Search by Keyword
“LUCY IN THE SKY WITH DIAMONDS”
(John Lennon – Paul McCartney)
“’Rubber Soul’ was the pot album and ‘Revolver’ was the acid…The drugs are to prevent the rest of the world from crowding in on you.” “’She Said She Said’…was written after an acid trip in LA during a break in The Beatles’ tour.” “’Doctor Robert’ was…mainly about drugs and pills. It was about myself: I was the one that carried all the pills on tour and always have done.” “Leary was the one saying, ‘take it, take it, take it.’ And we followed his instructions in his ‘how to take a trip’ book. I did it just like he said in the book, and then I wrote ‘Tomorrow Never Knows,’ which was almost the first acid song.”
As noted in the above quotes, John Lennon was always very forthright about his use of drugs and how they were used as inspiration for specific recordings in The Beatles catalog. It is very apparent that, as the years went by, he felt no need to hide any of this information from the public, who most likely had assumed as much anyway.
Why is it, then, that when John went to great lengths to deny any drug connotations involved in the formation of the song “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds,” most people, even to this day, insist that he’s hiding the truth? For the remainder of his life, every time he was asked about the songs’ drug connections and his supposed insidious coding of the initials LSD in the songs’ title, he claimed it wasn’t intentional. Despite this fact, “Lucy” is still known as the prime drug-related Beatles track of their career. “Nobody believes me,” Lennon exasperatingly stated. Do you?
Julian Lennon's drawing "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds"
“This is the truth,” stated John. “My son came home and showed me this drawing of a strange looking woman flying around, and I said, ‘What is it?’ And he said it was Lucy in the sky with diamonds. I said, ‘Oh, that’s beautiful,’ and I immediately wrote a song about it.”
“I remember him coming home from school with it,” remembers Cynthia Lennon, “and showing it to his dad, who was sitting down. At the time, he didn’t say, ‘Oh my God! What a great title for a song,’ but it obviously stuck. It was just a simple child-like drawing of a little girl in the sky with starts. It was the usual house and trees and stars, and the little girl was Lucy, a girl from school.”
“I happened to be there the day Julian came home from school with a pastel drawing of his classmate Lucy’s face against a backdrop of exploding, multi-colored stars,” relates John’s childhood friend Pete Shotton. “Unusually impressed with his son’s handiwork, John asked what the drawing was called. ‘It’s Lucy in the sky with diamonds, Daddy,’ Julian replied. ‘Fantastic,’ John said, and promptly incorporated that memorable phrase into a new song.”
“I don’t know why I called it that,” Julian Lennon explains, “or why it stood out from all my other drawings but I obviously had an affection for Lucy at that age. I used to show dad everything I’d built or painted at school and this one sparked off the idea for a song.”
Lucy O’Donnell is the school friend of Julian who, as explained in Steve Turner’s book “A Hard Day’s Write,” happened to have “lived near the Lennon family in Weybridge and she and Julian were pupils at Heath House, a nursery school run by two old ladies in a rambling Edwardian house.” “I can remember Julian at school,” Lucy related in Turner’s book. “I can remember him very well. I can see his face clearly…we used to sit alongside each other in proper old-fashioned desks. The house was enormous and they had heavy curtains to divide the classrooms. Julian and I were a couple of little menaces from what I’ve been told.”
Lucy explained, in a BBC radio interview in 2007, her recollections about the drawing and an example of what menaces they were back then. “I remember Julian and I both doing pictures on a double-sided easel, throwing paint at each other, much to the horror of the classroom attendant... Julian had painted a picture and on that particular day his father turned up with the chauffeur to pick him up from school.”
Paul relates, in his book “Many Years From Now,” the day the song was written: “I went up to John’s house in Weybridge. When I arrived we were having a cup of tea, and he said, ‘Look at this great drawing Julian’s done. Look at the title!’ He showed me a drawing on school paper, a five-by-seven-inch piece of paper, of a little girl with lots of stars, and right across the top there was written, in very neat child handwriting, I think in pencil, ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.’ So I said, ‘What’s that mean?,’ thinking, Wow, fantastic title! John said, ‘It’s Lucy, a friend of his from school. And she’s in the sky.’ Julian had drawn stars, and then he thought they were diamonds. They were child’s stars, there’s a way to draw them with two triangles, but he said diamonds because they can be interpreted as diamonds or stars. And we loved it and she was in the sky and it was very trippy to us. So we went upstairs and started writing it.” The time of writing can easily be estimated as February of 1967.
