BY EMILY VIVIANI
On June 1, 1967, the Beatles released “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and “Don Draper” turned 41 (or maybe 21?). It’s true! And in my mind, Sunday’s seventh installment of “Mad Men’s” fifth season confirms it: Matthew Weiner is a genius.
I know I may be crazy, but for a show all about 1960s America, there’s a notable shortage of John, George, Paul and Ringo in the world of Sterling, Cooper, Draper and Pryce. However, this season is beginning to make me think they’ve been with us all along.
Please entertain my theory: Sunday’s episode, the seventh hour of the thirteen slotted to make up Season 5 marked not only the end of Act I, but also the end of “Sgt. Pepper’s” Side One.
Bold (subtle) moves! Weiner is using “Sgt. Pepper” – structurally, lyrically and thematically – as a template for Season 5. Each track is an episode. Chronologically, Side One has been nearly identical to the season’s first half (with the exception of the transposition of “Tea Leaves” and “Far Away Places”).
- Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (A Little Kiss,Hour 1)
- With a Little Help from My Friends (A Little Kiss, Hour 2)
- Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds (Far Away Places)*
- Getting Better (Mystery Date)
- Fixing a Hole (Signal 30)
- She’s Leaving Home (Tea Leaves)*
- Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite! (At the Codfish Ball)
501: “A Little Kiss, Hour 1” (“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”)
About the song: “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”
“In November 1966, on the flight back to England after a holiday, McCartney conceived an idea in which an entire album would be role-played, with each of The Beatles assuming an alter-ego in the ‘Lonely Hearts Club Band,’ which would then perform a concert in front of an audience. The inspiration is said to have come when roadie Mal Evans innocently asked McCartney what the letters ‘S’ and ‘P’ stood for on the pots on their in-flight meal trays, and McCartney explained it was for salt and pepper. This then led to the ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ concept, as well as the song.” [i]
How it relates to 501:
In the finale of Season 4, Don is coming back from vacation where he had just impulsively proposed to Megan. The premiere episode of Season 5 is the curtain opening on their life together, the start of the show. Similarly, McCartney was struck with the impulse to create a song and album structured like a theatrical performance and based on role-playing, while on a flight back from vacation. Evans’ innocent curiosity (what the letters “S” and “P” stood for) is even reminiscent of Sally asking Don about the “Anna + Dick ’64” painted on the wall of Anna’s house in the Season 4 finale. “That’s my nickname sometimes,” Don explains. The sounds of an orchestra tuning up very clearly mimics the sounds of the bustle on Madison Avenue that play in the opening scene of the premiere. I guess the real question is: who is Billy Shears?
It was twenty years ago today, (Don Draper the character was born. This episode marks his 20th, not 40th, birthday)
So may I introduce to you
The act you’ve known for all these years
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. (Don Draper’s been an act for years.)
That the singer’s going to sing a song
And he wants you all to sing along
So let me introduce to you
The one and only Billy Shears (Who is this new character? Happy Don? Megan?)
And Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. (He’s not the headlining act of this episode – someone new is).
502: “A Little Kiss, Hour 2” (“With a Little Help from My Friends”)
[Instrumental bridge and transition into “With a Little Help from My Friends.” My guess is that this was what the psychedelic music (Sally waking up scene) was all about.]
About the song: “With a Little Help from My Friends”
“Lennon and McCartney deliberately wrote a tune with a limited range…The song was written for and sung by The Beatles’ drummer Ringo Starr as the character ‘Billy Shears.’”[ii]
How it relates to 502:
Season 5 premiere: June 1, 1966 (Don Draper’s/Dick Whitman’s 40th birthday). “Sgt. Pepper’s” was released just one year later. The lyrics directly relate to the plot of the episode, which features Megan singing a song to Don at his birthday party and his reaction to the performance. This episode is also one of the first times we see Don interacting with “friends.” But he’s still not looking for loads of friends; he really just wants Megan. (“Do you need anybody? I just need somebody to love.”) I also think the lyric “Would you believe in a love at first sight? Yes, I’m certain that it happens all the time,” is in direct reference to Joan’s reaction to Don’s proposal to Megan in the Season 4 finale: “It happens all the time.”
What would you think if I sang out of tune,
Would you stand up and walk out on me.
Lend me your ears and I’ll sing you a song, (“Zou Bisou Bisou”)
And I’ll try not to sing out of key.
Do you need anybody? (Don & Megan)
I need somebody to love.
Could it be anybody?
I want somebody to love.
Would you believe in a love at first sight?
