Since it was released in 1967, the John Lennon-authored Beatles song ‘I Am the Walrus’ has been one of the most fascinating in the band’s oeuvre. A psychedelic pop masterpiece, the perennially mischievous songwriter wrote the track with the intent of confusing listeners, who by this point attempted to interpret every one of his and his bandmate’s lyrics in an overly forensic way.
Compounding the track’s surreal and opaque nature was the fact that two LSD trips and Lewis Carroll’s 1871 poem ‘The Walrus and the Carpenter’ also inspired it. Duly, both aspects added extra layers of mystery to Lennon’s deliberately bizarre lyrics. The song features on the album Magical Mystery Tour, which, fittingly, is the band’s most mystifying body of work, featuring other bizarre cuts such as the title track.
Despite Lennon wanting the song to be confusing because The Beatles were the biggest act on the planet, this didn’t stop people from reading whatever they wanted into it, with the band members and peers, such as Eric Burdon of The Animals, all offering different accounts of its meaning.
People could be so wrong in their readings that Lennon would find himself correcting listeners who presented him with their ideas. Famously, he once corrected a journalist who misheard one of the lines, claiming that the song was about sex and not marijuana. What ensued was the songwriter contemplating the role sex plays in music as a whole.
As pointed out by Cheat Sheet, the book All We Are Saying: The Last Major Interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono includes a 1980 interview with Lennon. In it, he is asked if the bombastic ‘I Am the Walrus’ includes the lyric “Everybody smoke pot”. When discussing it, Lennon responded: “No, no, no,” he said. “I had this whole choir saying, ‘Everybody’s got one, everybody’s got one’.”
The Liverpool native then proceeded to explain why the lyric was hard to make out: “When you get 30 people, male and female, on top of 30 cellos and on top of The Beatles‘ rock ‘n’ roll rhythm section, you can’t hear what they’re saying”.
Asked what it is that everybody’s got, Lennon provided one of his customarily sharp comebacks. “Anything,” he said. “You name it. One penis, one vagina, one asshole — you name it.”
Regarding whether the song was about marijuana, Lennon’s response was also humorous. “I wouldn’t be so gross,” he said. “Listen, writing about music is like talking about f******. Who wants to talk about it? But you know, maybe some people do want to talk about it. F****** is f******, and not f****** is not f******.”