“The other images were from “Alice In Wonderland,” Lennon stated in his 1980 Playboy interview. He also stated that year: “It was Alice in the boat. She is buying an egg, and it turns into Humpty Dumpty. The woman serving in the shop turns into a sheep, and the next minute they are rowing in a rowing boat somewhere, and I was visualizing that.” The above visualization is inspired in part by the “Wool And Water” chapter in “Through The Looking Glass” by Lewis Carroll, one of John’s favorite childhood books. Quotes from this book include “she found they were in a little boat, gliding along between banks: so there was nothing for it but to do her best” and “A boat beneath a sunny sky, lingering onward dreamily in an evening of July.”
In “Many Years From Now,” Paul explains the incorporation of this imagery into the song. “John had the title and he had the first verse. It started off very ‘Alice In Wonderland’: ‘Picture yourself in a boat, on a river…’ It’s very Alice. Both of us had read the Alice books and always referred to them, we were always talking about ‘Jabberwocky’ and we knew those more than any other books really. And when psychedelics came in, the heady quality of them was perfect. So we just went along with it. I sat there and wrote it with him: I offered ‘cellophane flowers’ and ‘newspaper taxis’ and John replied with ‘kaleidoscope eyes.’ I remember which was which because we traded words off each other, as we always did…And in our mind it was an Alice thing, which both of us loved.”
One other inspiration for the lyrics came from an unlikely source, The Goon Show. This was a very popular 50’s British radio comedy program featuring Peter Sellers, Harry Secombe and Spike Milligan. Since John was a big fan, and George Martin happened to have produced recordings of the comedy team, Spike Milligan was invited to some “Sgt. Pepper” recording sessions and struck up a friendship with Lennon in particular. John informed him that “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds,” as well as other Beatles songs, were partially inspired by the Goons humor. “We used to talk about ‘plasticine ties’ in ‘The Goon Show,’” recalls Spike, “and this crept up in ‘Lucy’ as ‘plasticine porters with looking glass ties.’ I knew Lennon quite well. He used to talk a lot about comedy. He was a ‘Goon Show’ freak. It all stopped when he married Yoko Ono. Everything stopped. He never asked for me again.”
As for the initials of the song’s title, John explained his surprise in an interview in September of 1971: “After the album had come out and the album had been published, someone noticed that the letters spelt out LSD and I had no idea about it, and, of course, after that, I went to see what the other songs spelt out. They didn’t spell anything out. It wasn’t about that (LSD) at all. But nobody believes me.” In a 1970 Rolling Stone interview, he stated: “I swear to God or swear to Mao or to anybody you like, I had no idea it spelled LSD.”
“I swear we didn’t notice that when it came out,” McCartney concurs. “In actual fact, if you want to be pedantic you’d have to say it is LITSWD, but of course LSD is a better story.”
Nonetheless, the rumor spread and, with its’ apparent ‘trippy’ lyrics, the world was convinced and it became one of a few “Sgt. Pepper” songs that made the ‘banned’ list for many radio stations worldwide. Even Lucy O’Donnell, who wasn’t aware of the song’s origins until she was 13, became convinced of this supposed misinformation. "I don't relate to the song, to that type of song,” Lucy was quoted as saying. “As a teenager, I made the mistake of telling a couple of friends at school that I was the Lucy in the song and they said, 'No, it's not you, my parents said it's about drugs.' And I didn't know what LSD was at the time, so I just kept it quiet, to myself."
However, as briefly touched on in Paul’s quote above, “psychedelics” had some sort of play in putting the song together. In a 2004 interview, when Paul was asked about drug references in Beatles songs, he started a brief list and included the statement: “’Lucy In The Sky’ – that’s pretty obvious.” He added, though, “but, you know, it's easy to overestimate the influence of drugs on the Beatles' music.”
George Martin with The Beatles in EMI Studio Two, 1967
The first day of recording for the song, February 28th, 1967 in EMI Studio Two, was actually used entirely for rehearsals, no known takes being put to tape at all. According to George Martin in the book “Summer Of Love,” this day could well be considered as part of the songwriting process, John composing much of the song “on the hoof.”
Eight hours of rehearsals, from 7 pm to 3 am the next morning, is practically unheard of today…and even then if you weren’t The Beatles, that is. With “studio time being hardly a cheap commodity,” as explained by Mark Lewisohn in “The Beatles Recording Sessions,” “in the 60’s, with EMI recording The Beatles and owning the studios at Abbey Road, the expense of studio time was merely an internal paper transaction and was not deducted from the Beatles’ royalty payments. No budget restraints were put on the group, nor onto George Martin, no longer an EMI employee.” As George Martin explained: “I can only presume that EMI realized it was onto a good thing.”
