Why the BBC Wasn’t ‘Turned On’ by the Beatles’ ‘A Day in the Life’
These new details arrive as the group prepares an expanded reissue of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which includes “A Day in the Life” as its finale. BBC director of sound broadcasting Frank Gillard addressed the note to EMI president Joseph Lockwood on May 23, 1967.
“We have listened to it over and over again with great care,” Gillard wrote, “and we cannot avoid coming to the conclusion that the words ‘I’d love to turn you on,’ followed by that mounting montage of sound, could have a rather sinister meaning.”
John Lennon later revealed that “A Day in the Life” was actually inspired by a series of seemingly unrelated moments in his own life: Socialite Tara Browne’s death in a traffic accident, Lennon’s acting turn in the Richard Lester film How I Won The War and another newspaper account about potholes found scattered about roadways in Blackburn, Lancashire.
The BBC didn’t specifically rebut claims like that, instead pointing to how the song’s lyrics might be perceived – specifically a phrase that had recently moved into the vernacular with youths of that era.
“The recording may have been made in innocence and good faith,” Gillard added. “But we must take account of the interpretation that many young people would inevitably put upon it. ‘Turned on’ is a phrase which can be used in many different circumstances, but it is currently much in vogue in the jargon of the drug addicts.”
The Beatles will reissue Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band on May 26. The expanded edition includes two early takes on “A Day in the Life,” as well as a separate track focusing on the orchestral overdub. The thunderous final chord is also explored through several takes.
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