“I read the news today, oh boy…” John Lennon sings with his nasal voice, in what’s considered to be one of the biggest monuments of rock ‘n’ roll music: “A Day in the Life.” The last song on what some critics consider the greatest rock —and pop— album of all times: Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Every time I listen to “A Day in the Life,” it sends shivers down my spine when I hear the first notes from Lennon’s guitar as it fades in from the roar of the crowd, from the previous track on the album. The guitar is immediately followed by the piano, whose initial chords constitute a statement right off the bat, grabbing our attention and preparing us for what’s to come. Ol’ John, in his most peculiar way, sings about a man who “made the grade” and “blew his mind out in a car,” and about a movie where “the English army had just won the war.” His voice and the trippy-absent-minded lyrics —along with the melody— set the tone for a dreamlike atmosphere that will lead us through a surrealistic journey.
But it is the beginning of the second verse, when Ringo jumps into the scene with his syncopated drumming, which confirms once and for all that we’re not listening to just another pop song. The composition not only gives us the mini-itinerary of a day in the life of a so-called common guy —remember, it was the sixties—, but also sheds a lot of light on the times of John Lennon’s generation. Everything was happening so fast that you didn’t really know if it was real life or you were just dreaming.
Then, the singer makes his intentions apparent: “I’d love to turn you on.” Does it start sounding like the sixties yet? Lennon’s voice, enhanced by the echo, acquires an otherworldly aura to it, which is followed by the flabbergasting bridge —the dissonant orchestral climb that drives all the instruments into an orgiastic frenzy. Then, the alarm clock goes off, and our common guy (in Paul’s voice) gets up and starts his day, by getting on his way to what we assume is work. But when he got on the double-decker bus, he found his way upstairs and “had a smoke,” to go right into a dream… I mean, what’s up with that?
That is what makes the song so artistically and surrealistically ingenious; the way the Beatles usher us into their universe of gibberish and dreamland. With this masterpiece they didn’t only make sure to get their point across, but they also blended their times —and the times-before-their-time— with the fusion of contemporary pop culture and the classical orchestra ethos.
But that’s not it. After Lennon’s discourse on the amount of holes that would take “to fill the Albert Hall,” he reiterates his intentions: to turn you on. Followed again by a second crescendo, which this time is taken all the way to its final climax. Goodness gracious!
Then, comes the closing, with the longest note in rock music history. The piano is resonating in your ears long after Lennon quits singing. And you just want to forget about it, but they wouldn’t let you off the hook that easy; no one leaves unscathed. Sugar plum fairy.
By Rodolfo Elías