The Beatles were one of the greatest pop acts of all time. From the moment they hit the airwaves through to the swell of Beatlemania and beyond to their status as bonafide rock gods, the Fab Four were held in the highest of esteem by their public — something which continues to this day, nearly six decades after they made their name. However, that doesn’t mean the band were always pleasant to their audience, often using clever lyrics and subtly placed songs to spark their furious intrigue, such as in ‘Glass Onion’, which contained the line “the walrus is Paul” that sent millions of fans into song deconstruction overdrive.
However, there is one song that both The Beatles and their audience misunderstood, the one song that fooled everybody, depending on who you believe. ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ is undoubtedly one of the band’s most famous songs. Not only does it have the bombastic orchestral arrangements and Lewis Caroll-esque lyrics that Lennon had been perfecting in the mid-to-late sixties, but it seemingly championed a brand new way of songwriting. It goes without saying that this new approach was helped in no small part by the advent of the hallucinogenic drug LSD. But though audiences heralded the band for their explicit references to acid within the song, the original writers were completely baffled by this take.
The title and its initials are about all you would need to spark theories that this song was about acid. The band were already prompting deep academic study with their newfound way of songwriting anyhow that the mere whiff of a subversive sub-plot was all a song needed to be put under the muso microscope. The fact that it came equipped with some of Lennon’s most visually inspiring and kaleidoscopic lyrical imagery only added to the misconception.
However, Lennon was always resolute in his defence that he had no idea the song’s title spelt out LSD: “I had no idea it spelt LSD. This is the truth: my son came home with a drawing and showed me this strange-looking woman flying around. I said, ‘What is it?’ and he said, ‘It’s Lucy in the sky with diamonds,’ and I thought, ‘That’s beautiful.’ I immediately wrote a song about it.”
Lennon did, however, admit that the song was hugely inspired by Caroll, an author who had begun to infiltrate a lot of the Liverpudlian’s work: “The images were from Alice In Wonderland,” he 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,” the singer continued, apparently unaware of the connotations of the piece. “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.”
It’s a track that was largely written by Lennon but also sought advice and guidance from Paul McCartney who remembered writing the song for The Beatles Anthology, saying: “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. Then we went up to his music room and wrote the song, swapping psychedelic suggestions as we went.”
So while the song may not have been ‘about drugs’, it was certainly inspired by them. “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.”
These explanations leave us in a slightly strange place. While taken at face value, it seems obvious that the songwriters of ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ were not trying to send a coded message to their followers about LSD, the song still feels strangely connected to the experience. Lyrically, it is one of the band’s most unusual pieces and certainly toys with the same ideas that acid-rock was using at the time.
Our theory is that the band were so engrossed in their defence of the song that they wilfully forgot the designated inception of the track, fooling not only the censors of the day, nor just their audience, but even themselves.