Yes I’m certain that it happens all the time. (Joan’s response to Don and Megan)
503: “Tea Leaves” (“She’s Leaving Home”)
About the song: “She’s Leaving Home”
“John and I wrote ‘She’s Leaving Home’ together. It was my inspiration. We’d seen a story in the newspaper about a young girl who’d left home and not been found, there were a lot of those at the time, and that was enough to give us a story line. So I started to get the lyrics: she slips out and leaves a note and then the parents wake up … It was rather poignant. I like it as a song and when I showed it to John, he added the long sustained notes, and one of the nice things about the structure of the song is that it stays on those chords endlessly. Before that period in our song-writing we would have changed chords but it stays on the C chord. It really holds you. It’s a really nice little trick and I think it worked very well. While I was showing that to John, he was doing the Greek Chorus, the parents’ view: ‘We gave her most of our lives, we gave her everything money could buy.’ I think that may have been in the runaway story, it might have been a quote from the parents. Then there’s the famous little line about a man from the motor trade; people have since said that was Terry Doran, who was a friend who worked in a car showroom.”
The newspaper story McCartney mentioned was from the front page of the Daily Mirror about a girl named Melanie Coe. Although McCartney made up most of the content, Coe, who was 17 at the time, claims that he got most of it right. Her parents wondered why she had left… “She has everything here.” [iii]
How it relates to 503:
This episode is about how unhappy (and bored, and fat) Betty is her new marriage, but how she doesn’t understand why. Much like a father, Henry loves her unconditionally and has given her everything, but it’s clear that Betty, who is like a little girl, would still like to runaway to “a man from the Motor trade,” aka Don (remember that before he was an ad-man, Don was a car salesman). Structurally, the long-sustained notes running throughout are similar to the bed of stability and tedium that she feels in her new life as Mrs. Francis (“She has everything here.”). Also, the parallel story of Don at the Rolling Stones concert concerned for the little Lady Jane (“None of you want any of us to have a good time, cause you never did.”) references several of the lyrical themes.
Note: Melanie Coe, who shares the name of the Pete Campbell from Ken’s short story in “Signal 30,” was 17 and this episode closes with Betty and the song “ Sixteen Going On Seventeen.”
The plot is almost sequentially identical to the song (see the full lyrics here, and just replace “handkerchief” with “Bugles,” and “Meeting a man from the Motor trade” with “Telephone call to Don”). Specifically, note these lyrics:
She (what did we do that was wrong)
Is Having (we didn’t know it was wrong)
Fun (fun is the one thing that money can’t buy) (Lady Jane)
Something inside, that was always denied, for so many years…
She’s leaving home…bye, bye (Birdie?)
504: “Mystery Date” (“Getting Better”)
About the Song: “Getting Better”
“The song’s title and music suggest optimism, but some of the song’s lyrics have a more negative tone. In this sense, it reflects the contrasting personas of the two songwriters. In response to McCartney’s line, ‘It’s getting better all the time,’ Lennon replies, ‘It can’t get no worse!’ Referring to the lyric ‘I used to be cruel to my woman/I beat her and kept her apart from the things that she loved/Man I was mean but I’m changing my scene/And I’m doing the best that I can,’ Lennon admitted that he had done things in relationships in the past that he was not happy about.”[iv]
How it relates to 504:
“Mystery Date” is about how Don and Megan’s happiness is threatened by Don’s adulterous and misogynistic tendencies. The song title, “Getting Better,” is appropriate since the entire episode is about Don being sick. Instrumentally, Harrison’s use of the Indian tambura correlates nicely with the exoticism of Don’s violent fever dreams. Obvious parallels can also be drawn to the ending of Joan and Greg’s marriage. The ironic relationship between much of the melody and lyric, as it relates to the episode tone and plot, mimic the emotions of the episode’s closing song: the Crystals “He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss).”
It’s a little better all the time (It can’t get no worse) (Confliction)
I have to admit it’s getting better (better)
It’s getting better
Since you’ve been mine (Megan)
Me used to be a angry young man
Me hiding me head in the sand (reference to Faye Miller’s “Get your head out of the sand” advice to Don in Season 4)
You gave me the word, I finally heard
I’m doing the best that I can (Don trying to change)
I used to be cruel to my woman
I beat her and kept her apart from the things that she loved
Man, I was mean but I’m changing my scene
And I’m doing the best that I can (Fever dream)
505: “Signal 30” (“Fixing a Hole”)
About the Song: “Fixing a Hole”
“In a 1967 interview, McCartney said that the following lines were about fans who hung around outside his home day and night, and whose actions he found off-putting:
See the people standing there,
Who disagree, and never win,
And wonder why they don’t get in my door
Reportedly, McCartney was inspired to write the song after mending a hole in the roof of his Scotland home. However, he has stated that the song was ‘about the hole in the road where the rain gets in, a good old analogy.’”[v]
How it relates to 505:
Lyrically, it directly correlates to the plot: Pete allowing his mind to wander (the high school girl and the prostitute) and working to keep himself busy with his new life in the suburbs, mending a leaky sink (instead of McCartney’s hole in the roof). But in the end, he still has a disagreement (fistfight) with Lane, and doesn’t win. The door he wants to walk through is Don’s. Metaphorically, it’s Pete’s character – hopelessly inadequate. Rhythmically, you can hear the base guitar metronome of the drippy faucet throughout the song.
