The Beatles re-released all their up-dated, re-mixed, analogue to digital recordings this month. I’m reminded just how creative they were: avant-garde, leading-edge, experimental, daring, with a freedom that brought the musical world into a new era that never seemed possible. And it was all a great collaboration of five individuals. No, not just the four Beatle members: John Lennon, Paul McCatrney, George Harrison and Ringo Star, but also one of the greatest music producers of all time, George Martin.
One of their greatest song collaborations was “A Day in the Life.” The last song on the Sgt. Pepper album.
Needing to think up new songs for their latest album, John Lennon was sitting at the piano one afternoon when he picked up the newspaper and read of an acquaintance who had been killed in a car crash. Having the creative freedom to write songs about anything, John started to write about how reading this story affected him.
“I read the news today, Oh Boy. About a Lucky man who made the grade.” He wrote about the crash and how the people stopped and stared. He then decided to write of other things happening on this day in his life, like seeing the film he had recently acted in. “How I won the War.” He wrote, “I saw a film today, Oh Boy. The English army had just won the war.” After another glance at the newspaper he spotted another item that caught his eye, about pot holes in Blackburn in Northern England. With these simple writings/lyrics, of no consequence to anything, he composed a beautifully, simple, yet haunting melody to accompany them, using his words as musical inspirations. And it was this simple melody that would inspire the others to add their embellishment, structure and nuance.
They began recording the song at the Abbey Road studios on January 19th, 1967 with John singing and playing guitar, Paul on piano, George on maracas and Ringo on bongos and drums. As the song progressed they recorded John’s four verses and he added a segue, "I'd love to turn you on", for an unwritten middle verse. The middle verse was left open and Paul remembered some lyrics he had been working on for a song about heading off to school as a youth. “Woke up, got out of bed. Dragged a comb across my head.” He wrote of catching a bus and sitting upstairs while going into a dream. It was a totally different melody but it worked within John’s melody. And as Paul's lyrics went into the dream, John sang the dreamy high "Ahhhhs" and George Martin added an orchestral horn section to strengthen the sound. But there was two 24 beat spaces left for something else to be added later. Something spectacular.
Paul asked George Martin if he could get an orchestra to play an ever ascending swirl of music to fill the spaces. This was later recorded and over-dubbed with Paul’s base guitar keeping the beat. At the end of the piece they had the musical swirl creating a crescendo/climax.But something was missing. They needed to define a finish. There were three pianos in the studio, so they lined up John, Paul and Ringo on each piano and they simultaneously played the chord of E. This dynamic chord was stretched for almost a minute to fade out and conclude the song and the album. Thus it became the most famous chord in musical history.
Art is taking an idea and embellishing it into greatness, being decorative, adding layers. A Day in the Life started with a simple memorable melody and it has become an all time favorite song, from one of the all time favorite groups.
All good art is like this: painting, writing, music, photography, films, design, architecture, all creativity. Start with a simple idea that will weather the tests of time, frame it within a solid yet exciting structure, add the mixture of creating something to enhance the experience: character, elaborate, decorate, garnish. beautify, grace, embellish, and add depth and style.
If more artists started with substance and creative thinking to achieve something different and better rather that just copying that which has gone before, we would have a much more evolved world. The Beatles were influenced by others but in the end they told their own story with something new and innovative that excited not only their generation but a lot of generations, and a whole world. Like Beethoven and Bach, the Beatles music will live forever.
You need chaos in your soul to give birth to a dancing star. Nietzsche
A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality. John Lennon
Nothing pleases me more than to go into a room and come out with a piece of music. Paul McCartney