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Street of Fame 2: Penny Lane

  • @SimonCalder
THREE MINUTES out of Liverpool Lime Street, the train on the main line to London slips under a small, innocuous bridge. Three times a day, a garish yellow coach carries a cargo of 50 camera-clicking tourists over the bridge. The reason: there, beneath the blue suburban skies, stands one of the most celebrated streets in the world.

You know the names, of course: Robbie Fowler and Steve McManaman, the soccer players who honed their skills at the Liverpool Schools' Football Association ground that runs alongside the street.

For the ears and eyes of an earlier generation, Penny Lane is the construction of Paul McCartney. To be honest, it's not the best song he ever wrote. The twee little tune and simple rhymes match the tidy suburbia upon which the sun sometimes shines. But it does give a haunting sense of a long- lost England, where the banker's motorcar is worthy of note, when men still called at the barber for a shave, and hourglasses and portraits of the Queen were conventional possessions.

Today, the street would be buried in anonymity, were it not for the Beatles. But thanks to the Fab Four, three times each day a coach disgorges its passengers at the northern end for ritual snapshots of the road sign.

Twenty-two years ago this week, Magical Mystery Tour was released. These days, the tape plays constantly on the Magical Mystery Tour bus (it's a clean machine) as it progresses through to the far end of Penny Lane. Here you realise that most of the song's action - the shelter in the middle of the roundabout, the bank - takes place across the main road, just as in the song most of the energy stems from the brass section across the studio. The Sergeant Pepper Bistro in the middle of the roundabout is a more recent imposter, a curious combo of Greek taverna and theme restaurant.

"Penny Lane" was the first significant Beatles single to fail to go straight to the top of the charts, kept off the Number One spot in March 1967 by Englebert Humperdinck's "Please Release Me". But, as John Lennon sings on the other side of the single, there's nothing to get hung about. And I bet you now hum "Penny Lane" and "Strawberry Fields" forever - or at least for the rest of the day.

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