Saturday, March 19, 2016

A George Martin Production: A Day In The Life

I couldn’t end out my tribute to George Martin without featuring one of his most famous and involved recordings: The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life.” This final cut on the “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album took a total of 34 hours to record and the sessions comprised four days in January and February 1967.

While it is generally considered an album cut, it was released as the flipside of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”/”With a Little Help from my Friends” single in 1978. The “A” side only peaked in the US at #71. This single was timed with the release of the musical “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” that featured The Bee Gees, Peter Frampton, Alice Cooper, Steve Martin, and others. George Martin arranged and produced the movie’s soundtrack.

As for the original album, “A Day in the Life” had several constituent parts, which are as follows:
  • Verses one and two written and sung by John Lennon;
  • An orchestral crescendo as a link;
  • A bridge written and sung by Paul McCartney;
  • A second bridge comprising vocal effects and written by Lennon;
  • Verse three written and sung by Lennon; and
  • The song’s finale featuring an orchestral crescendo and the eternal chord.

The link and end were the final aspects of the song to be recorded. George Martin composed the score for a 40 piece orchestra by writing out the lowest note of each instrument culminating in their highest note that would comprise an “E” major chord. The instrumentalists were ascending chromatically to their final destination. As one can notice, they were not all in time with each other and not on the same notes. In addition, some of Paul McCartney’s piano chords in the link are discordant – but it all works surprisingly well.

The crescendo was redone for the song’s finale and four takes were overdubbed as one giant orchestral swell. For the song’s ending, the four members of the band originally tried humming an “E” chord, but couldn’t create the impact they desired for this track – it needed to be dramatic. Three pianos were brought into the studio and Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Ringo Starr, and Mal Evans, the band’s road manager and assistant, all played an “E” chord. George Martin also played a harmonium to add to the chord’s texture.

All five struck the “E” chord simultaneously and as it naturally decayed the microphone volumes were increased incrementally to add to the effect. It is probably the most famous chord in recording history. In 1978, The Rutles, a Beatles parody act, recreated a similar, but less involved, crescendo. Their Lennonesque “Cheese and Onions” ended with a humorous staccato chord.

“A Day in the Life” was probably the most creative production that George Martin had been involved. Rest in Peace George and thanks for your many years of musical talent and abilities as an arranger and producer.

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