The Beatles were masters of sourcing inspiration from anywhere and everywhere. This eclectic mix of source materials is what made their sounds so fresh, all-encompassing, and as a result, entirely original. Cynics may well have dubbed it appropriation, but as Pablo Picasso once commented: “Good artists copy, great artists steal,” a line which was actually also ironically stolen from T.S. Eliot, who in turn may well have stolen it from someone else, such is art.
One of the key elements of their creative oeuvre was the realm of classical music. Within classical music is the backbone for pop structure, however, it is often under-utilised by many modern artists. The Beatles, on the other hand, absorbed every tune that they could, and put them in a creative spin to see what magic came out on the flipside.
Part of the beauty of The Beatles is the extent to which their music has permeated the collective song sheet and become a touchstone in so many lives. This ubiquitous transcendence into our wider lives can also be said of ‘Moonlight Sonata’, a piece of music that even deaf deep-sea fish have no doubt gladly heard. The link between The Beatles and the classical piece is a little more direct when it comes to ‘Because’ from the ‘Fab Fours’ iconic Abbey Road record.
As John Lennon once explained to David Sheff: “Yoko was playing ‘Moonlight Sonata’ on the piano. She was classically trained. I said, ‘Can you play those chords backwards?’ and I wrote ‘Because’ around them.” While the song deviates quite largely from its initial inspiration, Lennon’s story offers a fascinating insight into the creative process of his songwriting.
Lennon once said, “Any musician will tell you, just play a note on a piano, it’s got harmonics in it. It got to that. What the hell, I didn’t need anything else.” Thus, hearing a classical melody and twisting the arpeggios so that they go down instead of up and inserting some base notes ‘Moonlight Sonata’ was transformed into something swampy and psychedelic adjacent.
What’s more, with the circular cycle of music in the air, the lyrics soon took shape too. As the harmonies befittingly explain, “Because the world is round, it turns me on.” In fact, Lennon also wanted to reflect the crisp clarity of the ‘Moonlight Sonata’ in his wordplay. As he later opined: “The song sounds like ‘Moonlight Sonata,’ too. The lyrics are clear, no bulls–t, no imagery, no obscure references.”
The result, however, was typically divisive among the band. Lennon said the arrangement was terrible in later interviews, while Paul McCartney and George Harrison credited it as the best track on Abbey Road. Like it or loath it, perhaps that ambivalence is part of its beauty, because either way, it certainly proves to be one of their most defining tracks in a multitude of ways.