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"She's Leaving Home"

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"She's Leaving Home", the big McCartney ballad of the Sgt Pepper album, has indisputably become his most discussed contribution to it. If John's "Not A Second Time" had had the 'serious critics' clucking back in the beginning, then this time they were positively enraptured: comparisons with Bach, no less! Whether for the song in itself or for the rich orchestration which accompanied it is another matter.

The arrangement — lush, but never succumbing to the saccharine — was actually the work of Decca Records' Mike Leander, who an impatient Paul called in because George Martin was "too busy". Can't imagine what with!

GM was understandably offended by the move: but not enough to refuse to conduct the ten-piece strings ensemble, nor to produce the song. The harpist, Sheila Bromberg, was the first (and one of very few) female performers to appear on a Beatles' track. There were no instrumental contributions from any of the band.

Like various other Pepper songs, the initial inspiration had come from a news item, reporting the tale of a teenage girl runaway looking for kicks. What really made it special, however, was John's contribution to what could have been just another of Paul's 'everyday stories of everyday folk'. His deadpan "Greek Chorus" from the parents' point-of-view transcends it from the mundane, combining with the straight narrative to create a perceptive reflection on the ever-widening generation gap:

She...
(What did we do that was wrong?)
Is having...
(We didn't know it was wrong)
Fun...
Fun is the one thing that money can't buy

It truly is testimony to the great Len/Mac writing partnership that, despite their rapidly diverging perspectives and approaches, they could still meld their ideas into such a cohesive entity and were still prepared to lend one another a hand to ensure maximum quality. Their distinct vocal styles similarly combine to spine-tingling effect, John's sotto voce overlapping impeccably with Paul's exquisitely sustained high notes in the refrains.

And it was truly a privilege to witness the latter still capable of hitting — and holding — them nearly four decades later...

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