AUTHORSHIP Lennon (.6) and McCartney (.4)
LENNON: "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." September 1980, All We Are Saying
The Guinness heir was Tara Browne, a friend of the Beatles and other rock groups. He was the son of Lord and Lady Oranmore and Browne, whose great-grandfather was the brewer Edward Guinness. Tara went to Eton and, had he lived, would have inherited L1,000,000 at the age of twenty-five. A charming, likeable boy, with a wide grin and his hair brushed forward in a Beatle cut, he was a great friend of Brian Jones and often stayed overnight tripping on LSD with Brian, Keith Richards and Anita Pallenberg at Brian's flat in Courtfield Road. In the book Shutters and Blinds Anita described one trip with him: "I remember being with Tara Browne on one of the first acid trips. He had a Lotus sportscar and suddenly near Sloane Square everything went red. The lights were red, the trees were flaming and we just jumped out of the car and left it there." Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now
McCARTNEY: "The verse about the politican blowing his mind out in a car we wrote together. It has been attributed to Tawa 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 he didn't notice that the lights had changed. The 'blew his mind' was purely a drug reference, nothing to do with a car crash. In actual fact I think I spent more time with Tara than John did. I'd taken Tara up to Liverpool. I was with Tara when I had the accident when I split my lip. We were really quite good friends and I introduced him to John. Anyway, if John said he was thinking of Tara, then he was, but in my mind it wasn't to do with that."
Tara died in the early hours of the morning of December 18, 1966, while on his way to visit David Vaughan, who was painting a design on the front of Tara's Kings Road shop Dandy Fashions. He smashed his Lotus Elan into the back of a parked van while swerving to avoid a Volkswagen which had pulled out in his path in Redcliffe Gardens in Earls Court. He was twenty-one. Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now
McCARTNEY: "It was a song that John brought over to me at Cavendish Avenue. It was his original idea. He'd been reading the Daily Mail and brought the newspaper with him to my house. We went upstairs to the music room and started to work on it. He had the first verse, he had the war, and a little bit of the second verse." Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now
LENNON: "Paul and I were definitely working together, especially on 'A Day In The Life' that was a real . . . The way we wrote a lot of the time: you'd write the good bit, the part that was easy, like 'I read the news today' or whatever it was, then when you got stuck or whenever it got hard, instead of carrying on, you just drop it; then we would meet each other, and I would sing half, and he would be inspired to write the next bit and vice versa. He was a bit shy about it because I think he thought it's already a good song. Sometimes we wouldn't let each other interfere with a song either, because you tend to be a bit lax with someone else's stuff, you experiment a bit. So we were doing it in his room with the piano. He said 'Should we do this?', 'Yeah, let's do that.' " John Lennon in His Own Words
The pot-hole story appeared in the January 7, 1967 issue of the Daily Mail.
McCARTNEY: "We looked through the newspaper and both wrote the verse 'how many holes in Blackburn, Lancashire'. I liked the way he said 'Lan-ca-sheer', which is the way you pronounce it up north. Then 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?'
"'Yes, but at the same time, our stuff is always very ambiguous and "turn you on" can be sexual so . . . c'mon!'
"As John and I looked at each other, a little flash went between our eyes, like 'I'd love to turn you on', a recognition of what we were doing, so I thought, 'Okay, we've got to have something amazing that will illustrate that.
