“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” by The Beatles was released in America on June 2, 1967. (It had been released in the United Kingdom the day before.) It was the thirteenth Beatles’ LP released in the United States. (#8 in the U.K.)
To Pop music fans everywhere, then and now, the 13 tracks on “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” contain not only extraordinary songs. The entire collection is overflowing with such a joyously intoxicating rainbow of sounds and incredibly nuanced performances that we can’t stop listening. And for all the experimental gloriousness that graces every song on the album, it all culminates in the spectacular music that The Beatles created for “A Day In The Life,” Sgt. Pepper’s epic closing number.
The recording of “A Day In The Life” (originally called “In The Life Of…”) began on Thursday, January 19, 1967.
Take One was simple: bongos, maracas, piano and guitar accompanying John Lennon singing the songs’ first two verses. The last line of the second verse – “I’d love to turn you on” – was followed by a carefully counted 24-bar space to be filled in with something (?!?) at a later date. Next came an instrumental section (where Paul McCartney’s contribution to the song would go) and then John again, singing the third and final verse. The third verse also concluded with John intoning: “I’d love to turn you on.”
It was Paul who had the idea of how to fill that space.
On the evening of Friday, February 10, The Beatles, along with Geroge Martin, their producer, and recording engineers Geoff Emerick and Richard Lush, welcomed a 40-piece orchestra to Studio One of Abbey Road Studios in London. The instrumentation of the orchestra was: 12 violins, 4 violas, 4 cellos, 2 double-bass, 1 oboe, 2 flutes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, 2 french horns, 1 tuba, 1 harp and 1 percussion (including timpani).
George Martin gave the gathered musicians these instructions: “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 slide-y as possible so that the clarinets slurp, trombones glass, 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.”
All of this was to extend over the 24-bar space and end on an E major chord.
With both George Martin and Paul McCartney conducting the orchestra and Geoff Emerick manipulating the controls on the recording equipment, this “orchestral build-up” was played and recorded not just once, but four times.
The four tracks were mixed down to one. The resulting part was inserted into that middle space as well as at the end of the song, each time slowly growing out of John’s inviting lyric: “I’d love to turn you on.”
Well, he certainly did.
Listen and watch for yourself.
P.S.: Yes, that was Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Marianne Faithfull, Mike Nesmith and Donovan in the film clips from the actual February 10 recording session. And yes, the orchestra members were in full concert dress and they were wearing an assortment of clown’s noses, upside down spectacles, imitation bald heads, red noses, false eyes and knotted handkerchiefs. It seems that a splendid time was had by all.
Information and quotes used in this post came from one of the best books on The Beatles ever published: The Beatles Recording Sessions: The Official Abbey Road Studio Session Notes, 1962-1970 (1988) by Mark Lewisohn.
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band: fifty years young.