“A Day in the Life” is a Beatles’ song from 1967. Moreover, it first appeared on the the “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band Album”. However, the song is also on other LP/CD’s and we highlight them below.
Recorded: 19th & 20th January, 1967; 3rd, 10th and 22nd February, 1967
Studio: EMI Studios, London
Genre: Art rock, psychedelic rock, orchestral pop
Track Duration: 5:35 (including studio drivel) 5:10 otherwise
Record Label: Parlophone, Capitol
Producer: George Martin
Mal Evans: alarm clock, counting, piano (final chord)
John Marson: 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, 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
Roger Lord: oboe
Basil Tschaikov, Jack Brymer: clarinet
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
A Day In The Life
This song is the final track on the Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album, of course. However, there are many elements to this epic production.
According to John Lennon, he read a story about the death of 21 year old Guinness heir, Tara Browne which inspired him to write the first part of the song. On 18 December, 1966, Browne crashed his car in Redcliffe Gardens, Earl’s Court, London. But the lyrics became fictional after Lennon and McCartney began to finely tune them.
Paul McCartney later claimed that those two verses were not a reference to Browne, but a politician who simply “blew his mind out in a car”. In other words, some politician high on drugs. Therefore, because of the different claims, we may never know.
“Just as it sounds: I was reading the paper one day and noticed two stories. One was about 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 four thousand potholes in the streets of Blackburn, Lancashire, that needed to be filled. Paul’s contribution was the beautiful little lick in the song, ‘I’d love to turn you on,’ that he’d had floating around in his head and couldn’t use. I thought it was a damn good piece of work.”
All We Are Saying, David Sheff
“The verse about the politician blowing his mind out in a car we wrote together. It has been attributed to Tara Browne, the Guinness heir, which I don’t believe is the case, certainly as we were writing it, I was not attributing it to Tara in my head. In John’s head it might have been. In my head I was imagining a politician bombed out on drugs who’d stopped at some traffic lights and didn’t notice that the lights had changed. The ‘blew his mind’ was purely a drugs reference, nothing to do with a car crash.”
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles
4,000 Holes In Blackburn
While John was reading the Browne story, he also read about the potholes in the roads of Blackburn, England. The story continued, “There are 4,000 holes in the road in Blackburn, Lancashire, or one twenty-sixth of a hole per person, according to a council survey. If Blackburn is typical, there are two million holes in Britain’s roads and 300,000 in London.” Hence, we get the line, “Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall”.
“There was still one word missing in that verse when we came to record. I knew the line had to go ‘Now they know how many holes it takes to… something, the Albert Hall.’ It was a nonsense verse really, but for some reason I couldn’t think of the verb. What did the holes do to the Albert Hall?
It was Terry [Doran, a friend of Brian Epstein who later became head of Apple Music] who said ‘fill’ the Albert Hall. And that was it. Perhaps I was looking for that word all the time, but couldn’t put my tongue on it. Other people don’t necessarily give you a word or a line, they just throw in the word you’re looking for anyway.”
“I only have one rule and that is to play with the singer. If the singer’s singing, you don’t really have to do anything, just hold it together. If you listen to my playing, I try to become an instrument; play the mood of the song. For example, ‘Four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire,’ – boom ba bom. I try to show that; the disenchanting mood. The drum fills are part of it.”
Written primarily by John Lennon but with the credit going to the Lennon-McCartney partnership, “A Day in the Life” comes to us in epic proportions. Paul McCartney contributes the song’s middle section and adds to the complexity of the song. Indeed, his piano piece and lyrics about a commuter adds another dimension to the song. McCartney tells us of the commuter’s uneventful morning routine leading him into a dream on the upper deck of a bus while having a “smoke”.
McCartney was basically reliving his youth when he would ride the 82 bus to school, smoking and going to class. We also see Lennon and McCartney recalling their youth in “Strawberry Fields Forever” (an orphanage behind Lennon’s house) and “Penny Lane” (a street in Liverpool). Those two songs were supposedly for the Sgt Pepper’s album but instead they decided to release them as a double A-side.
It is also though that the line “The English Army had just won the war” is a reference to John Lennon’s role in the non-Beatles’ film, “How I Won the War”.
The BBC banned “A Day In The Life” because of the line “I’d love to turn you on”. The corporation thought it was a reference to drugs and indeed band members confirmed this later. The other clue, of course, are the lines, “found my way upstairs and had a smoke/somebody spoke and I went into a dream”.
“I had this sequence that fitted, ‘Woke up, fell out of bed’, and we had to link them. 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?'”
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles
At the end of the song we hear a final orchestral crescendo, of course. However, the song ends with a dramatic finale. This has become one of the most famous final chords ever. Using three pianos, Lennon, McCartney, Starr and Evans played an E-major chord simultaneously so did George Martin on the harmonium.
Ordinarily, the sound would have faded out a lot quicker than it did. However, by raising the recording levels gradually, they were able to extend the fade out to 40 seconds. In order to create the sound they wanted, there were many takes. Indeed, it took 34 hours in total to record “A Day In The Life”. In contrast, it only took 10 hours and 45 minutes to record 10 songs for the “Please Please Me” album!
The curtain comes down on this concept album with a bang, then fades into nothingness. Another Beatles’ album finishes with probably the best ending ever but this is open to debate, of course.
The Beatles began recording “A Day in the Life” on 19 January, 1967, in Studio Two of the EMI Studios, London, during the 7.30pm-2.30am session. There were four takes of “In The Life Of…” (the working title of the song).
They overdubbed take 4 the next day with the usual instrumentation and various vocal pieces. However, they re-recorded various drum and bass pieces on the 3 February.
The orchestra arrived at the Abbey Road Studios for a recording session on 10 February along with some friends of The Beatles. These included, Mick Jagger, Marianne Faithfull, Keith Richards, Mike Nesmith as well as Donovan. The final mixing was on 22 February 1967 and this is when the addition of the magic final chord came into the fore. There were several attempts to get the sound right, but they done it and the rest is history!
On the British album, The Beatles add a little humour to the album version of “A Day in the Life”. At the end of the track is a 15-kilohertz tone and some random Beatles studio gibberish. Humans can’t hear the tone but cats and dogs can. During the drivel Lennon allegedly says “Been so high” while McCartney’s response is “Never could be any other way”. You can only hear this with a record player that doesn’t have an automatic phonograph arm return mechanism. The American album hasn’t got these additions which was Lennon’s idea.
On the Sgt Pepper’s album, “A Day in the Life” is the last song on the album, of course. Meanwhile, on the 1996 album, “Anthology 2”, a composite version appears out of takes 1, 2, 6 & orchestra. In this case, the song sits as track 5 on disc 2 after “Penny Lane” and before “Good Morning Good Morning“.
The version we hear on the 2006 album, “Love”, is similar to the main Sgt Pepper’s version without the end drivel but with some at the beginning.
Takes 1 & 2 appear on the 2017 album, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band 50th anniversary edition”.