Recording "A Day In The Life" #4

Friday, February 10, 1967 • For The Beatles

Part of

Recording "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band"

Nov 24, 1966 - Apr 20, 1967 • Songs recorded during this session appear on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Mono)

Album Songs recorded during this session officially appear on the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Mono) LP.
EMI Studios, Studio One, Abbey Road

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The Beatles had recorded “A Day In The Life” in three sessions so far, on January 19January 20 and February 3, 1967. During this latter session, The Beatles decided to use a symphony orchestra to fill the 24-bar gap between the two sections of the track. 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 orchestra overdubs were recorded on this day, between 8 pm to 1 am, with George Martin and Paul McCartney conducting a 40-piece orchestra. The session was completed at a total cost of £367 for the players, an extravagance at the time.

Also present in the studio was George Harrison’s wife Pattie, along with a number of friends including Mick Jagger, Marianne Faithfull, Keith Richards, Donovan, Michael Nesmith of The Monkees, Pete Shotton, and Simon and Marijke of design company The Fool.

A little later that evening, Paul had another brainstorm: “Let’s make the session more than just a session: let’s make it a happening.”

Lennon loved the idea. “We’ll invite all our friends, and everyone will have to come in fancy dress costume,” he enthused. “That includes you lot, too,” he said pointedly to Richard [Lust] and me.

George Martin smiled paternally. “Well, I can certainly ask the orchestra to wear their tuxedos, though there may be an extra cost involved.”

“Sod the cost,” John said. “We’re making enough bloody money for EMI that they can spring for it… and for the party favors, too.”

To gales of laughter from the others, Lennon began reeling off a list of what he wanted Mal to purchase at the novelty store: silly hats, rubber noses, clown wigs, bald head pates, gorilla paws . . . and lots of clip-on nipples.

Geoff Emerick – From “Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of The Beatles“, 2006

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

We all felt a sense of occasion, since it was the largest orchestra we ever used on a Beatles recording. So I wasn’t all that surprised when Paul rang up and said, ‘Look, do you mind coming in evening dress?’

‘Why? What’s the idea?’

‘We thought we’d have fun. We’ve never had a big orchestra before, so we thought we’d have fun on the night. So will you come in evening dress? And I’d like all the orchestra to come in evening dress, too.’

‘Well, that may cost a bit extra, but we’ll do it,’ I said. ‘What are you going to wear?’

‘Oh, our usual freak-outs’ – by which he meant their gaudy hippie clothes, floral coats and all.

Came the night, and I discovered that they’d also invited along all their way-out friends, like Mick Jagger, Marianne Faithfull, and Simon and Marijke, the psychedelic artists who were running the Apple shop in Baker Street. They were wandering in and out of the orchestra, passing out sparklers and joints and God knows what, and on top of that they had brought along a mass of party novelties.

After one of the rehearsals I went into the control room to consult Geoff Emerick. When I went back into the studio the sight was unbelievable. The orchestra leader, David McCallum, who used to be the leader of the Royal Philharmonic, was sitting there in a bright red false nose. He looked up at me through paper glasses. Eric Gruenberg, now a soloist and once leader of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, was playing happily away, his left hand perfectly normal on the strings of his violin, but his bow held in a giant gorilla’s paw. Every member of the orchestra had a funny hat on above the evening dress, and the total effect was completely weird. Somewhere there is a film of the affair, taken by an Indian cameraman the Beatles knew.

The orchestra, of course, thought it was all a stupid giggle and a waste of money, but I think they were carried into the spirit of the party just because it was so ludicrous. […]

George Martin – From “All You Need Is Ears“, 1979

We chatted and drank champagne. We also had some of The Rolling Stones at the session, because we had a big session. We wanted to make a happening happen, and it happened.

Paul McCartney – From “The Beatles: Off the Record” by Keith Badman, 2008

On the appointed day, the 42-piece classically trained musicians filed into Abbey Road studios, their black bow ties and evening dress providing a striking contrast with The Beatles’ brightly coloured corduroys, floral shirts, and newly sprouted moustaches. Nonetheless, these gentlemen all seemed very keen to participate in this unusual meeting of cultures, and to give The Beatles the full benefit of their distinguished musicianship.

Pete Shotton – From “The Beatles: Off the Record” by Keith Badman, 2008

The leader of our 41-piece orchestra was David McCallum, who was the leader of one of the big orchestras in London and he was also the father of David McCallum, the co-star of the American TV series The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

George Martin – From “The Beatles: Off the Record” by Keith Badman, 2008

After setting up their music stands and tuning their instruments, the predominantly middle-aged visitors were each handed a paper mask or some other party novelty. The orchestra leader, for instance, was given a bright red false nose, while the main violinist was obliged to clutch his bow in a giant gorilla’s paw.

