- A Day in the Life
"A Day in the Life" Song by The Beatles from the album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band Released 1 June 1967 Recorded 19 and 20 January and
3 and 10 February 1967,
EMI Studios, London
Genre Psychedelic rock, progressive rock, baroque pop Length 5:03 Label Parlophone, Capitol, EMI Writer Lennon–McCartney Producer George Martin Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band track listing 13 tracks
- Side one
- "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band"
- "With a Little Help from My Friends"
- "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds"
- "Getting Better"
- "Fixing a Hole"
- "She's Leaving Home"
- "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!"
- Side two
"A Day in the Life" Single by The Beatles A-side "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band/With a Little Help from My Friends" Released 30 September 1978 Format 7" Label Parlophone (R6022) The Beatles singles chronology "Back in the U.S.S.R."
"Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band/With a Little Help from My Friends" / "A Day in the Life"
"Beatles Movie Medley"
"A Day in the Life" is a song by The Beatles, the final track on the group's 1967 album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Credited to Lennon–McCartney, the song comprises distinct segments written independently by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, with orchestral additions. While Lennon’s lyrics were inspired by contemporary newspaper articles, McCartney’s were reminiscent of his youth. The decisions to link sections of the song with orchestral glissandos and to end the song with a sustained piano chord were made only after the rest of the song had been recorded.
The supposed drug reference in the line "I’d love to turn you on" resulted in the song initially being banned from broadcast by the BBC. Since its original album release, "A Day in the Life" has been released as a B-side, and also on various compilation albums. It has been covered by other artists including Sting, Bobby Darin, The Fall, Neil Young, Jeff Beck, The Bee Gees, Robyn Hitchcock, Phish and since 2008, by McCartney in his live performances. The song is frequently listed among the greatest songs ever written.
According to Lennon, the inspiration for the first two verses was the death of Tara Browne, the 21-year-old heir to the Guinness fortune and close friend of Lennon and McCartney, who had crashed his Lotus Elan on 18 December 1966 in Redcliffe Gardens, Earls Court. Lennon's verses were adapted from a story in the 17 January 1967 edition of The Daily Mail, which reported the coroner's verdict into Browne's death.
"I didn't copy the accident," Lennon said. "Tara didn't blow his mind out, but it was in my mind when I was writing that verse. The details of the accident in the song—not noticing traffic lights and a crowd forming at the scene—were similarly part of the fiction."
The third verse contains the line "The English Army had just won the war"; Lennon was making reference to his role in the movie How I Won the War, released on 18 October 1967. In Many Years from Now, McCartney said about the line "I'd love to turn you on", which concludes both verse sections: "This was the time of Tim Leary's 'Turn on, tune in, drop out' and we wrote, 'I'd love to turn you on.' John and I gave each other a knowing look: 'Uh-huh, it's a drug song. You know that, don't you?'.
McCartney provided the middle section of the song, a short piano piece he had been working on independently, with lyrics about a commuter whose uneventful morning routine leads him to drift off into a dream. John said: "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." McCartney had written the piece as a wistful recollection of his younger years, which included riding the bus to school, smoking, and going to class. The orchestral crescendos that link the verses and this section were conducted by McCartney and producer George Martin.
The final verse was inspired by an article in the Daily Mail in January 1967 regarding a substantial number of potholes in Blackburn, a town in Lancashire. However, Lennon had a problem with the words of the final verse, not being able to think of how to connect "Now they know how many holes it takes to" and "the Albert Hall". His friend Terry Doran suggested that they would "fill" the Albert Hall.
The Beatles began recording the song, with a working title "In the Life of...", on 19 January 1967, in the innovative and creative studio atmosphere ushered in by the recording of "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Penny Lane" over the preceding weeks. The two sections of the song are separated by a 23-bar bridge. At first, the Beatles were not sure how to fill this transition. Thus, at the conclusion of the recording session for the basic tracks, this section solely consisted of a simple repeated piano chord and the voice of assistant Mal Evans counting the bars. Evans' guide vocal was treated with gradually increasing amounts of echo. The 23-bar bridge section ended with the sound of an alarm clock triggered by Evans. The original intent was to edit out the ringing alarm clock when the missing section was filled in; however it complemented McCartney's piece well; the first line of McCartney's song began "Woke up, fell out of bed", so the decision was made to keep the sound. Martin later said that editing it out would have been unfeasible in any case. The basic track for the song was refined with remixing and additional parts added at recording sessions on 20 January and 3 February. Still, there was no solution for the missing 24-bar middle section of the song, when McCartney had the idea of bringing in a full orchestra to fill the gap. To allay concerns that classically-trained musicians would not be able to improvise the section, producer George Martin wrote a loose score for the section. It was an extended, atonal crescendo that encouraged the musicians to improvise within the defined framework.
