The music

At 5’03”, ‘A Day In The Life’ was longer than anything The Beatles had previously released. John Lennon’s vocal were smothered in tape echo, his lines ‘answered’ by Ringo Starr with a series of intuitive drum fills.

I only have one rule and that is to play with the singer. If the singer’s singing, you don’t really have to do anything, just hold it together. If you listen to my playing, I try to become an instrument; play the mood of the song. For example, ‘Four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire,’ – boom ba bom. I try to show that; the disenchanting mood. The drum fills are part of it.
Ringo Starr

While recording ‘A Day In The Life’, The Beatles knew that something would fill the sections after the “I’d love to turn you on” lines. They had their assistant Mal Evans count out 24 bars, with Lennon’s piano notes climbing with each number.

To mark the beginning of the middle eight an alarm clock was sounded; although intended to be temporary, it worked well with Paul McCartney’s middle section, and so was kept in the final version.

I said, ‘We’ll take 24 bars, we’ll count it, we’ll just do our song, and we’ll leave 24 bare. You could actually hear Mal counting it out, with more and more echo because we thought it was kinda freaky.
Paul McCartney

Lennon had suggested the use of a symphony orchestra to fill the song’s instrumental passages, but was unable to put his ideas into adequate words. McCartney suggested asking the players to build from their instruments’ lowest possible notes to the highest, and George Martin was given the task of turning the vision into reality.

Forty musicians were employed at a total cost of £367 10s, and the passages were recorded four times via two synced tape machines – the first time such a feat had been achieved in a British studio.

Martin and McCartney conducted the orchestral glissando on 10 February 1967. Martin supplied some basic instructions to the musicians, many of whom were from the Royal Philharmonic and London Symphony orchestras.

At the very beginning I put into the musical score the lowest note each instrument could play, ending with an E major chord. And at the beginning of each of the 24 bars I put a note showing roughly where they should be at that point. Then I had to instruct them. ‘We’re going to start very very quietly and end up very very loud. We’re to start very low in pitch and end up very high. You’ve got to make your own way up there, as slidey as possible so that the clarinets slurp, trombones gliss, violins slide without fingering any notes. And whatever you do, don’t listen to the fellow next to you because I don’t want you to be doing the same thing.’ Of course they all looked at me as though I was mad…
George Martin
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn

McCartney explained how the musicians’ personalities came out in their playing:

It was interesting because I saw the orchestra’s characters. The strings were like sheep – they all looked at each other: ‘Are you going up? I am!’ and they’d all go up together, the leader would take them all up. The trumpeters were much wilder. The jazz guys, they liked the brief. The musicians with the more conventional instruments would behave more conventionally.
Paul McCartney
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn

At the end of the orchestral recording, the musicians broke into spontaneous applause. After they had left the studio, The Beatles and a number of friends attempted to record an ending for ‘A Day In The Life’. Initially this was to be a hummed vocal chord, taking 11 attempts to get right.

Twelve days later, on 22 February, it was replaced by the famous crashing piano chord. Lennon, McCartney, Starr and Mal Evans shared three pianos and simultaneously played an E major chord. They needed to hit the keys at exactly the same time, and take nine was the best, lasting 53 seconds.

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