.[158] Martin was upset at McCartney for choosing to work with another arranger, but conducted the musicians using the score more or less as written.[159]
  13. ^ Emerick first employed this method in 1966, while creating the ambiance for "Yellow Submarine" from Revolver.[163]
  14. ^ Martin and Emerick advised against the inclusion of the laughter, which was gleaned from the Abbey Road effects tape "Volume 6: Applause and Laughter", but Harrison insisted.[174]
  15. ^ The transition between "Sgt. Pepper (Reprise)" and "A Day in the Life" differs between the mono and stereo versions of the album; the former has the final note of "Reprise" hit the first chord of "A Day in the Life", leaving no time in between the two songs. The stereo mix, however, has a small pause between the final note of "Reprise" and the first chord of "A Day in the Life", making the chord more easily audible.[193]
  16. ^ In Martin's opinion, the "vocal wailings", which are treated with tape echo and slowly panned from right to left and back again before suddenly ending in the left speaker, contribute to the song's "reception as a 'marijuana dream'".[195] The accompanying brass section loudly indicates the end of the sequence and the start of the fourth and final verse, after which the song enters the last crescendo before finishing with a piano chord that is allowed to fade out for nearly a minute.[196]
  17. ^ The "lucky man who made the grade" was inspired by – but not directly based on – the recent accidental death of Beatles friend and Guinness heir Tara Brown. Lennon stated that he "didn't copy the accident. Tara didn't blow his mind out, but it was in my mind when I was writing that verse."[201]
  18. ^ Lennon was unaware that most record players and speakers of the time were incapable of reproducing the tone, which many listeners would not hear until the release of the CD version in 1987.[208]
  19. ^ When the audio contained in the run-out groove is played in reverse and slowed-down, McCartney can be heard shouting, "I will fuck you like Superman", with Starr and Harrison giggling in the background.[210] The author Will Romano comments that, in this way, Sgt. Pepper closes with nonsensical vocals just as Freak Out! does.[211]
  20. ^ Because such looping is not supported in the CD format, the effect is mimicked on the 1987 CD release by repeating the final segment around a dozen times, fading out at the end.
  21. ^ Norman also identifies Sgt. Pepper as being "in other places, grown-up to an unprecedented, indeed perilous, degree". He concludes of this combination: "Its superabundance reflected a conscious wish on the Beatles' part to make amends to their fans for their abandonment of touring. Clamped between headphones in a recording studio, they managed to put on a live show more exciting, more intimate, than any since they'd left the Cavern."[218]
  22. ^ The bass drum was that of the Essex Yeomanry Band and has the names of the regiment's World War I battles painted on the shell, including the Battle of Loos.[225] Harrison's grandfather Henry Harrison, a private in the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, was killed at the Battle of Loos on 25 September 1915.[226]
  23. ^ Inglis is paraphrasing George Melly, who in 1970 described the Sgt. Pepper cover as "a microcosm of the Underground world".[230]
  24. ^ Also included were the philosophers and scientists Karl Marx, Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung.[230] Starr was the only Beatle who offered no suggestions for the collage, telling Blake, "Whatever the others say is fine by me."[232]
  25. ^ McCartney and Harrison are also seen wearing their MBE medals.[102] According to Gould the Sgt. Pepper cover piqued a frenzy of analysis.[239] Inglis cites it as the only example in popular music where the album art attracted as much attention as the album. He notes several elements of the cover that were interpreted as evidence of McCartney's death, including: the Beatles are supposedly standing about a grave, the hand above McCartney's head is regarded as a "symbol of death", and on the back cover, he is turned away from the camera.[240]
  26. ^ On 4 June, the Jimi Hendrix Experience opened a show at the Saville Theatre in London with their rendition of the title track.[250] Epstein leased the Saville at the time,[251] and Harrison and McCartney attended the performance.[250] McCartney described the moment: "The curtains flew back and [Hendrix] came walking forward playing 'Sgt. Pepper'. It's a pretty major compliment in anyone's book. I put that down as one of the great honours of my career."[252]
