Inspiration for a Beatles song could come from anywhere. Whether they were thought up in a dream, like ‘Yesterday’ or ‘Let It Be’, or ripped straight from the headlines, like ‘She’s Leaving Home’ and ‘A Day in the Life’, The Beatles always kept their ears to the ground in order to pick up new ideas. For an early tune, John Lennon channelled the groundbreaking work of Walk Disney and his animation studio.
According to Lennon, it was his mother Julia’s habit of singing classic songs that inspired him to write an early Beatles tune, ‘Do You Want to Know a Secret’. That particular song has it’s roots in ‘Wishing Well’ from Disney’s first-ever feature film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which Lennon associated with his mother.
“My mother was always… she was a comedienne and a singer. Not professional, but, you know, she used to get up in pubs and things like that,” Lennon recalled. “She had a good voice. She could do Kay Starr. She used to do this little tune when I was just a one- or two-year-old… yeah, she was still living with me then… The tune was from the Disney movie – ‘Want to know a secret? Promise not to tell. You are standing by a wishing well.’”
“So, I had this sort of thing in my head and I wrote it and just gave it to George to sing. I thought it would be a good vehicle for him because it only had three notes and he wasn’t the best singer in the world,” Lennon added somewhat dismisively. “He has improved a lot since then, but in those days his singing ability was very poor because (a) he hadn’t had the opportunity, and (b) he concentrated more on the guitar. So I wrote that – not for him as I was writing it, but when I had written it, I thought he could do it. It was just written.”
Lennon reiterates that he didn’t specifically write ‘Do You Want to Know a Secret’ for Harrison, but rather that the song simply ended up with him before Harrison gained the condifence to write his own material. “I can’t say I wrote it for George,” Lennon told David Sheff in 1980. “I was in the first apartment I’d ever had that wasn’t shared with fourteen other students – gals and guys at art school. I’d just married Cyn, and Brian Epstein gave us his secret little apartment that he kept in Liverpool for his sexual liaisons separate from his home life. And he let Cyn and I have that apartment.”
“‘Do You Want To Know A Secret’ was ‘my song’ on the album,” Harrison later recalled in the Anthology series. “I didn’t like my vocal on it. I didn’t know how to sing; nobody told me how to.”
The Beatles actually could have had a direct association with the Mouse House had they wanted to be a part of it. That’s because the members were offered the roles of the mop-top vultures from 1967’s The Jungle Book, but Lennon was allegedly not keen to work on animated movies. It was probably for the best, considering how The Beatles had shed their early look that the vultures were based on by the time the film was released.
Lennon also evidently changed his tune about cartoons quickly, considering how Yellow Submarine came out less than a year after The Jungle Book. The Beatles themselves didn’t participate in the film, apart from a brief live-action segment towards the conclusion of the movie, but they gave it their stamp of approval as it seemed like an easy way to fulfill their three-film contract with United Artists.