John Lennon was inspired by Beethoven to write this Beatles classic
The well from which The Beatles drew their inspiration had constantly fluctuating levels. The band, and there principal songwriters, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, made their names by turning pop music into something self-reflective, personal and vulnerable—it was a very modern way of working.
However, that didn’t stop the band from being inspired by the past. While nicking Chuck Berry riffs was somewhat commonplace, one song from the band’s album Abbey Road was inspired by something a little grander, like the greatest composer of all time, Ludwig Van Beethoven.
“I’ve just written a song called ‘Because.’ Yoko was playing some classical bit, and I said ‘Play that backwards,’ and we had a tune. We’ll probably write a lot more in the future,” retold John Lennon in 1969.
Lennon was inspired by Beethoven after listening to him with his wife Yoko Ono as she played Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata’ and the Beatle became overawed by the sound. It was enough to send him on his way writing the Abbey Road song, ‘Because’. The track remains a vital part of their catalogue to this day.
The track was the final song recorded for The Beatles 1969 album and sees Lennon not only take inspiration from the past in the form of legendary composer Beethoven but also this little known band called The Beatles, as the singer suggested a three-part harmony, a la Beatles of old, may be the most fitting way to accent the track. But, let’s get back to the inspiration.
As well as being an avant-garde artistic agitator, Yoko Ono was also a classically trained pianist. As Lennon lay back in their home, drifting between thoughts, Ono sat down at the piano and played Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp minor, Op. 27, No. 2 – the Moonlight Sonata. It sparked something in Lennon.
“Yoko was playing Moonlight Sonata on the piano. She was classically trained. I said, ‘Can you play those chords backwards?’ and wrote ‘Because’ around them,” remembered Lennon when speaking with David Sheff. Musically, the song isn’t an identical representation but the similarities are hard to ignore. “The lyrics speak for themselves; they’re clear. No bullshit. No imagery, no obscure references.”
“John wrote this tune,” tells George Harrison as part of a press requirement around the release of the album. “The backing is a bit like Beethoven. And three-part harmony right throughout. Paul usually writes the sweeter tunes, and John writes the, sort of, more the rave-up things, or the freakier things. But John’s getting to where he doesn’t want to. He just wants to write twelve-bars.”
However, for Harrison, Lennon would be missing a trick if he only focused on such songs, “You can’t deny it, I think this is possibly my favourite one on the album. The lyrics are so simple. The harmony was pretty difficult to sing. We had to really learn it. But I think that’s one of the tunes that will impress most people. It’s really good.”
The three-part harmony may feel extra luscious to those with keen ears because the band not only recorded their own three-part piece but also overdubbed it twice, equating to nine voices on the song. It’s made for one of the more interesting isolated vocals we’ve heard and can be found on Anthology 3.
Though Ringo’s only job on the song was to keep time for George Martin and John Lennon as they tried to marry up guitar and harpsichord, the song remains a lasting image of a band like no other. It wouldn’t take long for the band to split after Abbey Road and the fact that ‘Because’ is the last song they recorded for the album makes it all the more weighty in sentiment.
Arguably, ‘Because’ is the final moment The Beatles were really working in sync. Below listen to that track and see if you can hear the Beethoven sequence and the nine voices on the harmonies. It works as a reminder for how great this band truly were.