a day in the life revisited

Today, June 15, marks the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta.

Perhaps you’d heard.

(You can view a copy of said document at the Canadian Uncivilized Museum, doncha know. Just across the river.)

The days leading up to Magna Carta‘s octocentennial have given many a scribe an excuse to ponder the document’s significance. Depending on whom you trust, it is either a blueprint for democracy, a feminist manifesto, or an outdated and overrated scrap of paper. (After all, you’re only as good as your last charter.)

Scholars prefer to think of it as an item of great influence on our society. Members of Canada’s Senate, perhaps not so much.

The bill, though swiftly ignored and ultimately withdrawn, was nonetheless imbued with great ambition: To temper the absolute power of the monarch and offer a say in matters of state to FIFA executives… or something.

So fair enough. This is one octocentenary worthy of celebration. Indeed, as anniversaries of landmark events in the development of our modern world go, it ranks easily among this week’s top two.

The other, which passed yesterday with a comparative lack of fanfare, saw 50 years since a remarkable day in the life of one of the 20th Century’s most prominent and influential artists. And it too represented a defiant challenge to the supremacy of a supreme leader named John.

Monday, June 14, 1965, represents a high point — perhaps the high point — in the career of a musician and songwriter still very much active five decades later. Between 2:30 and 10:30 p.m. (including a 90-minute dinner break), 22-year-old James Paul McCartney of Liverpool, England, stepped forward to record three recent compositions. The first two, completed during the afternoon session, were performed with backing by his band.

The third, laid down that evening, was a solo effort. And it did rather well for young Mr. McCartney.

The afternoon began with six takes of I’ve Just Seen a Face, a brilliantly breathless ode to love at first sight. Held back for the opening track of a revamped Rubber Soul for the North American market, the song would usher-in The Beatles’ glorious post-Dylan mid-period. At EMI Studios June 14, 1965, it would be a folksy warm-up for another side of Sir Paul as the Little Richard devotee screamed his way through seven takes of I’m Down. A wonderful rocker that would become the closer for The Beatles’ next 14 months’ worth of concerts, I’m Down was nonetheless sentenced to the relative obscurity of 45 b-side-dom — even in product-mad America.

A good day’s work.

But wait, there’s more.

As Ian MacDonald noted in his authoritative recording-sessions handbook Revolution in the Head: “No modern producer would dream of allowing a singer to risk his larynx on a screamer before taping a delicate ballad.”

George Martin did just that. Beatle Paul would have had it no other way.

Thus, the evening session, though a full half-hour longer than the afternoon shift, focused on completing a basic take of a single McCartney song — sans additional Fabs. And for the idle would-be accompanists, it would change everything.

The story of Yesterday‘s genesis has been told by McCartney nearly as many times as his story of John’s encouragement to leave the line “the movement you need is on your shoulder” in Hey Jude. It came to him in a dream; he was sufficiently impressed to doubt its status as an original composition; its working title was Scrambled Eggs; he didn’t want any ‘Mantovani’ strings on it; it is, in essence, the first Beatles solo recording.

All of the above add to the legend. And for the man who later gave us Spies Like UsWonderful Christmas Time and Rockestra Theme, doubting the ability to write a song for the ages like Yesterday is perhaps understandable. Less so, the composer responsible for Maybe I’m AmazedFor No One and Eleanor Rigby.

All of which is to say, nice one, Pauly. Fifty years later, each of those songs remains fresh.

A day after McCartney’s tide-turning sessions, The Beatles returned to the studio. Over the course of nearly four hours, the group completed work on the latest offering by the quartet’s leader. John Lennon would later disown the listless It’s Only Love as a “lousy” song with “abysmal” lyrics. His former songwriting partner has charitably referred to the tune as bland filler material.

Advantage: cute one.

Yesterday is famously alleged to have spawned more cover versions than any song ever written. (Though, in fairness, it had a 40-year headstart on James Blunt’s You’re Beautiful.) Upon its release as a single in the U.S. it catapulted to the top spot, remaining there for four weeks. It was denied such triumph in the UK, where it was not released on a 45 until 11 years later. Even with that lapse, the song wormed its way into the Top 10. Heck, in Poland it was in the Top 10 as recently as five years ago.

No doubt about it. That, dear reader, is a great charter.

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