Daniel Johnston, a singer-songwriter who is often described as one of the first major forces of the lo-fi outsider sub-genre to popular music, is a heavily tormented character.
Diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, Johnston spent large periods of his life in psychiatric institutions and, in many instances, the musician found a way to channel his inner demons through the creative form of his songwriting. Not just any music though, the Godfather of popular rock music; The Beatles.
Johnston has famously triumphed every aspect of The Beatles for years, collected rare memorabilia and going off into random tangents and stories his earliest memories of the band during countless interviews. Rumours circulated for years that Johnston initially began to teach himself the piano by learning every single Beatles song. “I started listening to the Beatles and got more into the knack of songwriting,” Johnston once told Pitchfork. “And then, finally, my dad bought me a book called Complete Beatles, and because I knew what the chords were at that time, from piano, I knew, I played every song in that book again and again, and I did develop a rapport with the Beatles songs,” he added.
He continued: “This book was like a bible to me and I knew all their songs and I played them, and then I kept doing this again and again and again. I kept writing with the Beatles theory over and over again. The Beatles mean a lot to me, and I listen to them a lot. They’re my main influence. And I just acquire anything I can get a hold of, from bootlegs to solo albums to whatever.”
Years of creating music in his home studio would follow Johnston’s breakthrough as he prolifically produced records as his sense of relief. Not only did learning Beatles tracks influence the way Johnston picked up playing the piano, but the band—more specially the words of Ringo Starr—influenced the way he approached creating music altogether: “I began to re-work because of what Ringo said in an interview. He said, ‘We took other people’s songs and rearranged their chord structures to write songs,’ and I go, ‘Wow!’ and I started doing that with their songs. And it was like magic, rearranging the chords. It was like a mathematical situation,” Johnston explained.
While Johnston has always pointed out the likes of ‘Yesterday’ and ‘I Am the Walrus’ as some of his favourite Beatles tunes, it’s his own rendition of 1966 track ‘Got to Get You into My Life’ that really caught our attention. The song, first released as part of The Beatles’ seventh studio album Revolver, written by Paul McCartney who once described it by saying: “It’s actually an ode to pot,” which resulted in lyrics which depict a trippy psychedelic experience.
Below, enjoy a rarely heard audio clip of Daniel Johnston doing what Ringo Starr told him to; reworking one of his favourite Beatles tunes.