Lecture: “A Day in the Life”: The Beatles and the BBC, 1967


November 1, 2011 - 3:00pm

Gordon Thompson, Professor of Music at Skidmore College

In May 1967, the Beatles unveiled their landmark album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band on the same day that British newspapers carried the BBC announcement that the band would represent the United Kingdom in the world’s first global television broadcast.  Simultaneously, internal correspondence at the BBC reveals that censors had reached a decision to ban the recording, “A Day in the Life” believing that the song promoted drug use.  The composers John Lennon and Paul McCartney expressed surprise: they had not written a song expressly about drug use.  This episode in music history reveals how the interaction of culture, politics, and semiotics conspired to block the broadcast of one of the most important recordings of the twentieth century.

Gordon Thompson is Professor of Music at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York where he teaches classes on the music of India, British popular music in the sixties, and ethnomusicology.  He is the incoming Newsletter editor for the Society for Ethnomusicology and the web editor for the Society for Asian Music.  He is the author of Please Please Me: Sixties British Pop, Inside Out (Oxford), articles on the traditional musics of Gujarati-speaking Western India and the music of the Beatles, and entries on the classical music of India for the Encyclopedia of India (Schirmer) and on British pop for The Garland Concise Encyclopedia of World Music.  In addition, he contributes a monthly blog for Oxford University Press on British pop and on education.  He is currently working on a book about the processes underlying the creation of the Beatles’ recording catalogue.  His talk at the University of Pittsburgh derives from an article that will appear in 2012 in the Oxford Handbook on Music Censorship.

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