I Am the Walrus


I Am the Walrus
"I Am the Walrus"

Cover artwork for the single, as used in Germany
Single by The Beatles
from the album Magical Mystery Tour
A-side "Hello, Goodbye"
Released 24 November 1967
Format 7"
Recorded 5 September 1967,
EMI Studios, London
Genre Psychedelic rock
Length 4:33
Label Parlophone
Writer(s) Lennon–McCartney
Producer George Martin
The Beatles singles chronology
"All You Need Is Love"
(1967)
"Hello, Goodbye" / "I Am the Walrus"
(1967)
"Lady Madonna"
(1968)
Magical Mystery Tour track listing

"I Am the Walrus" is a 1967 song by The Beatles, written by John Lennon and credited to Lennon–McCartney.[1] Lennon claimed he wrote the first two lines on separate acid trips.[2] The song was in the Beatles' 1967 television film and album Magical Mystery Tour, and was the B-side to the #1 hit "Hello, Goodbye".

Lennon composed the song by combining three songs he had been working on. When he learned that a teacher at his old primary school was having his students analyse Beatles' lyrics, he added a verse of nonsense words.[3]

The walrus is a reference to the walrus in Lewis Carroll's poem "The Walrus and the Carpenter" (from the book Through the Looking-Glass). Lennon expressed dismay upon belatedly realising that the walrus was a villain in the poem.[4]

Contents

Origins

The genesis of the lyrics is found in three song ideas that Lennon was working on, the first of which was inspired by hearing a police siren at his home in Weybridge; Lennon wrote the lines "Mis-ter cit-y police-man" to the rhythm of the siren. The second idea was a short rhyme about Lennon sitting in his garden, while the third was a nonsense lyric about sitting on a corn flake. Unable to finish the ideas as three different songs, he combined them into one.

Lennon received a letter from a pupil at Quarry Bank High School, which he had attended. The writer mentioned that the English master was making his class analyse Beatles' lyrics. (Lennon wrote an answer, dated 1 September 1967, which was auctioned by Christie's of London in 1992). Lennon, amused that a teacher was putting so much effort into understanding the Beatles' lyrics, wrote the most confusing lyrics he could. Lennon's friend and former fellow member of The Quarrymen, Peter Shotton, was visiting, and Lennon asked Shotton about a playground nursery rhyme they sang as children.

Shotton remembered:

"Yellow matter custard, green slop pie,
All mixed together with a dead dog's eye,
Slap it on a butty, ten foot thick,
Then wash it all down with a cup of cold sick".[5]

Lennon borrowed a couple of words, added the three unfinished ideas and the result was "I Am the Walrus". The Beatles' official biographer Hunter Davies was present while the song was being written and wrote an account in his 1968 biography of the Beatles. Lennon remarked to Shotton, "Let the fuckers work that one out."[6] Shotton was also responsible for suggesting to Lennon to change the lyric "waiting for the man to come" to "waiting for the van to come". The song's opening line, "I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together" is based on the song "Marching To Pretoria," which contains the lyric, "I'm with you and you're with me and we are all together."[7]

All the chords are major chords or seventh chords, and all the musical letters of the alphabet (A, B, C, D, E, F and G) are used. The song ends with a chord progression built on ascending and descending lines in the bass and strings, repeated over and over as the song fades. Musicologist Alan W. Pollack analyses: "The chord progression of the outro itself is a harmonic Moebius strip with scales in bassline and top voice that move in contrary motion."[8] The bassline descends stepwise A, G, F, E, D, C, and B, while the strings' part rises A, B, C, D, E, F#, G: this sequence repeats as the song fades, with the strings rising higher on each iteration. Pollack also notes that the repeated cell is seven bars long, which means that a different chord begins each four-bar phrase.

Lennon explained much of the song to Playboy in 1980:[2]

  • "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... I'd seen Allen Ginsberg and some other people who liked Dylan and Jesus going on about Hare Krishna. It was Ginsberg, in particular, I was referring to. The words "Element'ry penguin" meant that it's naïve to just go around chanting Hare Krishna or putting all your faith in one idol. In those days I was writing obscurely, a la Dylan."
  • "It never dawned on me that Lewis Carroll was commenting on the capitalist 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, shit, I picked the wrong guy. I should have said, 'I am the carpenter.' But that wouldn't have been the same, would it? [Sings, laughing] 'I am the carpenter....'"

Recording

"I Am the Walrus" was the first studio recording made after the death of the Beatles' manager Brian Epstein in August 1967. The basic backing track featuring the Beatles was released in 1996 on Anthology 2. George Martin arranged and added orchestral accompaniment that included violins, cellos, horns, clarinet and a 16-piece choir. Paul McCartney said that Lennon gave instructions to Martin as to how he wished the orchestration to be scored, including singing most of the parts as a guide. A large group of professional studio vocalists named The Mike Sammes Singers, took part in the recording as well, variously singing "Ho-ho-ho, hee-hee-hee, ha-ha-ha", "oompah, oompah, stick it up your jumper!", "everybody's got one" and making a series of shrill whooping noises.[9]The song also features another Beatles song with an unrelated coda in the shape of new parts of strings, new choruses and the sampling of a radio in its fade-out.[10]

The dramatic reading in the mix towards the end of the song is a few lines of Shakespeare's King Lear (Act IV, Scene VI), which were added to the song direct from an AM radio receiving the broadcast of the play on the BBC Third Programme.[11]

