Paul McCarteny’s “Penny Lane” Vs Ed Sheeran’s “Castle on the Hill”

A Comparison of Paul McCarteny’s “Penny Lane” (1967) and Ed Sheeran’s “Castle on the Hill” (2017).

Today, if one turns on the popular radio stations chances are that you are likely to listen to today’s “mainstream” music. Most of these songs are likable, with catchy lyrics and a great beat making them great hits among teenagers in this new generation. In some instances, one would come across a song from a different era but quite similar to the popular songs that have been ruled the airwaves and topped charts. Conversely, it also possible to come across stark differences in the manner in which the songs were written back then and in the worst case scenario one might sample music from artists who may have forgotten the most crucial components of songwriting, the mark of a truly talented artist. A few decades back, during the 60s, 70s or even 80s lots of talented bands, for instance, Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, and Nirvana became international hits with their songs becoming classics. Most of these bands wrote their own music with real depth. Nowadays, it is not uncommon to stumble upon musicians who use auto-tune and synthesizers, something that would be considered an insult in these formative years. For the purpose of this essay, I will compare and contrast two songs from two different eras; Paul McCarteny’s “Penny Lane” (1967) and Ed Sheeran’s “Castle on the Hill” (2017).

In comparing Paul McCarteny’s “Penny Lane”(1967) and Ed Sheeran’s “Castle Hill”(2017), one thing certainly stands out; the fact that both songs, even though from different eras, but with visions of childhood reminisce.  Penny lane was a song born out of McCarteny’s urge to his own vision of nostalgia. For him, it is a trip down memory lane and most specifically through his hometown of Liverpool. In the song, he recollects the various places that he would go to during his youth mentioning Bioletti, a barbershop that had an assortment haircut designs and, most importantly, St. Barnabas Church, the site he started singing as a choirboy. He sings with a feeling of great delight throughout this “baroque pop” while his visionary spirit battles to counter pain and remorse. The song’s video ends with John Lennon, who had been waltzing through the busy streets of London, reuniting with the band at a picnic park. Similarly, Ed Sheeran also reminisces about his teenage years in his hometown of Framlingham, in England. In particular, the song’s video features a younger looking Ed Sheraaan who seen acting out the song’s lyrics; his first kiss, smoking cigarettes that were hand-rolled and sharing beers. The song also ends with Ed meeting up with some of his childhood friends and sharing a beer in the present.

The two songs differ in the manner and quality of production. Paul McCarteny’s “Penny Lane” was first released in 1967 at a time when the production houses such as Abbey Road Studio where new equipment was being tried for the first time in the field of music recording. It is important to note that in this particular single, the recording was most likely done by a live band inside the Abbey Road Studio. The evidence of this can be seen at the chorus where the other band members are forced to join in to provide harmonies for the melody. Additionally, whenever McCarteny mentions the fireman in his lyrics, a hand bell is heard in the background and chances are that it was done manually during a live recording session. Conversely, Ed Sheeran’s “Castle on the Hill” (2017) features a more modern approach to recording, pitch shifting. Benny Blanco, Ed’s co-writer and producer for this song, adds a vocal track on the melody at the chorus to harmonize it add depth to it. Traditionally, this was not an option for many songwriters but is now done by many lead vocalists, Ed Sheraan included, to save on time and cost of recording. Improvements in the field of digital audio technology now enable musicians to take a simple shortcut when they want to add a harmony to the track.

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