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The Beatles Songs: Blue Jay Way

The history of this classic Beatles song

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The Beatles Songs: Blue Jay Way

The house where George Harrison wrote "Blue Jay Way," with the organ on the landing

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Blue Jay Way

Written by: George Harrison
Recorded: September 6-7, October 6, 1967 (Studio 2, Abbey Road Studios, London, England)
Mixed: October 12 and November 7, 1967
Length: 3:50
Takes: 3

Musicians:

John Lennon: backing vocals, tambourine
Paul McCartney: backing vocals, bass guitar (1964 Rickenbacker 4001S)
George Harrison: lead and backing vocals, organ (Hammond RT-3)
Ringo Starr: lead vocals, drums (Ludwig)
Unknown musician: cello

Available on: (CDs in bold)

Magical Mystery Tour
(UK: Parlophone MMT1 (mono), SMMT1 (stereo) (EP); Capitol MAL 2835 (mono), Capitol SMAL 2835 (stereo); UK: Parlophone CDP 7 48062 2, US: Capitol C1-48062, remastered: Apple/Parlophone 0946 3 82465 2 7)

History:

  • When George Harrison and his wife Pattie flew to Los Angeles on August 1, 1967, to visit his sister-in-law, he had no place to stay, so he ended up occupying a modest but expensive home being rented by entertainment attorney Ludwig Gerber (a friend of band attorney Robert Fitzpatrick). While Gerber vacationed in Hawaii, George enjoyed his temporary home situated in a cul-de-sac on a hill above the city's famed Sunset Strip. Wanting company, Harrison called Beatles PR man Derek Taylor, who assured him he could find the house even if he had to ask a policeman for directions. However, just as in the first line of the song, there was a fog upon L.A., and so Derek and his wife, Joan, ran very late indeed. Noticing a Hammond S6 organ on a stairway landing, Harrison sat down and to pass the time wrote what would become "Blue Jay Way," named after the street the house was on.
  • Recording for this song was a very simple affair, beginning on September 6, 1967. After work was mostly completed on "I Am The Walrus" and Paul had made his famous demo of "The Fool on the Hill," the basic track was laid down in one take, with drums, bass, and George creating an Indian-style drone on the studio's similar Hammond organ. The next day, John, Paul, and George added strange, ghostly backing vocals. On October 6, work was completed when John added some tambourine and an unknown studio cellist sawed away for a very "Strawberry Fields Forever"-like effect. Most notably, the entire track was then run backwards and recorded, then this new track was embedded deep in the mix for an even stranger psychedelic feel. The final touch came during mixing, when the song's various parts were played back on two different tape machines at very slightly different speeds, producing a phasing effect on just about every element of the recording and making it seem appropriately... foggy.

Trivia:

  • In the Magical Mystery Tour movie segment of "Blue Jay Way," George is seen "playing" a chalk drawing of an organ, which is in itself a film that the entire cast (including George) watch before the "strip club" segment. At the end of the clip, the action freezes and the song ends abruptly: this is because the MMT bus, which is seen approaching George at the end, was originally scripted to run into him!
  • George and the backing vocalists sing "don't be long" a total of 29 times during the course of the song.
  • The mono mix uses almost none of the backwards track.
  • As with the "Abbey Road" and "Penny Lane" signs, "Blue Jay Way" had to be painted on the curb of the Los Angeles neighborhood where the house stood, because excited fans kept stealing the street sign. All the streets in this neighborhood were named after birds.
  • The house in question still exists, located at 1567 Blue Jay Way, although it's been remodeled a bit. Its excellent view and secluded location have made it appealing to famous musicians looking to enjoy some anonymity in a rented house; Paul Simon wrote "Bridge Over Troubled Water" in the home, and also recorded some percussion for Simon and Garfunkel's "Cecilia" while there. The organ which George used is still on the landing, but no longer played -- the house's current owner reports that it smokes when plugged in.
  • Toronto's Rogers Centre, where the Blue Jays of baseball play, named its street Blue Jays Way in honor of the song.

Covered by: Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Secret Machines, Tracy Bonham, Colin Newman, Borbetomagus, Dan Bern, Rodney Graham, Dog Age, Bud Shank

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