*4.02-A DAY IN THE LIFE (Beatles)

John Lennon & Paul McCartney
John Lennon & Paul McCartney


I read the news today, oh boy!
About a lucky man who made the grade.
And though the news was rather sad
Well I just had to laugh!
I saw the photograph.
He blew his mind out in a car.
He didn't notice that the lights had changed.
A crowd of people stood and stared.
They'd seen his face before.
Nobody was really sure
If he was from the House of Lords.

I saw a film today, oh boy!
The English Army had just won the war.
A crowd of people turned away
But I just had to look
Having read the book.

         I'd love to turn you on

[Break: orchestral crescendo]

                   Woke up, fell out of bed,
                   Dragged a comb across my head.
                   Found my way downstairs and drank a cup,
                   And looking up I noticed I was late.
                   Found my coat and grabbed my hat
                   Made the bus in seconds flat.
                   Found my way upstairs and had a smoke,
                   And somebody spoke and I went into a dream…

[Break: choral]

I read the news today, oh boy!
Four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire.
And though the holes were rather small
They had to count them all.
Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall.

         I'd love to turn you on

[Break: orchestral crescendo]

[Coda: piano chord]

A Day in the Life holds the canonical position as the highest art of its period in popular music, having a position similar to Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven for the heavy metal period, and Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody for a still later generation of artists. One of the most unusual aspects of A Day in the Life is the 40 piece orchestra’s ascending glissando for the two 24 bar bridges, which I believe is meant to depict a “rush” on hallucinogenic drugs (following the line I’d love to turn you on, in itself common parlance among hippies, echoing Timothy Leary’s Turn On / Tune In / Drop Out). A similar “rush” was recorded by the Velvet Underground, shortly before Sgt. Pepper’s release, for the 1967 song Heroin; however, the Underground were citing the wrong drug for the time, and also included a dissonant “crash” afterward, in repeated cycles of rush and crash. In A Day in the Life, the rush is followed by a the clear, resonating “release” of an E chord played by three grand pianos simultaneously, with the volume of the sound's recording increased at length to achieve maximum sustain.

Richie Unterberger of allmusic wrote of Day in the Life: “It was…the most outstanding instance in which two discrete song fragments — one primarily by John Lennon, the other by Paul McCartney — were combined into one to build a whole greater than the sum of the parts.” It is well known that McCartney’s lyric exercise of “ordinary life”: Woke up, fell out of bed is included between the third and fourth verse of Lennon’s “newsworthy life” or public life. In the second verse, Lennon included himself in his recent movie role in How I Won the War, as a figure in public life. This was not the first time that Lennon & McCartney had combined separate fragments into one song. However, in A Day in the Life they united two entirely different songs with an inclusive concept.

This mutual effort showed the way for some psychedelic compositions that followed, songs by the Buffalo Springfield, the Doors, the Jefferson Airplane, and especially several songs by the Incredible String Band, come to mind. But most of what followed was several different compositions brought together by their one composer. Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys had introduced to pop music with Good Vibrations (10/66) the technique of pastiche through splicing. Pete Townshend of the Who had written the first “oratorio” (performed without splicing), with a series of real time transitions, in A Quick One While He’s Away (released December 1966 in the UK). (I don’t regard Quick One as psychedelic, but it is part of the evolution of pop pastiche. Usually, the pastiche was not recorded in real time. A Day in the Life spliced onto Lennon’s composition segments of McCartney’s song and orchestral or choral bridges recorded separately.) As far as I know, Brown Shoes Don’t Make It, by the Mothers of Invention (5/67) was the first use of this technique of cutting and pasting to make little operettas. With A Day in the Life the pastiche had found an exemplar of how to use the form, which would inspire many to make the attempt at further varied compositions in pop music, usually needing at least six minutes to develop. A Day in the Life is five minutes long.

Looking at the lyrics, the first verse is twice as long as the remaining two, all of which are begin with exclamations of oh boy! in a sigh of world weariness. The first verse seems to hold the newspaper reader longer, as it reports a death. In the second verse, Lennon is reminded of a film which he had to see because he’d read the book, involving further media than newspapers. I’d love to turn you on in this context perhaps expresses the hope that Lennon’s movie will lead to further sales of the book, and all accompanying paraphernalia, in other words to financial advantage. The first orchestral rush may therefore be a consumer rush, the avaricious thrill of a collector. Somehow the rush has led into the following day, pulling off the miracle of waking up in the middle of a song without ever having fallen asleep. After McCartney’s mundane upbeat diary, kept spry by activity, he relaxes into a smoke, strongly suggestive of marijuana, and the song turns into a Wagnerian dream. Returning to the newspaper reader, who seems to exist in a virtual relation to McCartney, we are told the amusing story about holes. I’d love to turn you on in this context is either an invitation to sex, or the song is pointing to holes, to nothingness, the void that no amount of advantageous matter will fill. The spectacle of life that Lennon depicts is the other side of the void that coexists with it. This could be an LSD revelation, and indeed we are again given an orchestral rush as if sucked into a black hole. The other side of this reality seems, as portrayed by the piano chord, to be a long release, full of harmony and balance.

The song expresses a comic relation to death (I just had to laugh), formed by LSD enlightenment, in which Lennon can sing about a lucky man who made the grade who blew his mind out in a car, echoing Dylan’s sensibility in Pledging My Time (5/66) when he sings They called for the ambulance / And one was sent. / Somebody got lucky / But it was an accident.