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The Beatles Songs: Happiness Is a Warm Gun

The history of this classic Beatles song

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The Beatles Songs: Happiness Is a Warm Gun

The original US sheet music for "Happiness is a Warm Gun"

rarebeatles.com

Happiness Is a Warm Gun

Working title: Happiness Is a Warm Gun in Your Hand
Written by: John Lennon (100%)
(credited to Lennon-McCartney)
Recorded: September 24 and 25, 1968 (Studio 2, Abbey Road Studios, London, England)
Mixed: September 25 and 26, October 15, 1968
Length: 2:42
Takes: 65

Musicians:

John Lennon: lead and backing vocals, rhythm guitar (1965 Epiphone E230TD(V) Casino)
Paul McCartney: backing vocals, bass guitar (1964 Rickenbacker 4001S)
George Harrison: backing vocals, lead guitar (1968 Fender Rosewood Telecaster)
Ringo Starr: drums (Ludwig), tambourine

Available on: (CDs in bold)

The Beatles (a/k/a "The White Album"; UK: Apple PMC 7067-8; US: Apple SWBO 101; Parlophone CDP 7 46443 2; CDP 7 46444 2)

History:

  • "Happiness is a Warm Gun" remains one of the Beatles' more fascinating songs, functioning as a triple metaphor for heroin addiction, gun worship, and sexual obsession. More than perhaps any other Beatles song, the impetus for its creation is largely due to performance artist Yoko Ono, whom Lennon had become fixated on just before the group's trip to Rishikesh, India for spiritual instruction with the Maharashi Mahesh Yogi. Upon Lennon's return the two began their artistic and romantic relationship, and she was a constant presence in the studio during the recording of the "White Album."
  • Constructed with five separate sections, all in different rhythms and time signatures, the structure of "Happiness" was itself suggested by Ono, who wondered aloud during the recording of "Hey Bulldog" (February 1968) why all Beatles songs stayed in 4/4 time. It was also Yoko who turned Lennon on to heroin around the same time. The final spark in the song's creation came in the studio, when producer George Martin showed John a firearms magazine which featured an article entitled "Happiness is a Warm Gun." (Paul remembers it as an advertisement; John has variously claimed it as an article and as a cover blurb.)
  • The comic strip Peanuts had become quite popular with college-aged kids around 1968, largely because its characters, all children, spoke like neurotic, philosophical, politically and socially aware adults. The strip's big catchphrase had become "Happiness is a Warm Puppy," a simple declaration of love that appealed to the hippie aesthetic. It inspired countless parodies and mutations, including the one in the gun mag. Lennon, however, realized the real implication: "A warm gun means you've just shot something." He set about writing the song soon after.
  • The earliest version of "Happiness" appears on the demos done in late May 1968 at John's Kenwood home in Surrey, and feature only the two middle sections - the "I need a fix" refrain and the "Mother Superior" one. They're joined by Lennon ad-libbing "Yoko Ono, oh no... Yoko Ono, oh yes." But he was stuck for more. Seeking inspiration, he assembled his childhood friends Pete Shotton and Neil Aspinall as well as Beatles PR man Derek Taylor, and after dropping LSD, they began to assemble the jumble of images that became the song's first two sections, a word salad darker than those in John's previous songs "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," "I Am the Walrus," and "Glass Onion":

    She's not a girl who misses much. John, again thinking of Yoko, specifically requested a description of an intelligent, perceptive woman. Taylor remembered this as a saying of his father's.
    She's well-acquainted with the touch of a velvet hand... Derek had met a man in a hotel bar who claimed he always wore moleskin gloves with his girlfriend, leading to heightened sensation during sex.
    ...like a lizard on a windowpane. Taylor, while living in Los Angeles, often saw lizards running quickly over his windows.
    The man in the crowd with the multi-colored mirrors on his hobnail boots. Taylor had read of a Manchester City football hooligan who'd placed mirrors on his shoes to look up ladies' skirts. John added the visual embroidery.
    Lying with his eyes while his hands are busy working overtime. Another news story, this one merely overheard by Taylor, of a man who'd constructed fake arms in order to shoplift from stores without being noticed. In context, Lennon makes this phrase seem much more sexual.
    A soap impression of his wife which he ate... This phrase is lost to history, as no one seems to remember who or what inspired it.
    ...and donated to the National Trust. The National Trust is the institution of the British government that preserves and runs public parks; this metaphor is a filthy joke of John's, for he and his schoolmates often came upon evidence of defecation in those public areas.

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