  27. ^ According to Moore, Goldstein's position was an exception among a group of primarily positive contemporary reviewers that he characterises as the most for any single album at the time. He adds that some negative letters were sent to Melody Maker that he speculates were written by jazz enthusiasts.[292]
  28. ^ In this piece, Goldstein explained that, although the album was not on-par with the best of the Beatles' previous work, he considered it "better than 80 per cent of the music around". He also said that, underneath the production when "the compositions are stripped to their musical and lyrical essentials", the LP was shown to be "an elaboration without improvement" on the group's music.[296]
  29. ^ According to Riley, Rubber Soul and Revolver are "miracles of intuition" that are "greater than the sum of their parts" while in comparison "Sgt. Pepper is tinged with conceit."[315] He describes Sgt. Pepper as "a flawed masterpiece that can only echo the strength of Revolver".[316]
  30. ^ For Stereo Review in March 1969, Christgau included Sgt. Pepper as one of two Beatles LPs in his piece "A Short and Happy History of Rock", comprising his recommended rock "library" of 25 albums.[317]
  31. ^ In a 2017 interview, Goldstein said that originally he was "sort of horrified by the album [and] being determined with that sort of narcissistic frenzy that young men can have. To, you know, shake them up and force them to actually make rock 'n' roll again. ... they would say oh we've made a mistake, we're going to go back to singing 'Long Tall Sally' or 'now I'll never dance with another.' I wasn't really interested in the prophetic aspect of 'Sgt. Pepper.'"[319]
  32. ^ In a 1998 Melody Maker poll of pop stars, DJs and journalists, the album was voted the worst ever made, with the magazine's editor, Mark Sutherland, commenting: "This poll shows people are sick and tired of having the Beatles rammed down their throats as the greatest rock band ever. It's time to make way for great new music." One of those polled, musician and journalist John Robb, declared the album "the low water point of rock 'n' roll", highlighting the Beatles' moustaches as indicative of this.[323]
  33. ^ Music journalist Thomas Blackwell cites the LP as having been "virtually responsible for the birth of the progressive rock genre".[334]
  34. ^ The author Carys Wyn Jones comments that Sgt. Pepper, Revolver, the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds, and the Who's Tommy (1969) are variously cited as "the first concept album", usually for their "uniform excellence rather than some lyrical theme or underlying musical motif".[336]
  35. ^ Everett similarly characterises Their Satanic Majesties Request and the Small Faces' Ogdens' Nut Gone Flake as Sgt. Pepper "copycat LPs".[246]
  36. ^ In the November 1967 issue of Down Beat magazine, John Gabree complained that the Beatles were being afforded excessive praise by writers that were unfamiliar with rock music and unaware of the advances made by rival acts such as the Mothers of Invention and the Who.[369]
  37. ^ According to Julien, the Beatles' "gradual integration of arranging and recording into one and the same process" began as early as 1963, but developed in earnest during the sessions for Rubber Soul and Revolver and "ultimately blossomed" during the Sgt. Pepper sessions.[377]
  38. ^ The group were particularly annoyed that Time had referred to Sgt. Pepper as "George Martin's new album".[383] Years later McCartney said: "I mean, we don't mind him helping us ... but it's not his album, folks, you know. And there's got to be a little bitterness over that."[384]
  39. ^ In the book's second edition, published four years later, Revolver was ranked first, with Sgt. Pepper second followed by the White Album.[404] In the third edition, published in 2000, Sgt. Pepper was ranked third to Revolver and Radiohead's The Bends.[405][406]
  40. ^ The editors ranked Pet Sounds second in the list in recognition of its influence on the album.[410] In the liner notes to the 1997 CD reissue of the Beach Boys' album, Martin said: "Without Pet Sounds, Sgt. Pepper never would have happened ... Pepper was an attempt to equal Pet Sounds."[411]
  41. ^ Despite Martin's efforts to secure an engineer's credit for Emerick on Sgt. Pepper, EMI refused the request based upon what was then company policy. While Peter Blake received a gold disc for his contribution to the album cover, Emerick did not receive one for his contribution to the album's recording, however; in 1968 he received a Grammy Award for Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical.[431]


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  2. ^ a b "The National Recording Registry 2003". Library of Congress. 2003. Archived from the original on 4 November 2014. Retrieved 19 November 2007.
  3. ^ a b c Dettmar 2006, p. 139.
  4. ^ Miles 1997, p. 303.
