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*6.04-I AM THE WALRUS (Beatles)

John Lennon
John Lennon as the Eggman

LISTEN

[Intro]

I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.
See how they run like pigs from a gun, see how they fly.
I'm crying.

     Sitting on a cornflake, waiting for the van to come.
     Corporation t-shirt, stupid bloody Tuesday...
     man, you been a naughty boy, you let your face grow long.

          I am the eggman, they are the eggmen.
          I am the walrus, goo goo g'joob.

Mister City Policeman sitting pretty little policemen in a row.
See how they fly like Lucy in the sky, see how they run.
I'm crying (4x)

     Yellow matter custard dripping from a dead dog's eye.
     Crabalocker fishwife, pornographic priestess...
     boy, you been a naughty girl you let your knickers down.

          [Chorus]

               Sitting in an English garden waiting for the sun.
               If the sun don't come, you get a tan
               from standing in the English rain.

          [Chorus]

Expert textpert choking smokers, don't you think the joker laughs at you?
See how they smile like pigs in a sty, see how they snied.
I'm crying.

     Semolina pilchard climbing up the Eiffel Tower.
     Elementary penguin singing Hari Krishna...
     man, you should have seen them kicking Edgar Allan Poe.

          [Chorus]

          [Coda]


Richie Unterberger wrote for the allmusic website “I Am the Walrus is the densest and most symphonic track from the Beatles' psychedelic period, with so many layers of sounds and effects that it takes quite a few listenings to get to the bottom of them.” When this song was released as the B side of Hello Goodbye, I remember Hello Goodbye's pleasures were quickly consumed, while I poured over repeated plays of Walrus, fascinated with the various textures and sounds, independent of their mysterious and absurd meaning. Despite the nonsense of its lyrics, I was convinced, and am still convinced, it is an “art song”. It proved to mark the furthest reaches of psychedelia as a dominant music form, for by the dawn of 1968, fashion was beginning to swing away from such excess of experimentation, seeking a simpler and more earnest presentation.

I believe that I Am the Walrus is an excellent depiction of being inside an LSD trip. The very first line of lyric dissolves separate identities into a universal interdependence that “heads” used to call “oceanic feeling”. The mood swings from laughter to crying in the record are indicators that the singer is being moved beyond words, and is emblematic of a tripping state. The nonsense words set up a dreamscape in which images are sensed as important but escape meaning. “It’s all too much!” as George Harrison would write (in the psychedelic mode) about the same time. Both Harrison and Lennon seem to praise a dizzily complex, simultaneously horrible and beautiful universe in which the self is just a speck. The giddiness of tripping shows up in the goo goo g’joob, which to my ears echoes the boop boopy doop of the cartoon character Betty Boop. Such excess in pursuit of experimental pop was probably too much to sustain for long.

John Lennon composed the avant-garde song I Am the Walrus by combining three songs he had been working on, the first of which was inspired by hearing a police siren at his home in Weybridge; Lennon wrote the lines "Mis-ter cit-y police-man" to the alternating tone rhythm of an English emergency rescue vehicle. (The Rolling Stones picked up on the siren melody for their single Street Fighting Man, released the following Summer. It came to connote being an “outlaw”, a metaphor which continues to be used in hip hop, though the present day American police siren is usually quoted directly as a sound effect. Previous to Walrus, the Yardbirds used guitar feedback to imitate an emergency rescue siren in their single Happenings Ten Years Time Ago.) Wikipedia states that the second idea in Walrus was a short rhyme about Lennon sitting in his garden, while the third was a nonsense lyric about sitting on a corn flake. Unable to finish the ideas as three different songs, he combined them into one. When he learned that a teacher at his old primary school was having his students analyze Beatles' lyrics, he added more nonsense words.

The walrus is a reference to the walrus in Lewis Carroll's "The Walrus and the Carpenter" (from the book Through the Looking-Glass). According to Wikipedia, Lennon later expressed dismay upon learning that the walrus was a villain in the poem. Perhaps Lennon remembered the etchings of the walrus in the book and had forgotten the story. By the time of its release, Walrus was only one of a series of psychedelic songs that developed themes introduced by Lewis Carroll. (The most famous Carroll reference was White Rabbit by the Jefferson Airplane, a hit single in July 1967.)

Musicologist Alan W. Pollack analyzed the coda of I Am the Walrus thus: "The chord progression of the outro itself is a harmonic Moebius strip with scales in bassline and top voice that move in contrary motion." The effect is known as a “Shepard’s Tone” or sonic barber’s pole. Though the effect was used by Johann Sebastian Bach, I Am the Walrus is the first time it appeared and popular music, though it has been employed by several pop music artists since. The bassline descends stepwise A, G, F, E, D, C, and B, while the strings' part rises A, B, C, D, E, F#, G: this sequence repeats as the song fades, with the strings rising higher on each iteration. Pollack also notes that by this pattern of four-measure phrases, a different chord shows up at the beginning of every third phrase. The contrary motion of the two scales drive the chord progression, rather than harmonic theory."

A large group of professional studio vocalists, named "The Mike Sammes Singers", took part in recording their voices for Walrus, variously singing "Ho-ho-ho, hee-hee-hee, ha-ha-ha", "oompah, oompah, stick it up your jumper!", "got one, got one, everybody's got one" and making a series of shrill whooping noises [Wikipedia]. I’ve always heard the last crazy chorus accompanying the abovementioned Moebius strip as “Everybody’s fucked up”. This “fucked up” chorus was reiterated in Don Henley’s Dirty Laundry, a hit record of November 1982.

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