"When we took it to the studio I suggested, 'Let's put aside twenty-four bars and just have Mal count them.' They said, 'Well, what are you going to put there?' I said, 'Nothing. It's just going to be, One, chunk chunk chunk; two, chunk chunk chunk; three . . .' And you can hear Mal in the background doing that. He counted down and on bar twenty-four he hit the alarm clock, Brrrrrrr! It was just a period of time, an arbitrary length of bars, which was very Cage thinking. I'm using his name to cover all the sins, but that kind of avant-garde thinking came from the people I had been listening to." Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now
LENNON: ". . . There was a paragraph about four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire, being discovered, and there was still one word missing in that particular verse when we began to record. I knew the line should go: 'Now they know how many holes it takes to (blank) the Albert Hall.' It was a nonsense verse really, but for some reason I just couldn't think of the bloody verb! What did the holes do to the Albert Hall? It was actually Terry Doran who finally said: 'Fill the Albert Hall, John.' " The Beatles: A Celebration and John Lennon in His Own Words
In sessions between January 19 (basic track) and February 10, 1967 (orchestral track), at Abbey Road, with an overdub February 22 (the one-chord ending)
Lennon's part of the song was recorded first, with him on guitar and McCartney on piano. The Long and Winding Road: An Intimate Guide to the Beatles
February 10, 1967:
BARRY MILES, McCartney biographer: "Studio One at Abbey Road is a cavernous aircraft hangar of a place, used almost exclusively for classical recording, as large as a concert hall with enough space for several symphony orchestras to spread out. Sir Edward Elgar, Sir Thomas Beecham, Sir Malcolm Sargent, Sir John Barbarolli and Yehudi Menuhin all recorded there. It is strictly functional space: a vast expanse of parquet flooring littered with movable sound baffles and bits of scaffolding, grey walls which might once have been white, covered by scores of large square sound baffles like a sixties sci-fi movie and studded with speaker cabinets, part of the Ambiophonic feedback system. Had Sir Malcolm looked in on February 10, 1967, he would have been in for a shock: the studio was filled with balloons, and flower children in tattered lace and faded velvet tripped around the room blowing rainbow bubbles. Three Rolling Stones - Brian Jones, Keith Richards and Mick Jagger - accompanied by Marianne Faithfull paraded in King's Road psychedelic finery, with flowing scarves, crushed velvet and satin trousers and multicoloured boots. Donovan, the cosmic troubadour, Graham Nash, the only psychedelic member of the Hollies, the Monkee Mike Nesmith, Patti Harrison and dozens of other friends milled around the edge of the room. The four Dutch designers known as the Fool arrived dressed as characters from the Tarot, carrying tambourines and bells, while the mighty Abbey Road air conditioners worked hard to control the rich fragrance of joss sticks and marijuana. At the centre stood George Martin and Paul McCartney, preparing to conduct a symphony orchestra, who were being asked, to their astonishment and for the first time in their careers, to improvise.
The orchestra and George Martin had been asked to attend in full evening dress, which the Beatles also promised they would wear. The Beatles did not keep their word but the orchestra and George Martin looked very smart in their tuxedos. In order to get them into the mood to play something unconventional and to encourage in them an element of playful spontaneity, the Beatles went among the players handing out party favours. Mal Evans had been sent to a joke shop on Great Russell Street and returned with plastic stick-on nipples, plastic glasses with false eyes, rubber bald pates, some with knotted handkerchiefs balanced on them, huge fake cigars, party hats and streamers: David McCallum, the leader of the London Philharmonic, wore a large red false nose; Erich Gruenberg, the leader of the second violins, had on a pair of flowery paper spectacles and held in his bow in a large gorilla paw; the bassoon players, Alfred Waters and N. Fawcett, had balloons attached to their instruments which inflated and deflated with each note, raising a laugh from George Martin. Several film-makers with hand-held cameras circled the room." Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now
GEOFF EMERICK: "Lennon's voice on 'A Day In The Life' - that was achieved with tape echo. We used to send the feed from the vocal mike into a mono tape machine. They had separate record and replay heads, so we'd be recording the vocal on the tape, taking the replay and feeding it back through the machine itself. There was a big pot on the front of the machines, and we used to turn up the record level until it started to slightly feed back on itself, and gave this sort of twittery vocal sound. Of course John was hearing echo in his [headphones] as he was singing - it wasn't put on after - and he used that as a rhythmic feel for singing. That tape echo on the vocal always suited John's voice, because he had a cutting voice that used to trigger it so well." Musician (July 1987)
The need for a middle section became apparent. McCartney offered some lyrics that he was intending for another song. After discussion, they were accepted, as long as the connecting part was very rhythmic. George Martin suggested the connecting passages have a definite length. The Long and Winding Road: An Intimate Guide to the Beatles
MARTIN: "In order to keep time, we got Mal Evans to count each bar, and on the record you can still hear his voice as he stood by the piano counting: 'one, two, three, four . . .' For a joke, Mal set an alarm clock to go off at the end of twenty-four bars, and you can hear that too. We left it in because we couldn't get it off!" All You Need Is Ears : The inside personal story of the genius who created The Beatles
The twenty-four bars had been recorded with increasing amounts of reverberation on Mal's voice so by the last bar there was a tremendous echo on it. Paul also added discordant piano chords over Mal's countdown when he recorded the grand opening chords and piano track for the song.
It was not until another week has passed, during which they worked on the title song 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' and made promo films for 'Penny Lane' and 'Strawberry Fields Forever', that they returned to 'A Day In The Life'. By now, Paul had decided what to do with the twenty-four bars. He asked George Martin for a symphony orchestra. The Beatles had never used one before, and, as a company man, George Martin immediately thought of the cost.
