The Beatles song that “possessed” John Lennon and stopped him sleeping
John Lennon had a wild ride as part of The Beatles. As his personal life became the focus of tabloid papers across the world, the singer decided to cut out the middle man during the mid-sixties and, rather than writing pop songs, he set out to write personal material. Tracks which were so plainly about his personal life that the world’s desire to nose around in his private business would considerably diminish.
Of course, that wasn’t the only reason he began writing in a new direction, but the music had certainly become a way for Lennon to express himself more truthfully. The Beatles provided Lennon with the space to note down his feeling and emotions on paper and put them in a song and, on occasion, the songs wrote themselves down.
One such track which would go on to signify the sheer skills Lennon possessed, and on that ended up on the Let It Be record, released in 1970 but composed in 1967, was ‘Across The Universe’, a track which Lennon says “wrote itself”.
The number is often thought of as one of Lennon’s best works but the singer admitted he felt like he had little contribution to the track after explaining its conception to David Sheff of Playboy in 1980: “I was a bit more artsy-fartsy there. I was lying next to my first wife in bed, (the song was originally written in 1967) you know, and I was irritated. She must have been going on and on about something and she’d gone to sleep. I kept hearing these words over and over, flowing like an endless stream.
“I went downstairs and it turned into a sort of cosmic song rather than an irritated song—rather than ‘Why are you always mouthing off at me?’ or whatever, right?… and I’ve sat down and looked at it and said, ‘Can I write another one with this meter?’ It’s so interesting. ‘Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup/ They slither while the pass, they slip away across the universe.’ Such an extraordinary meter and I can never repeat it!”
Lennon would hold his hands up and suggest that he had little to do with songs final construction: “It’s not a matter of craftsmanship—it wrote itself. It drove me out of bed. I didn’t want to write it… and I couldn’t get to sleep until I put it on paper… It’s like being possessed—like a psychic or a medium. The thing has to go down. It won’t let you sleep, so you have to get up, make it into something, and then you’re allowed to sleep.”
It may have had something to do with the time in which he wrote it, a dreamlike state which McCartney has also professed to have found fruitful for songwriting. “That’s always in the middle of the night when you’re half-awake or tired and your critical facilities are switched off.”
However the song came about, there’s no doubting that it is one of The Beatles finest. The fact it arrived seemingly of its own accord is the icing on the cake.