John's Take On Beatles Songs (from his Playboy interview)
In a 1980 Playboy interview with David Sheff months before his death, John spoke about his days with the Beatles, being a 'housewife', and baking bread among other things. Near the end of the interview, Sheff began to ask John about a number of Beatles songs. Here's John's take:
Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds
My son Julian came in one day with a picture he painted about a school friend of his named Lucy. He had sketched in some stars in the sky and called it "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," Simple. The images were from "Alice in Wonderland." It was Alice in the boat. She is buying an egg and it turns into Humpty Dumpty. The woman serving in the shop turns into a sheep and the next minute they are rowing in a rowing boat somewhere and I was visualizing that. There was also the image of the female who would someday come save me -- a "girl with kaleidoscope eyes" who would come out of the sky. It turned out to be Yoko, though I hadn't met Yoko yet. So maybe it should be "Yoko in the Sky with Diamonds."
In My Life
It was the first song I wrote that was consciously about my life. [Sings] "There are places I'll remember/all my life though some have changed. . . ." Before, we were just writing songs a la Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly -- pop songs with no more thought to them than that. The words were almost irrelevant. "In My Life" started out as a bus journey from my house at 250 Menlove Avenue to town, mentioning all the places I could recall. I wrote it all down and it was boring. So I forgot about it and laid back and these lyrics started coming to me about friends and lovers of the past. Paul helped with the middle eight.
Well, we all know about "Yesterday." I have had so much accolade for "Yesterday." That is Paul's song, of course, and Paul's baby. Well done. Beautiful -- and I never wished I had written it.
With A Little Help from My Friends
This is Paul, with a little help from me. "What do you see when you turn out the light/I can't tell you, but I know it's mine ..." is mine.
I Am The Walrus
The first line was written on one acid trip one weekend. The second line was written on the next acid trip the next weekend, and it was filled in after I met Yoko. Part of it was putting down Hare Krishna. All these people were going on about Hare Krishna, Allen Ginsberg in particular. The reference to "Element'ry penguin" is the elementary, naive attitude of going around chanting, "Hare Krishna," or putting all your faith in any one idol. I was writing obscurely, a la Dylan, in those days. It actually was fantastic in stereo, but you never hear it all. There was too much to get on. It was too messy a mix. One track was live BBC Radio - Shakespeare or something - I just fed in whatever lines came in. (The Walrus itself)'s from "The Walrus and the Carpenter." "Alice in Wonderland." To me, it was a beautiful poem. It never dawned on me that Lewis Carroll was commenting on the capitalist and social system. I never went into that bit about what he really meant, like people are doing with the Beatles' work. Later, I went back and looked at it and realized that the walrus was the bad guy in the story and the carpenter was the good guy. I thought, Oh, sh-t, I picked the wrong guy. I should have said, "I am the carpenter." But that wouldn't have been the same, would it? [Singing] "I am the carpenter...."
She Came in Through the Bathroom Window
That was written by Paul when we were in New York forming Apple, and he first met Linda. Maybe she's the one who came in the window. She must have. I don't know. Somebody came in the window.
I Feel Fine
That's me, including the guitar lick with the first feedback ever recorded. I defy anybody to find an earlier record - unless it is some old blues record from the Twenties -- with feedback on it.
When I'm Sixty-Four
Paul completely. I would never even dream of writing a song like that. There are some areas I never think about and that is one of them.
A Day in the Life
Just as it sounds: I was reading the paper one day and I noticed two stories. One was the Guinness heir who killed himself in a car. That was the main headline story. He died in London in a car crash. On the next page was a story about 4000 holes in Blackburn, Lancashire. In the streets, that is. They were going to fill them all. Paul's contribution was the beautiful little lick in the song "I'd love to turn you on." I had the bulk of the song and the words, but he contributed this little lick floating around in his head that he couldn't use for anything. I thought it was a damn good piece of work.
I Wanna Be Your Man
Paul and I finished that one off for the Stones. We were taken down by Brian (Epstein) to meet them at the club where they were playing in Richmond. They wanted a song and we went to see what kind of stuff they did. Paul had this bit of a song and we played it roughly for them and they said, "Yeah, OK, that's our style." But it was only really a lick, so Paul and I went off in the corner of the room and finished the song off while they were all sitting there, talking. We came back and Mick and Keith said, "Jesus, look at that. They just went over there and wrote it." You know, right in front of their eyes. We gave it to them. It was a throwaway. Ringo sang it for us and the Stones did their version. It shows how much importance we put on them. We weren't going to give them anything great, right? That was the Stones' first record. Anyway, Mick and Keith said, "If they can write a song so easily, we should try it." They say it inspired them to start writing together.
