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Beatles 50th Blog

The Beatles 50 Years Ago Today: February 10, 1967

Recording: A Day In The Life

Studio One, EMI Studios, Abbey Road
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Geoff Emerick

One of the most significant Beatles recording sessions took place on this day: the orchestral overdubs for "A Day In the Life".

John Lennon had suggested the use of a symphony orchestra to fill the song's instrumental passages, but was unable to put his ideas into adequate words. Paul McCartney suggested asking the players to build from their instruments' lowest possible notes to the highest, and George Martin was given the task of turning the vision into reality.

Forty orchestral musicians were hired for the session, at a total cost of £367 and 10 shillings:

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

What I did there was to write, at the beginning of the twenty-four bars, 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 each instrument could reach that was 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. The musicians also had instructions to slide as gracefully as possible between one note and the next. In the case of the stringed instruments, that was a matter of sliding their fingers up the strings. With keyed instruments, like clarinet and oboe, they obviously had to move their fingers from key to key as they went up, but they were asked to 'lip' the changes as much as possible too.

I marked the music 'pianissimo' at the beginning and 'fortissimo' at the end. Everyone was to start as quietly as possible, almost inaudibly, and end in a (metaphorically) lung-bursting tumult. And in addition to this extraordinary of musical gymnastics, I told them that they were to disobey the most fundamental rule of the orchestra. They were not to listen to their neighbours.

A well-schooled orchestra plays, ideally, like one man, following the leader. I emphasised that this was exactly what they must not do. I told them 'I want everyone to be individual. It's every man for himself. Don't listen to the fellow next to you. If he's a third away from you, and you think he's going too fast, let him go. Just do your own slide up, your own way.' Needless to say, they were amazed. They had certainly never been told that before.

George Martin

All You Need Is Ears

The session 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.

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

The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn

Having a separate tape reel running allowed for the orchestra to be recorded four times. It was then taped a fifth time, onto track four of the first reel, giving the equivalent of 200 session musicians. Paul McCartney conducted the proceedings in EMI's enormous Studio One.

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.

George Martin

All You Need Is Ears

At the end of one of the performances - likely to have been the first - the musicians broke out into spontaneous applause.

The Beatles 50 Years Ago Today: February 9, 1967

Regent Sound Studios, Tottenham Court Rd. London

The Beatles' first EMI session at a British studio other than Abbey Road. Regent Sound was one of the few independently owned facilities in London at this time.

No longer a member of EMI staff, George Martin was free to travel with the Beatles, but balance engineer Geoff Emerick and the usual crew of Abbey Road tape ops were all EMI employees so they couldn't go along. Adrian Ibbetson, chief engineer at Regent Sound, filled Emerick's role for this session, in which three takes of Paul's new song "Fixing A Hole" were recorded, the second being "best". (Start and finish times for the session weren't noted down).

The Beatles 50 Years Ago Today: February 8, 1967

Studio Two, EMI Studios, London

A 7:00 pm to 2:15 am session in which the Beatles taped eight fairly straightforward rhythm track takes of a new song, John's "Good Morning Good Morning", its title inspired by a British TV commercial for Kellogg's cornflakes.

The Beatles 50 Years Ago Today: February 7, 1967

Knole Park, Sevenoaks

To complete the "Penny Lane" clip, the Beatles returned to Knole Park during the late morning and filmed two final sequences; one in which they rode their white horses out through an archway in a ruined wall, and around the wall to their right; the other in which, despite the bitterly cold weather, they sat at a dinner table by the furthest of two nearby ponds and were served with their instruments by two bewigged men (one of whom was Mal Evans).

Following final editing, the superb promotional clips for "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Penny Lane" were quickly distributed/sold to important television stations around the world. In Britain they were screened mostly by the BBC - a 1 minute 10 seconds extract from "Penny Lane" was shown on Juke Box Jury on Saturday, February 11th.

The Beatles 50 Years Ago Today: February 6, 1967

The Beatles enjoying a break between clips of "Penny Lane".

The Beatles 50 Years Ago Today: February 5, 1967

Filming: Penny Lane

Angel Lane, Stratford, London

The Beatles began making the promo film for Penny Lane on this day. It was a two-day shoot, completed two days later.

For this first day they were filmed in and around Angel Lane in Stratford, London. The Beatles rode horses and walked in the area between midday and 4pm.

The cast, crew and The Beatles were based at the Salway Arms pub for the day when they weren't filming. Work was delayed by the late arrival of the red hunting jackets worn by the group; eventually a newspaper distributor named Ernie Smith drove to Commercial Road in Stepney to collect them.

The Beatles rode white horses down Angel Lane and across a car park. Lennon was filmed walking alone on the street, and meeting the rest of the group by the Theatre Royal.

Much of Angel Lane was redeveloped in the 1970s to make way for the Stratford Centre, and a new pedestrian area, The Mall, was built over the old street.

Filming continued on the following day in Knole Park in Sevenoaks, Kent. Footage around the Penny Lane area of Liverpool was also filmed at an unknown date by director Peter Goldmann, without The Beatles' involvement.

The Beatles 50 Years Ago Today: February 4, 1967


Strawberry Fields Forever and Penny Lane

The Beatles 50 Years Ago Today: February 3, 1967

Studio Two, EMI Studios, London

More overdubs onto take six of "A Day In The Life". Paul re-recorded his vocal track, and also bass, and Ringo's wiped his original drum track in favor of a new and distinctive tom-tom sound. The session took place from 7:00 pm to 1:15 am.

Source: The Complete Beatles Chronicle - Mark Lewisohn

The Beatles 50 Years Ago Today: February 2, 1967

Studio Two, EMI Studios, London

Overdubbing of Paul's lead and the group's backing vocal onto "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band", followed by a reduction mixdown of take nine into take ten, ready for future overdubs. A rough mono mix, for acetate-cutting purposes, was made at the end of the 7:00 pm-1:45 am session.

The Beatles 50 Years Ago Today: February 1, 1967

Studio Two, EMI Studios

It wasn't going to be Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band until "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" came along. That is, the album was not  "The Sgt. Pepper Project" until the recording of this Paul McCartney song and Paul's realisation soon afterwards that the Beatles could pretend they were actually "Sgt. Pepper's Band", the remaining songs on the LP forming part of a show given by the fictitious combo. Takes one to nine of the title song's rhythm track were recorded during the 7:00 pm-2:30 am session.