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“A Day in the Life” – The Beatles (1967)

Filed under: Uncategorized — skkoumou at 2:25 am on Monday, October 4, 2010

Through out the course of history, there have been many elements that have influenced popular culture and society significantly. One phenomena that has greatly influenced popular culture over time is the music industry. Society turns to music for relief of their tumultuous lives, and has become a major keystone for influencing the public. One band their has influenced many different areas of society and culture were The Beatles. Not only were they creatively brilliant musicians, they were truly virtuosos. The song “A Day in the Life” on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band for me was on of the most significant songs in the music industry for its creativity, genius, and influence on both the music industry and society.
“A Day in the Life” on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney and produced by Sir George Martin. It was recorded at the Abbey Road Studios in London, England on January 19th through January 20th and  February 3rd and February 10th 1967.  It was originally recorded on EMI records and released to the public on June 1st 1967 with a runtime of 5:05. The song is in the keys of G major and E major and has a 4/4 meter time through out the song. The song starts out with a brief guitar instrumental beginning and then followed by three verses (0:13), an orchestral crescendo, a 24 bar “orchestral climax; an orgasm of sound” (1:45), a middle section (2:16), an orchestral bridge (2:49), the final verse (3:19), second orchestral crescendo (3:50), and the infamous final piano chord (4:21-5:05).  (Martin 50)
The song can basically be thought of as a mini operetta, with orchestral bridges in between each “act”. The “first act” of “A Day in the life” can be split up into three verses. The first verse is John Lennon’s vocals accompanied by piano (Paul McCartney), guitar (John Lennon), and maracas (George Harrison), and eventually adding drums (Ringo Starr) in the second and third verses. The lyrics were taken mainly from a newspaper, but it was Lennon’s poetic genius and true love of words that takes the news headlines and creates a powerful melody. The lyrics are about a car crash yet partnered with Lennon’s chilling voice the first three verses create a feeling of melancholy almost creating a sort of delirium, or dream state where Lennon is recalling a memory. Also, giving the song a sense that recalling memory is personal. His voice has an eerie spine chilling feel that was created by adding a slight echo to his voice which gives the first three verses its mood.    The “second act” is Paul McCartney’s contribution. This section is more upbeat, with piano (McCartney) and drum set (Starr). His voice is sort of muffled, creating that muzzy, just woken up sounding voice. This was done by removing the treble and compressing McCartney’s voice. The lyrics in this section are still personal continuing with the theme from the first act. However, this is being described lyrically as a snapshot of a daily routine, grounded in a regiment until the end of the section which ends with “found my way upstairs and had smoke and somebody spoke and I fell into a dream”. Which then brings in Lennon‘s “ahs”, which exemplify the falling into a dream and then segueing back into the same mood, melody and theme of the dream state delirium in the first “act” bridging act two with act three.
Act three brings us back to Lennon, as said before with the same melody and theme, yet building on it. The mood no longer has a melancholy feel to it. It is more mundane, because the memories being recalled are not as tragic. However, even with a mundane mood, the section is more upbeat (not as much as Paul’s). It reflects feelings of knowing and truth, ending with the lyrics “I’d love to turn you on”, which during this time created quite a controversy. However the feelings of knowledge reflected in Lennon’s voice creates an atmosphere that whatever the is being turned on too, is true.
Now that the “acts” have been analyzed, the orchestral interludes need to be analyzed, as well. The first orchestral interlude bridges “act I” with “act II”. The first orchestral climax was done to fill the 24 bar silence between Lennon’s and McCartney’s parts . On the recording you can actually here The Beatles roadie Mal Evans counting the 24 bars. They used an alarm clock to time the silence, and as the 24 bar silence ends the alarm clock rings and that starts the second act where Paul’s part starts. Due to the lyrics of the first verse “woke up fell out of bed” the alarm clock ringing seemed to fit perfectly with Paul’s part it was kept in the song. The orchestra used was a 40 piece orchestra with the harp, violin, viola, clarinet, cello, double bass, bassoon, flute, french horn, trumpet, trombone, tuba, and timpani. Paul was quoted by George Martin (producer) as saying he wanted an orchestral climax; an “orgasm” of sound which Martin believed was nonsense, however, this became is next job. Paul wanted an avant-garde style of sound for the climax (Martin 56).