Strawberry Fields Forever
Strawberry Fields is a real place. After I stopped living at Penny Lane, I moved in with my auntie who lived in the suburbs in a nice semidetached place with a small garden and doctors and lawyers and that ilk living around - - not the poor slummy kind of image that was projected in all the Beatles stories. In the class system, it was about half a class higher than Paul, George and Ringo, who lived in government-subsidized housing. We owned our house and had a garden. They didn't have anything like that. Near that home was Strawberry Fields, a house near a boys' reformatory where I used to go to garden parties as a kid with my friends Nigel and Pete. We would go there and hang out and sell lemonade bottles for a penny. We always had fun at Strawberry Fields. So that's where I got the name. But I used it as an image. Strawberry Fields forever. [Singing] "(Living is easy) With eyes closed. Misunderstanding all you see." It still goes, doesn't it? Aren't I saying exactly the same thing now? The awareness apparently trying to be expressed is -- let's say in one way I was always hip. I was hip in kindergarten. I was different from the others. I was different all my life. The second verse goes, "No one I think is in my tree." Well, I was too shy and self-doubting. Nobody seems to be as hip as me is what I was saying. Therefore, I must be crazy or a genius -- "I mean it must be high or low," the next line. There was something wrong with me, I thought, because I seemed to see things other people didn't see. I thought I was crazy or an egomaniac for claiming to see things other people didn't see. As a child, I would say, "But this is going on!" and everybody would look at me as if I was crazy. I always was so psychic or intuitive or poetic or whatever you want to call it, that I was always seeing things in a hallucinatory way. It was scary as a child, because there was nobody to relate to. Neither my auntie nor my friends nor anybody could ever see what I did. It was very, very scary and the only contact I had was reading about an Oscar Wilde or a Dylan Thomas or a Vincent van Gogh -- all those books that my auntie had that talked about their suffering because of their visions. Because of what they saw, they were tortured by society for trying to express what they were. I saw loneliness.
The song is for her - and for Yoko.
When "Help!" came out in '65, I was actually crying out for help. Most people think it's just a fast rock-'n'-roll song. I didn't realize it at the time; I just wrote the song because I was commissioned to write it for the movie. But later, I knew I really was crying out for help. It was my fat Elvis period. You see the movie: He - I - is very fat, very insecure, and he's completely lost himself. And I am singing about when I was so much younger and all the rest, looking back at how easy it was. Now I may be very positive - yes, yes - but I also go through deep depressions where I would like to jump out the window, you know. It becomes easier to deal with as I get older; I don't know whether you learn control or, when you grow up, you calm down a little. Anyway, I was fat and depressed and I was crying out for help. In those days, when the Beatles were depressed, we had this little chant. I would yell out, "Where are we going, fellows?" They would say, "To the top, Johnny," in pseudo-American voices. And I would say, "Where is that, fellows?" And they would say, "To the toppermost of the poppermost." It was some dumb expression from a cheap movie - a la "Blackboard Jungle" - about Liverpool. Johnny was the leader of the gang. The Beatles thing had just gone beyond comprehension. We were smoking marijuana for breakfast. We were well into marijuana and nobody could communicate with us, because we were just all glazed eyes, giggling all the time. In our own world. That was the song, "Help!." I think everything that comes out of a song -- even Paul's songs now, which are apparently about nothing - shows something about yourself.
I'm A Loser
Part of me suspects that I'm a loser and the other part of me thinks I'm God Almighty.
He said it was written about Julian. He knew I was splitting with Cyn and leaving Julian then. He was driving to see Julian to say hello. He had been like an uncle. And he came up with "Hey Jude." But I always heard it as a song to me. Now I'm sounding like one of those fans reading things into it...Think about it: Yoko had just come into the picture. He is saying. "Hey, Jude" - "Hey, John." Subconsciously, he was saying, Go ahead, leave me. On a conscious level, he didn't want me to go ahead. The angel in him was saying. "Bless you." The Devil in him didn't like it at all, because he didn't want to lose his partner.
I was lying on the sofa in our house, listening to Yoko play Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" on the piano. Suddenly, I said, "Can you play those chords backward?" She did, and I wrote "Because" around them. The song sounds like "Moonlight Sonata," too. The lyrics are clear, no bullsh-t, no imagery, no obscure references.