Having the bugs worked out, the group filed back into EMI Studio Two the next day (or, should I say, later that same day), March 1st, 1967, for proper recording of the rhythm track of “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds.” The session began once again at 7 pm, the first order of business being recording a piano overdub for the previously mixed “A Day In The Life,” this overdub never being used.
The rhythm track for “Lucy” consisted of Paul playing a Lowery organ, John on acoustic guitar, Ringo on drums, George on maracas and George Martin on piano – Paul and Ringo’s playing being the only elements specifically noticeable in the finished product. In “The Beatles Monthly Book” of June 1967, Mal Evans and Neil Aspinall wrote that the song “starts with McCartney playing Hammond organ using a special organ stop which gives a bell-like overchord effect which makes it sound like a celeste.” In the book “Beatles Gear,” however, author Andy Babiuk debunks this statement. “Photographic evidence reveals that McCartney in fact used a Lowery DSO Heritage Deluxe organ,” Babiuk asserts. “It was the Lowery DSO’s preset voices of harpsichord, vibraharp, guitar and ‘music box’ that provided the magical tones required.”
John did sing a lead vocal on the verses during these rhythm tracks, although they were merely perfunctory and performed solely for the purpose of guiding the musicians. ‘Take six’ of this rhythm track, with John’s guide vocal, is heard on “Anthology 2” as combined with other elements recorded a little later.
Analyzing John’s vocal performance on this day shows the evolution of delivery and feel his vocals went through as the song took shape in the studio. “Over that very, very simple and beautiful (keyboard) phrase, John sang just one note,” George Martin explains in the film “The Making Of Sgt. Pepper.” “He developed it, I mean, he had a way of finding out what he wanted to sing, even as we were recording.” Mark Lewisohn adds: “During the early part of the session, he was singing the words ‘Cellophane flowers of yellow and green’ in such a way that each was enunciated slowly, separately and precisely. Paul can be heard to suggest he sing them quicker, in one flowing sentence, to which John replied ‘OK’ and did just that.”
Engineer Geoff Emerick, in his book “Here, There And Everywhere,” also comments on this change of vocal delivery: “By this point the four Beatles were starting to get a little fed up with being stuck in the studio. After all, they’d been there for nearly five months and it wasn’t the dead of winter anymore…the weather was starting to brighten, so they were probably starting to get itchy feet.”
"By now, it was evident that John’s personality was changing,” Emerick continues. “Instead of being opinionated about everything, he was becoming complacent; in fact, he seemed quite content to have someone else do his thinking for him, even when we were working on one of his own songs. By the spring of 1967, he was becoming increasingly disengaged…No doubt Paul was aware of the situation, and he was seizing the opportunity to step in and expand his role within the band. That manifested itself down in the studio as they worked on this song, with John’s lead vocal getting less aggressive and more dreamy with each successive take. That might have been a reflection of what he was smoking behind the screens, but Paul was clearly steering him in that direction, too.”
The true lead vocals to the song weren’t recorded on this day, but one other element was added before the day was done. ‘Take seven’ saw George Harrison put down his maracas and instead play a droning tamboura part, this being a large Indian instrument that adds the other-worldly Eastern flavor to the song. “I particularly liked the sounds on it where I managed to superimpose some Indian instruments onto Western music,” Harrison related. “Under normal circumstances that wouldn’t work on a Western song like ‘Lucy,’ which has chord changes and modulations whereas tambouras and sitars stay in the same key forever. I liked the way the drone of the tamboura could be fitted in there.”
This take being complete and considered the best, the EMI staff took all four filled tracks of the tape and created a reduction mix (‘take eight’) onto one track of another tape, slightly slowing down the recording to 49 cycles per second instead of the normal 50 cycles. This made the recording all set for overdubs on another day. At 2:15 am the following morning, the group and staff filed out to get some rest and ready themselves for the session later that evening.
Once again starting at 7 pm, everyone filed back into EMI Studio Two that evening (March 2nd, 1967) to perform overdubs for the song. Track one of the new master tape contained the rhythm track from the previous day, leaving three open tracks on the four-track tape to fill with overdubs. The first thing tackled was a lead vocal track by John with Paul joining in on unison and sometimes harmony vocals during the choruses. This was taped at 45 cycles per second to make their voices have a slightly higher tone than usual when played back normally. Also, tape echo was added sporadically to create the intended spacey feel for the song.
