A Day in the Life’
From The New York Times:
The song that closes “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” and is, for many listeners, the most astonishing track on an astonishing album, actually began as a pair of unrelated songs: The melancholy outer verses were Lennon’s, the brighter central section was Mr. McCartney’s. What transformed these fragments into a cohesive whole is a touch of avant-garde string scoring by Mr. Martin. By the time the Beatles set to work on the track, on Jan. 19, 1967, they and Mr. Martin had mapped out its structure. Two of Lennon’s verses would open the song, followed by Mr. McCartney’s verse, which would lead back to final thoughts from Lennon. Between the two composers’ sections, though, the band would vamp for 24 bars, and there would be another long vamp after the closing verse. How these would be filled — well, Mr. Martin would figure that out later.
For several weeks, the group tweaked the main parts of the song, polishing the vocals, drums and bass, adding extra percussion parts, and trying to imagine what should occupy those long vamped sections. Mr. McCartney thought an orchestral section would be good, but left the question of what that should entail to his producer. Mr. Martin’s solution was to take a page out of the playbooks of classical composers like John Cage and Krzysztof Penderecki, who at the time were creating works in which chance played a role. Mr. Martin hired 40 symphonic musicians for a session on Feb. 10, and when they turned up, they found on their stands a 24-bar score that had the lowest notes on their instruments in the first bar, and an E major chord in the last. Between them, the musicians were instructed to slide slowly from their lowest to highest notes, taking care not to move at the same pace as the musicians around them.
The sound was magnificently chaotic, and it became more so once Mr. Martin combined the four takes he recorded (some with Mr. McCartney on the podium, some conducted by Mr. Martin himself). It was a brilliant solution: as Lennon’s voice faded into the echoic distance, the orchestra began its buildup, ending sharply on the chord that begins Mr. McCartney’s section.
James Taylor was one of the first artists to be recorded by The Beatles at the Abbey Road studio, for their new record label, Apple Records. James was virtually unknown in the US at the time, with a serious heroin problem, but soon after the album's release, his voice and songs were everywhere, part of the new introspective singer/songwriter renaissance led by Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Jackson Browne and others. His voice and his lyrics were very personal and very clear and, it seemed, exactly what the culture needed in a very dark time.
This is from his concert at BBC Studios in 1970. It is approximately thirty minutes long and, unfortunately, cuts out during the final tune. But it's as glorious and fresh as it was then, no matter how many times you've heard these songs, and no matter how done you think you are with James Taylor by now. There really hadn't been anything quite like this before, at least to those of us who were his contemporaries.