Even though the majority of his early-period Beatles songs dealt with love and relationships, John Lennon rarely indicated that any of those songs were for specific people. In fact, the only song that Lennon indicated was directly related to his first wife, Cynthia, was ‘Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)’, which deals with one of his extra-marital affairs.
By the time Lennon became involved with performance artist Yoko Ono, he was more open to writing songs inspired by his distinct love for her. These are tracks like ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’, which diversify the standard love song tropes that the band had perfected during their early years. As The Beatles approached the end of the 1960s, their desire to diversify their musical style saw them approaching concepts like love in new and occasionally head-scratching ways.
Take, for instance, ‘Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me And My Monkey’, the frantic rocker from The White Album. Featuring clanking bells and hectic guitar lines, ‘Monkey’ is aggressive and harried in ways that few traditional love songs ever would be. But Lennon explained that his love for Ono was the direct inspiration behind the hard rock album cut.
“That was just a sort of nice line that I made into a song. It was about me and Yoko,” Lennon told David Sheff in 1980. “Everybody seemed to be paranoid except for us two, who were in the glow of love. Everything is clear and open when you’re in love. Everybody was sort of tense around us: you know, ‘What is she doing here at the session? Why is she with him?’ All this sort of madness is going on around us because we just happened to want to be together all the time.”
Paul McCartney saw the song as a direct nod to the heroin addiction that Lennon and Ono were engulfed in at the time. “He was getting into harder drugs than we’d been into and so his songs were taking on more references to heroin,” McCartney said in Barry Miles’ Many Years From Now. “Until that point, we had made rather mild, oblique references to pot or LSD. Now John started talking about fixes and monkeys and it was a harder terminology which the rest of us weren’t into.”
“We were disappointed that he was getting into heroin because we didn’t really see how we could help him,” McCartney continued. “We just hoped it wouldn’t go too far. In actual fact, he did end up clean but this was the period when he was on it. It was a tough period for John, but often that adversity and that craziness can lead to good art, as I think it did in this case.”
McCartney wasn’t alone, as Lennon’s “monkey” reference was commonly tagged as a drug reference. Lennon denied it, but the barrier between Lennon, Ono, and the outside world had to be constructed of something and would be reinforced until his tragic death.