Onto track three was overdubbed John’s double-tracked lead vocals which only appeared in strategic spots, such as when “girl with kaleidoscope eyes” was heard. Paul simultaneously added more backing vocals during the choruses, this overdub recorded at 48 1/2 cycles per second.
According to the “Beatles Recording Sessions” book, the two remaining elements of the song were overdubbed onto track four of the tape, this being Paul’s artistic bass work and George’s distorted lead guitar. However, since both of these instruments are panned to different locations in the stereo mix, they must have been isolated onto different tracks. “There was another thing,” George explains. “During vocals in Indian music they have an instrument called a sarangi, which sounds like the human voice, and the vocalist and sarangi player are more or less in unison in a performance. For ‘Lucy’ I thought of trying that idea, but because I’m not a sarangi player I played it on the guitar. In the middle-eight of the song (‘cellophane flowers…’) you can hear the guitar playing along with John’s voice. I was trying to copy Indian classical music.”
Geoff Emerick adds more detail to the guitar overdub performed on this day: “We had decided to route George Harrison’s guitar through a Leslie speaker during the choruses, and because that reminded John of the ‘Dalai Lama’ vocal effect we had used on ‘Tomorrow Never Knows,’ Mal (Evans) was duly dispatched to see if he could find a rope so John could try out his theory and be swung around a microphone. From the wink Mal gave me when he returned some hours later – empty-handed – I suspect that he had spent the evening in the pub instead. He knew how absurd – and potentially dangerous – the request was, and he probably guessed that John would have forgotten all about it by the time he got back, which, of course, is exactly what happened.”
This final overdub completed the song, although the group was anxious to create a usable mono mix of the song that evening. Eleven attempts at a mono mix was made, mix 11 being deemed best, but they apparently weren’t happy with this after some further thought and none of these mixes saw the light of day. At 3:30 am the following morning, they went home only to return about sixteen hours later.
While spending nearly a total of twenty-four hours of studio time, divided up between three consecutive days, on one song may sound like a lot, it was actually one of the quickest “Sgt. Pepper” recordings. Compared to “A Day In The Life” or “Penny Lane,” for instance, “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” was a breeze!
A new crack at creating the mono mix of the song was done that evening, March 3rd, 1967, in the control room of EMI Studio Two with the band present. After the brass and lead guitar overdubs for the "Sgt. Pepper” theme song was recorded, this starting at 7 pm (as usual) and taking up most of the session this day, the group concentrated on getting the perfect mono mix for the recently recorded “Lucy.” Four new mono mixes were made by George Martin, Geoff Emerick and 2nd engineer Richard Lush, presumably the fourth one being deemed the best. Extensive use of ADT was used, done with deliberate tape speed manipulation to create the psychedelic effect heard throughout the song, sometimes referred to as "flanging." By 2:15 am, the mono mix was complete and they all left for the evening.
The stereo mix was created on April 7th, 1967 in the control room of EMI Studio Two by the same team of George Martin, Geoff Emerick and Richard Lush. “Just the three of us without a Beatle in sight,” explains Richard Lush about the stereo mixes for the entire “Sgt. Pepper” album.
Five attempts at creating a stereo mix was made on this day, presumably the fifth being the keeper. The rhythm track is panned exclusively into the left channel while the bass guitar and all of the vocals are centered in the mix. All of George’s lead guitar overdub work is panned to the right channel only. This time, however, the ADT was done more sparingly to give a little less psychedelic feel than the mono mix had, which is probably due to The Beatles not being present for this stereo mix.
Interestingly, an additional mono mix was made on November 1st, 1967 in Room 53 of the EMI complex by the same production staff. This special mix was made for inclusion in the “Yellow Submarine” movie then being prepared. Unique features of this mix include lessened ADT and the omission of John’s lead vocals in the first part of the first verse, which was replaced by an actor’s recitation “Picture yourself just a nuclear fission with library cards under mystical skies…ha, ha, ha…Somebody quotes you, you read from a source book, a concept with microscope eyes…ha, ha, ha.” Luckily for all concerned, this strange mix did not make it into the movie and was never released.
1974 was the next time “Lucy” was taken to a recording studio by a Beatle. John Lennon (under the pseudonym Dr. Winston O'Boogie) joined Elton John at the Caribou Ranch recording studio in Nederland, Colorado to play rhythm guitar and sing backing vocals on Elton’s cover version of the song. The results were a highly successful single released during the height of Elton’s career. A live recording of the song was also done on November 28th, 1974 as John joined the Elton John Band on stage at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
In 1995, George Martin and Geoff Emerick returned to EMI (now Abbey Road Studios) to create a unique compilation mix of “Lucy” for inclusion in the “Anthology 2” album as mentioned above. “Take six” was used as the bedrock of this mix which featured John’s guide vocals and George Harrison on maracas, the obvious flaw of this take being Ringo’s drum count-in for the final chorus being noticeably too fast. Onto this take was added George’s tamboura playing from “take seven” and the harmony vocals from “take eight,” although Paul’s bass playing is not added which would have completed the sonic picture. Nonetheless, it gives an interesting view of the song in progress.
