Why Did The Beatles Write “I Am The Walrus”?
There’s a lore that surrounds almost every single Beatles song. Because of that, everyone tries to find a deeper meaning hidden between the words. One day, John Lennon and the Beatles understandably got fed up with the theories and analysis of each album or song. And that is when he started work on I am the Walrus.
The Beatles were fed up with people over-analyzing their songs
Unlike other songs, ‘I am the Walrus’ took weeks for John Lennon to write. But, he was just writing gibberish one day after another. It wasn’t a coordinated work of art like the other songs were. Then, one day he read a letter from a student at Quarry Bank. He revealed to John that his literature master used to play Beatles songs in his class. Then, he would ask each student to explain the meaning of the song, and finally weigh in with his own analysis.
Pete Shotton, who was with him at the time, recalls that the two laughed too hard after reading that. But, that’s what gave John Lennon the inspiration to write I am the Walrus. He thought of the most ludicrous images his imagination could conjure and wrote this song. For him, people over-analyzing the Beatles’ songs were just absurd. Whereas, John wanted people to just take them as what they were – songs. They don’t mean a lot.
To put it all in a nutshell, Lennon explained in 1969,
‘Walrus’ is just saying a dream – the words don’t mean a lot. People draw so many conclusions and it’s ridiculous.”
He further added in 1980:
I’ve had tongue in cheek all along – all of them had tongue in cheek. Just because other people see depths of whatever in it…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.”
In short, it was John Lennon totally fed up with the people so hung up on what the Beatles meant with their songs. But, the way he wrote down the lyrics is even more absurd.
How did John write such crazy lyrics?
Well, to put it mildly, he wrote down and mashed up every little absurd thing he found anywhere. There were countless references from children’s books and politicians. Imagine, school rhymes mixing up with Shakespearean literature. There is even a live BBC radio on one track, where they were playing Shakespeare. And John just scribbled and added that into the song. And if you hear the outro carefully, you can hear a part of the radio excerpt too! That’s how absurd the lyrics are. If you’ve heard I am the Walrus, these lyrics do stand out:
Yellow matter custard
Dripping from a dead dog’s eye
That was borrowed by John Lennon from a children’s’ rhyme:
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.
And John took the help of a lot of drugs too, especially LSD to write this song. But, that’s nothing unique as the Beatles were knee-deep into trying various substances back in 1967. Here’s what Lennon said in an interview to Playboy in 1980:
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.
Of course, the most famous part of the song, the Walrus himself was borrowed from Lewis Carrol’s poem ‘The Walrus and the Carpenter‘. Once John added a few more verses to the songs, he told Peter Shotton:
‘Let the f*ckers work THAT one out, Pete.’
That pretty much sums up how less of an effort John Lennon made in writing I am the Walrus. But, that wasn’t gonna stop us from going deep into the lyrics of this song, does it?
Who was the Walrus?
In the song, John Lennon proclaims he was the Walrus. But, in Glass Onion, he said:
Well here’s another clue for you all
The Walrus was Paul
And surely, Paul McCartney dressed as the Walrus in the song video too. However, they really didn’t put much thought into it. The Beatles just picked up the costume they found first, and that’s how Paul became the Walrus. But, little did John know that he made himself look like the villain by claiming to be the Walrus. He completely skipped the meaning of The Walrus and the Carpenter, as he later said:
It never dawned on me that Lewis Carroll was commenting on the capitalist and social 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, s**t, I picked the wrong guy. I should have said, ‘I am the carpenter.’ But that wouldn’t have been the same, would it?
BBC banned it!
This song was released by The Beatles back when the BBC was very sensitive about drugs and sexual content. A verse from this song goes like:
… pornographic priestess
Boy, you’ve been a naughty girl, you let your knickers down
And sure enough, this was enough for the BBC to ban this song from playing on the radio. But, George Harrison didn’t like this at all. He said:
Why can’t you have people f***ing as well? It’s going on everywhere in the world, all the time. So why can’t you mention it? It’s just a word made up by people. It doesn’t mean a thing, so why can’t we use it in a song?
Even in mockery, the Beatles made an incredible song
You see, this is the brilliance of the Beatles. This song was made to purely make fun of everyone who over-analyzed Beatles’ songs. But, even in mockery, they made a memorable psychedelic song. Sure, it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it is a pure musical comedy. It doesn’t take itself seriously and is a mockery of everyone who does. And if we keep that in mind, then the entire meaning of I am the Walrus changes.
Moreover, this song marks the point when the Beatles accepted the psychedelic genre. Previously, they hesitated in accepting their usage of LSD. But, with I am the Walrus, the Beatles completely embraced LSD and the psychedelic genre that it helped them create. This song even has a reference to Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds:
See how they fly like Lucy in the sky, see how they run
I’m crying, I’m crying
This just shows how the Beatles embraced their substance use, and in the process made an iconic tune. In short, Beatles critics who use this song need to relax and just don’t take their songs too seriously.