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How The Beatles used Shakespeare in a classic song

Guitarist John Lennon was renowned for making bullish claims, but his assertion that ‘Whatever Gets You Thru The Night’ took as long to record as ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ raised eyebrows. “But ‘I Am the Walrus’ sounds like a wonderful production,” he said. “‘Strawberry Fields [Forever]’ sounds like a big production. But I do them as quick as I possibly can, without losing (a) the feel and (b) where I’m going.”

A better description than ‘wonderful’ is Shakespearian, which can be applied to ‘I Am The Walrus’, embodying the drama, density and elegance of the world at large. Interestingly, the recording actually uses a snippet from a recording of a Shakespearian drama. “When I was mixing the record,” Lennon remembered, “I just heard a radio in the room that was tuned to some BBC channel all the time, and we did about, I don’t know, half a dozen mixes, and I just used whatever was coming through at the time.”

Interestingly, Lennon wasn’t actually aware of the song’s sample of a Shakespearian drama. “I never knew it was King Lear till years later somebody told me, because I could hardly make out what he was saying,” he said. “But I just sort of … it was interesting to mix the whole thing with a live radio coming through it.” Nevertheless, the inserted dialogue only added to the drama, bravura and scope of the recording itself, bringing an added dimension to ‘I Am The Walrus’, one of Lennon’s greatest works.
Indeed, the recording seeps into the milieu of the world Lennon and The Beatles are building, carrying a chaos, candour and camaraderie that feels in keeping with the tune as a work of art.

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The Beatles were in their element, curating a whole new area of sound recording, stemming from the beginnings of the tune, creating a pulsating, piercing portrait of a group of characters enjoying the madness that has entered into the world. The Beatles were enjoying the insanity of the world, creating a vortex from which the band could enjoy their true selves as raconteurs and entertainers, enjoying the ride and spectacle that they could proudly proclaim to be theirs and theirs alone.

The moptops and maniacal yelps were a facade, and it was only when the band sheltered themselves from the world that were they able to show their true selves. The songs and stylistic workouts were the types of spectacles that showed the band for their honesty and creativity, bringing their sense of creation to fruition.

But what it held was a sense of lingering, longing and understanding, deepening the mythos that was as far-reaching and ferocious as the work of The Bard, delving into density, dignity and romantic flavourings. The flairs, contradictions and compassion that make up a Shakespearian drama are all there in ‘I Am The Walrus’, and the songs were spinning into a tale that was as polished as King Lear‘s purgings of the soul. The band sound united, untied from the basis of Shakespeare’s tales of debauchery and destruction, never underestimating the power of the ensemble above everything else in life.

Lennon was also committed to the build-up of his own mythos, creating a new sense of place in the furnace of his own work, deeply and keenly aware that his work was as important as The Bard’s script work. And in his own work, he made sure to remember the galloping bass work Paul McCartney brought to the song, enrichening the tune for the listener. Curiously, Lennon credited McCartney as ‘The Walrus’ on ‘Glass Onion’, suggesting that the crypticism suited the band better than an honest appraisal.

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