The climax of their masterpiece Sgt Pepper, ‘A Day In The Life’ found The Beatles at the peak of their creative powers, an astonishing artistic statement that saw them fearless, breaking boundaries and enthralling generations of listeners with the timeless quality of their music.
‘A Day In The Life’ – that was something. I dug it. It was a good piece of work between Paul and me. I had the ‘I read the news today’ bit, and it turned Paul on. Now and then we really turn each other on with a bit of song, and he just said ‘yeah’ – bang, bang, like that. It just sort of happened beautifully.
A detached, dispassionate glimpse through the looking glass at the everyday life he was content to let pass him by, ‘A Day In The Life’ was inspired by a series of disconnected events that entered John Lennon’s consciousness: the death of millionaire socialite Tara Browne, his own appearance in Richard Lester’s film How I Won The War, and a council survey that found 4,000 holes in the roads of Blackburn, Lancashire.
Just as it sounds: I was reading the paper one day and noticed two stories. One was about the Guinness heir who killed himself in a car. That was the main headline story. He died in London in a car crash. On the next page was a story about four thousand potholes in the streets of Blackburn, Lancashire, that needed to be filled. Paul’s contribution was the beautiful little lick in the song, ‘I’d love to turn you on,’ that he’d had floating around in his head and couldn’t use. I thought it was a damn good piece of work.
All We Are Saying, David Sheff
The 17 January 1967 edition of the newspaper reported the coroner’s verdict into the death of Tara Browne, an Irish friend of The Beatles who on 18 December 1966 had driven his Lotus Elan at high speed through a red light in South Kensington, London and into a stationary van.
Browne was the great grandson of the brewer Edward Cecil Guinness and the son of Lord and Lady Oranmore and Browne. He was in line to inherit a £1m fortune upon his 25th birthday, but died at the age of 21.
I was writing ‘A Day In The Life’ with the Daily Mail propped in front of me on the piano. I had it open at their News in Brief, or Far and Near, whatever they call it.
In Hunter Davies’ authorised biography of The Beatles, John Lennon explained how the words of the song were indirectly inspired by the events.
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.
The Beatles, Hunter Davies
In his authorised biography Many Years From Now, Paul McCartney suggested that the Browne story featured to a lesser extent.
The verse about the politician blowing his mind out in a car we wrote together. It has been attributed to Tara Browne, the Guinness heir, which I don’t believe is the case, certainly as we were writing it, I was not attributing it to Tara in my head. In John’s head it might have been. In my head I was imagining a politician bombed out on drugs who’d stopped at some traffic lights and didn’t notice that the lights had changed. The ‘blew his mind’ was purely a drugs reference, nothing to do with a car crash.
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles
Filmed in Spain and Germany in autumn 1966, How I Won The War was John Lennon’s only non-Beatles film role. The lyrics of ‘A Day In The Life’ also alluded to the novel on which the film was based, written by Patrick Ryan and first published in 1963.
The middle section (“Woke up, fell out of bed”) was an unfinished song fragment written by Paul McCartney, its practical earthiness providing a perfect counterpoint to Lennon’s languorous daydreaming.
It was another song altogether but it happened to fit. It was just me remembering what it was like to run up the road to catch a bus to school, having a smoke and going into class. It was a reflection of my schooldays. I would have a Woodbine, somebody would speak and I’d go into a dream.
The final verse was also taken from the Daily Mail’s Far and Near column. “There are 4,000 holes in the road in Blackburn, Lancashire,” it read, “or one twenty-sixth of a hole per person, according to a council survey.”
There was still one word missing in that verse when we came to record. I knew the line had to go ‘Now they know how many holes it takes to… something, the Albert Hall.’ It was a nonsense verse really, but for some reason I couldn’t think of the verb. What did the holes do to the Albert Hall?
It was Terry [Doran, a former car dealer and friend of Brian Epstein’s who later became head of Apple Music] who said ‘fill’ the Albert Hall. And that was it. Perhaps I was looking for that word all the time, but couldn’t put my tongue on it. Other people don’t necessarily give you a word or a line, they just throw in the word you’re looking for anyway.
My Aunt gave me a copy of Sgt Pepper when I was 7 and I got to know it inside out during my formative years as a gifted air guitarist. I was always fascinated how the album ended with this song, it was so jarring. Like the ending of the Planet of the Apes (1968). A few years later I was a paperboy and delivered the news of Lennon’s assassination. For several days I listened to this song and stared at his picture on the cover, and read over the lyrics in disbelief.
Awesome album/song, like EVERY album/song The Beatles wrote. RIP John and George !!
George plays guitar, at least on the first take. You can clearly hear John Lennon say, “my maracas” in the Anthology version. Geoff Emerick is known to overlook George’s contribution to the Beatles’ songs.