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The Beatles "A Day in the Life": The Story Behind the Song

Posted by on December 19, 2012

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When there’s great turbulence in the world you can always turn to the Beatles.

“A Day in the Life” was written decades ago. It’s still the song that expresses best how humans react to tragic news.

The Beatles halted all performing in September of 1966. Their focus was shifted into the studio and working with producer George Martin on Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. This landmark album’s series of psychedelic songs was designed to inspire musical “visions.”

“A Day in the Life” is the record’s final track.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4xljFT44Y1Y]

Lennon’s distorted “Elvis echo” vocals tell us a dark story of a “lucky man who made the grade” and “blew his mind out in a car.” The bridge “Woke up got out of bed…” was a McCartney song fragment added in for effect.

A live group of classical musicians played on “A Day in the Life.”  The February 10 recording session became a party with guests like Mick Jagger, Marianne Faithfull, Keith Richards and Donovan.

Formally-dressed orchestra members were asked to wear party hats, rubber noses and gorilla paws. Colored balloons filled the studio.

Lennon and McCartney conducted the group into a cacophony at the end. The idea was to give the listener an “orchestral orgasm.”

Two weeks later recording wrapped up with a take of the piano crash. All four Beatles, George Martin and one lucky roadie (Mal Evans) pounded an E major chord at the same time. The duration of the final sample is 53 seconds.

“A Day in the Life” was banned by BBC when it came out in 1967 because of the line “I’d love to turn you on.” The BBC (correctly) assumed the line to be a drug reference. It wasn’t until the 80s that the song was played regularly on the radio.

Here are the lyrics to “A Day in the Life” by John Lennon and Paul McCartney.

                         

I read the news today oh, boy
About a lucky man who made the grade
And though the news was rather sad
Well, I just had to laugh
I saw the photograph
He blew his mind out in a car
He didn’t notice that the lights had changed
A crowd of people stood and stared
They’d seen his face before
Nobody was really sure if he was from the house of lords

I saw a film today oh, boy
The english army had just won the war
A crowd of people turned away
But I just had to look
Having read the book
I’d love to turn you on.

Woke up, fell out of bed
Dragged a comb across my head
Found my way downstairs and drank a cup
And looking up, I noticed I was late
Found my coat and grabbed my hat
Made the bus in seconds flat
Found my way upstairs and had a smoke
And somebody spoke and I went into a dream
Ah

I read the news today oh, boy
Four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire
And though the holes were rather small
They had to count them all
Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the albert hall
I’d love to turn you on

Tune in to DJ Michele Myers Friday nights at 9pm on KEXP 90.3FM Seattle, kexp.org. Music historian and producer, Michele’s made over 200 radio stories for KEXP Documentaries. She’s also written scripts, lesson plans and features for Experience Music Projectthe University of Washington and NPR.

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