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I Am The Walrus

The history of this classic Beatles song


The original US 45 sleeve for

The original US 45 sleeve for "I Am The Walrus"

source: ebay.com

I Am The Walrus

Written by: John Lennon (100%) (credited as Lennon-McCartney)
Recorded: September 5-6, 27-28, 1967 (Studio 2, Abbey Road Studios, London, England)
Mixed: September 5-6, 28-29, 1967; November 6, 17, 1967
Length: 4:35
Takes: 17
Musicians: John Lennon: lead vocals, electric piano (Fender Rhodes)
Paul McCartney: harmony vocals, bass guitar (1964 Rickenbacker 4001S)
George Harrison: harmony vocals, tambourine
Ringo Starr: drums (Ludwig)
Sidney Sax: violin
Jack Rothstein: violin
Ralph Elman: violin
Andrew McGee: violin
Jack Greene: violin
Louis Stevens: violin
John Jezzard: violin
Jack Richards: violin
Lionel Ross: cello
Eldon Fox: cello
Bram Martin: cello
Terry Weil: cello
Gordon Lewin: clarinet
Neil Sanders: horn
Tony Tunstall: horn
Morris Miller: horn
The Mike Sammes Singers: backing vocals
First released: November 24, 1967 (UK: Parlophone R5655), November 27, 1967 (US: Capitol 2056); b-side to "Hello Goodbye"
Available on: (CDs in bold)
  • Magical Mystery Tour (UK: Parlophone PCTC 255, US: Capitol (S)MAL 2835, Parlophone CDP 7 48062 2)
  • The Beatles 1967-1970 (UK: Apple PCSP 718, US: Apple SKBO 3404, Apple CDP 0777 7 97039 2 0)
Highest chart position: US: 58 (December 2, 1967)
  • Often considered John Lennon's masterpiece, this song was constructed by himself alone, with no band input, from several different sources. While at the piano in his Weybridge, London home during the fall of 1967, John heard a police car's siren outside his window and, liking what he heard, began playing along to it, thus creating the opening electric piano riff heard on the recording. At that time he also came up with the line "Mister city p'liceman," which fit thematically and rhythmically. He had two other lyrical ideas as well: the couplet "Sitting on a cornflake / waiting for the van to come," which was eventually used in the third verse, and a piece about "Sitting in an English garden waiting for the sun," which became the song's bridge.
  • The odd nature of the lyrics have their genesis in Lennon's love for absurd wordplay, particularly Lewis Carroll, who is most famous fo r his books Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (1872). However, the main inspiration was a fan letter from Liverpool's Quarry Bank High School, which John had attended from 1952-1957. Apparently one of the headmasters had his students studying Beatles lyrics for "significance"; this amused John so much that he decided to make up a completely nonsensical song for them to figure out. Most of the lyrics were written on the spot, with Lennon turning to old friend Pete Shotton for assistance.
  • The first lines written were the verse about "Yellow matter custard," which came almost directly from a pointedly rude childhood verse John had heard around town as a kid: "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." John changed the first half to "Yellow matter custard / dripping from a dead dog's eye," and went from there. When he finished, Shotton claims John turned to him and remarked gleefully, "Let the f*ckers work that one out, Pete!" (Lennon, however, stated in subsequent interviews that the lyrics were put together over several months and were inspired by a pair of acid trips.)
  • Other phrases seem to have some relevance to outside influences. The opening line "I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together" is almost certainly a parody, unconscious or not, of the British folk song "Marching To Pretoria," whose opening line reads, "I'm with you and you're with me and so we are all together." "Semolina pilchard" is said to be a slap at Detective Sergeant Norman Pilcher of Scotland Yard, notorious in the late Sixties for busting rock stars on trumped-up drug charges; he'd go on to bust John for marijuana possession on October 18, 1968, in Ringo's home at 34 Montague Square, London. John himself confirmed that "elementary penguin singing Hare Krishna" was a slap at the religious, specifically those who believed in one true God. Some have claimed "Goo goo g'joob" is a reference to James Joyce's dense classic Finnegan's Wake (1939), which contains the phrase "googoo goosth" on page 557. While it is known that Lennon had read the book by 1967, having already been told his lyrics were Joycean, there is no evidence that he consciously played upon the phrase.
  • The Walrus symbol itself was taken directly from the Carroll story "The Walrus and the Carpenter" from Looking Glass. It has no meaning in itself, though many Carroll critics have ascribed various social, political and/or religious meanings to the poem.
  • The line "See how they fly like Lucy in the sky" is a direct reference to John's own "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," possibly a further attempt to confuse the issue, as several fans had already insisted that song's title was an acronym for LSD.
  • The basic track for the song was laid down on November 5, 1967, after a week of so for mourning of recently deceased manager Brian Epstein, with John on electric piano. His lead vocal was added the next day, along with the rhythm track; on the 26th and 27th of the month, producer George Martin added horns, strings, woodwinds, and backing vocals by the Mike Sammes singers. John reportedly orchestrated the instruments himself through Martin, but allowed Martin to orchestrate the voices, including the cacophony of conversation that occurs just before the bridge.
  • The Singers were enlisted to sing the "Joker's" laughter ("ho ho ho / hee hee hee / ha ha ha!") and the outro's two simultaneous chants: "Everybody's got one / everybody's got one" and "Oompah, oompah / stick it up your jumper." The meaning of the first phrase is unclear and probably nonsensical, though Lennon later stated it could mean absolutely anything everyone has one of, including private parts. The second phrase is used mainly because, in Liverpudlian accent, it rhymes; to stick something up one's "jumper," or sweater, is a British euphemism for shoving something into one's rear end.
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