I Am the Walrus

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"I Am the Walrus"
Cover artwork for the single, as used in Germany
Single by The Beatles
A-side"Hello, Goodbye"
Released24 November 1967
Format7" single
Recorded5 September 1967,
EMI Studios, London
GenrePsychedelic rock
Length4:33
LabelParlophone
Writer(s)Lennon–McCartney
Producer(s)George Martin
The Beatles singles chronology
"All You Need Is Love"
(1967)
"Hello, Goodbye" / "I Am the Walrus"
(1967)
"Lady Madonna"
(1968)
 
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"I Am the Walrus"
Cover artwork for the single, as used in Germany
Single by The Beatles
A-side"Hello, Goodbye"
Released24 November 1967
Format7" single
Recorded5 September 1967,
EMI Studios, London
GenrePsychedelic rock
Length4:33
LabelParlophone
Writer(s)Lennon–McCartney
Producer(s)George Martin
The Beatles singles chronology
"All You Need Is Love"
(1967)
"Hello, Goodbye" / "I Am the Walrus"
(1967)
"Lady Madonna"
(1968)

"I Am the Walrus" is a 1967 song by the Beatles, written by John Lennon and credited to Lennon–McCartney.[1] The song was featured in the Beatles' 1967 television film Magical Mystery Tour, as a track on the associated British double EP of the same name and its American counterpart LP, and was the B-side to the number 1 hit single "Hello, Goodbye". Since the single and the double EP held at one time in December 1967 the top two slots on the British singles chart, the song had the distinction of being at number 1 and number 2 simultaneously.

Composition[edit]

Lennon received a letter from a pupil at Quarry Bank High School, which he had attended. The writer mentioned that the English master was making his class analyse Beatles' lyrics (Lennon wrote an answer, dated 1 September 1967, which was auctioned by Christie's of London in 1992). Lennon, amused that a teacher was putting so much effort into understanding the Beatles' lyrics, decided to write in his next song the most confusing lyrics that he could.

The genesis of the lyrics is found in three song ideas that Lennon was working on, the first of which was inspired by hearing a police siren at his home in Weybridge; Lennon wrote the lines "Mis-ter cit-y police-man" to the rhythm and melody of the siren. The second idea was a short rhyme about Lennon sitting in his garden, while the third was a nonsense lyric about sitting on a corn flake. Unable to finish the ideas as three different songs, he eventually combined them into one. The lyrics also included the phrase "Lucy in the sky" from "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" from Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band earlier in the year.

The walrus is a reference to the walrus in Lewis Carroll's poem "The Walrus and the Carpenter" (from the book Through the Looking-Glass). Lennon later expressed dismay upon belatedly realising that the walrus was a villain in the poem.[2]

The final catalyst of the song occurred when Lennon's friend and former fellow member of the Quarrymen, Peter Shotton, visited and Lennon asked Shotton about a playground nursery rhyme they sang as children. Shotton remembered:

"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."[3]

Lennon borrowed a couple of words, added the three unfinished ideas and the result was "I Am the Walrus". The Beatles' official biographer Hunter Davies was present while the song was being written and wrote an account in his 1968 biography of the Beatles. Lennon remarked to Shotton, "Let the fuckers work that one out." Shotton was also responsible for suggesting to Lennon to change the lyric "waiting for the man to come" to "waiting for the van to come".

Lennon claimed he wrote the first two lines on separate acid trips; he explained much of the song to Playboy in 1980:[4]

Musical structure[edit]

All the chords are major chords or seventh chords, and all the musical letters of the alphabet (A, B, C, D, E, F and G) are used. The song ends using a Shepard tone, with a chord progression built on ascending and descending lines in the bass and strings, repeated over and over as the song fades. Musicologist Alan W. Pollack analyses: "The chord progression of the outro itself is a harmonic Moebius strip with scales in bassline and top voice that move in contrary motion."[5] The bassline descends stepwise A, G, F, E, D, C, and B, while the strings' part rises A, B, C, D, E, F#, G: this sequence repeats as the song fades, with the strings rising higher on each iteration. Pollack also notes that the repeated cell is seven bars long, which means that a different chord begins each four-bar phrase. The fade is described by Walter Everett as a "false ending", in the form of an "unrelated coda" consisting of the orchestral chord progression, chorus and sampling of the radio play.[6]

