How The Beatles’ ‘Sgt. Pepper’ Changed Science Forever

The Beatles‘ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band changed the history of science when it inspired the name of a famous fossil. A scientist explained why the Fab Four inspired the moniker. In addition, he said using a name from a Beatles song made the fossil iconic.

A song from The Beatles’ ‘Sgt. Pepper’ played during an important expedition
In 1974, paleoanthropologist Donald Johanson discovered the skeleton of a prehistoric ape-like creature of the species Australopithecus afarensis. The female skeleton garnered the name “Lucy.” During a 2014 interview with Scientific American, Johanson discussed why Lucy was named after a Beatles song.

“I knew from the beginning that she would be important,” he said. “But in hindsight, she also got the right nickname. A member of the expedition suggested if she was a female, as we suspected, why not call her Lucy, after the Beatles song ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,’ which was playing on my little black Sony tape deck that night after we found her.”

Donald Johanson said referencing ‘Sgt. Pepper’ made the creature iconic
Johanson said Lucy’s name changed everything. “With the throwaway line, ‘Why don’t you call her Lucy?’ came total commitment from everyone on the team by breakfast the next day,” he added. “When are we going back to the Lucy site?’ people asked. ‘How old do you think Lucy was when she died?’ Immediately she became a person.”

Johanson said Lucy’s name was “affectionate.” “I think that’s part of what led to her becoming such an icon, giving her this affectionate name that people could identify with,” he said. “When they saw photographs, it wasn’t a chunk of jaw or even a skull staring with empty eye sockets — it was the visage of an individual.” He revealed that children show a particular interest in Lucy. He regularly receives letters from children asking about Lucy’s life.

Notably, the 2014 film Lucy added to the creature’s notoriety. The movie depicts a superpowered woman named Lucy (played by Scarlett Johansson) who travels back in time to meet the creature. They touch each other’s fingers in a manner reminiscent of Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam from the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling.

How The Beatles’ song performed in the United States and the United Kingdom
“Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” was never a single, so it didn’t chart on the Billboard Hot 100. On the other hand, the song’s parent album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, became a huge hit. That record topped the Billboard 200 for 15 of its 233 weeks on the Billboard 200.

The Official Charts Company reports “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” never charted in the United Kingdom either. Meanwhile, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band hit No. 1 in the U.K. and remained on the chart for a staggering 277 weeks. Later, it peaked at No. 3 and lasted on the chart for another 16 weeks.

The discovery of Lucy was a part of scientific history — and it wouldn’t be the same without the Fab Four.

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