Sometime in 1998, the original session tapes of “Lucy” were raided once again to produce an updated stereo mix for the “Yellow Submarine Songtrack” album. This mix was put together at Abbey Road Studios by the team of Peter Cobbin, Paul Hicks, Mirek Stiles and Allan Rouse. The elements are somewhat similar to the original 1967 stereo mix except for some interesting surprises. The first master tape used for the rhythm track must have been ‘synced up’ with the second master tape because the drums are centered in the mix while Paul’s Lowery organ part is panned exclusively to the left channel – something not possible using just the second master tape since they were both condensed down to the first track at that point. Another difference is a slight amount of reverb that has been added to the organ part, this being heard in the right channel only. Otherwise, the clarity and vibrancy of this mix is incredible.
Since George Martin was such a fan of the song, “Lucy” was a shoe-in to be re-worked for the 2006 release “Love,” created especially for the Cirque du Soleil show of the same name. Sometime between 2004 and 2006, George and son Giles Martin created a unique blend of the original recording with elements of “Tomorrow Never Knows,” the “Sgt. Pepper” theme song, and “Baby, You’re A Rich Man."
Song Structure and Style
A rather usual structure that consists of verses, bridges and choruses are, in this instance, combined with some pretty innovative tricks for a Lennon/McCartney song, such as key changes and time signature changes. While a rhythm change was creatively incorporated into “I Call Your Name” back in 1964, jarring you from the four-in-the-bar cowbell pound to a ‘reggae/ska’ beat in its’ instrumental section, the jumps and alterations premiered in “Lucy” are quite startling for pop music of 1967. No wonder it stood out so prominently on the “Sgt. Pepper” album. (A side note of interest is that the song was originally slated to end side one of the album, the proposed third track being “Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite.” My thought is that “Lucy” wouldn’t have had the same impact if it was kept in that order.)
The structure of the song consists of ‘verse/ bridge/ chorus/ verse/ bridge/ chorus/ verse/ chorus’ (or abcabcac) with an intro and faded outro. Sounds pretty ordinary, doesn’t it? Think again.
Starting off the song with a 3/4 meter in the key of A major, a four-measure introduction begins the song consisting of a clever ostinato figure played by Paul on a Lowery organ (not Hammond Organ or Harpsichord as writers and listeners understandably assume). “It’s a most wonderful phrase,” George Martin commented. “I think, you know, if Beethoven was around, he wouldn’t have minded one of those.”
This intro moves directly into the first verse which is made up of two nearly identical melody lines sung solo by John interspersed within nineteen measures (nine for the first phrase, ten for the second phrase). The organ ostinato figure continues as heard in the introduction while simple whole-note bass work appears with John’s vocals for the first seven measures. Then the eighth and ninth measures bring in a somewhat more intricate bass run on top of a changed organ part, accented dramatically by the first appearance of Ringo on the hi-hats and kick drum. George’s tamboura first appears quietly in the ninth measure, it gradually increasing in volume for the remainder of the verse. John’s vocals are double-tracked for the first time starting on the fourteenth measure on the line “the girl with kaleidoscope eyes,” while Ringo emerges once again in the sixteenth measure with cymbal accents and bass drum which continue through until the end of the verse. The bass picks up the pace once again in the sixteenth through nineteenth measures while the organ figure once again changes shape.
The tamboura instantly disappears from view as the key changes to B flat in the nine-measure bridge that follows. John’s vocals are single-tracked once again and primarily hold out a single note for the entire nine measures, highlighted by a lazily delivered downward spiraling “heeeaaad” in the seventh and eighth measures while Ringo taps out a constant cymbal and kick drum beat throughout. Paul plays more busily on bass but his organ part disappears from view during the entire bridge. George mimics John’s vocal melody line on lead guitar to fill the absence left by the organ. Suddenly in the eighth measure, on the word “gone,” the time signature changes to 4/4 as Ringo pounds out three half-notes by himself to usher in the chorus that follows.
