A Day In The Life
Directors – The Beatles. Producer – Subaﬁlms Ltd.
Filmed – 10 February 1967.
Location – Studio One, Abbey Road, London.
Of very few individual songs can it be said, ‘This changed the course of popular music.’ ‘A Day In The Life’ is one such song and it is the closing track – it had to be as nothing could follow it – on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. On the album’s release in June 1967, BBC Radio initially banned it and at over ﬁve minutes, it was the longest number The Beatles had recorded so far. John and Paul wrote it together, with each contributing separate parts of the song.
John took his initial inspiration from several unconnected events – socialite and friend Tara Browne, who was killed in a car crash, a report in a British newspaper about pot-holes in Blackburn, Lancashire and John’s own role in the ﬁlm How I Won The War. Paul’s contribution was the middle section that acts as a counterbalance to John’s surreal take on events.
Getting the opus on tape, on 19 January, was comparatively straightforward. The recording used just two tracks; there was a rhythm track plus John’s voice with heavy echo applied to it. The following day they worked on the middle section. Ten days later, while The Beatles were making their promo ﬁlm in the grounds of Knole House for ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’, George Martin completed a rough mix of ‘A Day In The Life’ – much of this can be heard on Anthology 2.
On Friday 3 February, Paul re-recorded his vocal for the middle section and there were some additional overdubs. Exactly a week later in Studio One at Abbey Road, a large orchestra was assembled for the amazing additional ﬂourishes and ﬁlls, although at ﬁrst the 40 classically trained musicians struggled with the concept of what they were being asked to play. Paul originally wanted 90 musicians, but in the event the 40 were recorded on four separate tracks, which sounded more like 160 musicians. George Martin and Paul conducted the orchestra and helped to create a ﬁnished track that was more than just different, it was utterly unique. Starting from John’s beautiful song, the end result was something simply unbelievable.
As you can see from the ﬁlm, this was no ordinary recording session. The classical musicians, who had been asked to wear evening dress, fake noses, funny hats and generally enter into the spirit of the occasion. Filmed between 8 pm and 1 am with guests including Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, the occasion provided some of the inspiration for what transpired during the recording and ﬁlming of ‘All You Need Is Love’ for the Our World project.
Given the BBC’s ban, because of what they assumed were drug references, they did not show the ﬁlm at the time of its release in the UK. And yet this is the ﬁlm, perhaps more than any other, that captures the spirit of that amazing year – a year when The Beatles changed what was expected of ‘pop stars’ and entirely reinvented popular music.