If you missed The Beatles the first time around there’s a good chance that you will, at one point in your life, have professed to not liking them. Whether it was because of teenage rebellion or a refusal to believe the hype, at moments in our lives we’ve all claimed the Fab Four to be a dinosaur. Such claims are usually met with a snort of derision (quite rightly) but there is some validity to the argument, namely in songs such as ‘I Am The Walrus’.
The track, upon first listening, is a confounding fever dream of cartoonish imagery and kaleidoscopic language that would seem more at home in a Monty Python pastiche. Lennon and McCartney may have been credited with the song, but it is solely written by Lennon. Released as the B-side to ‘Hello, Goodbye’, the track has become synonymous with the Fab Four’s wilder days, often cited as another pulsating and confusing introduction to The Beatles use of LSD. But in fact, its roots go back to Lennon’s school and an alleged sexual encounter with The Animals’ Eric Burdon.
We’ve told you all about the literary roots of ‘I Am The Walrus’, a song featured on The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour LP. Inspired by a Lewis Carroll poem, the song hangs on the meeting between the carpenter and the walrus, an allegory for socialism which Lennon interpreted through a series of acid-drenched dreams. “The first line was written on one acid trip one weekend,” Lennon told David Sheff in 1980. “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.”
Lennon confirmed that he had picked the character of the Walrus, taken from Lewis Caroll’s poem ‘The Walrus and The Carpenter’ but didn’t realise when constructing his confusing anthem, that the Walrus was the villain of the piece. “I thought, Oh, shit, I picked the wrong guy,” he said, before adding: “I should have said, ‘I am the carpenter.’ But that wouldn’t have been the same, would it? [Sings, laughing] ‘I am the carpenter’.” That ticks off two of the bigger characters in the story but there is one leftover—the egg man.
There are two schools of thought on who the ‘egg man’ may be. One is simply pointed out as another reference to Lewis Caroll and, in particular, Humpty Dumpty who features in Caroll’s book Alice in Wonderland. It’s true that Lennon was a huge fan of the book and during this phase of his songwriting career was leaning heavily on the psychedelic imagery of the book. But still, it feels a little cold to think of this fairly removed reference. The other school of thought is a touch x-rated.
According to many reports, Eric Burdon, of Animals fame, told Lennon about a particularly sordid story which involved Burdon receiving fellatio in a peculiar circumstance. The girl in question, hailing from Jamaica, cracked an egg on Burdon’s stomach and went down on The Animals man. It was a piece of salacious storytelling that would grab Lennon’s attention and brand Burdon ‘The Egg Man’ forevermore. While we can’t be sure on the legitimacy of the entire story, or whether in fact it did inspire Lennon, but we can be certain that it adds yet another thread to the enchanting tapestry of ‘I Am The Walrus’.
A song which can seem so churlish, when unpicked, becomes one of the greatest songs the band ever composed. If that isn’t the essence of The Beatles then we don’t know what is. So, if you’re fighting against the allure of the Fab Four and are trying to point to a silly song of theirs, push your finger away from ‘I Am The Walrus’, to save you looking a fool.