Volumes have been written by scores of authors and reviewers on the songwriting history of “A Day In The Life,” much of the content being the opinion of the writers themselves. The best way to get the most accurate history is, I feel, to hear what the composers themselves, and those closest to them, have said through the years. In this case, they had an awful lot to say, painting a very vivid picture.
John Lennon, 1967: “I was writing the song with the ‘Daily Mail’ propped up in front of me on the piano. I had it open at their ‘News In Brief,’ or ‘Far And Near,’ whatever they call it. There was a paragraph about 4000 holes in Blackburn, Lancashire, being discovered.”
John Lennon, November 1968: “It was a good piece of work between Paul and me. I had the ‘I read the news today’ bit, and it turned Paul on. Now and then, we really turn each other on with a bit of song, and he just said, ‘Yeah,’ bang, bang, like that. It just sort of happened beautifully, and we arranged it and rehearsed it, which we don’t often do, the afternoon before, so, we all knew what we were playing…I needed a middle-eight for it, but that would have been forcing it. All the rest had come out smooth, flowing, no trouble, and to write a middle-eight would have been to write a middle-eight, but instead Paul already had one there. It’s a bit of “2001,” you know.”
George Martin: “This was a song written by the two of them quite separately. John had the idea originally. For the first bit, he said to me, ‘I don’t know where to go from here.’ So, Paul said, ‘Well, I’ve got this other song I’ve been working on. What do you think of it?’ This ended up being the middle bit and so they joined the two bits together to make one song.”
Paul McCartney: “It was about me remembering what it was like to run up the road to catch the bus to school, having a smoke and going into school. We decided, ‘Bugger this. We’re going to write a turn-on song.’ It was a recollection of my school days. I would have a Woodbine then, and somebody would speak and I would go into a dream. That was the only song on the album written as a deliberate provocation.”
George Martin: “Definitely a reference to marijuana. I thought, ‘Found my way upstairs and had a smoke,’ was a drug reference…they always used to disappear and have a little puff. They never did it in front of me. They always went downstairs to the canteen and Mal Evans used to guard it.”
John Lennon, 1980: “Just as it sounds. I was reading the paper one day and I noticed two stories. One was the Guinness heir who killed himself in a car. That was the main headline story. He died in London in a car crash. On the next page was a story about 4000 holes in Blackburn, Lancashine. In the streets, that is. They were going to fill them all. Paul’s contribution was the beautiful little lick in the song, ‘I’d love to turn you on.’”
Paul McCartney: “It was a song that John brought over to me at Cavendish Avenue. It was his original idea. He’d been reading the ‘Daily Mail’ and brought the newspaper with him to my house. We went upstairs to the music room and started to work on it. He had the first verse, he had the war, and a little bit of the second verse.”
John Lennon, 1970: “Paul and I were definitely working together…The way we wrote a lot of the time: you’d write the good bit, the part that was easy, like ‘I read the news today’ or whatever it was. Then when you got stuck or whenever it got hard, instead of carrying on, you just drop it. Then we would meet each other, and I would sing half and he would be inspired to write the next bit, and vice versa. He was a bit shy about it, because I think he thought it was already a good song. Sometimes we wouldn’t let each other interfere with a song either, because you tend to be a bit lax with someone else’s stuff; you experiment a bit.”
Paul McCartney: “John and I sat down, and he had the opening verse and the tune. He got the idea of how it would continue from the ‘Daily Mail,’ where there was the mad article about the holes in Blackburn. Then the next article would be that Dame So-and-so had played the Albert Hall. So they all got mixed together in a little poetic jumble that sounded nice. Then I threw in a little bit I played on the piano: ‘Woke up, fell out of bed, dragged a comb across my head…’ which was a little party piece of mine, although I didn’t have any more written.”
John Lennon, 1967: “There was still one word missing in that verse when we came to record. I knew the line had to go ‘Now they know how many holes it takes to – something, the Albert Hall.’ For some reason I couldn’t think of the verb. What did the holes do to the Albert Hall? It was Terry (Doran) who said ‘fill’ the Albert Hall. And that was it. Perhaps I was looking for that word all the time, but couldn’t put my tongue on it. Other people don’t necessarily give you a word or a line, they just throw in the word you’re looking for anyway.”
So we can see that John began writing the song at his Kenwood home while inspired by articles in the recent ‘Daily Mail,’ this being the January 17th, 1967 issue. No doubt starting on this day, he wrote a good portion of the melody and the beginnings of the first and second verse on the piano with the newspaper propped up in front of him. When he got stuck, he took the paper over to Paul’s house at St. John’s Wood to make the song a collaborative effort. Two days later, on January 19th, they began recording it at EMI Studios where friend Terry Doran filled in the last needed word “fill” to complete the song.