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The Beatles Songs: Doctor Robert

The history of this classic Beatles song

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The Beatles Songs: Doctor Robert

Freymann's 1983 autobiography

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Doctor Robert

Written by: John Lennon (100%)
(credited to Lennon-McCartney)
Recorded: April 17 and 19, 1965 (Studio 2, Abbey Road Studios, London, England)
Mixed: May 12 and 20, June 21, 1965
Length: 2:14
Takes: 7

Musicians:

John Lennon: lead vocals, rhythm guitar (1965 Epiphone E230TD(V) Casino), harmonium (Mannborg)
Paul McCartney: harmony vocals, bass guitar (1964 Rickenbacker 4001S)
George Harrison: harmony vocals, lead guitar (1964 Rickenbacker "Fire-glo" 360-12), maracas
Ringo Starr: drums (Ludwig)

Available on: (CDs in bold)
Revolver (UK: UK: Parlophone PMC 7009; PCS 7009; US: Capitol (S)T 2576; Parlophone CDP 7 46441 2)
"Yesterday"... And Today (US: Capitol (S)T 2553)

History:

  • Like "She Said She Said," (and unlike "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds" or "Yellow Submarine"), "Doctor Robert" is a true Beatles drug song, a sarcastic little ditty about a doctor who procures his clients some rather illicit substances as "medication."
  • There have been several theories about the identity of "Doctor Robert." Some thought it was a reference to Bob Dylan, a "Robert" who first turned the Beatles on to marijuana. It was also speculated to be about famed London art dealer Robert Fraser, who was well-known as a source of various pills for rock stars and socialites. Still others pegged down one of Andy Warhol's favorite "speed doctors," a Manhattan physician whom Edie Sedgwick's biographer identified using a fake name, "Charles Roberts." Another candidate is Dr. John Riley, the band's dentist, who dosed the band without their knowledge by slipping LSD into their coffee at a 1965 dinner party. A character in Aldous Huxley's 1962 psychedelic work of fiction Island, a doctor who regularly prescribed LSD for his patients, was named "Dr. Robert of Pala." Lennon muddied the issue further by claiming he was Dr. Robert in a 1980 interview: "I was the one that carried all the pills on tour."
  • Paul McCartney, however, claims the real inspiration was Dr. Robert Freymann, a "speed doctor" on East 78th St. in Manhattan who regularly injected his famous clientele with amphetamines to get them through their day (or night). Most historians tend to agree with this explanation; everyone from Jackie Kennedy to Charlie Parker came for the good doctor's shots of Vitamin B-12 laced with speed. John's lyric, however, claims he "works for the National Health," which would make Dr. Robert a Brit, but this may have just been another example of Lennon's wordplay.
  • The recording of "Doctor Robert" was perhaps the quickest and simplest of all the Revolver tracks. On April 17, the basic track was laid down with John on guitar, Paul and Ringo in their usual places, and George on maracas. After seven attempts, the band had a keeper, to which John added harmonium and George lead; on the 19th, lead and harmony vocals were recorded by John, Paul, and George.
  • John himself has recalled that Paul may have come up with the ethereal "Well, well, well" bridge, but most agree the song is almost all John's brainchild.

Trivia:

  • The original take has a solo that goes on for 43 seconds; it occurs just before the first "Well, well, well" refrain. In mono the edit is noticeable. You can hear the Revolver recording being faded just before it falls apart entirely.
  • Freymann, who authored a 1983 autobiography called What's So Bad About Feeling Good?, was ruined by the US government, which cracked down on amphetamine distribution in the early 70s after a series of deaths and an increasing number of addicts. Freymann, who later said that speed was "a good drug" unfortunately "killed" by addicts, lost his medical license in 1975. He died in 1987.
  • "Doctor Robert" may well be the first amphetamine song in rock history; a few months after it was recorded, the Rolling Stones released their own "legal" drug song, "Mother's Little Helper," but it's subject matter was housewives hooked on barbiturates (or "downers"), while this track was specifically about "uppers."

Covered by: Giacomo Bondi, Bozo Allegro

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