The Beatles song Paul McCartney wrote as an ode to marijuana
In 1966, The Beatles were tired. Tired of their boyband image and tired of pretending to be a clean-cut role model for everyone and their mother. With their new album, Revolver, the Fab Four would make a clear statement of intent, The Beatles were not boys anymore and they certainly weren’t here to make your granny smile from ear to ear. They had grown up into rock stars and they were keen to show everybody they could.
Long gone were the thigh-slapping ditties and heavenly harmonies of their meteoric rise, now, things had got serious. Lennon and McCartney were, arguably, still just finding their songwriting feet and the band’s output greatly improved because of it. The duo began looking further afield for their inspiration outside the obvious motifs of girls and fast cars and while that usually meant a lot of introspective thinking and autobiographical writing it also to one particular song acting as an ode to marijuana.
The band had, according to reports, been formally introduced to cannabis by the iconic figure of the songwriting genius Bob Dylan during a special meeting back in 1964. The two artists met after a show and it saw Dylan arrive with a sizeable bag of weed, but the Fab Four were all amateurs in the game, a surprising moment for Dylan who had expected to find four stoners when they met.
The confusion arose as Dylan thought they were singing “I get high” in the chorus of their 1964 hit ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’. John Lennon was quick to explain that the often misheard lyric was actually, “I can’t hide”. Ringo Starr confirmed the story in 2012 with Conan O’Brien proclaiming: “We got high and laughed our asses off”. By 1966, weed had become an integral part of The Beatles career and creative process, at least behind closed doors.
The group then paid homage to the drug with one particular song on Revolver, which many have pointed to as being the most affected by drugs, the brilliant ‘Got To Get You Into My Life’. In 1980, Lennon reflected on the song during his interview with Playboy’s David Sheff: “Paul. I think that was one of his best songs, too, because the lyrics are good and I didn’t write them,” he said. “You see? When I say that he could write lyrics if he took the effort— here’s an example.” A rare compliment from Lennon means the song certainly had some sway within the group.
Lyrically, the song was a complex and confounding arrangement of trippy lines and delicate nods to the illegal substances that were filling the streets of London as part of the counter-culture movement. There had certainly been hints at the narcotics of the day during the band’s songs before but this was different.
It was down to perhaps the band’s straightest member, Paul McCartney, to be the most explicit about drugs: “I’d been a rather straight working-class lad,” reflected McCartney during an interview in 1994. “But when we started to get into pot it seemed to me to be quite uplifting. It didn’t seem to have too many side effects like alcohol or some of the other stuff, like pills, which I pretty much kept off. I kind of liked marijuana and to me, it seemed it was mind-expanding, literally mind-expanding.”
“That is actually the best way,” Macca continued. Though he did concede one thing: “But in a stressful world I still would say that pot was one of the best of the tranquillizing drugs. I have drunk and smoked pot and of the two I think pot is less harmful. People tend to fall asleep on it rather than go out and commit murder, so it’s always seemed to me to be a rather benign one.”
Looking back, it’s clear that Revolver marked The Beatles outgrowing their previous images. It saw the band grow, evolve and for the sake of their sanity, get a little dirtier than their clean-cut image had ever previously allowed. On ‘Got To Get You Into My Life’ was McCartney’s own personal rebellion.