The song is in the key of A and the instrumental introduction starts in the Lydian mode of B major.[7] Verse 1 begins with a I-♭III-IV-I rock pattern: "I am he" (A chord)..."you are me" (C chord) "and we are all toge..." (D chord) "...ther" (A chord). Verse 2, however, involves a ♭VI-♭VII-I Aeolian ascent: "waiting" (F chord) "for the van" (G chord) "to come" (A chord). The chorus uses a ♭III-IV-I pattern: "I am the egg-man (C chord) "they are the egg-men (D chord). "I am the walrus (E chord), "goo goo g'joob" hanging as an imperfect cadence until resolved with the I (A chord) on "Mr City Policeman".[8] At the line "Sitting in an English garden" the D# melody note (as in the instrumental introduction) establishes a Lydian mode (sharp 4th note in the scale) and this mode is emphasised more strongly with the addition of a D# note to the B chord on "If the sun don't come."[9]

Recording[edit]

"I Am the Walrus" was the first studio recording made after the death of the Beatles' manager Brian Epstein in August 1967. The basic backing track featuring the Beatles was released in 1996 on Anthology 2. George Martin arranged and added orchestral accompaniment that included violins, cellos, horns, clarinet and a 16-piece choir. Paul McCartney said that Lennon gave instructions to Martin as to how he wished the orchestration to be scored, including singing most of the parts as a guide. A large group of professional studio vocalists named the Mike Sammes Singers, took part in the recording as well, variously singing "Ho-ho-ho, hee-hee-hee, ha-ha-ha", "oompah, oompah, stick it up your jumper!", "everybody's got one" and making a series of shrill whooping noises.[10]

Incorporation of text from King Lear[edit]

The dramatic reading in the mix is Shakespeare's King Lear (Act IV, Scene 6), lines 219–222 and 249–262,[11] added to the song on 29 September 1967[12] direct from an AM radio Lennon was fiddling with that happened to be receiving the broadcast of the play on the BBC Third Programme.[13]

The first excerpt (ll. 219–222) moves in and out of the text, containing fragments of lines only. It begins where the disguised Edgar talks to his estranged and maliciously blinded father the Earl of Gloucester (timings given[11]):

Gloucester: (2:25) Now, good sir, wh-- (Lennon appears to change the channel away from the station here)[11]
Edgar: (2:28) -- poor man, made tame by fortune -- (2:34) good pity --

In the play Edgar then kills Oswald, Goneril's steward. During the fade of the song the second main extract (ll. 249–262), this time of continuous text, is heard (timings given[11]):

Oswald: (3:52) Slave, thou hast slain me. Villain, take my purse.
If ever thou wilt thrive,(4:02) bury my body,
And give the (4:05) letters which thou find'st about me
To (4:08) Edmund, Earl of Gloucester; (4:10)seek him out
Upon the English party. O, (4:14) untimely Death!
Edgar: (4:23) I know thee well: a (4:25) serviceable villain;
As duteous to the (4:27) vices of thy mistress
As badness would desire.
Gloucester: What, is he dead?
Edgar: (4:31) Sit you down father, rest you.[11][14]

On the radio broadcast the roles were read by Mark Dignam (Gloucester), Philip Guard (Edgar) and John Bryning (Oswald).[12] (The dramatic extracts may be clearly heard on a YouTube upload of "Beatles: I Am the Walrus and King Lear", with the spoken text isolated and presented after the Beatles recording concludes, at 4:40.)

Different versions[edit]

In the original (1967) stereo release, at around two minutes through the song, the mix changes from true stereo to "fake stereo". This came about because the radio broadcast had been added 'live', off-air, into the mono mix-down and so was unavailable for inclusion in the stereo mix; hence, fake stereo from the mono mix was created for this portion of the song.[15]

The mono version opens with a four-beat chord while the stereo mix features six beats on the initial chord. The four-beat-only-intro is also included on a different stereo mix (overseen by George Martin) for the previous MPI Home Video version of Magical Mystery Tour, especially the US Magical Mystery Tour album. The US mono single mix includes an extra bar of music before the words "yellow matter custard"; an early, overdub-free mix of the song released on Anthology 2 reveals John singing the lyrics "Yellow mat -" too early—this was edited out. A hybrid version prepared for the 1980 US Rarities LP combines the six-beat opening with the extra bar of music that precedes the words "yellow matter custard" (from the aforementioned US mono single mix).[16] An entirely new full stereo remix was done in 2012 for Apple's DVD and BD release of the restored version of MMT.

The Jean Beaudin psychedelic 1969 short subject Vertige[17] uses as the entirety of its soundtrack the song slowed down 800 per cent.[18]

A full stereo digital remix was done for the Cirque du Soleil show Love and album of the same name, released in 2006. Producers George and Giles Martin were allowed access to early generations of the original master tapes. Musical parts that had previously been mixed were now available as separate elements. Additionally a copy of the BBC broadcast of King Lear was acquired. Now, with all the sound sources used in the original mono mix present, a proper stereo remix could be accomplished. These tracks were transferred digitally and lined up to create a new multi-track master from which a new mix would be made.

