The intellectualisation of The Beatles is one of the landmark moments in their career. Of course, they had changed the script on everything [popular music was supposed to be right from the start, but as they moved away from pop ditties and towards a more robust artistic output, the group became entrenched in endless theories and a cacophony of different viewpoints on their work. To make matters worse, the members of the band seemed keen to play into it.
One area in which the band kept their audience guessing was within their lyrics. The group were soon well aware that every single, album track, or studio cough was not only being caught on tape but put down in print and pushed towards their fans for a public pawing-over. It was an opportunity that the Fab Four couldn’t miss and saw John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr often leave little easter eggs for their fans to find.
A particular favourite of the group’s cheeky behaviour was to use lyrics to make references to their own songs. It not only provided fans with another lyric hunt to embark on but also confirmed themselves as a behemoth of culture. Far beyond any other pop group, The Beatles could easily refer to themselves as pieces of the cultural landscape, and their fans would go crazy for it. Below, we’ve picked out every Beatles song which refers to another.
The most famous moment of this happening is on ‘Glass Onion’, a song in which Lennon not only referred to plenty of classic Beatles numbers but also got tongues wagging by simply singing “the walrus was Paul.” It’s a line that would spark countless theories, and Lennon threw into the mix for fun: “That’s me, just doing a throwaway song, à la ‘Walrus’, à la everything I’ve ever written,” Lennon told Davids Sheff for Playboy. “I threw the line in – ‘the Walrus was Paul’ – just to confuse everybody a bit more. And I thought Walrus has now become me, meaning ‘I am the one.’ Only it didn’t mean that in this song. It could have been ‘the fox terrier is Paul,’ you know. I mean, it’s just a bit of poetry. It was just thrown in like that.”
The truth is, Lennon was well aware of the power he had when penning a Beatles song and so chose to answer back to those people looking for hidden meanings in his and the band’s songs. He gave them a whole heap of references to check and double-check. As well as referencing ‘I Am The Walrus’, Lennon also gave nods to other Beatles songs during the “told you ’bout” run of lines, including, ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’, ‘Lady Madonna’, ‘The Fool on the Hill’ and ‘Fixing a Hole’.
There are plenty of other moments during which The Beatles made reference to a song of theirs. As well as ‘Glass Onion’ there is a reference in ‘Lady Madonna’ to ‘I Am The Walrus’ with the line “see how they run” which, itself, references ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’ with the lyric “see how they fly like Lucy in the sky”. In the classic ‘All You Need Is Love’, one of the band’s triumphant anthems, they sing the words “she loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah” in one of the more direct references to a Fab Four song.
It continues too, in ‘Savoy Truffle’ the song George Harrison wrote about Eric Clapton’s fear of dentistry, there is a not so subtle reference to ‘Ob-la-di Ob-la-da’. On ‘Carry That Weight’ the group use the melody of ‘You Never Give Me Your Money’ to act as the bridge into the next part of the Abbey Road medley. You’ll soon find that the more you dive into the work of The Beatles, the more there is to find.
Not many artists could have pulled off such a fiendishly clever plot to keep their audience endlessly combing their material for hidden messages and nods to their own work. But that, perhaps, is just why The Beatles are so revered to this day. They provided the means to breed a fanatical fanbase.
The Beatles songs that refer to other Beatles songs:
- ‘Glass Onion’ — refers to ‘I Am The Walrus’, ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’, ‘Lady Madonna’, ‘The Fool on the Hill’ and ‘Fixing a Hole’
- ‘I Am The Walrus’ — refers to ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’
- ‘All You Need Is Love’ — refers to ‘She Loves You’
- ‘Savoy Truffle’ — refers to ‘Ob-la-di Ob-la-da’
- ‘Lady Madonna’ — refers to ‘I Am The Walrus’
- ‘What Goes On’ — refers to ‘Tell Me Why’
- ‘Carry That Weight’ — refers to ‘You Never Give Me Your Money’