In the sixties, that phrase [“I’d love to turn you on”] signaled Dr. Timothy Leary and LSD, especially to the BBC, which banned the song because of the drug reference. But with Lennon, who reveled in puns, wordplay, verbal sleight of hand, you could never be so literal. Maybe it’s because I know Lennon was always ahead of his time, but I hear the impulse to use the phrase the way we do now, as an omnibus for stimulation—to turn you on to a book or film, to turn you on sexually, or simply to get you going. (The phrase “blew his mind” is similarly ambiguous, multivalent.) It interests me in all respects that the line, which John called “a beautiful little lick,” was actually Paul’s, that it made Paul think of John, and that, in the song, John sings it to introduce his collaborator, Paul. “Now and then we really turn each other on with a bit of song,” John said much later, thinking back to the moment.
All my life I’ve heard variously that John was the artist and Paul something less […]. The point is, the whole was so much more than the sum of the four independent parts. How could it not have been? And how rare that they all stuck it out as four for so long. The history of rock is full of bands with one shimmering frontman and secondary players. Only the Beatles had two equal and versatile musicians who, beyond their singing, writing, and playing, were also magnetically handsome, photogenic, intelligent, and charming. The nature of such artists is to go it alone at the lead. “A Day in the Life” makes me see how close John and Paul were, how well they understood and appreciated each other as artists, how their songs came from an oscillating process of writerly separation and then joining together, how skillful they were, a little universe of invention—all those vivid images and internal rhymes turned out as casually as woodworkers with a lathe. In this respect, it’s “A Day in the Life” of a songwriting team, working alone, coming together by delivering parts to each other’s houses, helping, suggesting, competing, vitiating, and then improving, pushing each other even as they offer their own view of things.
— Nicholas Dawidoff on ‘A Day In The Life’, c/o In Their Lives: Great Writers on Great Beatles Songs. (2017)