A Day in the Life
Composer(s) : Lennon and McCartney
Year : 1967
Chords/Tabs: A Day in the Life
Notes on the "Reprise" and "A Day in the Life" (ADITL)
- We already took a preliminary look at both of these songs; the latter,
way back in a meta-view of John's more experimental work (the
"Triple Crown" article, #23); and the former,
in our detailed look at the
album's eponymous title track, #106.
And yet, because of the novel
manner in which they bring this already novel album to its stunning
conclusion, it behooves us to linger over them in the orderly progress
of our studies.
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band Reprise
KEY F Major -> G Major
FORM Intro -> Refrain -> Refrain (w/complete ending)
GENERAL POINTS OF INTEREST
Style and Form
- In context of the pop/rock album format I dare say that such a
reprise is unprecedented. The concept is a sufficiently familiar
one from the world of opera and musical stage show, but on a
Beatles album!? And, as is typical with Beatles innovations of
this sort, the gesture is not gratuitously novel; in the current
instance, the reprise of the title track serves two critical
functions: a unifying element for the album overall, and a
boundary marker that importantly sets the following ADITL off
by itself, as it were, from the rest of the album.
- The formal layout of the reprise is in strong contrast to the
opening track: this time we have only an intro followed by two
iterations of the refrain.
Melody and Harmony
- The gameplan here is to modulate one step upward in the transition
between the two refrains. If the goal is to wind up in the overall
home key cluster of the album (just as arguably here G Major/e minor/
E Major as is the second side of _Abbey Road_ in the cluster of C Major/
a minor/A Major), the cute trick is starting off in the unexpected
key of F Major just in order to wind up in the correct place at the end.
- The Beatles had always gone in for what I call staggered or
layered arrangements. And, as with the preceding track (GMGM), the
recently released early take of the rerprises backing track and (curiously
mock bored-sounding) guide vocal from Paul neatly demonstrates just how
stratifiedly these mid-to-late period arrangements were to be constructed.
- Although it has a clearly defined beginning and end, this reprise also
has the distinguishing feature of being segued both into and out of. You'll
have a tough time convincing me that the mono mix of this album is so
authoritative that the sloppy handling of the chicken cluck-to-guitar
lick on the latter is what they really wanted; to my ears, the smooth
handling of the transition on the stereo mix must be, if not what they
originally intended, what they wanted here in the final result. And
at the other end of the track we have, of course, the cross fade of
the final chord of the reprise into the oncoming acoustic intro of ADITL.
- The intro is 10 measures long and contains three distinct "strata":
Two measures of what would be supplied today by the "drum machine"
stop of a synth, which includes Paul's crisp "1-2-3-4" and John's
lugubriously inspired "bye ..." delivered at total cross-current
to the predominating march rhythm.
Four measures with a fuller "real" percussion track added.
And four more measure with bass and electric guitar now added
to all of the previous. All together, now :-)
- The modualtion between the two refrains is a simple pivot built
on top of the fact that V-of-V had been used earlier in this refrain;
we cut in below at the crucial point of transition:
|B-flat |F |G |D |
F: IV I V-of-V
A Day In The Life
KEY G Major/e minor -> E Major
FORM Intro -> Verse -> Verse -> Verse -> Bridge ->
Middle vocal section -> Middle instrumental section ->
Verse -> Bridge -> Outro (w/complete ending)
GENERAL POINTS OF INTEREST
Style and Form
- Though it deals with much of the same theme of existential Weltschmerz
focused on in GMGM, the whole production of this following song is so
much more powerful for its being so comparitively low key in mood, non-
preachy in choice of words, with a visually deeper perspective if for no
other reason than the wide angle created by the large form.
- This large form furthermore has a high-level A/B/A classical clarity
that is ironically belied by its avoidance of perfect symmetry.
- The rather avant-garde-like deployment of a mid-sized orchestral
makes it totally impossible to categorize the "style" of this track,
as if it would have been all that much easier to pigeon hole without
the orchestra :-).