The 4/4 beat continues into the startling fourteen-measure chorus which begins with Paul debuting the song’s title vocally with John joining him in unison before the title is complete. They then sing the song in unison fully a second time around, the third time Paul jumping into a higher harmony to add some variance to the arrangement, ending the proceedings with a harmonized “aah” to segue into another verse with its’ resultant key and time signature change. Instrumentally, the organ reappears with chord chops on the three beat of every measure while George and Paul both play a nearly identical counter melody line on a ‘Leslie-fied’ electric guitar and bass, respectively. Ringo plays his full kit for the first time throughout, the chorus ending with the bass bouncing back-and-forth between two notes as the organ holds out a transitional chord designed to take us back to the verse.
Verse two is identical in most respects, John’s double-tracked vocals appearing on the lyric “that grows so incredibly high,” ending with an unusual “ugh” at the beginning of the nineteenth measure, possibly a remnant of a previous vocal take. One noticeable difference in this verse, however, is the tamboura drone which permeates the entire nineteen measures. This is followed by a second bridge which is structured similarly to the first except for different lyrics.
A second chorus then appears with only subtle differences from the first, one being Paul’s higher harmony being heard with all three repeats of the songs’ title this time around instead of just the last. Also, George’s lead guitar phrase stops short the first time, leaving the third and fourth measures sounding a little bare.
A third verse is then heard which has some more noticeable differences from the others. Paul gets much more adventurous on bass, playing some more fragrant runs to fill the gaps this time around. Most strikingly, since there is no bridge at the end of this verse, the final two measures abruptly switch to 4/4 time with Ringo’s pounding intro beats, seemingly edited at this point to accommodate the uncharacteristic chord change and to get the timing correct (as evidenced by Ringo’s sped up drum beats here in ‘take six’ as heard on “Anthology 2”).
The final chorus is now heard which now is a more symmetrical sixteen measures due to it not segueing back into a verse anymore. Paul accidentally sings the first syllable of the first “Lucy” in his higher harmony but then quickly corrects himself to sing unison with John for the remainder of the line. The second repeat of the song’s title puts Paul back into harmony where he stays for the remainder of the song. Instrumentally, the elements are identical to the previous choruses, however the tamboura swells are particularly accentuated during the final four measures. Paul’s organ chords begin to adlib a little more as do his overdubbed bass playing, while Ringo flails away triumphantly at times on his cymbals and toms.
This final chorus is then repeated two more times which act as the conclusion, or outro, of the song. The recording begins to fade as early as the seventh measure of the second repeat of this chorus, although the fading appears to level off during the final two measures (or “aah”) of the second repeat of the chorus. The organ even begins playing a quick staccato beat with the chords in the tenth and eleventh measures.
More adlibbing occurs in the final repeat of the chorus, both the overdubbed bass and lead guitar reaching beyond the boundaries of their usual patterns in the third and fourth measures. The bass repeats its same higher register meandering in the seventh and eighth measures while Paul utters an excited “uh” just before he and John sing his final repeat of the song’s title, this then resulting in the track melding right into the horizon of the “marmalade skies.”
John makes a somewhat backseat appearance on the song instrumentally, his rhythm guitar on the basic track being the only music actually played by him and this being mostly inaudible in the released mixes. However, this doesn’t deter us from viewing him as ‘commander and chief’ of this song, his sped-up lead vocals taking center-stage to capture us in his lyrical dreamy and picturesque landscape.
Paul plays an impressive supporting role that, when examined, shows him as the principle player instrumentally. His gripping organ phrase (undoubtedly constructed by him) creates a hypnotic effect that recurs periodically throughout while he rounds out his keyboard work in the choruses simply but effectively. His bass playing punctuates the multiple segments of the song appropriately, while his vocals in the choruses are energetic and effortlessly performed.
Paul may have commented in 1980 that George wasn’t around much during the “Sgt. Pepper” sessions, but he definitely made his presence felt on “Lucy.” He was correct in thinking that the tamboura drone would add nicely to the atmosphere desired for the song, his playing on the rhythm track fitting in perfectly. His lead guitar mimicking of the vocal track in the bridges are done very well as is his melodic lines in the choruses as played in unison with Paul’s bass.
Ringo has often stated that the results of the “Sgt. Pepper” sessions for him were that he “learned how to play chess.” However, he must have put away his chessboard on this day because he played with much enthusiasm and vigor, resulting in a fine example of what Ringo could do with the proper inspiration – his playing showed he really liked this one!
Lyrically, the Lewis Carroll theme was taken into the hallucinogenic atmosphere of John and Paul’s collective consciousness at the time, resulting in a vast array of images that they must have really enjoyed putting together – an expanded form of lyric writing that neither had done before in songwriting but were very comfortable in doing. Wouldn’t we all have loved to be a ‘fly on the wall’ to witness the apparent fun they must have had piecing this lyrical vision together!
