I Am The Walrus (Lennon/McCartney)
I Am The Walrus was made up of three distinctly different songs–the first is the beginning of the song, which John was given the idea of by hearing a distant police siren. The second song was about John sitting in his garden at home (“sitting in an English garden…”). The third was a series of random phrases including, “sitting no a cornflake”. John created the song with other nonsense lines such as “elementary penguins” and “crabalocker”. “I Am the Walrus” is notorious for its innovative use of an orchestra, and Free As A Bird producer Jeff Lynne has said that the arrangement of I Am The Walrus heavily influenced the sound of his band Electric Light Orchestra.
Eric Burdon of The Animals has claimed in his biography to be “the Eggman”. In the biography, Burdon noted that he was famous for breaking eggs over nude women and that, once, John Lennon was present for such an event, saying, “Go on, go get it, Eggman.”
Nursery rhyme origins
Former Quarrymen member Pete Shotton helped with some of the lyric by helping John Lennon recall a nursery rhyme from their youth:
Yellow matter custard, green slop pie
All mixed together with a dead dog’s eye
Slap it on a butty, ten foot thick
Then wash it all down with a cup of cold sick
The backing vocals were performed by the singing group The Mike Sammes Singers, who also sang on Good Night and as well as numerous British pop recordings in the 1950s through the 1970s.
In the original stereo release, at around two minutes through the song (during the “Got one/got one/everybody’s got one” chant at the end of the song), the mix changes from true stereo to “fake stereo” (with most of the bass on one channel, and most of the treble on the other). This came about because John had a live BBC broadcast of Shakespeare’s “King Lear” (John Lennon later told Dennis Elsas that, at the time, he “didn’t even know it was Lear” and someone told him years later.) fed into the mono mix-down and so was unavailable for inclusion in the stereo mix; hence, fake stereo from the mono mix was created for this portion of the song. In 2003, the first-ever true stereo mix of the song (excepting the introduction) was included on The Beatles Anthology soundtrack DVD, and in 2006, the first-ever stereo mix of the complete song (from beginning to end, including the formerly “fake stereo” second half) was issued on Love. The true stereo mix had been made possible when a separate recording of the same King Lear radio performance used in the original mix was located. This does not, however, include the “tuning effect” heard in the original and since that was done during mixing for the original mono it can never be duplicated exactly.
The King Leer excerpt (from act four, scene six, lines 249-259) used in the song is as follows:
Oswald (played by John Bryning): Slave, thou hast slain me. Villain, take my purse. If ever thou wilt thrive, bury my body and give the letters which you find’st about me to Edmund, Earl of Gloucester. Seek him out upon the English party. O, untimely death! Death!
Edgar (played by Philip Guard): I know thee well: a serviceable villain, as duteous to the vices of thy mistress as badness would desire.
Gloucester (played by Mark Dignam): What, is he dead?
Edgar: Sit you down, father. Rest you.
This video isolates the exact audio from the performance as it was used in the mix:
“The first line was written on one acid trip one weekend. The second line was written on the next acid trip the next weekend, and it was filled in after I met Yoko. Part of it was putting down Hare Krishna. All these people were going on about Hare Krishna, Allen Ginsberg in particular. The reference to “Element’ry penguin” is the elementary, naive attitude of going around chanting, “Hare Krishna,” or putting all your faith in any one idol. I was writing obscurely, a la Dylan, in those days.It actually was fantastic in stereo, but you never hear it all. There was too much to get on. It was too messy a mix. One track was live BBC Radio – Shakespeare or something – I just fed in whatever lines came in. (The Walrus itself)’s from “The Walrus and the Carpenter.” “Alice in Wonderland.” To me, it was a beautiful poem. It never dawned on me that Lewis Carroll was commenting on the capitalist and social system. I never went into that bit about what he really meant, like people are doing with the Beatles’ work. Later, I went back and looked at it and realized that the walrus was the bad guy in the story and the carpenter was the good guy. I thought, Oh, shit, I picked the wrong guy. I should have said, “I am the carpenter.” But that wouldn’t have been the same, would it? [Singing] “I am the carpenter….”” – John Lennon, Playboy, 1980
“Let the fuckers work that one out.” — John Lennon, referring to people analyzing Beatles lyrics
Multiple masters exist of I Am The Walrus.
- On the US mono mix the drums drop out at the beginning of the first bridge (“I’m crying”) and four extra bars before the line “yellow matter custard”
- The US stereo mix is a different mix than the UK stereo mix
- The German stereo mix begins with a six bar instrumental intro instead of the regular four. The background vocals are mixed louder than the UK or US mixes beginning during the first bridge (“I’m Crying”)
Additionally, The US album Rarities features a new mix made by combining elements of other mixes, including the six beat intro found in the German stereo mix and the extra four bars heard before the line “yellow matter custard” in the US mono mix.
The raw take 16 is included on Anthology 2 and reveals John mistakenly singing the lyrics “Yellow mat – ” too early — this was obviously edited out on the eventual master.
- John Lennon – lead vocals, electric piano, Mellotron
- Paul McCartney – bass guitar, tambourine
- George Harrison – electric guitar
- Ringo Starr – drums
- Mike Sammes singers – backing vocals
- Ray Thomas – backing vocals
- Mike Pinder – backing vocals
- Uncredited session musicians – strings, brass, and woodwinds