‘A Day in the Life’, the final track from The Beatles’ 1967 album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, is one of the most enigmatic songs in the group’s discography. Like ‘Eleanor Rigby’, it seems as once deeply personal – evoking John and Paul’s early lives in Liverpool – and incredibly panoramic. It is this dual nature that has made its origins such a point of tension over the years, but, here, we’re going to set the record straight and detail the true inspiration behind The Beatles ‘A Day in the Life’.
When John Lennon and Paul McCartney sat down to write ‘A Day in the Life’ Lennon had started experimenting with a couple of new songwriting techniques in an effort to expand his craft, one of which involved taking everyday textual material and using it as inspiration. It was this method that led Lennon in McCartney to sit down, pens in hand, with a copy of the Daily Mail.
After browsing an article about the state of road repairs in Blackburn, which read: “There are 4000 holes in the road in Blackburn Lancashire, one twenty-sixth of a hole per person, according to a council survey. If Blackburn is typical then there are over two million holes in Britain’s roads and 300 000 in London.” This, of course, gave Lennon and McCartney the immortal lyrics: “I read the news today oh boy/ 4000 holes in Blackburn, Lancashire/and though the holes were rather small/ they had to count them all/now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall.”
However, the first story they came across, was far darker. As Lennon later recalled, when they were reading through the paper, they 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.” Lennon’s detachment from the subject is curious, especially considering he and Paul knew the person who had died. That nameless inheritor of the Guinness fortune was Irish socialite Tara Brown, a man Paul later described as “A young boy, lovely guy, very sweet, very gentle, and he’d had a car crash, I think it was in Chelsea, and it had killed him.”
The story inspired the song’s opening line: “I read the news today, oh boy
About a lucky man who made the grade.” After Lennon points out the irony of Brown’s death, he describes the aftermath of the car crash, around which people begin to gather, peering into the caved-in windows: “They’d seen his face before”, Lennon sings. “Nobody was really sure if he was from the House of Lords.”
Of course, Paul has always contested that, when he and John sat down to write ‘A Day in the Life‘ they were thinking of Tara Brown specifically’. Indeed, Lennon himself has said that he “didn’t copy the accident.” Tara, as Lennon notes didn’t blow “his mind out in a car”, but the newspaper article triggered a set of images that led Lennon and McCartney towards that enigmatic verse. I was “in my mind”, Lennon said.