Pete Shotton – From “The Beatles: Off the Record” by Keith Badman, 2008

And if that wasn’t unorthodox enough, they were even more bemused, if not downright aghast, by Paul’s instructions that they all play as out of tune and out of time as possible. This twist was added during the taping of “A Day In The Life”‘s cosmic crescendo, for which Paul had assumed – with obvious relish – the role of “conductor.”

Pete Shotton – From “The Beatles, Lennon, And Me“, 1984

I felt initially embarrassed facing that sea of sessioners. So, I decided to treat them like human beings and not professional musicians. I tried to give myself to them.

Paul McCartney – From “The Beatles: Off the Record” by Keith Badman, 2008

It was quite a chaotic session. Such a big orchestra, playing with very little music. And the Beatle chaps were wandering around with rather expensive cameras, like new toys, photographing everything.

Alan Civil – Horn player – From “The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions” by Mark Lewisohn, 1988

Only the Beatles could have assembled a studio full of musicians, many from the Royal Philharmonic or the London Symphony orchestras, all wearing funny hats, red noses, balloons on their bows and putting up with headphones clipped around their Stradivari violins acting as microphones.

Peter Vince, studio engineer – From “The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions” by Mark Lewisohn, 1988

I was speechless. the tempo changes – everything in that song – was just so dramatic and complete. I felt so privileged to be there… I walked out of the Abbey Road that night thinking ‘What am I going to do now?’ It really did affect me.

Tony Clark, studio engineer – From “The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions” by Mark Lewisohn

When we’d finished doing the orchestral bit one part of me said ‘We’re being a bit self indulgent here’. The other part of me said ‘It’s bloody marvellous!’

George Martin – From “The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions” by Mark Lewisohn

The orchestra was recorded onto a separate reel of tape running in parallel with The Beatles’ previously-recorded instruments and vocals. This required EMI’s staff to create a technical solution to allow two four-track machines to run together. Having a separate tape reel running allowed for the orchestra to be recorded four times, on each track of the four-track tape, creating the equivalent of 160 musicians.

George Martin came up to me that morning and said to me ‘Oh Ken, I’ve got a poser for you. I want to run two four-track tape machines together this evening. I know it’s never been done before, can you do it?’ So I went away and came up with a method whereby we fed a 50 cycle tone from the track of one machine then raised its voltage to drive the capstan motor of the second, thus running the two in sync. Like all these things, the ideas either work first time or not at all. This one worked first time. At the session we ran the Beatles’ rhythm track on one machine, put an orchestral track on the second machine, ran it back did it again, and again, and again until we had four orchestra recordings. The only problem arose sometime later when George and I were doing a mix with two different machines. One of them was sluggish in starting up and we couldn’t get the damn things into sync. George got quite annoyed with me actually.

Ken Townsend, technical engineer – From “The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions” by Mark Lewisohn

In the end, of course, the ‘Day in the Life’ party was not a waste of money, because it produced an incredible piece of recorded sound. In fact, looking back on it, I think I should have been more extravagant and booked a full orchestra. But even so, I ended up with the equivalent of not one but two full orchestras. After rehearsal, we recorded that sound four times, and I added those four separate recordings to each other at slightly different intervals. If you listen closely you can hear the difference. They are not quite together.

That sound was used twice during the song. The first time, we ended it artificially, by literally splitting the tape, leaving silence. There is nothing more electrifying, after a big sound, than complete silence. The second time, of course, came at the end of the record, and for that I wanted a final chord, which we dubbed on later.

George Martin – From “All You Need Is Ears“, 1979

The entire session was captured on film by a team led by Tony Bramwell from NEMS. The Beatles’ intention was to make a television special about the making of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band“, beginning with this evening’s recording, although the idea was later abandoned.

Remembering how, just after we decamped to London, by February 1967 when I was still twenty, I was directing the symphonic “A Day in the Life” on 35 mm film, the kind used for Hollywood movies. Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Donovan took turns with handheld cameras. That night at Abbey Road, a producer named George Martin would instruct the orchestra thus: “Start quiet, end loud.” […]

I clearly remember the filming of one of the final sessions for one of the tracks, “A Day in the Life,” when Mr. McCartney had arranged with Mr. Martin for a full orchestra, or as Paul described it, “a set of penguins” to play nothing while he, Mr. McCartney, conducted.

When I say play nothing, I mean no scored music. Paul wanted each instrument to play its own ascending scale in meter, leading up to a grand crescendo. Obviously it worked because you can hear it on the album. Before we filmed we handed out loaded 16mm cameras to invited guests including, among others, Mick and Marianne, and Mike Nesmith of the Monkees. They were shown what to press and told to film whatever they wanted. The BBC then banned the subsequent video. Not because of the content of the footage, but because the song itself had drug references.

