The Beatles began their careers as a charming pack of mop-top Liverpudlians whose pop songs connected with parents, children and all in between. However, somewhere in the mid-1960s, the group had been publicly outed as having toyed with psychedelic drugs. Initially, this news put the group out of favour with some people against such illicit behaviour. Around this same time, the Beatles’ music became more avant-garde and appeared to take on the strange form of music made under the influence of drugs.
The first album to push the boat out towards more poetic lyrics and abstract song structures was Revolver, a record that wielded some of the strangest of the Beatles’ tracks to date in ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ and ‘Love You To’, which both included sitar contributions. The tracks reflect Harrison’s increasing interest in Indian culture and his ongoing attempts to master the sitar. At this point in time, it was clear that the group had found creative energy from their meddling in psychedelic drugs and had begun to follow the ongoing hippie movement, which encouraged spiritual enlightenment, peace and free love.
By the time they released their 1967 album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the Beatles were a dab hand at creating hit psychedelic rock songs. Most notably, John Lennon wrote the wonderfully strange ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’, which is generally believed to be code for its inspiration from LSD. However, John Lennon did deny that the song title, which is also the refrain in the lyrics, was related to the drug and insisted that it had been inspired by a drawing his son had once shown him.
In 1967, the group were recording material for their upcoming animated comedy music film Yellow Submarine. The only song to have been directly and explicitly related to the Beatles’ use of LSD was recorded during these sessions. George Harrison wrote ‘It’s All Too Much’ while under the influence of LSD. He explained the song, stating: “‘It’s All Too Much’ was written in a childlike manner from realisations that appeared during and after some LSD experiences and which were later confirmed in meditation”.
The lyrics describe the overwhelming feeling Harrison had felt while under the influence: “It’s all too much for me to take/ The love that’s shining all around here/ All the world’s a birthday cake/ So take a piece but not too much/ Sail me on a silver sun, for I know that I’m free/ Show me that I’m everywhere, and get me home for tea”.
Harrison continued, “I just wanted to write a rock ‘n’ roll song about the whole psychedelic thing of the time. Because you’d trip out, you see, on all this stuff, and then whoops! you’d just be back having your evening cup of tea! ‘Your long blond hair and your eyes of blue’ – that was all just this big ending we had, going out. And as it was in those days, we had the horn players just play a bit of trumpet voluntarily, and so that’s how that ‘Prince of Denmark’ bit was played. And Paul and John just came up with and sang that lyric of ‘your eyes of blue’”.
The version used on the film soundtrack for Yellow Submarine was six minutes 28 seconds long, as heard below. An eight-minute mix of the track also exists and has appeared on Beatles bootlegs and contains a verse which also featured at another point in the film.
Listen to George Harrison’s beautifully strange ode to LSD, ‘It’s All Too Much’.