The Atlantic just published this incredible piece by Nicholas Dawidoff that is an essential read for anyone at all interested in the Beatles.
A good summary:
“A Day in the Life” isn’t a song to sing, as are “Eleanor Rigby” (ideal for both car and karaoke), “Hey Jude” (written to soothe John Lennon’s young son, no lullaby works better at children’s bedtime), or “In My Life” (a perennial at weddings and funerals and, I can’t help mentioning, rock’s analog to Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116). Nor is “A Day in the Life” guided by melody like so many Beatles creations. It’s an elaborate production, filled with sophisticated George Martin and Geoff Emerick musical trickery (distortion, echo, dubbing, reverb). An orchestra plays, and then one singer’s voice gives way to another’s—John’s worldly reflections transitioning to Paul’s sketch of domestic memoir, and then back again—before orchestral cataclysm and a final resting place.
And the story behind the famous chord that lasted forever:
And then, after all the chaos and destruction, what next? George Harrison had suggested a fade to humming. But it didn’t work. Paul thought that the song needed firmer resolution. Three Steinway pianos and a harmonium were rolled into action, and at every keyboard the players were instructed to hit the single chord of E major simultaneously and hard, with the sustain foot pedal down, letting it carry as long as possible. There were nine takes. The tone is so big, so capacious and resonant because Martin and Emerick thought to put the recorder on half speed.
I can't stress what a well-written piece this is. Some really insightful lyrical analysis, too.