Recording: Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds

Studio Two, EMI Studios, Abbey Road
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Geoff Emerick

The Beatles intended to begin the recording of Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds during this session. Rehearsals took so long, however, that no proper takes were recorded.

The session lasted eight hours and, although the night's progress was recorded, most of it was later erased.

Present in the studio on this evening was a reporter from Life magazine. In the subsequent report, George Martin was quoted as saying: "We are light years away from anything tonight... They know it is awful now, and they're trying to straighten it out. It may be a week before they're pleased, if ever."

The Beatles began recording Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds on the following day, 1 March 1967.

The Beatles rehearse Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, 28 February 1967

The session to record music for the newest Beatle album was planned for seven this night in the EMI Studios in London, but the boys are late. Suddenly at eight the room crackles to life. Paul McCartney comes in singing a nonsense tune and John Lennon trails him. Ringo Starr appears shortly and George Harrison is last. [...]

Now the recording session begins, so casually that it seems no beginning at all. Paul sits down at the piano and begins chording. (I wished for a tape recorder because the impromptu musicale was marvellous.) John, meanwhile, spots a volume of E.E.Cummings poetry lying on the piano and begins to read it. Ringo, hungry or maybe mearly disinterested, goes to a corner and starts wolfing down a plate of mashed potatoes and beans which an aid has produced. George is showing off a large black frock coat, which he purchased at an antique clothing shop in Chelsea. “I’d rather imagine some head waiter at the Savoy didn’t want it any more,” he says.

A tall, lean young man in a quiet gray suit and modest tie hovers at the piano. This is George Martin, producer and arranger of the Beatles music. He is a recognised musical scholar and the off-stage presence who has come to be called the Fifth Beatle. Paul and John explain to him that they have spent this day writing a song which they want to record tonight. “Alright, let’s hear it,” he says. Paul pounds out a strong assortment of chords and John sings, falsetto, the melody which is to be called “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” They go through it half a dozen times while Martin nods, quickly familiarising himself with the composition and making notes.

At this embryonic stage the song sounds like the early Beatle works which dealt in jack-hammer 4-4 arrangements and lyrics which were seldom more eloquent than, “yeh, yeh, yeh”, but before they were done with it on this long evening and on many more, it will undergo extraordinary changes. “Picture yourself in a boat on the river, with tangerine trees and marmalade skies,” sings John over and over again, while George Harrison begins finding a guitar accompaniment and Ringo, sipping an orange drink, slaps out a rhythm. I begin to understand the remarkable process of the Beatles music. It begins absolutely from scratch. The Beatles (who can neither read nor write music) are composing even as they record...

It is now almost midnight in the recording studio and after four hours of assault, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” still sounds quite terrible. Fifth Beatle Martin grimaces. “We are light years away from anything tonight,” he shudders.

“They know it is awful now, and they’re trying to straighten it out. It may be a week before they’re pleased, if ever. They’re always coming up with something new they’ve just learned, something I wouldn’t dream of. They never cease to amaze me.” [...]

Now, at the bone-weary hour of 2am, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” is beginning to take shape. Paul has suggested a tempo change, John is rearranging the lyrics, George is experimenting on a new guitar sound and Ringo has added brushstrokes. They ask to hear a playback and during the break that follows, I ask Paul if they ever worry that the legions of Beatle supporters might not follow their march into the outer regions. He candidly answers: “Sure, we’re going to lose some fans. We lost them in Liverpool when we took off our leather jackets and put on suits. But there’s no point in standing still. We always used to say we could never be 30-year old Beatles. But we will be, and not too many years from now. We’ve reached the point now where there are no barriers. Musically, now, this moment, tonight, this is where we are.”

Life magazine, 16 June 1967
Recording: Lovely Rita
Recording: A Day In The Life, Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds
Also on this day...

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