The orchestral part was recorded on 10 February 1967, with McCartney and Martin conducting a 40-piece orchestra. The recording session was completed at a total cost of £367 for the players, an extravagance at the time. Martin later described explaining his improvised score to the puzzled orchestra:What I did there was to write ... the lowest possible note for each of the instruments in the orchestra. At the end of the twenty-four bars, I wrote the highest note...near a chord of E major. Then I put a squiggly line right through the twenty-four bars, with reference points to tell them roughly what note they should have reached during each bar ... Of course, they all looked at me as though I were completely mad.
McCartney noted that the strings were able to keep themselves in the designated time, while the trumpets were "much wilder". McCartney had originally wanted a 90-piece orchestra, but this proved impossible; the difference was made up, as the semi-improvised segment was recorded multiple times and eventually four different recordings were overdubbed into a single massive crescendo. The results were successful; in the final edit of the song, the orchestral bridge is reprised after the final verse. It was arranged for the orchestral session to be filmed by NEMS Enterprises for use in a planned television special. The film was never released in its entirety, although portions of it can be seen in the "A Day in the Life" promotional film, which includes shots of studio guests Mick Jagger, Marianne Faithfull, Keith Richards, Donovan, Pattie Boyd and Michael Nesmith. Reflecting the Beatles' taste for experimentation and the avant garde at this point in their careers, the orchestra players were asked to wear or were given a costume piece on top of their formal dress. This resulted in different players wearing anything from fake noses to fake stick-on nipples. Martin recalled that the lead violinist performed wearing a gorilla paw, while a bassoon player placed a balloon on the end of his instrument.
Due to the multiple takes required to perfect the orchestral cacophony and the final chord, as well as their considerable procrastination in composing the song, the total duration of time spent recording "A Day in the Life" was 34 hours. In contrast, the Beatles' earliest work, their first album Please Please Me, was recorded in its entirety in only 10 hours.
Following the final orchestral crescendo, the song ends with one of the most famous final chords in music history. Lennon, McCartney, Starr, and Evans shared three different pianos, with Martin on the harmonium, and all played an E-major chord simultaneously. The final chord was made to ring out for over forty seconds by increasing the recording sound level as the vibration faded out. Towards the end of the chord the recording level was so high that listeners can hear the sounds of the studio, including rustling papers and a squeaking chair.
The piano chord was a replacement for a failed vocal experiment: on the evening following the orchestra recording session, the four Beatles had recorded an ending of their voices humming the chord, but after multiple overdubs they wanted something with more impact.
- John Lennon – lead vocals (verses), acoustic guitar, maracas, piano (final chord)
- Paul McCartney – piano, lead vocals (middle-eight), bass guitar
- George Harrison – maracas
- Ringo Starr – drums, congas, piano (final chord)
- George Martin – harmonium (final chord) and producer
- Mal Evans – alarm clock, counting, piano (final chord)
- Geoff Emerick – engineering and mixing
- Orchestrated by George Martin, John Lennon and Paul McCartney
- Conducted by George Martin and Paul McCartney
- John Marston – harp
- Erich Gruenberg, Granville Jones, Bill Monro, Jurgen Hess, Hans Geiger, D. Bradley, Lionel Bentley, David McCallum, Donald Weekes, Henry Datyner, Sidney Sax, Ernest Scott – 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
- 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
On the Sgt. Pepper album, the start of "A Day in the Life" is cross-faded with the applause at the end of the previous track "Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)". On The Beatles 1967–1970 LP, "A Day in the Life" fades in through the Sgt. Pepper cross-fade, but on the CD version of 1967–1970, the song starts cleanly, without any fade or cross-fade.
