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Penny Lane – The Beatles
By Michael Dalton
The Beatles make me believe in magic. Not the Harry Potter kind, but a sense of wonder and awe at the work of mere mortals.
Paul McCartney believed. Read his response in a May 2007 Rolling Stone interview. “I think it’s basically magic. There is such a thing as magic, and The Beatles were magic.” Who that has fallen under their enchanted spell can disagree?
One of the magical moments for me is “Penny Lane” from the Magical Mystery Tour. This has always been a favorite of mine. The lyrics, which describe events as seen from the Penny Lane Bus Station (now gone) in Liverpool, have a lovely touch of nostalgia. “In Penny Lane there is a barber showing photographs / Of every head he's had the pleasure to know.”
Paul’s lead vocals fit perfectly with a wonderful convergence of sounds. When he and John harmonize on the chorus—“Penny Lane is in my ears and in my eyes / There beneath the blue suburban skies”—it’s a magical moment.
It’s magic when you take what could be unappealing and make it sound appealing. In my younger years I had an aversion to horns. I had to warm up to them. This is where I must give credit to producer George Martin. The Beatles could employ all kinds of instruments, horns included, that normally might be foreign to my ears without making me run for cover. The horns that punctuate the chorus on “Penny Lane” sound great. They don’t diminish my pleasure one iota. This comes from a person who didn’t even want to hear horns on a Chicago record.
I confess that I was glad when the Sons of Champlin left their horns off one of their records. A friend during my school days chided me when I first made this disclosure, which must have seemed like near blasphemy. He looked at me like a Sons record without horns was like a day without sunshine. Horns made the early Sons’ records. How could I be so blind? It wasn’t long before I came to agree with him. I now recognize the brilliance of horns.
The Beatles even flawlessly work in the sound of a bell as Paul sings of a fireman. It sounds like what you would hear in a fire station. But all this leads like a stately procession to one of the most magical moments of all.
There is a B-flat piccolo trumpet solo in the middle of the song that would make Gabriel proud. You can also hear it towards the end. These are sublime moments.
Someone once said that they wished they could see a video of this solo. That might be grand, but just to hear it, is like a slice of heaven. It can bring tears to my eyes. It’s a moment of beauty that reminds me of the beauty and glory that will far surpass it in heaven.
It’s this masterful weaving of sounds that fills me with a kind of awe and wonder … and even causes me to worship. It’s remarkable that God has so endowed us that we can create works of art that can be so inspirational.
It’s a great day when we discover and utilize the gifts that we are given. Eric Liddell, a gold medalist at the 1924 Olympics said, “I believe that God made me for a purpose ... for China. But He also made me fast, and when I run, I feel His pleasure.... To win is to honor Him.” God gave Liddell the ability to run fast. When he ran he felt God’s pleasure. To feel God’s pleasure and presence is truly a magical moment. I sometimes feel it when I write, or when I hear a song like “Penny Lane.”
In the September 2007 issue of CCM magazine, columnist Louie Giglio writes, “Africa American preacher and ethicist Howard Thurman said, ‘Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.’ Within each of us is a God-wired uniqueness, something that makes us feel more alive than breath itself. To embrace that uniqueness and pursue it is the first step to radiating light.”
He goes on to add: “But it’s not enough to simply do what makes us feel alive. We must exploit our uniqueness in a way that broadcasts Jesus, the one name the world can’t live without.”
The Beatles were magic, but like all things in life, it soon came to an end. In the song “God,” John Lennon, the “dream-weaver,” sang “the dream is over.” The magic was gone.
The apostle Paul reminded a divided group of Christians that “No one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:11 ESV). Magical moments are fleeting, but Jesus Christ is a solid foundation on which to build one’s life. When I manage to keep my focus on Him, the world as bad as it is, can seem a wonderful place.
Could I add in passing that if you attend a church where Christ is preached from the Scriptures, you should be thankful. I appreciate it when someone helps me to see Christ anew. Though He is more glorious and wonderful than anyone could ever describe, and though we can’t fully grasp with our minds the beauty of His truth and grace, it helps me to see Christ more clearly. When I see Him, the turmoil in me begins to subside.
Too often my eyes are on me, which leads to anxiety and depression. Sometimes the best thing that we can do is to look away from ourselves. Would you like a recipe for encouragement and hope? For every look at yourself, take nine looks at Christ.
In the hymn “Sun of My Soul,” John Keble summarizes the desire of his heart: “O may no earthborn cloud arise to hide Thee from Thy servant’s eyes!” In “Jesus, I Am Resting, Resting” Jean Sophia Pigott wrote, “Thou hast bid me gaze upon Thee, and Thy Beauty fills my soul …” May no earthborn clouds keep us from gazing on Christ and seeing His beauty. Like the trumpet solo, it’s a little bit of heaven on earth.
When God sent poisonous snakes to judge the Israelites for their sin. They lived when in obedience to God’s command they looked to the image that represented Christ taking the punishment for our sins. God is ever saying, “Look to Me and live!” This is the foundation for coming alive spiritually.
Once that is in place, we can begin to experience a new level of fulfillment through the use of the gifts that God gives us. I’m energized when I do those works that God has gifted me to do. The Beatles realized they had talent and they refined it. They came alive and created art that impacted the world.
It’s important though to remember that success in anything never comes without hard work and training. “Do you see a man skillful in his work? He will stand before kings; he will not stand before obscure men” (Proverbs 22:29 ESV). The Beatles honed their skills in pubs and obscure places and the world became their stage. This preparation was part of their success.
A story told by F. W. Boreham emphasizes the importance of resisting the temptation to take shortcuts. A young man (Brian), who was about to enter the ministry, once wrote to Boreham for advice. He had the opportunity to bypass college and obtain an immediate appointment with a church.
Boreham writes, “I wrote to Brian urging him most strongly to seek a college education. I recognize his temptation. He is tempted to enter the ministry quickly [like opening a door] without turning the handle. It is often done; but it is seldom done without subsequent regrets. When Brian has been ten or twenty years in the ministry he will find the strain of it so great, and the perplexities so baffling, that he will never forgive himself for having neglected any opportunity of equipping himself for such pressing and solemn ordeals.”
Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “The essential thing ‘in heaven and earth’ is ... that there should be long obedience in the same direction; there thereby results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living.”
We are given moments of wonder
and awe in this life, such as on “Penny Lane,” but what we need to experience
lasting reward is a “long obedience in the same direction.” The challenge
is to keep our eyes on Christ through all of our difficulties and hardships.
God will use them to prepare us for the work that He wants us to do. The
results can be more than magical.