A 41-piece orchestra played on this song. The musicians were told to attend the session dressed formally. When they got there, they were presented with party novelties (false noses, party hats, gorilla-paw glove) to wear, which made it clear this was not going to be a typical session. The orchestra was conducted by Paul McCartney, who told them to start with the lowest note of their instruments and gradually play to the highest.
This was recorded in three sessions: First the basic track, then the orchestra, then the last note was dubbed in.
The beginning of this song was based on two stories John Lennon read in the Daily Mail newspaper: Guinness heir Tara Browne dying when he smashed his lotus into a parked van, and an article in the UK Daily Express in early 1967 which told of how the Blackburn Roads Surveyor had counted 4000 holes in the roads of Blackburn and commented that the volume of material needed to fill them in was enough to fill the Albert Hall. Lennon took some liberties with the Tara Browne story - he changed it so he "Blew his mind out in the car."
John Lennon stated this regarding the article about Tara Browne: "I didn't copy the accident. Tara didn't blow his mind out. But it was in my mind when I was writing that verse." At the time, Paul didn't realize the reference was to Tara. He thought it was about a "stoned politician." The article regarding the "4000 holes in Blackburn, Lancashire" was taken from the UK Daily Express, January 17, 1967 in a column called "Far And Near."
John's friend Terry Doran was the one who completed John's line "Now they know how many holes it takes to fill..." Terry told him "fill the Albert Hall, John."
McCartney contributed the line "I'd love to turn you on." This was a drug reference, but the BBC banned it for the line about having a smoke and going into a dream, which they thought was about marijuana. The ban was finally lifted when author David Storey picked it as one of his Desert Island Discs.
McCartney's middle section (Woke up, got out of bed...) was intended for another song.
The final chord was produced by all four Beatles and George Martin banging on three pianos simultaneously. As the sound diminished, the engineer boosted to faders. The resulting note lasts 42 seconds, and the studio air conditioners can be heard toward the end as the faders were pushed to the limit to record it.
The rising orchestra-glissando and the thundering sound are reminiscent of "Entry of the Gods into Valhalla" from Richard Wagner's opera "Das Rheingold," where after the rising glissando, Thor beats with his hammer. George Martin said in his 1979 book All You Need is Ears
that the glissando was Lennon's idea. After Lennon's death, Martin seems to have changed his mind. In his 1995 book Summer of Love: The Making of Sgt. Pepper
, he states that the rising orchestra-glissando was McCartney's idea.
This being the last song on the album, The Beatles found an interesting way to close it out. After the final note, Lennon had producer George Martin dub in a high pitched tone, which most humans can't hear, but drives dogs crazy. This was followed by a loop of incomprehensible studio noise, along with Paul McCartney saying "Never could see any other way," spliced together. It was put there so vinyl copies would play this continuously in the run-out groove, sounding like something went horribly wrong with the record. Kids, ask your parents about vinyl.
In 2004, McCartney did an interview with the Daily Mirror newspaper where he said he was doing cocaine around this time along with marijuana: "I'd been introduced to it, and at first it seemed OK, like anything that's new and stimulating. When you start working your way through it, you start thinking, 'This is not so cool and idea,' especially when you start getting those terrible comedowns."
The movie reference in the lyrics ("I saw a film today, oh boy. The English Army had just won the war") is to a film Lennon acted in called How I Won The War.
Keith Richards named his second son Tara after Tara Brown, the Guinness heir who smashes his car in Lennon's first verse. Richard's son was premature and died soon after birth.
The Beatles started this with the working title "In The Life of..."
This is a rare Beatles song with a title that is not part of the lyrics. Another one is "Yer Blues
That's Mal Evans doing the counting during the first transition from John to Paul. He set the alarm clock (heard on the recording) to go off at the end of his 24-bar count. Evans also helped with the composition of a couple of songs on the Sgt. Pepper
album. Although he never received composer's credit, the Beatles did pay his estate a lump sum in the 1990s for his contributions. Evans died January 5, 1976 after a misunderstanding with the police.
George Martin (from Q Magazine, July 2007): "John's voice - which he hated - was the kind of thing that would send shivers down your spine. If you hear those opening chords with the guitar and piano, and then his voice comes in, 'I heard the news today, oh boy' It's just so evocative of that time. He always played his songs to me on the guitar and I would sit on a stool as he strummed. The orchestral section was Paul's idea. We put two pieces of songs together that weren't connected in any way. Then we had that 24-bars-of-nothing in between. I had to write a score, but in the climax, I gave each instrument different little waypoints at each bar, so they would know roughly where they should be when they were sliding up. Just so they didn't reach the climax too quickly. With A Day In The Life, I wondered whether we were losing our audience and I was scared. But I stopped being scared when I played it to the head of Capitol Records in America and he was gob smacked. He said, That's fantastic. And of course, it was."
In the original take, a 41 piece orchestra was not used. Instead, Lennon had roadie Mal Evans count to 21 in a very trippy manner and set off an alarm clock after the 21 counts. This version is on the 2nd Anthology
CD, and is a very different version than the one on Sgt. Pepper
David Crosby was at Abbey Road studios when The Beatles were recording this. In an interview with Filter
magazine, he said: "I was, as near as I know, the first human being besides them and George Martin and the engineers to hear 'A Day In The Life.' I was high as a kite - so high I was hunting geese with a rake. They sat me down; they had huge speakers like coffins with wheels on that they rolled up on either side of the stool. By the time it got the end of that piano chord, man my brains were on the floor."
The orchestral bit was used in the Yellow Submarine
movie. Photos of different geographical areas were shown as The Beatles were apparently traveling in the submarine to try and find Pepperland.
When asked by Rolling Stone
magazine what songs of his dad's constantly surprise him, Sean Lennon said: "I've listened so much to that stuff that there are very few surprises. But I do think 'A Day In The Life' is always inspiring."
American rock band Hawthorne Heights originally named themselves A Day in the Life after this song. In 2003, lead vocalist/rhythm guitarist JT Woodruff
changed it to their current name.
On June 18, 2010 John Lennon's handwritten lyric sheet for this song featuring corrections and alternate crossed-out lines was auctioned at New York Sotheby's. It was sold for $1.2 million to an anonymous American buyer.
This was rated the greatest ever Beatles song in a special collector's edition issue by The Beatles: 100 Greatest Songs. The list was compiled to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the Fab Four's final studio album, Let It Be.
There is term for the techniques The Beatles used in arranging the final chords of this song: Deceptive Cadence. Glen Burtnik
, who was a member of Styx and was also in a popular Beatles tribute band, told us: "It's an instance where the listener assumes the next chord, or melody note, will go somewhere it doesn't. Even though all the indications lead you to expecting a certain outcome, the writer/arranger intentionally surprises you by going someplace else musically. Not sure it's simple to understand, as you're conditioned to being used to the outcome."