Song facts: I Am the Walrus

In 1967 John Lennon received a letter from a pupil at Quarrybank High School, where John had previously attended as a teenager. The student told John that their English teacher was making them analyse Beatles' lyrics; this spurred John on to write the wacky lyrics in I Am the Walrus.

Lennon wrote the song, which was a mishmash of three song ideas he'd been playing with. Unable to finish each piece separately he combined them together. 

"Walrus is just saying a dream - the words don't mean a lot. People draw so many conclusions and it's ridiculous... What does it really mean, 'I am the eggman'? It could have been the pudding basin for all I care. It's not that serious." - John Lennon
"You know, you just stick a few images together, thread them together, and you call it poetry. Well, maybe it is poetry. But I was just using the mind that wrote In His Own Write to write that song. There was even some live BBC radio on one track, y'know. They were reciting Shakespeare or something and I just fed whatever lines were on the radio into the song." - John Lennon

I Am the Walrus was included in The Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour film and on the album of the same name. It was also released as the B-side to Hello, Goodbye. The song remains one of John Lennon's most diverse and wonderful musical accomplishments and is celebrated by critics and fans alike.

"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, à 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...." - John Lennon

Recording

On September 5th 1967, The Beatles recorded I Am the Walrus at Abbey Road Studios, London. Producer George Martin arranged the orchestral pieces for the track which included: clarinet, violins, horns, cello and a 16-piece choir. The basic backing track was released on Anthology 2 in 1996.

"John worked with George Martin on the orchestration and did some very exciting things with the Mike Sammes Singers... Most of the time they got asked to do Sing Something Simple and all the old songs, but John got them doing all sorts of swoops and phonetic noises. It was a fascinating session. That was John's baby, great one, a really good one." - Paul McCartney
"The idea of using voices was a good one. We got in the Mike Sammes Singers, very commercial people and so alien to John that it wasn't true. But in the score I simply orchestrated the laughs and noises, the whooooooah kind of thing. John was delighted with it." - George Martin
"I had this whole choir saying 'Everybody's got one, everybody's got one.' But when you get thirty people, male and female, on top of thirty cellos and on top of the Beatles' rock 'n' roll rhythm section, you can't hear what they're saying.
We did about half a dozen mixes and I just used whatever was coming through at that time. I never knew it was King Lear until, years later, somebody told me - because I could hardly make out what he was saying. It was interesting to mix the whole thing with a live radio coming through it., So that's the secret of that one." - John Lennon

I am the Walrus was the first song The Beatles recorded after the death of their manager and good friend Brian Epstein. It was decided that they needed to work on something together to stop the band from falling apart. 

Personnel

  • John Lennon – lead vocal, backing vocal, Hohner Pianet electric piano, Mellotron
  • Paul McCartney – bass guitar, tambourine, backing vocals
  • George Harrison – electric guitar, backing vocals
  • Ringo Starr – drums
  • Orchestrated, directed and produced by George Martin
Hello, Goodbye/I Am the Walrus single sleeve, 1967.

Hello, Goodbye/I Am the Walrus single sleeve, 1967.

The Beatles filming I Am the Walrus, 1967. 

The Beatles filming I Am the Walrus, 1967. 

The Beatles filming I Am the Walrus, 1967. 

The Beatles filming I Am the Walrus, 1967. 

Buy Magical Mystery Tour on Amazon (US or UK)

The Beatles filming I Am the Walrus, 1967. 

The Beatles filming I Am the Walrus, 1967. 

The Beatles filming I Am the Walrus, 1967. 

The Beatles filming I Am the Walrus, 1967. 

The Beatles filming I Am the Walrus, 1967. 

The Beatles filming I Am the Walrus, 1967. 

Hello, Goodbye/I Am the Walrus single sleeve, 1967.

Hello, Goodbye/I Am the Walrus single sleeve, 1967.

The Beatles filming I Am the Walrus, 1967. 

The Beatles filming I Am the Walrus, 1967. 

Hello, Goodbye/I Am the Walrus single sleeve, 1967.

Hello, Goodbye/I Am the Walrus single sleeve, 1967.

The Beatles filming I Am the Walrus, 1967. 

The Beatles filming I Am the Walrus, 1967. 

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