- For years, we've been fortunate to have widely available a precious
outtake of this song, the master tape of which was wiped, but which
was miraculously preserved in acetate form. It is as if we are
privileged in this recording to listen to something that fate would
otherwise have not permitted to be heard in this world; pretty mystical :-)
More recently, Anthology II has provided us with a melange that includes
the middle section of the acetate combined with two different outtakes of
the outer sections; the first of which was first aired, in part, on the
PBS/George Martin SPLHCB anniversary TV special. The more seriously
musicological part of me is offended by this willy nilly playing around
with primary sources, but the insatiable collector part of me is happy
enough to hear the new material in whatever form we can get it. I
still say the acetate in its pristine entirety is something which you
Melody and Harmony
- The song opens in the key of G Major though its true center of
gravity is in the parallel minor/Major keys of E. Take a look as
far back as
"Not A Second Time"
for a REALLY early example of the
same gamibt; I direct this comment especially those of my friends
and students who take a condescending attitude toward anything produced
by the Boys prior to _Rubber Soul_, all of whom know exactly who you
are. Even the verses, which are nominally in an optimistic G Major,
wilt within their very first measures over to the sadder e minor, nicely
underscoring the sense of the words.
- The curiously jumpy melodic material is the least of anybody's concern
here; not John's, not Paulie's, not even our's; an interesting lesson in
how over-rated, in some cases, is the importance of having a catchy tune
in order to have a successful song. Think this over.
- The backing of the outer two main sections is made up of acoustic
guitar, piano, electric bass, and drums, all four of which stand
out in terms of tasteful restraint; but especially the drums.
- The orchestra appears intermittently throughout the track, seemingly
out of nowhere. Keep in mind how, in the recorded medium, you have
no visual clue to its presence. Your whole reaction to this track
would be somewhat different if your first exposure to it was live
with the full instrumental forces sitting before you.
- This sparing, overlaid use of the orchestra keeps the track from
sounding over produced; it's good to have a large part of the time
of the song consist of more unadorned pop/rock combo; but its cleverly
repeated deployment is a subtle force of unity. The great effect
at the end of the two verse section, a sweeping crescendo up a scale
of indeterminate pitches is potent while also being obvious. More
subtle is the orchestra's reappearance for the transition from the
end of the middle section back to the return of the verse. This
additional entrance keeps the use of it in those crescendi from sounding
too contrived and isolated. What I'm trying to say here is that
while the content of this orchestra part is novel and powerful, you
should not under-estimate its formal contribution.
- The tempo is relatively fast; I parse it as one measure per sugarplum
fairy. In spite of it, though, the leisurely harmonic rhythm (with
chords changing every two measures, on average) instills a moderately
measured pace for the procedings.
- The bassline is predominantly a walking one, though Paul does a nice
job of disguising it in places with the trick of jumping down a fourth
and then filling it back up step-wise. On the acetate outtake he plays
out the scale minus any adornment.
- From a harmonically analytical perspective, I prefer to treat many
measures in this song as a continuation of the chord in the previous
measure combined with a passing note in the bassline. Yes, I know
the "tab" of each measure is different, but we're not looking for
the tabs per se in these studies.
- The intro is a neat eight measure long, and anticipates the music of
the verse without completely stealing its thunder. You'll note that
the chord progression only partly matches the verse, and the complete
scalar bassline is not yet fully exposed. You might be surprised
to note that the underlying chord progression is an old-cliche-friend of
ours; none other than I-vi-IV-V:
chords |G |b |e |- |C |- |- |- |
G: I v6/4 vi IV
- It would have been somehow neater to synchronize the downbeat of this
intro with the final chord of the reprise. The slight delay of the
downbeat until after the reprise's end is more "offbeat," both literally
- All the verses start off with the same 16 measure (4-times-4, A-B-A-C)
classic floor plan. I'm willing to go as far as describing the harmonic
motion as including a modulation to e minor:
1 & 2 &
|G |b |e |- |C |- |a | D|
G: I v6/4 vi IV ii V
|G |b |e |- |C |F |e | |
I v6/4 vi
e:i vi flat-II i
- However, there are three (collect 'em all!) different variations in how
the verses finish off this same 16-measure beginning. The first verse
is unique in the way it cycles back for a repetition of the chord
progression with the piquant F Major chord before pivoting back to
"I saw the photograph ..." 2 &
|C |F |e |C D |
e: vi flat-II i
G: vi IV V
- The second verse is shorter by two measures. Its harmonic pivot
back to G is more passive than that of the first verse. Not how
*here* there is no V chord at the very end:
"... House of Lords"
|C |- |
- The third and fourth verses, both of which lead into the orchestral
bridges, are similar to the second verse, but one extra measure is
added. Here, to the extent that the bridge does NOT cycle back to
the key of G, there is no modulation to speak of:
"... book. I'd love to||turn ..."
