Drugs and The Beatles shared a symbiotic relationship. Substances were always there, lurking in the background throughout their career. Even during their early days, before the fame and notoriety, the groupware partaking in narcotics to keep the party moving. Paul McCartney once even referred to one of their records as their “drug album”.
Their relationship with substances started when they began performing in Hamburg in 1961. Playing live to audiences half a dozen times a day was proving to be a challenging task before they discovered amphetamines, and suddenly it all became a breeze. From that point, their curiosity had gotten the better of them, and The Fab Four were open to the idea of experimentation, which only benefitted their music by expanding their horizons.
During a visit to the States in 1964, a cultural turning point occurred when they met Bob Dylan for the very first time, and this meeting not only influenced Lennon to enter his self-proclaimed “Dylan period”, but he also introduced the group to cannabis.
The remnants of that evening with Dylan were audible for all to hear on Rubber Soul, but that’s not the record that McCartney called their “drug album”.
They began experimenting with LSD when they made Revolver. However, their use of psychedelics sky-rocketed for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and the group made no attempts to hide how narcotics helped shape the album’s sound.
Speaking about his first experience with the drug, McCartney once revealed: “John and George didn’t give LSD to me. A couple of guys came to visit us in LA, and it was them that said, ‘Man, you’ve got to try this.’ They had it in a bottle with an eye-dropper, and they dropped it on sugar cubes and gave it to us. That was my first trip.
“It was with John and George and Neil and Mal. Neil had to deal with Don Short while I was swimming in jelly in the pool. It was a fabulous day. The night wasn’t so great, because it felt like it was never going to wear off. Twelve hours later and it was: ‘Give us a break now, Lord’.”
The influence of drugs on the record most notably played out on ‘Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds’, which contained a not-so-subtle reference to LSD, although it was a connection that Lennon would later strongly deny.
Years later, McCartney revealed: “When (George Martin) was doing his TV program on Pepper, he asked me, ‘Do you know what caused Pepper?’ I said, ‘In one word, George, drugs. Pot.’ And George said, ‘No, no. But you weren’t on it all the time.’ ‘Yes, we were.’ Sgt. Pepper was a drug album.”
While substances influenced almost every album by The Beatles to some degree, they deliberately made a statement with Sgt. Pepper by incorporating it overtly into their image. They were trying to break free from the shackles of their mop-top, whiter than white pasts, and drugs helped them demonstrate to the general public that they had become men.