There’s no doubting that by the time The Beatles were finding their feet on the world stage, having ascended to their musical pinnacle with an intoxicating mixture of classic rock ‘n’ roll and smartened-up pop, they were beginning to see the cracks in those that surrounded them. The host of hangers-on had grown ever larger with every passing year and, as London itself began to be swallowed up by the swinging sixties, John Lennon and Paul McCartney saw the fakery of those scenes as well.
The band were in the middle of a hectic schedule and needed a new single to finish off 1965 with a bang. Lennon and his songwriting partner McCartney sat down under intense pressure and unfathomable scrutiny and tried to bang out a tune. Witnessing the growing number of counterculture revolutionaries who went back to their suit and tie office jobs during the week, the duo knew exactly who their next song, ‘Day Tripper’ would be aimed at.
The song would become a double-A side with ‘We Can Work It Out’, Lennon remembers writing the tune. “‘Day Tripper’ was [written] under complete pressure, based on an old folk song I wrote about a month previous. It was very hard going, that, and it sounds it. It wasn’t a serious message song. It was a drug song. In a way, it was a day tripper – I just liked the word.” While Lennon’s usually scything tongue is candied in regards to this track, his partner McCartney revealed the truth behind the number and it was far more barbed than you’d believe.
As with many of the duo’s songs, the track was written from a germ of one’s idea and finished by the both of them: “That was a co-written effort; we were both there making it all up but I would give John the main credit. Probably the idea came from John because he sang the lead, but it was a close thing. We both put a lot of work in on it.” That work revolved around picking out the posers in the growing counterculture movement.
As Lennon told David Sheff in 1980: “That’s mine. Including the lick, the guitar break and the whole bit. It’s just a rock ‘n’ roll song. Day trippers are people who go on a day trip, right? Usually on a ferryboat or something. But it was kind of – you know, you’re just a weekend hippie. Get it?”
McCartney later clarified the sentiment: “‘Day Tripper’ was to do with tripping. Acid was coming in on the scene, and often we’d do these songs about ‘the girl who thought she was it’… But this was just a tongue-in-cheek song about someone who was a day tripper, a Sunday painter, Sunday driver, somebody who was committed only in part to the idea.”
The real annoyance came because the band themselves had begun their own experimentation with drugs and they saw this commercialisation of it as a slight on their own journey: “Whereas we saw ourselves as full-time trippers, fully committed drivers, she was just a day tripper.”
The Beatles would never stay as full-time trippers, instead preferring to leave LSD and the like back in the sixties as their respective solo careers took off. But they did stay true to the cause of the counterculture movement, ensuring that love triumphed over hate and peace was always the path to glory.
On very few occasions did John Lennon and Paul McCartney use their songs to do anything but make your feet move or your mind motor but on ‘Day Tripper’ they chose to take aim at pop culture, and they hit a bullseye.