"... Hall. I'd love to||turn ..."
|C |- |- ||e ..... E
e: vi i -> I
- The intro and first verse are scored for acoustic guitar, piano,
bass, and maraccas. The full drum kit is added in the second verse.
- The bridge is twenty-four measures long and consists of the orchestra's
free-form, glissando-like sweep from low E to the same pitch several
octaves higher. It's quite a nitrous-oxide-like rush.
- Remnants of the original backing track heard on the acetate outtake,
with its four-in-the-bar rhythm and Mal Evan's counting aloud, can be
heard almost all the way through this section on the finished track.
In spite of this, there are cymbal crashes in the last few measures of
the orchestra track which come seemingly at random to challenge your
sense of meter. Try counting 24-times-4 in this section and see what
what happens to you.
- On both the acetate outtake and the finished track, Mal starts counting
in the measure *following* the third verse as I outlined it above; i.e.
on the word "turn." The outtake used for the first half of the version
of this song presented on Anthology II shows him starting the count off
in the previous measure; huh?!
- As with the Reprise segue at the beginning of the track, it would
have been "neater" if the start of this middle section was synchronized
with the downbeat of the bridge's 24th measure, as it does on the
On the finished version, again avoiding foolish neatness for its own
sake, it appears as if the middle section is begun approximately one beat
before the end of the bridge; either that, or the bridge is cleverly
extended approximately a beat past the downbeat of measure twenty-four.
It's not easy to figure out which is the case because the challenging
meter of the bridge's final measures mentioned above, is complicated
by the alarm clock and a snippet of Paul counting "One" both of which
are heard off the beat as the middle section begins. The one thing
that is clear is that the intro of this middle section contains 4
measures of vamping on the E Major chord, and on the final track,
a couple of these measures pass by you before you quite reclaim your
sense of where the downbeat has gone to.
- The "song" portion of the middle section is melodically as jumpy
as John's outer sections. It is 19 measures long and contains an
ABAB quatrain, each of whose phrases except the last one is an unusual,
rhetorically motivated 5 measures long. Both the lyrics and sound
effects here reinforce the "Good Morning...but what a day" theme:
|E |- |- |D |- |
E: I flat-VII
|E |B |E |B |- |
I V I V
|E |- |- |D |- |
|E |B |E |B |
I V I V
- The orchestra portion of the middle section is 20 measures long and
consists of two long parallel phrases whose harmonic rhythm is
unvaryingly slow. This enhances the "dreamy" note upon which
the middle section song abruptly terminates. The harmony of
the section primarily shifts back toward G Major though the end
of the first long phrase surely feels as if its back in e minor.
|C |- |G |- |D |- |A |- |e |- |
IV I V V-of-V vi
|C |- |G |- |D |- |A |- |e d|C D|
IV I V V-of-V vi IV V
- Only a single verse is used to balance out the weight of all that
- The tempo remains the same as it is throughout the track, though the
more active drumming fools you into thinking that this section is
somehow "faster" than the verses in the first half.
- The repetition of the bridge is virtually a carbon copy, but
its destination is very different, ending with the balance of
one measure's worth of dramatic silence followed by that ready-
made classical cliche of a final E Major chord.
- Coming as it does, at the end of the repeat of the bridge which
the first time around had led into that cheery middle section in
the same tempo, that final chord resounds with a frightful sense
of bleak hitting-a-wall finality, further emphasized and exaggerated
by the surprise element and the long fadeout to silence.
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS
- The outer groove can be seen, beyond mere prank, as further twist
on the gesture of the final chord. By coming so suddenly out of total
silence after you've assumed the show is over, it only serves to heighten
in retrospect the sense of eternal desolation created by the final chord's
- In the final result, though, this outer groove is arguably another
wakeup call of sorts to so-called reality; fits right in with the
supersonic dog whistle :-) No joke: given the alternative of blowing
your mind in one kind of vehicle or another, what's your preference?
"Never could be any other way..." 052696#117
Copyright (c) 1996 by Alan W. Pollack
All Rights Reserved
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