- Published in 1967
- Author: Lennon/McCartney
- Track 13 on “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band“
- Track 6 on “The Beatles 1967-1970” (Blue Album)
Beatles quotes about “A Day in the Life”
JOHN 1967: “I was writing the song with the ‘Daily Mail’ propped up in front of me on the piano. I had it open to the ‘News In Brief’ or whatever they call it. There was a paragraph about four thousand holes being discovered in Blackburn Lancashire. And when we came to record the song there was still one word missing from that verse… I knew the line had to go, ‘Now they know how many holes it takes to –something– the Albert Hall.’ For some reason I couldn’t think of the verb. What did the holes do to the Albert Hall? It was Terry Doran who said ‘fill’ the Albert Hall. And that was it. Then we thought we wanted a growing noise to lead back into the first bit. We wanted to think of a good end and we had to decide what sort of backing and instruments would sound good. Like all our songs, they never become an entity until the very end. They are developed all the time as we go along.”
JOHN 1968: “‘A Day in the Life’ –that was something. I dug it. It was a good piece of work between Paul and me. I had the ‘I read the news today’ bit, and it turned Paul on. Now and then we really turn each other on with a bit of song, and he just said ‘yeah’ –bang bang, like that. It just sort of happened beautifully, and we arranged it and rehearsed it, which we don’t often do, the afternoon before. So we all knew what we were playing, we all got into it. It was a real groove, the whole scene on that one. Paul sang half of it and I sang half. I needed a middle-eight for it, but Paul already had one there.”
JOHN 1980: “Just as it sounds: I was reading the paper one day and I noticed two stories. One was the Guinness heir who killed himself in a car. That was the main headline story. He died in London in a car crash. On the next page was a story about 4000 holes in Blackburn, Lancashire. In the streets, that is. They were going to fill them all. Paul’s contribution was the beautiful little lick in the song ‘I’d love to turn you on.’ I had the bulk of the song and the words, but he contributed this little lick floating around in his head that he couldn’t use for anything. I thought it was a damn good piece of work.”
PAUL 1984: “That was mainly John’s, I think. I remember being very conscious of the words ‘I’d love to turn you on’ and thinking, Well, that’s about as risque as we dare get at this point. Well, the BBC banned it. It said, ‘Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall’ or something. But I mean that there was nothing vaguely rude or naughty in any of that. ‘I’d love to turn you on’ was the rudest line in the whole thing. But that was one of John’s very good ones. I wrote… that was co-written. The orchestra crescendo and that was based on some of the ideas I’d been getting from Stockhausen and people like that, which is more abstract. So we told the orchestra members to just start on their lowest note and end on their highest note and go in their own time… which orchestras are frightened to do. That’s not the tradition. But we got ’em to do it.”
PAUL 1988: “Then I went around to all the trumpet players and said, ‘Look all you’ve got to do is start at the beginning of the 24 bars and go through all the notes on your instrument from the lowest to the highest– and the highest has to happen on that 24th bar, that’s all. So you can blow ’em all in that first thing and then rest, then play the top one there if you want, or you can steady them out.’ And it was interesting because I saw the orchestra’s characters. The strings were like sheep– they all looked at each other: ‘Are you going up? I am!’ and they’d all go up together, the leader would take them all up. The trumpeters were much wilder.”
About “A Day in the Life”
“A Day in the Life” was released as the final track of Beatles’ 1967 album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The song has been recognized as one of the greatest songs in music history, appearing on many lists.
In mid-January 1967, John Lennon composed the melody and most of the lyrics to “A Day in the Life“. He later presented it to Paul McCartney, who added the middle eight section. In this song, we see an example of the mutual inspiration that often took place between Lennon and McCartney.
John Lennon’s lyrics were largely inspired by contemporary newspaper articles, including an article about Guinness heir Tara Browne’s death. There are two passages in the recording with orchestral glissandos that were partly improvised in an avant-garde style. Midway through the song, McCartney recalls his younger days, when he rode the bus, smoked, and went to school. A famous chord played over forty seconds after the second crescendo concludes the song, which is played on several keyboards.
The BBC initially banned the song from broadcast due to a reputed drug reference in the line “I’d love to turn you on.”.
The orchestral portions of “A Day in the Life” reflect Lennon and McCartney’s interest in the work of avant-garde composers such as Karlheinz Stockhausen, Luciano Berio and John Cage. To fill the empty 24-bar middle section, Lennon’s request to George Martin was that the orchestra should provide “a tremendous build-up, from nothing up to something absolutely like the end of the world”.
McCartney suggested that the musicians improvise over the segment. Martin wrote a loose score for the section to alleviate concerns that classically trained musicians could not handle it. With Lennon’s staggered intonation on the words “turn you on”, the score was an extended atonal crescendo that encouraged the musicians to improvise. Martin and McCartney conducted a 40-piece orchestra in Studio One at EMI Studios on 10 February 1967. For the players, the recording session cost £367 (equivalent to £7,087 in 2021) during that period, which was an extravagance.
“A Day in the Life” was strongly influenced by Lennon’s LSD-inspired revelations, since it “concerned ‘reality’ only to the extent that it had been revealed by LSD to be largely subjective”. In late 1966, McCartney took LSD for the first time, having long resisted Lennon, Harrison, and Starr’s insistence that he try it. As a result of this experience, the Beatles were willing to experiment on Sgt. Pepper and returned to a level of collaboration they had not previously experienced.
Artists such as Jeff Beck, Barry Gibb, the Fall, and Phish have covered it. This song was the inspiration for the THX film company’s audio trademark, the Deep Note.
- John Lennon – lead vocal (verses), acoustic guitar, piano (final chord)
- Paul McCartney – lead vocal (middle-eight), piano (throughout and final chord), bass guitar
- George Harrison – maracas
- Ringo Starr – drums, congas, piano (final chord)
- Mal Evans – alarm clock, counting, piano (final chord)
- George Martin – orchestral arrangement, harmonium (final chord)
- Erich Gruenberg, Granville Jones, Bill Monro, Jurgen Hess, Hans Geiger, D. Bradley, Lionel Bentley, David McCallum, Donald Weekes, Henry Datyner, Sidney Sax, Ernest Scott, Carlos Villa – violin
- John Underwood, Gwynne Edwards, Bernard Davis, John Meek – viola
- Francisco Gabarro, Dennis Vigay, Alan Delziel, Alex Nifosi – cello
- Cyril Mac Arther, Gordon Pearce – double bass
- John Marson – harp
- Roger Lord – oboe
- Basil Tschaikov, Jack Brymer – clarinet
- N. Fawcett, Alfred Waters – bassoon
- Clifford Seville, David Sandeman – flute
- Alan Civil, Neil Sanders – French horn
- David Mason, Monty Montgomery, Harold Jackson – trumpet
- Raymond Brown, Raymond Premru, T. Moore – trombone
- Michael Barnes – tuba
- Tristan Fry – timpani
- Marijke Koger – tambourine
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