- Paul McCartney – lead vocal, harmony and background vocals, three pianos and bass.
- John Lennon – harmony and backing vocal, two pianos, congas and handclaps
- George Harrison – backing vocal, handbell and handclaps
- Ringo Starr – drums, tambourine
- George Martin – piano, orchestration
- David Mason – piccolo trumpet solo
- Ray Swinfield, P. Goody, Manny Winters – flutes, piccolos
- Leon Calvert, Freddy Clayton, Bert Courtley, Duncan Campbell – trumpets, flugelhorn
- Dick Morgan, Mike Winfield – oboes, cor anglais
- Frank Clarke – double-bass
Penny Lane was written by Paul McCartney with some input from John Lennon. It was produced during the recording sessions for Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and released on February 13, 1967 (in the US, February 17 in the UK) as a single (double a-sided, with Strawberry Fields Forever). When the album Magical Mystery Tour was produced later in the year, Penny Lane was also included, as was its flip-side, Strawberry Fields Forever. Penny Lane was ranked among Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (2004). The song can also be heard on the compilation, The Beatles 1.
The song is nostalgic and at the same time surreal. Penny Lane is a street in Liverpool and the local name of a neighborhood that is centered on the junction of Penny Lane and Smithdown Road. It was an area through which both Paul and John passed all the time during their youth. The song describes images from the area, though some seem hallucinogenic. This led some critics to comment that the lyrics seemed to be the result of an LSD trip. (McCartney denies that he had taken LSD when this song was written.) For example, in the song it is simultaneously a sunny, summer day and a rainy November day. The nurse thinks she is acting in a play, and it turns out that she is. The song mentions the old bus shelter in the roundabout, where teenagers would go for furtive romantic meetings. The lyrics refer to real places and people -- the banker, the white barbershop at the corner, and the bus terminus. The area has since become a tourist destination and a somewhat upscale area of cafés, bistros and shops. The fireman and fire engine mentioned in the song are from the Mather Avenue station, really quite some distance away.
Producer George Martin has judged the single of Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields Forever as the Beatles' greatest single ever, though it rose only to number 2 in the UK charts. (It was a number one hit in the US). The release came about because the double a-side release of Yellow Submarine with Eleanor Rigby had been a smash, and manager Epstein wanted to follow up on this momentum. The two songs, Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields Forever, had been recorded but left out of the Sgt. Pepper album (a decision that George Martin later rued). Thus, they were available for the second double a-sided single release.
The production of Penny Lane is famous because of its use of a piccolo trumpet (a small, orchestral trumpet with a high, clear tone) and the baroque styling of the accompaniment. The song started out humbly enough with just a piano on December 29, 1966. The piccolo trumpet solo was added on January 17, 1967 (credited to David Mason) together with flutes, piccolos, other woodwinds and more brass. Other effects included hand bells and special percussion as well as a piano modified with reverb through a guitar amp. The trumpet is also heard at the end of the song on the demo record made to promote the single in the US. Only a few copies were pressed with this mix, and they are among the rarest of Beatles collector items. This version can be heard on the Anthology 2 compilation.