Alex Turner and John Lennon have more in comment than you might think. Both were raised in northern industrial towns, both fronted one of the biggest bands of their generation, and both are known for the brilliance of their lyrics. To many, Turner seemed to capture the kitchen-sink spirit of Lennon’s songwriting. It’s no wonder he was chosen to perform one of The Beatles’ most notoriously complex tracks back in 2012 during the Olympic opening ceremony in London.
Prior to the performance, The Arctic Monkeys frontman held nothing back in celebrating the infinitely inventive wordplay in such classic Beatles tracks as ‘I Am The Walrus’, revealing that Lennon’s linguistic dexterity had inspired his own songwriting on countless occasions. As Turner recalled during a 2012 interview: “I remember when I first started writing songs and writing lyrics, I really wanted to be able to write an ‘I Am The Walrus’-type song. And I found it very difficult. You listen to that and it sounds like it’s all nonsense, but it’s really difficult to write that sort of thing and make it compelling. Lennon definitely had a knack for that.”
Lennon’s distinctive songwriting style defines many of the tracks on Magical Mystery Tour. At that time, he was experimenting with a range of avant-garde and surrealist techniques such as collage, stream-of-consciousness, and cut out. The latter was a particular favourite of Lennon’s. It involved taking a structured piece of text and cutting it up into fragments. These fragments of language could then be moved around to form highly juxtaposed and evocative images. Lennon utilised the cut-up technique when he was writing the lyrics for the 1969 track ‘Come Together’.
Perhaps it is the fragmented nature of the opening track from Abbey Road that forced Alex Turner to wrote those same lyrics on his hand for his Olympic opening ceremony performance. No matter how hard he tried, the song seemed to resist memorisation. As he explained: “‘Come Together’, which we just played at the Olympics – I found that song difficult to get anywhere near. I’ve heard that song a thousand times before, but there’s not one word in that song that logically leads into the next one. It’s all a jumble. But it’s not just that if you know what I mean. It paints you a picture and puts you in this place. He’s got a way of leading you somewhere with these unusual words that don’t make sense, but also make perfect fucking sense.”
It is the dual nature of ‘Come Together’ that has made it such an enduring classic. That being said, a good deal of its meaning has been lost in the last few decades. The song was originally inspired by a request from the political candidate Timothy Leary, who asked The Beatles to write a song for his campaign for governor of California against Ronald Reagan.
However, his candidacy came to an abrupt end when he was imprisoned for possession of marijuana. As John Lennon once recalled: “The thing was created in the studio. It’s gobbledygook; ‘Come Together’ was an expression that Leary had come up with for his attempt at being president or whatever he wanted to be, and he asked me to write a campaign song. I tried and tried, but I couldn’t come up with one. But I came up with this, ‘Come Together’, which would’ve been no good to him—you couldn’t have a campaign song like that, right?” – No, I think Lennon might have been right there.