I’m fixing a hole where the rain gets in
And stops my mind from wandering
Where it will go. (Leaky sink)
See the people standing there who
Disagree and never win (Pete and Lane fight)
And wonder why they don’t get in my door. (Pete’s desperation for Don’s approval)
Silly people run around they worry me (reference to University of Texas gunman, Charles Whitman)
506: “Far Away Places” (“Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”)
About the Song: “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”
“Lennon’s son, Julian inspired the song with a nursery school drawing he called ‘Lucy — in the sky with diamonds.’ Shortly after the song’s release, speculation arose that the first letter of each of the title’s nouns intentionally spelled LSD. Although Lennon denied this, the BBC banned the song.”[vi]
How it relates to 506:
Picture yourself in a boat on a river (“It’s like a boat trip! You don’t cast off thinking
With tangerine trees and marmalade skies (Maybe a stretch, but the cinematography
with Howard Johnson’s roof consuming the background- Don’s marmalade skies)
Look for the girl with the sun in her eyes
And she’s gone (The scene where Don finds Megan’s sunglasses in the lot, and she’s gone)
Lucy in the sky with diamonds
Lucy in the sky with diamonds
Lucy in the sky with diamond (Repetition of the same day three times)
507: “At the Codfish Ball” (“Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!”)
About the song: “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!”
“Lennon was inspired to write the song by a 19th century circus poster for Pablo Fanque’s Circus Royal, Rochdale, that he purchased in an antique shop on 31 January 1967, while filming the promotional video for ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ in Sevenoaks, Kent. Lennon said ‘Everything from the song is from that poster, except the horse wasn’t called Henry.’ (The poster identifies the horse as ‘Zanthus.’) Mr. Kite is believed to be William Kite who worked for Pablo Fanque from 1843 to 1845.’”[vii]
How it relates to 507:
Thematically, this episode was a lot about preparation and disappointment. Peggy has the expectation of a marriage proposal and ends up with something similar, but “sinful.” Sally is growing up (Go-go boots! Makeup!) and excited about her chance to accompany Don, Roger, Megan and her parents to a fancy event “for the Benefit” of Mr. American Cancer Society. But all the magic of the night gets, as she said, “dirty.” The event itself – Don receiving a noble award for something that was done out self-interest – similarly follows the episode’s maniacal undercurrent. Much like the episode itself, “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” lyrically and musically plays like an invitation to something grand that actually turns out be a creepy circus. The background music throughout the episode follows the melodic structure almost identically [most notably in the ending scene, where everyone is sitting and the table in silence, deflation or shock (Sally)]. Also, Don’s “promotional” motive for writing the anti-smoking piece in the New York Times nicely parallels: “Lennon was inspired to write the song by a 19th century circus poster…that he purchased in an antique shop…while filming the promotional video for ‘Strawberry Fields Forever.’” (Don: “It doesn’t matter why I wrote it!”)
For the benefit of Mr. Kite
There will be a show tonight (American Cancer Society Benefit)
The Hendersons will all be there (the important, rich people Roger was trying to schmooze)
Having been some days in preparation
A splendid time is guaranteed for all
And tonight Mr. Kite is topping the bill! (Dirty.)
If you’re still on board with me on this, things are about to get really weird:
If my hunch is correct, than the Season 5 finale will play to the tempo of “A Day in the Life.” Considering Weiner’s love of running us around in circles, I thought it was notable that “the opening sounds of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” were taken from a February 10, 1967 orchestra session for ‘A Day in the Life.’” This is especially curious when you consider that the sounds heard on the streets of Madison Avenue during the civil rights scene that opens “A Little Kiss” are meant to mimic the tuning of an orchestra on February 10, 1967. Well, if the world is Weiner’s audience, I guess the New York Times is his orchestra.
I would bet my Sterling’s gold that the Season 5 finale, “The Phantom” (“A Day in the Life”), lands on February 10, 1967 and opens with real-life history lesson (“I read the news today, oh boy…”). If you listen to the rest of the song, it’s difficult not to suspect that the plot of “The Phantom” will in many ways draw on the themes we were introduced to, given Pete’s many names and the mini-orchestra in “Signal 30.”
But for now, I’m just ready for Weiner to flip the record.
- Within You Without You (Lady Lazarus)
- When I’m Sixty-Four (Dark Shadows)
- Lovely Rita (Christmas Waltz)
- Good Morning, Good Morning (The Other Woman)
- Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band (Commissions and Fees)
- A Day in the Life (The Phantom)