There isn’t much John Lennon didn’t say about the songs and albums The Beatles produced. Never one to keep his mouth shut for too long, the founding member of the Fab Four felt it was his place to give the final verdict on what songs were good or bad, as well as often decoding the cryptic messages weaved within them. In fact, for many years after the band had broken up, finding a new nugget of information about the group’s back catalogue was a near-weekly occurrence.
Such dedication means that almost every song by The Beatles has been somewhat figured out, except, of course, one of the band’s most wonderful tracks, the gorgeous ‘A Day in the Life’. It acts as the final moments of arguably the group’s most creative album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band has gone down in history as one of Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr’s finest songs. Yet, despite the endless pawing the song has received over the decades since its release, Lennon provided one comparison that we’re still trying to work out.
Just so we’re clear, John Lennon loved the song. Built out of fragments of the very fabric of the society they saw around them, Lennon and McCartney deliver some of their most unique and inspiring work as songwriters. Joining each motif and theme together with sumptuous orchestration ‘A Day in the Life’ is about as pop music can ever come to being regarded as a masterpiece. Lennon told Rolling Stone: “‘A Day In The Life’ – that was something. I dug it.
“It was a good piece of work between Paul and me,” Lennon continued when speaking to Jonathon Cott. “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.”
“We arranged it and rehearsed it, which we don’t often do,” he continued, “the afternoon before. So we all knew what we were playing, we all got into it. It was a real groove, the whole scene on that one. Paul sang half of it, and I sang half. 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 a 2001, you know,” said Lennon, making reference to Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Exactly why Lennon compared the song to the work of Kubrick is a little unclear. Lyrically, the track couldn’t be further from the master director’s landmark science-fiction film.
The song’s lyrics were pulled not only from the depths of Lennon’s brain but the newspaper he was reading too. Later, speaking with David Sheff about the track, the singer noted: “I was reading the paper one day and noticed two stories. One was about 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 four thousand potholes in the streets of Blackburn, Lancashire, that needed to be filled. Paul’s contribution was the beautiful little lick in the song, ‘I’d love to turn you on,’ that he’d had floating around in his head and couldn’t use. I thought it was a damn good piece of work.”
Musically, the song can perhaps be more easily aligned with the film. A wondrous set of performers deliver showstopping fill after showstopping fill throughout the song. It’s perhaps here that Lennon is drawing comparisons. The film is noted as having one of Kubrick’s finest soundtracks, providing an all-encompassing sound that transports you immediately out of your own reality and into the one Kubrick, and perhaps The Beatles, have created for you.
In reality, Lennon was likely providing a short explanation to an almost unexplainable song, having only recently watched the film. Known as a huge fan of Kubrick, it seems more likely that Lennon was simply trying to show himself as a visionary artist or maybe, just maybe, a massive film fan.