Tony Bramwell – From “Magical Mystery Tours: My Life With The Beatles“, 2005

After the session musicians had completed their work and left, The Beatles considered how to end the song. The orchestral climax was felt to be too abrupt, so the group and the studio guests gathered around a microphone and recorded themselves humming a note lasting for eight beats.

The humming takes were numbered 8-11. The first three broke down as people were unable to stop themselves from laughing, but the final one was complete. Three more overdubs of humming were then added. This remained the ending for “A Day In The Life” until the final piano chord was recorded on February 22, 1967.

That sound was used twice during the song. The first time, we ended it artificially, by literally splitting the tape, leaving silence. There is nothing more electrifying, after a big sound, than complete silence. The second time, of course, came at the end of the record, and for that I wanted a final chord, which we dubbed on later. I wanted that chord to last as long as possible, and I told Geoff Emerick it would be up to him, not the boys, to achieve that. What I did was to get all four Beatles and myself in the studio at three pianos, an upright and two grands. I gave them the bunched chords that they were to play.

Then I called out, ‘Ready? One, two, three – go!’ With that, CRASH! All of us hit the chords as hard as possible. In the control room, Geoff had his faders – which control the volume input from the studio – way, way down at the moment of impact. Then, as the sound died away, he gradually pushed the faders up, while we kept as quiet as the proverbial church mice. In the end, they were so far up, and the microphones so live, that you could hear the air-conditioning. It took forty-five seconds to do, and we did it three or four times, building up a massive sound of piano after piano after piano, all doing the same thing. That chord was a fitting end to A Day in the Life’.

George Martin – From “All You Need Is Ears“, 1979

From Instagram – AbbeyRoadStudios – Read Paul’s most recent website Q&A where he reveals how the ‘A Day In The Life’ orchestral session was a defining moment for him in the studio. Link in bio.
From Facebook – 10 February 1967 – Photo by Larry Ellis ©
From Abbey Road Studios on Facebook – “John decided he wanted a symphony orchestra and he wanted them to make a grand noise, a noise which grew from nothing to a chord that sounded like the end of the world.” – David Hepworth
The legendary Studio One orchestral session for The Beatles’ ‘A Day in the Life’ took place OTD in 1967, appearing in the Abbey Road bookings diary under the codename ‘The Dakotas’.
Read the full account in David Hepworth’s ‘Abbey Road’ from Penguin Books.

Last updated on February 18, 2023

Songs recorded


A Day In The Life

Written by Lennon - McCartney

Tape copying • Tape reduction take 6 into take 7


A Day In The Life

Written by Lennon - McCartney

Recording • SI onto take 7


A Day In The Life

Written by Lennon - McCartney

Tape copying • Tape reduction take 7 with SI onto take 6


A Day In The Life

Written by Lennon - McCartney

Editing • Edit piece takes 8-11


Musicians on "A Day In The Life"

Sidney Sax:
Francisco Gabarro:
Jürgen Hess:
John Underwood:
Alan Civil:
French horn
David Mason:
Neil Sanders:
French horn
Erich Gruenberg:
Granville Jones:
Bill Monro:
Hans Geiger:
D Bradley:
Lionel Bentley:
David McCallum:
Donald Weekes:
Henry Datyner:
Ernest Scott:
Gwynne Edwards:
Bernard Davis:
John Meek:
Dennis Vigay:
Alan Dalziel:
Alex Nifosi:
Cyril MacArthur:
Double bass
Gordon Pearce:
Double bass
John Marston:
Basil Tschaikov:
Roger Lord:
N Fawcett:
Alfred Waters:
Bassoon Clifford Seville
David Sanderman:
Monty Montgomery:
Harold Jackson:
Raymond Brown:
Raymond Premru:
T Moore:
Michael Barnes:
Tristan Fry:
Percussion, Timpani
Marijke Koger:

Production staff

George Martin:
Geoff Emerick:
Richard Lush:
Second engineer

Going further

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!

Shop on Amazon

The Beatles Recording Reference Manual: Volume 3: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band through Magical Mystery Tour (late 1966-1967)

The third book of this critically - acclaimed series, nominated for the 2019 Association for Recorded Sound Collections (ARSC) award for Excellence In Historical Recorded Sound, "The Beatles Recording Reference Manual: Volume 3: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band through Magical Mystery Tour (late 1966-1967)" captures the band's most innovative era in its entirety. From the first take to the final remix, discover the making of the greatest recordings of all time. Through extensive, fully-documented research, these books fill an important gap left by all other Beatles books published to date and provide a unique view into the recordings of the world's most successful pop music act.

Shop on Amazon

If we like to think, in all modesty, that the Paul McCartney Project is the best online ressource for everything Paul McCartney, The Beatles Bible is for sure the definitive online site focused on the Beatles. There are obviously some overlap in terms of content between the two sites, but also some major differences in terms of approach.

Read more on The Beatles Bible


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