- Album Songs recorded during this session officially appear on the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Mono) Official album.
- Timeline More from year 1967
- EMI Studios, Studio One, Abbey Road
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As a solution for the missing 24-bar middle section of the song, McCartney proposed the idea of bringing in a full orchestra to fill the gap. To allay concerns that classically trained musicians would not be able to improvise the section, producer George Martin wrote a loose score for the section. It was an extended, atonal crescendo that encouraged the musicians to improvise within the defined framework. The orchestral part was recorded on 10 February 1967, with McCartney and Martin conducting a 40-piece orchestra. The recording session was completed at a total cost of £367 (equivalent to £6,007 in 2015) for the players, an extravagance at the time. Martin later described explaining his improvised score to the puzzled orchestra:
What I did there was to write … the lowest possible note for each of the instruments in the orchestra. At the end of the twenty-four bars, I wrote the highest note … near a chord of E major. Then I put a squiggly line right through the twenty-four bars, with reference points to tell them roughly what note they should have reached during each bar … Of course, they all looked at me as though I were completely mad.
McCartney noted that the strings were able to keep themselves in the designated time, while the trumpets were “much wilder“. McCartney had originally wanted a 90-piece orchestra, but this proved impossible; the difference was made up, as the semi-improvised segment was recorded multiple times and eventually four different recordings were overdubbed into a single massive crescendo. The results were successful; in the final edit of the song, the orchestral bridge is reprised after the final verse. It was arranged for the orchestral session to be filmed by NEMS Enterprises for use in a planned television special. The film was never released in its entirety, although portions of it can be seen in the “A Day in the Life” promotional film (included in the three-disc versions of the Beatles’ 2015 video compilation 1), which includes shots of studio guests Mick Jagger, Marianne Faithfull, Keith Richards, Brian Jones, Donovan, Pattie Boyd, and Michael Nesmith. Reflecting the Beatles’ taste for experimentation and the avant-garde at this point in their careers, the orchestra players were asked to wear or were given a costume piece on top of their formal dress. This resulted in different players wearing anything from fake noses to fake stick-on nipples. Martin recalled that the lead violinist performed wearing a gorilla paw, while a bassoon player placed a balloon on the end of his instrument.
Due to the multiple takes required to perfect the orchestral cacophony and the final chord, as well as their considerable procrastination in composing the song, the total duration of time spent recording “A Day in the Life” was 34 hours. In contrast, the Beatles’ earliest work, their first album Please Please Me, had been recorded in its entirety in only 10 hours, 45 minutes.
There are so many great memories at Abbey Road. It’s very hard to choose one, but just to pick out of the bunch, I think it was recording the orchestra on ‘A Day In The Life’.Paul McCartney
Last updated on July 11, 2020
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions • Mark Lewisohn
The definitive guide for every Beatles recording sessions from 1962 to 1970.
We owe a lot to Mark Lewisohn for the creation of those session pages, but you really have to buy this book to get all the details - the number of takes for each song, who contributed what, a description of the context and how each session went, various photographies... And an introductory interview with Paul McCartney!