We’re first asked to imagine ourselves “in a boat on a river” that somehow had “tangerine trees” growing out of the water. Then, under the “marmalade skies” you hear a voice of a mysterious woman that comes into view whose eyes are described both as “kaleidoscope eyes” and “with the sun in her eyes.” When she speaks “you answer quite slowly” – perfectly depicting the slow-motion experience of dreams we all can relate to.
Apart from the trees growing out of the water, there are also huge and colorful “cellophane flowers” that are “towering over your head.” You strain to peer through those “marmalade skies” to see the woman but, alas, “she’s gone.” Nonetheless, you instinctively know her identity somehow. Her name is “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds.” While still in your boat, she then comes into view in the sky and you “follow her down to a bridge by a fountain.” As the boat floats under the bridge, you notice the population of this incredible town. They comprise “rocking horse people” who “eat marshmallow pies.” Despite their limited food supply, they are quite hospitable – “everyone smiles.”
As the boat continues to “drift passed” the “incredibly high” aforementioned flowers (these flowers probably not being the only things that are “incredibly high,” right John?), you finally approach the shore of the river. There you see “newspaper taxis” that are purposely there “waiting to take you away.” You exit the boat and “climb in the back” of the cab while your head is metaphysically “in the clouds” and then the driver takes off, that is to say, “you’re gone.”
The next thing you know, the taxi must have dropped you off at a train depot where you boarded “a train in a station” with very strange-looking attendants. The porters are made of “plasticine” and are wearing “looking glass ties.” But before train leaves, you happily see “Lucy,” the mysterious woman that led you here, “at the turnstile” of the train station. She apparently has appeared to see you off as the train is about to take you on another incredible adventure. Can’t wait for the sequel!
America got its’ first taste of “Lucy” on June 2nd, 1967 with the release of the album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” The irresistible texturing of this track undoubtedly played a big part in it maintaining the top spot of the Billboard album chart for fifteen weeks in a row.
Although not released as a single at the time, the song was noteworthy enough to be one of the four “Sgt. Pepper” tracks to make it onto the double-compilation album “The Beatles/1967-1970” (aka “The Blue Album”). The vinyl release was on April 2nd, 1973, its’ first appearance on compact disc coming out on September 20th, 1993. This set was then re-mastered and re-released on August 10th, 2010.
A special re-release of the vinyl “Sgt. Pepper” album came out in 1978 as a picture disc, the elaborate front cover being the a-side and a blow-up of the “Pepper” drum head being the b-side. Hold on to this one, collectors!
The first appearance of “Lucy” on compact disc, however, was on September 21st, 1987 on the “Sgt. Pepper” album. The re-mastered release of the CD was on September 9th, 2009.
On January 24th, 1996, “Lucy” was released as a Beatles single for the first and only time. Capitol put it out as an a-side (with “When I’m Sixty-Four” as the b-side) on their “For Jukeboxes Only” Cema Series on red vinyl. This limited pressing is another one for the collector to find and hold on to.
Shortly afterwards, on March 18th, 1996, the aforementioned early studio take of “Lucy” was released on the set “Anthology 2.” What we hear here is the complete “take six” with the tamboura drone of "take seven" and the overdubbed harmonies of “take eight” added on. This is a very interesting listen!
November 20th, 2006 was the release date for the above mentioned album “Love,” created entirely with the Cirque du Soleil show in mind, and featuring an incredibly unique mix of “Lucy.”
September 9th, 2009 is the date that the interesting mono mix of “Lucy” was released on CD in the extensive box set “The Beatles In Mono.” Since the group themselves were involved in creating this mix, most enthusiasts view this as a ‘must have’ for their collection – hear it like The Beatles wanted you to hear it!
Other noteworthy releases of the song include the November 19th, 1974 released single of “Lucy” by Elton John featuring John (Dr. Winston O-Boogie) on rhythm guitar and background vocals. It spent two weeks at #1 on the Billboard singles chart in January of 1975, making this the only Beatles cover version to top the US charts. This version of the song also appears on the album “Elton John’s Greatest Hits Volume II” (released on September 13th, 1977) and as a bonus track on the 1995 and 2005 CD releases of Elton’s album “Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy.”
A special live performance of the song by John with Elton John’s band was released twice, the first on October 30th, 1990 on the four CD box set “Lennon.” Then in 1995, this interesting live version came out on the CD release of Elton’s live album “Here And There.”
