The Beatles, John Lennon, Paris, 1965
(Credit: Bent Rej)

Everybody is wrong about John Lennon writing this Beatles song about drugs

John Lennon and the rest of The Beatles were never afraid to share their experiences with drugs through song. Look back through their catalogue and whether it is Paul McCartney’s ode to marijuana ‘Got To Get You Into My Life’ or Lennon’s “first acid song” ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’, the Fab Four have always shared their thoughts on expanding one’s mind with the aid of chemicals.

There is one song, however, that for a long while everybody wrongly assumed was about drugs. Looking back, they’d be forgiven for thinking it, not only were all the letters put right in front of them but the lyrics in the track are certainly on the wilder side. Of course, we’re talking about the Sgt. Pepper song ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’.

The title is about all you would need to spark theories that this song was about acid. The fact that it came equipped with some of Lennon’s most visually inspiring and kaleidoscopic lyrical imagery only added to the misconception, but Lennon was always resolute in his defence that he had no idea the song’s title, spelled out LSD, “I had no idea it spelt LSD. This is the truth: my son came home with a drawing and showed me this strange-looking woman flying around. I said, ‘What is it?’ and he said, ‘It’s Lucy in the sky with diamonds,’ and I thought, ‘That’s beautiful.’ I immediately wrote a song about it.”

It’s a track that was largely written by Lennon but also sought advice and guidance from Paul McCartney who remembered writing the song for The Beatles Anthology, saying, “I showed up at John’s house and he had a drawing Julian had done at school with the title ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’ above it. Then we went up to his music room and wrote the song, swapping psychedelic suggestions as we went.”

So while the song may not have been ‘about drugs’ it was certainly inspired by them, “I remember coming up with ‘cellophane flowers’ and ‘newspaper taxis’ and John answered with things like ‘kaleidoscope eyes’ and ‘looking glass ties’. We never noticed the LSD initial until it was pointed out later – by which point people didn’t believe us.”

It’s not surprising the fans didn’t believe the songwriting pair. While McCartney’s LSD-use at this point in their career was largely under wraps, Lennon had been a keen supporter of the substances‘ ability to expand minds after he and Harrison had become more and more entrenched in the acid scene that was swallowing up London at the time. So while the song may never have been directly aimed at celebrating the drug, it’s influence is there for all to see.

There is however a little more depth to this song and idea too. Lennon was a known fan of Lewis Carroll who, among other titles, wrote the very trippy Alice in Wonderland. It’s a book from which Lennon has often drawn imagery, notably in ‘I Am The Walrus’, and ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ is heavily dosed with Carroll’s literary rendering, “The images were from Alice In Wonderland. It was Alice in the boat. She is buying an egg and it turns into Humpty-Dumpty,” revealed Lennon to David Sheff in 1980.

“The woman serving in the shop turns into a sheep, and the next minute they are rowing in a rowing boat somewhere and I was visualising that. There was also the image of the female who would someday come save me – a ‘girl with kaleidoscope eyes’ who would come out of the sky. It turned out to be Yoko, though I hadn’t met Yoko yet. So maybe it should be Yoko In The Sky With Diamonds.”

During the infamous conversation for Playboy, Lennon again confirmed that despite the coincidence, he had never intended the song to be about drugs. “It was purely unconscious that it came out to be LSD,” the bespectacled Beatle confirmed. “Until somebody pointed it out, I never even thought of it. I mean, who would ever bother to look at initials of a title? It’s not an acid song. The imagery was Alice in the boat. And also the image of this female who would come and save me – this secret love that was going to come one day.”

Adding: “So it turned out to be Yoko, though, and I hadn’t met Yoko then. But she was my imaginary girl that we all have.”

It was a song of The Beatles, like many, which had soured somewhat by 1980 for Lennon. “I heard ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’ last night. It’s abysmal, you know?” claimed the singer. “The track is just terrible. I mean, it is a great track, a great song, but it isn’t a great track because it wasn’t made right. You know what I mean? I feel I could remake every fucking one of them better. But that’s the artistic trip, isn’t it? That it why you keep going, always trying to make that next one the best.”

So there it is, if you ever thought The Beatles song ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ was about LSD then you’d be sorely mistaken. It was just heavily, heavily influenced by it.

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