GEORGE MARTIN: "'Nonsense,' I replied. 'You cannot have a symphony orchestra just for a few chords, Paul. Waste of money. I mean you're talking about ninety musicians!' . . . Thus spake the well-trained corporate lackey still lurking somewhere inside me. Yet my imagination was fired: a symphony orchestra! I could see at once that we could make a lovely sound." Summer of Love: The Making of Sgt. Pepper
Paul told him what he wanted to do with it and in the end they settled on half an orchestra, forty-one players, which they could then double-track to make a whole.
Lennon's only instruction to George Martin was that the sound must rise up to "a sound like the end of the world." The London Times (May 30, 1987). All You Need Is Ears : The inside personal story of the genius who created The Beatles says Lennon was more explicit: "I'd like it to be from extreme quietness to extreme loudness, not only in volume, but also for the sound to expand as well" and more.
MARTIN: "[John] did explain what he wanted sufficiently for me to be able to write a score. For the 'I'd like [sic] to turn you onnnnn' bit, I used cellos and violas. I had them playing those two notes that echo John's voice. However, instead of fingering their instruments, which would produce crisp notes, I got them to slide their fingers up and down the frets, building in intensity until the start of the orchestral climax.
"That climax was something else again. What I did there was to write, at the beginning of the twenty-four bars, 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 each instrument could reach that was 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. The musicians also had instructions to slide as gracefully as possible between one note and the next. In the case of the stringed instruments, that was a matter of sliding their fingers up the strings. With keyed instruments, like clarinet and oboe, they obviously have to move their fingers from key to key as they went up, but they were asked to 'lip' the changes as much as possible too." All You Need Is Ears : The inside personal story of the genius who created The Beatles
McCARTNEY: "First we wrote out the music for the part where the orchestra had proper chords to do: after 'Somebody spoke and I went into a dream . . .' big pure chords come in. But for the other orchestral parts I had a different idea. I sat John down and suggested it to him and he liked it a lot. I said, 'Look, all these composers are doing really weird avant-garde things and what I'd like to do here is give the orchestra some really strange instructions. We could tell them to sit there and be quiet, but that's been done, or we could have our own ideas based on this school of thought. This is what's going on now, this is what the movement's about'. So this is what we did.
"I said, 'Right, to save all the arranging, we'll take the whole orchestra as one instrument.' And I wrote it down like a cooking recipe: I told the orchestra, 'There are twenty-four empty bars; on the ninth bar, the orchestra will take off, and it will go from its lowest note to its highest note. You start with the lowest note in the range of your instrument, and eventually go through all the notes of your instrument to the highest note. But the speed at which you do it is your own choice. You've got to get from your lowest to your highest. You don't have to actually use all your notes but you've got to do those two, that's the only restriction.' So that was the brief, a little avant-garde brief." Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now
McCartney suggested that Martin and the orchestra come to the session in evening dress. All You Need Is Ears : The inside personal story of the genius who created The Beatles
PETE SHOTTON: "The predominantly middle-aged [orchestra members] were eached handed a paper mask or some other such party novelty. The orchestra leader, for instance, was given a bright red false nose, while the main violinst was obliged to clutch his bow in a giant gorilla's paw.
"[The musicians] were even more bemused, if not downright aghast, by Paul McCartney's instructions that they all play as out of tune and out of time as possible. . . . Only after repeated tries did the musicians finally deliver a performance sufficiently chaotic to suit the Beatles' requirements." John Lennon: In My Life
ERICH GRUENBERG, orchestra leader: ". . . They wanted certain effects from the string players which were very difficult to convey in writing, but they explained what they wanted. It was an intensification of sound or a rise in pitch - if you remember there's a sort of spiraling chord that starts on a semitone 'swirrel' and then rises up. The particular effect was created by everyone doing his own thing, in a sense, because it's the mixture of all these different ingredients that gives this special effect." It Was Twenty Years Ago Today
McCARTNEY: ". . . I suggested that what we should do was write all but fifteen bars properly so that the orchestra could read it, but where the fifteen bars began we would give the musicians a simple direction: 'Start on your lowest note and eventually, at the end of the fifteen bars, be at your highest note.' How they got there was up to them, but it all resulted in a crazy crescendo. It was interesting because the trumpet players, always famous for their fondness for lubricating substances, didn't care, so they'd be there at the note ahead of everyone. The strings all watched each other like little sheep: 'Are you going up?' Yes. 'So am I.' And they'd go up. 'A little more?' Yes. And they'd go up a little more, all very delicate and cozy, all going up together. You listen to those trumpets. They're just freaking out." It Was Twenty Years Ago Today
McCARTNEY: "So we had to go round and talk to them all, seeing them all separate: 'Wot's all this, Paul? What exactl d'you . . .'