Different versions

In the original (1967) stereo release, at around two minutes through the song, the mix changes from true stereo to "fake stereo". This came about because the radio broadcast had been added 'live', off-air, into the mono mix-down and so was unavailable for inclusion in the stereo mix; hence, fake stereo from the mono mix was created for this portion of the song.[12]

The mono version opens with a four-beat chord while the stereo mix features six beats on the initial chord. The four-beat-only-intro is also included on a different stereo mix (overseen by George Martin) for the most recent home video version of Magical Mystery Tour, especially the US Magical Mystery Tour album. The US mono single mix includes an extra bar of music before the words "yellow matter custard"; an early, overdub-free mix of the song released on The Beatles Anthology 2 reveals John singing the lyrics "Yellow mat -" too early—this was edited out. A hybrid version prepared for the 1980 US Rarities LP combines the six-beat opening with the extra bar of music that precedes the words "yellow matter custard" (from the aforementioned US mono single mix).[13]

A full stereo digital remix was done for the Cirque du Soleil show Love and album of the same name, released in 2006. Producers George and Giles Martin were allowed access to early generations of the original master tapes. Musical parts that had previously been mixed together were now available as separate elements. These tracks were transferred digitally and lined up to create new multi-track sources from which a new mix would be made.

A version of the song performed by Bono (of the band U2) can be seen in the 2007 Beatles-inspired musical movie, Across the Universe, directed by Julie Taymor. The scene is more of a psychedelic trip that has no meaning … much as Lennon stated was the original inspiration for the song.

Personnel

Reception

Critical reception at the time of the track's release was largely positive:

  • "John growls the nonsense (and sometimes suggestive) lyric, backed by a complex scoring incorporating violins and cellos. You need to hear it a few times before you can absorb it." - Derek Johnson[14]
  • "Into the world of Alice in Wonderland now and you can almost visualise John crouching on a deserted shore singing "I am the Walrus" to some beautiful strings from far away on the horizon and a whole bagful of Beatle sounds, like a ringing doorbell and someone sawing a plank of wood. A fantastic track which you will need to live with for a while to fully appreciate." - Nick Logan[15]

Interpretation

Although it has been reported that Lennon wrote "I am the Walrus" to confuse those who tried to interpret his songs, there have been many attempts to analyse the meaning of the lyrics.[16][17]

Seen in the Magical Mystery Tour film singing the song, Lennon, apparently, is the walrus; on the track-list of the accompanying soundtrack EP/LP however, underneath "I Am the Walrus" are printed the words ' "No you're not!" said Little Nicola' (in the film, Nicola is a little girl who keeps contradicting everything the other characters say). Lennon returned to the subject in the lyrics of three of his subsequent songs: in the 1968 Beatles song "Glass Onion" he sings "now here's another clue for you all — the walrus was Paul", [18]; in the third verse of "Come Together" he sings the line "he bag production, he got walrus gumboot", and in his 1970 solo song "God", admits "I was the walrus, but now I'm John."

Eric Burdon, lead singer of The Animals, claims to be the 'Eggman' mentioned in the song's lyric. Burdon was known as 'Eggs' to his friends, the nickname originating from his fondness for breaking eggs over naked women's bodies. Burdon's biography mentions such an affair taking place in the presence of John Lennon, who shouted "Go on, go get it, Eggman..."[19]

Other recordings

In 2004, Styx performed the song at Eric Clapton's Crossroads Guitar Festival and released the live version a single. It reached #10 on the Mediabase Classic Rock charts.[20]

Notes

  1. ^ Unterberger 2007.
  2. ^ a b Sheff 2000, p. 184.
  3. ^ About The Beatles 2008.
  4. ^ Sheff 2000, p. 185.
  5. ^ Davies 2002.
  6. ^ The Beatles Bible 2009.
  7. ^ "I Am The Walrus by The Beatles". Songfacts. http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=138. Retrieved 25 May 2011. 
  8. ^ Pollack 1996.
  9. ^ Lewisohn 1988, p. 68.
  10. ^ page 154 The Foundations of Rock: From "Blue Suede Shoes" to "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" By Walter Everett
  11. ^ Lewisohn 1988, p. 128.
  12. ^ Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of the Beatles. Books.google.com. http://books.google.com/books?id=WOk8TP8o018C&pg=PT272&dq=%22i+am+the+walrus%22%2B+mono&hl=en&ei=pqosTcvzLMPtnQfDzYmGDQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=3&ved=0CC8Q6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=%22i%20am%20the%20walrus%22%2B%20mono&f=false. Retrieved 2011-08-21. 
  13. ^ Beatlesongs. Books.google.com. http://books.google.com/books?id=hksjpvfowgMC&pg=PA199&dq=%22i+am+the+walrus%22%2B+rarities&hl=en&ei=u6ssTebbJ4_tnQfBw4DeCQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=9&ved=0CEwQ6AEwCDgK#v=onepage&q=%22i%20am%20the%20walrus%22%2B%20rarities&f=false. Retrieved 2011-08-21. 
  14. ^ Johnson 1967.
  15. ^ Logan 1967.
  16. ^ ""I Am The Walrus": What it means". Recmusicbeatles.com. http://www.recmusicbeatles.com/public/files/saki/iatw.html. Retrieved 2011-08-21. 
  17. ^ "Across the Universe More Fun Stuff - I Am The Walrus - An Interpretation". Webweaverdesign.ca. http://www.webweaverdesign.ca/beatles/other/walrus.html#interpretation. Retrieved 2011-08-21. 
  18. ^ Aldridge 1990, p. 145.
  19. ^ Miles 1997, p. 357.
  20. ^ Encyclopedia.com 2004.

References


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