When John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr sat down to write a song, there’s no doubt that they always tried to deliver their best. Whether it was trying to share a sentiment or deliver a message or, indeed, just to get your toes tapping and hips swinging, it’s fair to say that the Fab Four gave it their all. However, according to Lennon, there were more than a few songs that should be labelled “throwaway”. One such song would combine both a strong cultural message and a lazy delivery; it would, in turn, become the band’s most ironic songs of all time.
‘Day Tripper’ is a track that many Beatles fans have a special fondness for. The song, often seen as the parent song to ‘Paperback Writer’, has become a rich part of the band’s iconography. It came when the band were beginning to open their minds with drugs and hoping to change their position from pop stars to rock heroes. As the end of 1965 approached, a seminal year for the band, the group needed a new single.
The perfect backing to the double a-side release with ‘We Can Work It Out’, Lennon set about writing a song aimed at the posers who were beginning to infiltrate London’s swinging scene. As acid and the mind-altering options it offered began to become a mainstay in the capital’s nightlife, the drug naturally welcomed many hangers-on who loved the look but didn’t keep the same values.
“That was a co-written effort; we were both there making it all up, but I would give John the main credit,” recalled McCartney when speaking to Barry Miles for Many Years From Now. “Probably the idea came from John because he sang the lead, but it was a close thing. We both put a lot of work in on it.”
George Harrison and John Lennon had already taken LSD by this point, and it was clear that the drug would influence a lot of the band’s work to come. “‘Day Tripper’ was to do with tripping,” the ‘Yesterday’ singer continued. “Acid was coming in on the scene, and often we’d do these songs about ‘the girl who thought she was it’… But this was just a tongue-in-cheek song about someone who was a day tripper, a Sunday painter, Sunday driver, somebody who was committed only in part to the idea. Whereas we saw ourselves as full-time trippers, fully committed drivers, she was just a day tripper.”
It was a sentiment that Lennon backed up when speaking to David Sheff in 1980: “That’s mine. Including the lick, the guitar break and the whole bit. It’s just a rock ‘n’ roll song. Day trippers are people who go on a day trip, right? Usually on a ferryboat or something. But it was kind of – you know, you’re just a weekend hippie. Get it?”
However, the song turned during the recording as it became clear they could not provide it with enough time to reach its preferred level. In doing so, the song soon became an ironic reflection of the very people they were trying to attack. This was The Beatles phoning it in: “‘Day Tripper’ was [written] under complete pressure, based on an old folk song I wrote about a month previous,” recalled Lennon, noted in The Beatles’ Anthology.
“It was very hard going, that, and it sounds it. It wasn’t a serious message song. It was a drug song. In a way, it was a day tripper – I just liked the word.” The reality is that, whether they knew it or not, The Beatles were the bastions of the counterculture movement, and, as they began to normalise marijuana and LSD, the posers and weekend hippies were descending on the scene en masse.
Of course, that doesn’t take anything away from the song. It is still one of the group’s finest. But it does add further credence to the sheer weight The Beatles held in popular culture.