John Lennon and Elton John, circa 1974
The Beatles, of course, never performed “Lucy” live, but one Beatle, as outlined above, did perform the song on one special occasion. It was Thanksgiving day, November 28th, 1974, at Madison Square Garden in New York City that John Lennon came on stage at a concert by Elton John and performed three songs: “Whatever Gets You Thru The Night” (the Billboard #1 single of the previous week), “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” (Elton’s future #1 single which was released ten days earlier) and the Beatles classic “I Saw Her Standing There.”
John’s appearance on stage on this day was actually due to losing a bet. When Elton had contributed piano, organ and vocals to John’s “Whatever Gets You Thru The Night” in the recording studio, the famous pianist was quite pleased with the results. He predicted that it would be Lennon’s first #1 solo hit. “No, I’m out of favor here,” Lennon responded as quoted in Ray Coleman’s biography “Lennon,” adding: “It would be nice but it’s not a number one.”
“Elton insisted it was, and made a bargain with Lennon,” states the book “The Billboard Book Of Number One Hits.” “If the song reached the top of the chart, Lennon would have to appear in concert with him. John was so sure he had not recorded a smash hit, he agreed. (The record) entered the Hot 100 at number 53 on September 28th, 1974. Seven weeks later Lennon knew he had to make good on his promise.”
Elton suggested Lennon sing “Imagine,” but he refused. “I didn’t want to come on like Dean Martin, doing my classic hits…I wanted to have some fun and play some rock ‘n’ roll. And I didn’t want to do more than three because it was Elton’s show.” The recently released cover of “Lucy” by Elton was an obvious choice, Lennon playing rhythm guitar on a Fender Telecaster and singing along on the choruses, Elton letting Lennon sing solo during the reggae chorus just before the final verse.
“This one’s one of the best songs ever written.” This 1974 quote from Elton John typifies the allure and mystique that “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” had on the public at large when it was released and for many years thereafter. It deservedly earned its’ place on the greatest hits compilation “The Beatles 1967/1970” and received heavy radio airplay on pop and rock radio stations throughout the world.
However, as time has passed, “Lucy” is a song that has sadly lost some of that allure. At this time of writing (2012), radio doesn’t touch it except on very rare occasions; even Elton’s chart-topping rendition. Listeners pass it off as a ‘period piece’ and writers dismiss it as “poorly thought out, succeeding more as a glamorous production than as an integrated song,” as prestigious author Ian MacDonald states in his book “Revolution In The Head.” Another quote that possibly didn’t help the song’s popularity was in Lennon’s 1980 Playboy interview. “There was also the image of the female who would someday come save me – ‘a girl with kaleidoscope eyes,’ who would come out of the sky. It turned out to be Yoko, though I hadn’t met Yoko yet. So maybe it should be ‘Yoko In The Sky With Diamonds.’”
The sorrowful death of Lucy Vodden (O’Donnell), the unintentional inspiration for the song, in 2009 from Lupus then hit the media. The story of Julian Lennon’s recent re-connection with her spurred an emotional response from readers, this resulting in Julian releasing a tribute single after her passing titled “Lucy” which gave 50% of the proceeds to fund Lupus research. This increased interest undoubtedly gave the original Beatles song more credibility, resulting in it coming in at #19 in the 2010 released “The Beatles 100 Greatest Songs” special edition of Rolling Stone magazine. It is hoped that, once again, the creative collective genius of “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” has deservedly captured the hearts of the public at large as, in the very least, a historic piece of music that played a large part in sparking the creativity of musicians and songwriters throughout time.
“Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”
Written by: John Lennon / Paul McCartney
Song Written: February, 1967
Song Recorded: March 1 & 2, 1967
First US Release Date: June 2, 1967
US Single Release: Capitol Cema #S7-18896 (red vinyl)
Highest Chart Position: n/a
Key: G major
Producer: George Martin
Engineers: Geoff Emerick, Richard Lush
John Lennon - Lead Vocals, Rhythm Guitar (1964 Gibson J-160E)
Paul McCartney - Organ (1965 Lowery DSO Heritage Deluxe), Bass Guitar (1964 Rickenbacker 4001S), Harmony Vocals
George Harrison – Tamboura, Lead Guitar (1961 Sonic Blue Fender Stratocaster)
Ringo Starr – Drums (1964 Ludwig Super Classic Black Oyster Pearl)
George Martin - Piano (Hamburg Steinway Baby Grand)
Written and compiled by Dave Rybaczewski
Sign Up Below for our MONTHLY BEATLES TRIVIA QUIZ!