John Lennon first met Yoko Ono on November 9th, 1966. Ono was preparing an art installation at the Indica Gallery in London when Lennon walked in. The pair had an interesting start, with the Beatle questioning Ono on some of her pieces and Ono viewing him as an unwanted nuisance, but soon the two began what would quickly become each other’s most important romantic relationship.
A month after their meeting, The Beatles would begin recording sessions for what would eventually become Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Although the song was likely written after his first encounter with Ono, as evidenced by the fact that it was first rehearsed on February 28th, Lennon claimed that ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ was written about a dream girl that would eventually become Ono.
“The images were from Alice In Wonderland,” Lennon told David Sheff in 1980. “It was Alice in the boat. She is buying an egg and it turns into Humpty-Dumpty. The woman serving in the shop turns into a sheep, and the next minute they are rowing in a rowing boat somewhere and I was visualising that. There was also the image of the female who would someday come save me – a ‘girl with kaleidoscope eyes’ who would come out of the sky. It turned out to be Yoko, though I hadn’t met Yoko yet. So maybe it should be ‘Yoko In The Sky With Diamonds’.”
“It was purely unconscious that it came out to be LSD,” Lennon added. “Until somebody pointed it out, I never even thought of it. I mean, who would ever bother to look at initials of a title? It’s not an acid song. The imagery was Alice in the boat. And also the image of this female who would come and save me – this secret love that was going to come one day. So it turned out to be Yoko, though, and I hadn’t met Yoko then. But she was my imaginary girl that we all have.”
The impetus of the song was famously inspired by a drawing made by Lennon’s oldest son Julian. Paul McCartney doesn’t seem to recall any direct reference to Ono when he and Lennon completed the song, but her provided some insights as to which lyrical contributions were his and which belonged to Lennon.
“I showed up at John’s house and he had a drawing Julian had done at school with the title ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’ above it,” McCartney explains in the book Many Years From Now. “Then we went up to his music room and wrote the song, swapping psychedelic suggestions as we went. I remember coming up with ‘cellophane flowers’ and ‘newspaper taxis’ and John answered with things like ‘kaleidoscope eyes’ and ‘looking glass ties’. We never noticed the LSD initial until it was pointed out later – by which point people didn’t believe us.”
Upon its release on Sgt. Pepper’s, ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ was immediately praised for its embrace of psychedelia and the experimental arrangement that pulled the song together. Even though it was a groundbreaking recording, utilising Indian instrumentation and tape manipulation, Lennon was unsatisfied with the final product.
“I heard ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’ last night. It’s abysmal, you know?” Lennon told Sheff. “The track is just terrible. I mean, it is a great track, a great song, but it isn’t a great track because it wasn’t made right. You know what I mean? I feel I could remake every fucking one of them better. But that’s the artistic trip, isn’t it? That it why you keep going, always trying to make that next one the best.”