"'In your own speed . . .'
"'What do you mean, any way I want?'
"'Yeah.' The trumpets got the idea rather easily. I said, 'You can do it all in one spurt if you like. But you can't go back. You've got to end at your top note, or have done your top note.'
"It was interesting because you found out the internal character of an orchestra; for instance, all the strings went together like sheep, all looked at each other to see who was going up. 'If you're going up, so am I' They tried to go up together as a bank. Trumpets had no such reservations whatsoever, trumpets are notoriously the guys who go to the pub because you need to wet your whistle, you need plenty of spittle. So they were very free.
"This did actually get a little organised by George Martin. I didn't want that amount of restriction on them and in my instructions to them I didn't give it, but Goerge, knowing a symphony orchestra and their logic, decided to give them little signposts along the way." Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now
The guests moved to the sides of the studio. The two conductors raised their batons - George Martin in evening derss and Paul McCartney in a red butcher's apron and a purple and black psychedelic paisley shirt - and recording began.
The orchestra played the chord through five times in all, and each take was very different. Then George Martin and his team had to synchronise it with their original four-track master since they did not have an eight-track machine. The engineer Ken Townshend lashed up a method of starting all the tape machines simultaneously using a 50-hertz signal, but even then the synchronisation wasn't quite perfect and on the final mix the orchestra can just be heard going in and out of time.
McCARTNEY: "And it became what's been referred to as a 'musical icon'. It's a very famous sound bite and of course John loved it. It was great to bring those ideas to it but this is the difference between me and Cage: mine would just be in the middle of a song as a little solo; his would be the whole thing. So we did this, and it was a great session." Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now
McCARTNEY: "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." Playboy (December 1984)
GEOFF EMERICK: "On the orchestral rush at the end of the track, by careful fader manipulation I was gradually building the crescendo to a peak. My technique then was a little bit psychological, because I would bring it up to a point and then slightly fade it back in level, as I had a long time to do so. It was just a case of really feeling the music, more than the technical side." Musician (July 1987)
MARTIN: "I wanted that [final piano] chord to last as long as possible, and I told Geoff Emerick it would be up to him, not the boys, to achieve that." All You Need Is Ears : The inside personal story of the genius who created The Beatles
About twenty-four seconds into the sound of the final chord, Emerick turned the sound level so high that the studio's air-conditioners became audible. The Beatles Book of Lists
DEREK TAYLOR: "The final bunched chords came from all four Beatles and George Martin in the studio, playing three pianos. All of them hit the chords simultaneously, as hard as possible, with the engineer pushing the volume-input faders way down on the moment of impact. Then, as the noise gradually diminished, the faders were pushed slowly up to the top. It took forty-five seconds, and it was done three or four times, piling on a huge sound - one piano after another, all doing the same thing." It Was Twenty Years Ago Today
BARRY MILES, McCartney biographer: "If there was ever an example where up-to-date equipment would have improved a recording, it is 'A Day In The Life'. Because EMI was still using antiquated four-track equipment, nine years after American record companies such as Atlantic had switched to eight-track, George Martin was constantly forced to transfer one track to another in order to record the next layer of sound. As well as taking up a tremendous amount of studio time, each transfer multiplies the signal-to-noise ratio, introducing tape hiss: two copies creates four times the amount of hiss but a third copy increases it by nine times, so George Martin was constantly juggling tracks and worrying about keeping a track free. There is a lot of hiss and noise on 'A Day In The Life', as a pair of decent headphones will show. George Martin and his engineers did a brilliant job considering that they were working in a museum, but the sound quality would have been better had it been recorded on modern equipment. It was typical of EMI that when they did finally decide to upgrade, they opted for an eight-track instead of buying one of the sixteen-track machines that had already become standard throughout the industry. By then, however, rock groups had become accustomed to using the top-of-the-line equipment in the independent studios, and EMI had to replace the eight-track with a sixteen within a year." Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now