In addition to the stereo remixes prepared for the Love show and the 2012 Apple reissue referenced above, the DVDs that were released for those same projects contain a 5.1 surround sound mix of the song. There is also a 5.1 surround sound remix of the song on the DVD release of Anthology, on disc 7, making three distinct 5.1 remixes of the same song.

Personnel[edit]

Reception[edit]

Critical reception at the time of the track's release was largely positive:

Interpretation[edit]

Although it has been reported that Lennon wrote "I Am the Walrus" to confuse those who tried to interpret his songs, there have been many attempts to analyse the meaning of the lyrics.[21][22]

Seen in the Magical Mystery Tour film singing the song, Lennon, apparently, is the walrus; on the track-list of the accompanying soundtrack EP/LP however, underneath "I Am the Walrus" are printed the words ' "No you're not!" said Little Nicola' (in the film, Nicola is a little girl who keeps contradicting everything the other characters say). Lennon returned to the subject in the lyrics of three of his subsequent songs: in the 1968 Beatles song "Glass Onion" he sings "now here's another clue for you all—the walrus was Paul";[23] in the third verse of "Come Together" he sings the line "he bag production, he got walrus gumboot"; and in his 1970 solo song "God", admits "I was the walrus, but now I'm John."

Eric Burdon, lead singer of the Animals, claims to be the 'Eggman' mentioned in the song's lyric. Burdon was known as 'Eggs' to his friends, the nickname originating from his fondness for breaking eggs over naked women's bodies. Burdon's biography mentions such an affair taking place in the presence of John Lennon, who shouted "Go on, go get it, Eggman..."[24]

Other recordings[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Unterberger 2007.
  2. ^ Sheff 2000, p. 185.
  3. ^ Davies 2002.
  4. ^ Sheff 2000, p. 184.
  5. ^ Pollack 1996.
  6. ^ Walter Everett. The Foundations of Rock: From "Blue Suede Shoes" to "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes". p154
  7. ^ Dominic Pedler. The Songwriting Secrets of the Beatles. Music Sales Limited. Omnibus Press. NY. 2003. p270
  8. ^ Dominic Pedler. The Songwriting Secrets of the Beatles. Music Sales Limited. Omnibus Press. NY. 2003. pp233–234
  9. ^ Dominic Pedler. The Songwriting Secrets of the Beatles. Music Sales Limited. Omnibus Press. NY. 2003. pp270–271
  10. ^ Lewisohn 1988, p. 68.
  11. ^ a b c d e Robert Fontenot, "I Am The Walrus", on Oldies Music page from about.com. Accessed 2 May 2014
  12. ^ a b Dave Rybaczewski, "I Am The Walrus", on Beatles Music History. Accessed 2 May 2014.
  13. ^ Lewisohn 1988, p. 128.
  14. ^ Walter Everett. The Beatles as Musicians. Revolver Through the Anthology. Oxford University Press. NY. 1999. ISBN 0-19-509553-7. ISBN 0-19-512941-5. p134–35
  15. ^ "Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of the Beatles". Books.google.com. Retrieved 21 August 2011. 
  16. ^ "Beatlesongs". Books.google.com. Retrieved 21 August 2011. 
  17. ^ Vertige at the Internet Movie Database
  18. ^ Dangerous Minds | Trippy Sixties film soundtracked with 'I Am The Walrus' time-stretched 800%
  19. ^ Johnson 1967.
  20. ^ Logan 1967.
  21. ^ ""I Am The Walrus": What it means". Recmusicbeatles.com. Retrieved 21 August 2011. 
  22. ^ "Across the Universe More Fun Stuff - I Am The Walrus - An Interpretation". Webweaverdesign.ca. Retrieved 21 August 2011. 
  23. ^ Aldridge 1990, p. 145.
  24. ^ Miles 1997, p. 357.
  25. ^ Encyclopedia.com 2004.
  26. ^ "THE MASTERPLAN". DISCOGRAPHY. :: Oasisinet :: The Official Oasis website and fan community. Retrieved 2 May 2013. 
  27. ^ Stump, Paul (1997). The Music's All that Matters. Quartet Books Limited. p. 175. ISBN 0-7043-8036-6. 
  28. ^ "AllMusic.com - I am the Walrus by Jackyl". Retrieved 24 October 2012. 

References[edit]

External links[edit]