  5. ^ Lewisohn 2010, p. 210.
  6. ^ The Beatles 2000, p. 229.
  7. ^ MacDonald 2005, p. 212.
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  9. ^ Lewisohn 2010, p. 211; Martin & Pearson 1994, p. 7.
  10. ^ MacDonald 2005, pp. 212–213.
  11. ^ a b MacDonald 2005, p. 213.
  12. ^ Lewisohn 2010, p. 230: the Beatles' final commercial performance; Turner 2016, pp. 295, 299: reduced ticket sales, record attendances in 1965; MacDonald 2005, p. 213: subpar performances.
  13. ^ Schaffner 1978, pp. 58–59.
  14. ^ Julien 2008b, p. 1.
  15. ^ Gould 2007, p. 367.
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  17. ^ a b Everett 1999, p. 71.
  18. ^ Rodriguez 2012, p. 18.
  19. ^ Blaney 2007, p. 8.
  20. ^ Turner 2016, pp. 364–65.
  21. ^ Womack 2007, p. 158, 160–161.
  22. ^ Harry 2000, pp. 323, 333; Julien 2008b, p. 2.
  23. ^ Gould 2007, p. 388.
  24. ^ Rodriguez 2012, pp. 54–56.
  25. ^ Gould 2007, pp. 388–89.
  26. ^ Turner 2016, pp. 332–33.
  27. ^ a b c Everett 1999, p. 99.
  28. ^ Rodriguez 2012, p. 88.
  29. ^ Sounes 2010, p. 165.
  30. ^ Prendergast 2003, p. 193.
  31. ^ Womack 2007, p. 168.
  32. ^ "'You Gave Me The Answer' – Sgt. Pepper Special". Paulmccartney.com. 26 April 2017. Archived from the original on 14 August 2017. Retrieved 23 August 2017.
  33. ^ Larry Portis, Soul Trains (2002), p. 224: "Sgt. Pepper was the ghost of either Will Pepper or his son Harry S. Pepper, two outstanding figures in English show business."
  34. ^ Moore 1997, pp. 20–21.
  35. ^ Miles 1997, pp. 303–04.
  36. ^ Turner 2016, p. 378.
  37. ^ Martin 1994, p. 202.
  38. ^ a b Hannan 2008, p. 62.
  39. ^ a b c MacDonald 2005, p. 215.
  40. ^ a b Babiuk 2002, p. 197.
  41. ^ Babiuk 2002, p. 204.
  42. ^ The Beatles 2000, p. 253.
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  44. ^ Julien 2008c, p. 158.
  45. ^ Reck 2008, pp. 69, 72–73.
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  51. ^ Emerick & Massey 2006, p. 142.
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  54. ^ Rodriguez 2012, pp. 109, 191–93.
  55. ^ Moore 1997, pp. 19–20.
  56. ^ Harry 2002, p. 714.
  57. ^ Greene 2016, pp. 34, 42.
  58. ^ Martin & Pearson 1994, p. 26.
  59. ^ MacDonald 2005, p. 219: 55 hours of studio time; Martin & Pearson 1994, p. 13: "set the agenda for the whole album".
  60. ^ Julien 2008b, p. 6.
  61. ^ Emerick & Massey 2006, p. 132: McCartney's goal; Julien 2008b, p. 6: "Now our performance is that record."
  62. ^ Martin & Pearson 1994, p. 111.
  63. ^ Emerick & Massey 2006, p. 163.
  64. ^ Davies 2009, p. 270.
  65. ^ Hannan 2008, p. 52.
  66. ^ Emerick & Massey 2006, pp. 169–70; Miles 1997, p. 281: "one of the qualities he especially admired on Pet Sounds".
  67. ^ Everett 1999, p. 104: Lowrey organ on "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds"; Everett 1999, p. 106: Hohner Pianet on "Getting Better", Everett 1999, p. 107: harpsichord on "Fixing a Hole"; Everett 1999, p. 110: harmonium on "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!"; Everett 1999, p. 120: grand piano on "A Day in the Life".
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  76. ^ Miles 1997, p. 309.
  77. ^ Lewisohn 2010, pp. 252–53.
  78. ^ MacDonald 2005, p. 249.
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  87. ^ Howard 2004, pp. 27–28.
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