The Beatles‘ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which Rolling Stone named as the best album of all time, turns 50 on June 1st. In honour of the anniversary, and coinciding with a new deluxe reissue of Sgt. Pepper, we present a series of in-depth pieces – one for each of the album’s tracks, excluding the brief “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” reprise on Side Two – that explore the background of this revolutionary and beloved record. Today’s instalment tells the story of the time a man claiming to be Jesus Christ visited the studio during the recording of “Fixing a Hole.”
In August 1966, John Lennon faced a media firestorm in the U.S. after he uttered his infamous quote claiming that the Beatles were “more popular than Jesus.” So it’s not hard to imagine his amusement when, six months later, Christ himself seemed to accompany Paul McCartney into a recording session for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
On the night in question, the band began work on “Fixing a Hole,” which, like many tracks on the album, would inspire a number of outlandish rumours. Perhaps the most persistent in the wake of the LP’s 1967 release was that the title referenced “fixing a hole” in the arm of a heroin addict. McCartney rebuffed the interpretation in a contemporary interview with illustrator Alan Aldridge. “If you’re a junky sitting in a room and fixing a hole then that’s what it will mean to you, but when I wrote it I meant if there’s a crack, or the room is uncolourful, then I’ll paint it.” He elaborated in the 1997 biography, Many Years From Now,written by friend Barry Miles. “At that time I didn’t associate it, really. I know a lot of heroin people thought that was what it meant because that’s exactly what you do, fix in a hole. It’s not my meaning at all. … Mending was my meaning. Wanting to be free enough to let my mind wander, let myself be artistic, let myself not sneer at avant-garde things. It was the idea of me being on my own now, able to do what I want.”
One less nefarious – and more literal – analysis of the song is that it was inspired by repairs McCartney made to his High Park farmhouse near Campbeltown on the west coast of Scotland, which he purchased in June 1966 as a property investment. Beatles confidant Tony Bramwell supports this account, and another colleague, Alistair Taylor, recalls the song’s composer decorating the drab brown wall of the cottage “in a colourful way” with fluorescent pens, but McCartney denies any connection to the rural hideaway. “It was much later that I ever got ’round to fixing the roof on the Scottish farm, I never did any of that ’til I met Linda,” he says in Many Years From Now. “People just make it up! They know I’ve got a farm, they know it has a roof, they know I might be given to handyman tendencies so it’s a very small leap for mankind to make up the rest of the story.”
Some of the lyrics take aim at overzealous followers who hounded the band for attention. “The ‘Silly people who run around, they worry me, and never ask why they don’t get in my door’ – these were the fans that constantly besieged my home, often camping outside on the pavement for days,” McCartney explained to Aldridge. “If only they knew that the best way to get in is not to do that, because, obviously, anyone who is going to be straight, a real friend and a real person, is going to get in.”
On February 9th, 1967, one such visitor made it past his door – and ironically into the session for the song – by using the novel approach of insisting he was the son of God. “A guy arrived at my front gate and I said, ‘Yes? Hello,’ because I always used to answer it to everyone. If they were boring I would say, ‘Sorry, no,’ and they generally went away,” he told Miles. “This guy said, ‘I’m Jesus Christ.’ I said, ‘Oop,’ slightly shocked. I said, ‘Well, you’d better come in then.’ I thought, ‘Well, it probably isn’t. But if he is, I’m not going to be the one to turn him away.’ So I gave him a cup of tea and we just chatted and I asked, ‘Why do you think you are Jesus?’ There were a lot of casualties about then. We used to get a lot of people who were maybe insecure or going through emotional breakdowns or whatever.”
The band was due to record that evening. Oddly, the session was not at their usual creative home at EMI Studios just a short walk away on Abbey Road. Instead it was at held at Regent’s Sound…” “I’m afraid the boys didn’t plan very much,” producer George Martin later remembered. “When they wanted to come into a studio they never said to me, ‘Keep the next two weeks free, because we’re sure we’re going to be needing a studio.’ They would ring me up at 10 in the morning and say, ‘We want to record tonight at 7 o’clock, OK?’ And I had to find a damned studio.” Instead, Martin had booked them into Regent Sound, marking the first time that the band had worked at any other English studio.
Perhaps wisely, McCartney decided to keep a close eye on the alleged saviour by taking him along. “I said, ‘I’ve got to go to a session but if you promise to be very quiet and just sit in a corner, you can come.’ So he did, he came to the session and he did sit very quietly and I never saw him after that. I introduced him to the guys. They said, ‘Who’s this?’ I said, ‘He’s Jesus Christ.’ We had a bit of a giggle over that. … But that was it. Last we ever saw of Jesus!”