Following "A Day in the Life" on the Sgt. Pepper album (as first released on LP in the UK and years later worldwide on CD) is a high frequency 15 kilohertz tone and some randomly spliced Beatles studio chatter. Recorded two months after the mono and stereo masters for "A Day in the Life" had been finalised, the studio chatter (entitled in the session notes "Edit for LP End") was added to the run-out groove of the initial British pressing. The Anthology 2 album includes an early, pre-orchestral version of the song and Anthology 3 includes a version of "The End" that concludes with the final chord of "A Day in the Life" being played backwards and then forwards. The "Love" album version has the song starting with Lennon's intro of "sugar plum fairy". In this version the strings are more prominent during the crescendos.
Supposed drug references
The song became controversial for its supposed references to drugs. The BBC announced that it would not broadcast "A Day in the Life" due to the line "I'd love to turn you on," which, according to the corporation, advocated drug use. Other lyrics allegedly referring to drugs include "found my way upstairs and had a smoke / somebody spoke and I went into a dream". A spokesman for the BBC stated, "We have listened to this song over and over again. And we have decided that it appears to go just a little too far, and could encourage a permissive attitude to drug-taking."
Lennon and McCartney denied that there were drug references and publicly complained about the ban at a dinner party at the home of their manager, Brian Epstein, celebrating their album. Lennon said that the song was simply about "a crash and its victim," and called the line in question "the most innocent of phrases." McCartney later said "This was the only one in the album written as a deliberate provocation. A stick-that-in-your-pipe... But what we want is to turn you on to the truth rather than pot." However, George Martin later commented that he had always suspected that the line "found my way upstairs and had a smoke" was a drug reference, recalling how the Beatles would "disappear and have a little puff", presumably of marijuana, but not in front of him.
When Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was released in South Asia, Malaysia and Hong Kong, "A Day in the Life" "With a Little Help from My Friends" and "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" were excluded because of supposed drug references.
Recognition and reception
"A Day in the Life" became one of the Beatles' most influential songs. Paul Grushkin in his book Rockin' Down the Highway: The Cars and People That Made Rock Roll, called the song "one of the most ambitious, influential, and groundbreaking works in pop music history". In "From Craft to Art: Formal Structure in the Music of The Beatles", the song is described thus: ""A Day in the Life" is perhaps one of the most important single tracks in the history of rock music; clocking in at only four minutes and forty-five seconds, it must surely be among the shortest epic pieces in rock".
The song appears on many top songs lists. It placed twelfth on CBC's 50 Tracks, the second highest Beatles song on the list after "In My Life". It placed first in Q Magazine's list of the 50 greatest British songs of all time, and was at the top of Mojo Magazine's 101 Greatest Beatles' Songs, as decided by a panel of musicians and journalists. "A Day in the Life" was also nominated for a Grammy in 1967 for Best Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist Or Instrumentalist. In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked "A Day in the Life" at number 26 on the magazine's list of "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time", and in 2010, the magazine deemed it to be The Beatles' greatest song. It is listed at number 5 in Pitchfork Media's The 200 Greatest Songs of the 1960s.
In April 1967, McCartney played a tape of the song to Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys, in Los Angeles. The song deeply affected Wilson, who was suffering growing emotional problems. Soon after, Wilson abandoned his work on the Beach Boys' album Smile, and would not return to complete it until 2003. Van Dyke Parks later said, "Brian had a nervous collapse. What broke his heart was Sgt. Pepper."
On 27 August 1992 Lennon's handwritten lyrics were sold by the estate of Mal Evans in an auction at Sotheby's London for $100,000 (£56,600). The lyrics were put up for sale again in March 2006 by Bonhams in New York. Sealed bids were opened on 7 March 2006 and offers started at about $2 million. The lyric sheet was auctioned again by Sotheby's in June 2010. It was purchased by an anonymous American buyer who paid $1,200,000 (£810,000 ).
The song has been recorded by many other artists, notably by Jeff Beck on the 2008 album Performing This Week: Live at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club which was also used in the film Across the Universe and won the 2010 Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance.
McCartney has been performing this song in a majority of his live shows since his 2008 tour, with his latest performance being after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on 13 November 2011. It is played in a medley with "Give Peace a Chance".
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