The ‘Penny Lane’ Lyrics So Many Beatles Fans Get Wrong
Over the years, Paul McCartney added the occasional odd lyric to his Beatles songs. In “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” a song his bandmates genuinely hated, Paul sang about the character Joan studying “pataphysical.” That was a reference to the work of French writer Alfred Jarry and pataphysics.
In “Penny Lane,” the classic song from Magical Mystery Tour, Paul sang about “finger pie.” He said that raunchy lyric was slipped in for the guys of Liverpool to enjoy. (A “four of fish” was apparently a reference to the local cuisine and its prices.)
Many listeners misheard the “finger pie” line (and would have missed the reference anyway). However, another line in “Penny Lane” ended up being misquoted countless times since the track’s 1967 release.
The line in question comes late in the song right after Paul sings about the “shelter in the middle of the roundabout.” In the following line, he mentions a nurse selling poppies from a tray. But that isn’t what many fans have heard.
Many listeners have confused ‘poppies’ with ‘puppies.’
In the nostalgic song, Paul reminisces about a roundabout in Liverpool where he and John used to meet. People would wait for the bus there and you would find someone selling poppies for the British Legion on certain days of the year.
“John and I would put a shilling in the can and get ourselves a poppy,” he said in Many Years From Now. “That was a memory.” However, because of Paul’s accent — and perhaps the unfamiliar image of someone selling poppies — listeners overseas have heard “poppies” rather than “puppies.”
That mistake amused Paul. He told his biographer that he created the image of the pretty nurse. “We fantasized the nurse ‘selling poppies from a tray,’ which Americans used to think was puppies! Which again is an interesting image.”
Obviously, that changes the lyric completely. It also ranks among the oddest and most commonly misheard lyrics. But it doesn’t necessarily change the impact of the song, which is about suburban skies and small-town life.
‘Penny Lane’s’ other misheard lyric came via Paul and John’s mischief.
While writing “Penny Lane,” Paul ran out of steam toward the third verse. As was his habit, he asked John for help finishing the track. During the writing session, John suggested adding the line about “finger pie.”
“The women would never dare say that, except to themselves,” Paul said about the sexual reference. “Most people wouldn’t hear it, but ‘finger pie‘ is just a nice little joke for the Liverpool lads who like a bit of smut.” To American listeners, it sounds like a reference to unfamiliar foods.
John and Paul enjoyed adding small lines like that to see if they could get away with them. All in all, it adds another aspect to a fascinating song. “Penny Lane” remains one of the most recognizable Beatles tunes — and one that virtually demands the listener sing along.
And if that listener should get the lyrics wrong, it doesn’t make a bit of difference.