The orchestral climax spirals upward having the musicians play their lowest note and ending on their highest. The tune during this section is very charismatic, wavering between semitones. The string instruments gently trilled with portamento and gradually increased their frequency leading up the 24 bar entrance. It was done by having each musician play their lowest not as quietly as possible sliding up with certain distinct notes played and then, ending on the final bar with the playing the highest not as loud as possible (Martin 56). This became the famous orchestral climax bridging “A Day in the Life’s” act I to act II, and act II to act III.
The only difference between the two separate orchestral interludes between the acts, is the ending piano note. The ending note was a  gigantic piano chord played about 30 seconds by three different pianos and three different players: Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and John Lennon (Martin 56). The faders are tuned up so high, to achieve the resonance of sound played by the pianos. During this part you can hear papers shuffling, shoes squeaking, and a “whoosing” sound, due to the faders.
“A Day in the Life”  is so important to the history of recorded popular music history, because of the influence this song had on all of society. During this era, there mixing technology was no were near what it is today. So, in order to create every sound, the sounds were strategically placed on a four track master: track 1 had piano, guitar, maracas, and bongo drums, track 2 had vocals, complete with echo, and over dubbed voices, track 3 had drum set, tom-toms, and base guitar (McCartney), track 4 had piano and orchestra, that had three more tapes added in order to create the last piano chord sound (Martin 54). The creativity of The Beatles was so advanced that it did not keep of with the technology of their time.
Their creativity in making “A Day in the Life” paved the way for other bands such as MGMT(sound mixing and instrumentation), Vampire Weekend (orchestral interludes) Dave Matthew’s Band (musical arrangements) and Green Day (opera). It set a precedent of edginess in the or rock and roll genre and raised bar for creativity. It showed that rock music was not just guitar, bass guitar, and drums and pioneered the idea of such sub genres like “ska rock” to come into existence.
The song also heavily influenced politics and its worriment of society. Originally the BBC banned the song due to its underlining drug references, and had the FCC questioning censoring as well (Martin 52). The Beatles had millions of followers, so what was said in their music heavily influenced popular culture. John Lennon counts into the song by saying “sugar plum fairy, sugar plum fairy” which has an underlining drug reference meaning drug dealer. Other lyrics such as I’d love to turn you on”, “he blew his mind out in a car”, and “found my way upstairs and had a smoke” were said to have referred to marijuana cigarettes, getting high, and advocating drug use. With their mass following, the United Kingdom and the United States governments’ were threatened by the influence the band had on society. Thus, banning the song in the United Kingdom, and the United States almost banning the song as well.
The true beauty of the song “A Day in the Life” by The Beatles is the idea that it was so ahead of its time. The technology during that time, placed barriers for musicians but The Beatles were able to go around those barriers. The song has creativity that is untouchable.  The pairings of  beautiful rhythms, melodies, lyrics, and tunes together that leave an real effect on the listener. As well as, influencing future generations of musicians. “A Day in the Life” is truly one of the most important and influential songs for recorded popular music.

Martin, George. “19 January 1967: ‘Well I just had to laugh…'” With a Little Help from     My Friends The Making of Sgt. Pepper. Boston, New York, Toronto, London:     Little, Brown and Company, 1994. 50-62. Print.

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4 Comments

4

   wonder

October 7, 2010 @ 2:22 pm

I had to listen to this song twice because it was so jarring yet intriguing. The lyrics were a bit dark and dreary with the somewhat happy music. I loved how it was beautiful and soft at first with a nice beat until there was the terrifying orchestra playing fortissimo. At first I did not think it was part of the same song until it reverted back to its soft lovely soothing melody. Reading your post really brought attention to the different “Acts” and parts and elements that made up this song so separately yet pieced together so perfectly. The rampaging orchestra message was definitely clear for the Beatle’s member to show their own ‘voice’ if you will.

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