Song of the Day #132: ‘A Day in the Life’ – The Beatles

sgtpepperI consider Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band the most overrated Beatles album.

In one sense, it’s not overrated at all — it most certainly changed the face of popular music, redefined the ‘concept’ album and became the unofficial soundtrack of the Summer of Love. in the historic sense, the impact of this album can’t be questioned.

But when it comes down to the actual songs… eh.

Yes, ‘With a Little Help From My Friends’ is a charming standout. ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ is a loopily exciting listen. And I’ve always been a sucker for ‘Lovely Rita.’ But otherwise it contains some of the band’s least successful work (‘She’s Leaving Home’ is a particular weak spot).

There is one major exception, however, and it’s today’s Song of the Day. ‘A Day in the Life’ is one of The Beatles’ very finest songs and, regardless of what precedes it, it leaves you with the feeling you’ve just heard one of the great albums. It alone makes Sgt. Pepper a classic.

‘A Day in the Life’ is weirdly epic and epically weird. It features some of the best musicianship in the band’s catalog, from those haunting opening piano chords to Ringo’s mesmerizing drums. Pay particular attention to Paul’s bass line throughout the verses… it deserves the musical equivalent of a Best Supporting Actor trophy. Lennon’s vocals, too, are among the best he ever delivered… dreamy yet jaded. Paul’s “woke up, got out of bed” break in the middle is a left-field surprise that only enhances the final verse. And then there are the twin crescendos, at the mid-point and at the end of the song, a cacophony of strings that you feel more than hear.

I recommend listening to this through headphones. In four minutes and 45 seconds you’ll hear all you’ll ever need to hear in order to fully appreciate the genius of the Fab Four.

3 thoughts on “Song of the Day #132: ‘A Day in the Life’ – The Beatles

  1. Amy says:

    Now you picked a song I can go all Beatles geek on you, but I won’t. I know this song so well not because I am such a huge Beatles fan (as was evidenced by my failure to label Peter Fonda in yesterday’s entry) but because it plays a prominent role in a memoir that I teach – The Diving Bell and the Butterly. The song is significant to Jean-Dominique Bauby, the author of that memoir, so we spend a good bit of time listening to it, thinking about it, and writing about it. I love how they invited the full orchestra to the recording studio, asking them to wear their formal clothes, then handed them all sorts of outrageous hats, glasses and props. For me, that perfectly captures their spontaneous sort of experimentation. They knew the effect they were after and were willing to try different ways to achieve it. The interlude was originally another song altogether, and the fact that they work so well together always pleases me. Gives me faith in all sorts of possibilities.

  2. assorted students says:

    My students blogged on this song, in particular the last minute or so, the part Bauby describes as “a piano crashing down seven floors.” Here are just a few excerpts from their comments:

    “This song is one of the most confusing songs I’ve ever heard in my life.” 🙂

    ” Life isn’t always candy drops and roses, but also many times troubling and dramatic. Its got bits of both. Like in the beginning of the song, life is peaceful and tranquil, but in the blink of your eyes, it can turn horrible, as well as turning peaceful once again, and then repeating again.”

    “The part when the orchestra just goes crazy and plays offkey notes makes me feel relaxed. Because there is such a loud annoying noise which grows louder and louder and then it just stops all of a sudden it actually makes you feel liberated from everything. As if you are not here. You are total silence and you feel free. This is what i feel when I hear this song.”

    “When the music first starts it makes you happy and relaxed. Then suddenly when the terrible sounds come one you feel as if something bad has just happened, or someone dies. As Alex said it follows Bauby’s life. I feel quite the opposite of (the previous student). I feel scared and caged.”

    “i would describe the song like a fire fight. because during the middle and end it is like all of the weapons on both sides are firing at the same time and because it is a horrible ear shattering noise.”

    I’ll stop there, but you get the idea. These are 15 year olds, by the way. Thanks for starting my day off well. Now I’m eager to go teach 🙂

  3. Dana says:

    It is easy to write off Sgt Pepper as over-rated, since it arguably the most celebrated album of all time, but I disagree that the songs are “eh.” I find “She’s Leaving Home” perfectly lovely. The only songs I consider throwaways are “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” and “Within You, Without You.” Could you imagine how unquestionably great Sgt Pepper would have been if these songs had been kicked out and “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane” had been substituted, as both of these songs were recorded during the Sgt Pepper session and were supposed to be included?

    As to today’s SOTD — it certainly ranks among my all time favorite Beatles songs. I find every note, every lyric compelling–up to and including the famously held last note. A truly masteful song indeed.

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