Thursday 18 April 1963
Royal Albert Hall, Kensington Gore, London
This was the Beatles' first appearance at the Royal Albert Hall - a venue they would remember in their 1967 song 'A Day In The Life' - and they spent virtually the entire day there, mostly in dressing-room 5A. They were called at 10.15 am for a 10.45 to 11.30 rehearsal, and again at 12.45 pm for a 1.00 to 1.30 rehearsal of the concert's finale. The Complete Beatles Chronicle
LENNON: lead vocals on the first, second, and last verses
McCARTNEY: lead vocals on the section that begins "Woke up, fell out of bed"
LENNON: Gibson J-160E acoustic guitar
McCARTNEY: bass, piano
STARR: bongos, drums
MAL EVANS: counting, alarm clock
LENNON: lead guitar (at beginning)
LENNON, McCARTNEY, STARR, and MAL EVANS: three pianos (at end)
GEORGE MARTIN: harmonium
Martin harbored reservations about the orchestral sequences: "One part of me said, 'We're being a bit self-indulgent, we're going a little bit over the top,' and the other part of me said, 'It's bloody marvelous! I think it's fantastic!' I was then thoroughly reassured before I put the thing together, when I actually let an American visitor hear a bit of 'A Day In The Life.' When that happened he did a handstand, and I then knew my worries were over." Musician (July 1987)
MARTIN: "[Ringo's] use of toms was also very inventive. The 'A Day In The Life' tympani sound on the toms was very characteristic." Musician (July 1987)
McCARTNEY: "[Mal] rang the alarm clock on 'Day in the Life'. He was always in the studio if we needed an extra hand." Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now
McCARTNEY: "We persuaded Ringo to play tom-toms. It's sensational. He normally didn't liek to play lead drums, as it were, but we coached him through it. We said, 'Come on, you're fantastic, this will be really beautiful,' and indeed it was." Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now
The film referred to is How I Won The War, in which Lennon appeared.
"PAUL IS DEAD" Hysteria: The line "He blew his mind out in a car" supposedly told how McCartney died.
The working title was "In The Life Of . . ." The Complete BEATLES Recording Sessions; The Official Story of the Abbey Road Years 1962-1970
The song was banned by the BBC because of Paul's lyric about having a smoke and going into a dream, contrued as being about marijuana. The four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire, were thought by some to be about the tracks in a junkie's arm. The Love You Make : An Insider's Story of the Beatles
Paul first took LSD in 1966 with his friend Tara Browne. Tara lived in Eaton Row, a quiet dead-end mews in Belgravia just off Eaton Square, and was often to be seen in Sibylla's and the Bag o'Nails with his girlfriend Suki Potier. At the end of an evening, Paul had gone back to Tara's mews house with Patrick, a dancer on the Ready Steady Go! TV show; Viv Prince, drummer with the Pretty Things; and several girls. Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now
COMMENTS BY BEATLES
McCARTNEY: "There'd been a story about a lucky man who'd made the grade, and there was a photograph of him sitting in his big car, and when John saw it he just had to laugh! That's all just a little black comedy, you know. The next bit was another song altogether, but it happened to fit well with the first section. It was really only me remembering what it was like to run up the road to catch the school bus, having a smoke, and then going into class. We decided: 'Bugger this, we're going to write a real turn-on song!' It was a reflection of my school days - I would have a Woodbine then, and somebody would speak and I would go into a dream. This was the only one in the album written as a deliberate provocation to people. But what we really wanted was to turn you on to the truth rather than just bloody pot!" The Beatles: A Celebration and Beatles in Their Own Words
McCARTNEY: "I had to do the journey into the centre, half an hour on my own on the bus from the age of eleven. I was pretty independent, and I soon learned how to explore. I know it was something the other Beatles didn't really feel too much. I used to say to George Harrison, 'God, I'd love to go on a bus again.' George would say, 'Why would you want to do that?' His dad had been a bus driver and I think maybe George could not see the romance of travelling on a bus that I would. I always saw it as sitting upstairs, smoking a pipe like a poet. Sitting on the top of a bus composing things." Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now
McCARTNEY: "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. . . ." Playboy (December 1984)
COMMENTS BY OTHERS
LEONARD BERNSTEIN, composer, conductor: ". . . Three bars of 'A Day In The Life' still sustain me, rejuvenate me, inflame my senses and sensibilities." The Beatles (1979), via The Beatles Companion: The Fab Four in Film, Performance, Recording, and Print
This song is one of Julian Lennon's favourites. Circa 1984, Lennon : The Definitive Biography