John Lennon’s “drug song” that would become a classic for The Beatles
If there’s one thing that mattered most to John Lennon it was being authentic. The singer-songwriter had quickly left the chart-topping doldrums of pop smashes behind him by 1965 as he and Paul McCartney stopped writing songs to order and became more involved as holistic musicians.
Released at the end of 1965, one song would go on to not only push Lennon and McCartney to the edge but make a deliberate and barbed point about the onset of the new acid generation. It was a marked moment for Beatles history. We’re looking back at the Beatles classic, ‘Day Tripper’.
The song was used as part of the double-A side single alongside ‘We Can Work It Out’ and saw Lennon and McCartney not only have to work with a figurative gun to their head, but also with the swirling new scene about to swallow them up. 1965 had been a big year for the band.
The release of Rubber Soul would put a clear barrier between the past and the future of the Fab Four and all the members seemed intent on never going back to the mop-top pop of old, no matter how much it was adored. It saw the band open themselves artistically and begin to express themselves more clearly in their music.
A lot of the songs of the time saw either Lennon or McCartney sharing their lives on the paper. In fact, the flip to ‘Day Tripper’ was ‘We Can Work It Out’, a song Paul wrote about an argument with his girlfriend Jane Asher. But ‘Day Tripper’ was a little bit different even though it was created in a similar fashion to their songs up until that point, by which we mean; very quickly.
“‘Day Tripper’ was [written] under complete pressure,” recalls Lennon in Anthology, “based on an old folk song I wrote about a month previous. 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.”
“That was a co-written effort; we were both there making it all up,” says McCartney in Many Years From Now, remembering their session at Weybridge, “but I would give John the main credit. 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.” Lennon and McCartney “eyeball to eyeball” crashing out a single is usual fodder but the song had a distinct target attached too.
Lennon told David Sheff of the track 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?” If you don’t you may be too pure for this world. The song’s references are squarely aimed at the onset of the acid scene and the perceived phonies who were relishing in it.
Of course, Lennon and George Harrison had already taken LSD by the time of writing and although they wouldn’t hit their peak using the drug until 1967, Lennon had clearly already brushed with the darker side of the drug. “‘Day Tripper’ was to do with tripping,” remembered Macca. “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.”
The song also saw the group do one of their favourite things and try to sneaky dirty words into the songs underneath the noses of censorship. The band had originally written, “she’s a big teaser” as “she’s a prick teaser”, though there doesn’t seem to be any suggestion the song would have been recorded as such. “I remember with the prick teasers we thought, that’d be fun to put in,” recalled McCartney. “That was one of the great things about collaborating, you could nudge-nudge, wink-wink a bit, whereas if you’re sitting on your own, you might not put it in.”
The track was released on the same day as the Rubber Soul album and hit the number one spot, staying there for five weeks and selling over a million copies. Despite this, ‘Day Tripper’ may not crash many people’s ‘Top 10 Beatles Songs’ lists but it remains a vitally important moment for the band.
It signifies yet another step towards their impending iconography as they expertly detail the world and the scene around them and deliver a global message of authenticity. On the face of it, this is a song about LSD, scratch the surface and it’s a song about everybody.