Do You Want To Know A Secret
The idea came from this thing my mother used to sing to me when I was one or two years old, when she was still living with me. It was from a Disney movie: "Do you want to know a secret? Promise not to tell/You are standing by a wishing well." So, with that in my head, I wrote the song and just gave it to George to sing. I thought it would be a good vehicle for him, because it had only three notes and he wasn't the best singer in the world. He has improved a lot since then; but in those days, his ability was very poor. I gave it to him just to give him a piece of the action. That's another reason why I was hurt by his book. I even went to the trouble of making sure he got the B side of a Beatles single, because he hadn't had a B side of one until "Do You Want to Know a Secret?" "Something" was the first time he ever got an A side, because Paul and I always wrote both sides. That wasn't because we were keeping him out but simply because his material was not up to scratch. I made sure he got the B side of "Something," too, so he got the cash. Those little things he doesn't remember. I always felt bad that George and Ringo didn't get a piece of the publishing. When the opportunity came to give them five percent each of Maclen, it was because of me they got it. It was not because of Klein and not because of Paul but because of me. When I said they should get it, Paul couldn't say no. I don't get a piece of any of George's songs or Ringo's. I never asked for anything for the contributions I made to George's songs like "Taxman." Not even the recognition. And that is why I might have sounded resentful about George and Ringo, because it was after all those things that the attitude of "John has forsaken us" and "John is tricking us" came out -- which is not true.
Happiness Is A Warm Gun
No, it's not about heroin. A gun magazine was sitting there with a smoking gun on the cover and an article that I never read inside called "Happiness Is a Warm Gun." I took it right from there. I took it as the terrible idea of just having shot some animal...it was at the beginning of my relationship with Yoko and I was very sexually oriented then. When we weren't in the studio, we were in bed...I call Yoko Mother or Madam just in an offhand way. The rest doesn't mean anything. It's just images of her.
Across the Universe
The Beatles didn't make a good record of "Across the Universe." I think subconsciously we - I thought Paul subconsciously tried to destroy my great songs. We would play experimental games with my great pieces, like "Strawberry Fields," which I always felt was badly recorded. It worked, but it wasn't what it could have been. I allowed it, though. We would spend hours doing little, detailed cleaning up on Paul's songs, but when it came to mine - especially a great song like "Strawberry Fields" or "Across the Universe" - somehow an atmosphere of looseness and experimentation would come up. Subconscious sabotage. I was too hurt...Paul will deny it, because he has a bland face and will say this doesn't exist. This is the kind of thing I'm talking about where I was always seeing what was going on and began to think, Well, maybe I'm paranoid. But it is not paranoid. It is the absolute truth. The same thing happened to "Across the Universe." The song was never done properly. The words stand, luckily.
It is a diary form of writing. All that "I used to be cruel to my woman, I beat her and kept her apart from the things that she loved" was me. I used to be cruel to my woman, and physically - any woman. I was a hitter. I couldn't express myself and I hit. I fought men and I hit women. That is why I am always on about peace, you see. It is the most violent people who go for love and peace. Everything's the opposite. But I sincerely believe in love and peace. I am not violent man who has learned not to be violent and regrets his violence. I will have to be a lot older before I can face in public how I treated women as a youngster.
We recorded the song twice. The Beatles were getting really tense with one another. I did the slow version and I wanted it out as a single: as a statement of the Beatles' position on Vietnam and the Beatles' position on revolution. For years, on the Beatle tours, Epstein had stopped us from saying anything about Vietnam or the war. And he wouldn't allow questions about it. But on one tour, I said, "I am going to answer about the war. We can't ignore it." I absolutely wanted the Beatles to say something. The first take of "Revolution" -- well, George and Paul were resentful and said it wasn't fast enough. Now, if you go into details of what a hit record is and isn't maybe. But the Beatles could have afforded to put out the slow, understandable version of "Revolution" as a single. Whether it was a gold record or a wooden record. But because they were so upset about the Yoko period and the fact that I was again becoming as creative and dominating as I had been in the early days, after lying fallow for a couple of years, it upset the apple cart. I was awake again and they couldn't stand it? (Yoko) inspired all this creation in me. It wasn't that she inspired the songs; she inspired me. The statement in "Revolution" was mine. The lyrics stand today. It's still my feeling about politics. I want to see the plan. That is what I used to say to Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin. Count me out if it is for violence. Don't expect me to be on the barricades unless it is with flowers.