A Day in the Life
This song is the last track of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967). Many experts consider it to be the best Beatles song ever, and certainly it is one of the most innovative and influential of all their songs. Lennon and McCartney each wrote parts of the song and collaborated in the final arrangement. As was typical of the Beatles' sound during this period, Lennon and McCartney integrated orchestral elements with the vocals. Music critics deem it the high point in the collaboration of these two famous and prolific pop composers. (It occupies position 26 in Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.) The two also share the vocal lead, while Ringo and George contribute percussion (drum set, congas and maracas). A Day in the Life is notable for the 24-bar bridge (punctuated by an alarm clock) and the "final chord," in which four keyboards appear (Ringo, McCartney, Lennon and Mal Evans). The Beatles recorded the song before the bridge had been written, and production assistant Mal Evans simply counted the bars out in that session. Then Martin and McCartney conducted a 40-piece orchestra in a separate session to fill in the bridge. Martin wrote a "loose" score for them, basically prodding the musicians to improvise a long, growing glissando. Four different takes were overdubbed to create the sensation of a much larger orchestra.
The tonal center of the song is e minor with the bridge in E major (though technically, its home tone is G major). Structurally, A Day in the Life is complex, with an intro by the orchestra and an exit in the form of the final chord. In between are three verses, an instrumental crescendo, Paul's middle section, the 24-bar bridge, a fourth verse, and a final instrumental crescendo, followed by the final chord, a ringing E major chord that continues for 40 seconds. As the pianos stopped vibrating, the microphone pick up was increased to compensate, prolonging the sensation. Eventually you can hear extraneous studio noise in addition to the final chord itself. This unusual ending was created to replace an earlier recorded version of the Beatles humming the final chord. The vocal version was rejected because it did not have the same high-energy level as the rest of the song.
The first verse is thought to be a reference to Tara Browne, a friend of John's and Paul's who died at age 21 when his Lotus collided with a VW in Earls Court. George Martin later opined that the lyrics seemed to be more references to drugs than to events. Lennon added that the accident portrayed in the song was fictional, inspired by, but not literally recounting, his friend's fatal crash. The last verse came from a newspaper account in January, 1967 of the potholes in the streets of Blackburn, Lancashire. Paul's lyrics for the middle part refer to the day-dreaming of a bored commuter in rush hour traffic.
A Day in the Life has been covered by a wide range of other artists, such as the London Symphony Orchestra, Bobby Darin, Neil Young, The Bee Gees, Phish and José Feliciano.