Day Tripping: The 10 Druggiest Beatles Songs
The Beatles that hit the stage on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ in February 1964 were not the same as the long-haired, weirdly dressed ones that later produced albums like 'Sgt. Pepper' and 'Abbey Road.' Between the mid- and late '60s, a lot of things happened to transform the Fab Four, and one of those things was drugs. They weren't alone -- groups like Pink Floyd, the Rolling Stones, Cream, 13th Floor Elevators and Captain Beefheart were also making chemically informed rock music -- but given the Beatles' godlike status, every move they made was under an electron microscope, and their psychedelic explorations changed pop culture. What follows are the 10 Druggiest Beatles Songs -- wonky nuggets that represent John, Paul, George and Ringo at their trippiest. (Songs that narrowly missed the list: ‘Rain,’ ‘Because,’ ‘Blue Jay Way,’ ‘Sun King,’ ‘Fixing a Hole,’ ‘A Day in the Life,’ ‘Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown),’ ‘Within You Without You,’ ‘Octopus’s Garden,’ ‘Nowhere Man,’ ‘The Fool on the Hill’ and ‘Glass Onion.)
‘Day Tripper’ -- which is up there with ‘I Feel Fine’ in terms of all-time great Beatles guitar riffs -- could be read as a song about a jock-blocking tease. Or it could be about recreational drug use, as both John Lennon and Paul McCartney suggested. Talk about songwriting geniuses -- they wrote a pop song about girls and drugs that, it might be argued, syllogistically says girls are drugs. Mind: blown.
‘Magical Mystery Tour’ is by no means one of the greatest Beatles songs, but it’s certainly one of the druggiest. Written mostly by Paul, it includes numerous drug references, including the repeated “Roll up!” figure. “Roll up what?” you ask. Hint: Go to Amsterdam and order a “coffee.”
What's more important than friends? Money can’t buy companionship -- or love, for that matter -- and if you're lucky, your best buds are there for you during good times and bad. And as the Beatles note in this classic ‘Sgt. Pepper’s' cut, “with a little help from” your mates, you can also get “high.” Some Lennon-McCartney purists might argue the songwriters were high when they decided to let Ringo Starr handle lead vocals, but we ask you this: Can you imagine it being sung by anybody else?
“Hey, pot.” Yes, dear. “I’ve got to get you into my life.” Only through the Volcano, Paul; only through the Volcano. That sounds about right. ‘Got to Get You Into My Life' -- one of those perfect McCartney numbers that builds and builds with hook after hook and is just sickly saccharine sweet -- was actually written about marijuana. McCartney had recently added toker to his résumé and was smitten with its effects on his sense of Paulness. He could’ve easily retitled the song ‘Greenery and Ivory.’
Lennon eventually revealed that “the Walrus was Paul" -- you might say he was “the Paulrus" -- but that still doesn’t explain what the hell he's talking about here. We're inclined to believe this song was conceived in a cloud of pungent smoke, after its author had washed down a handful of multicolored pills with a brownish liquid gotten from a black-and-white-labeled glass bottle. If this isn’t the druggiest Beatles song, it’s damn near close.
Heroin is a mistake a lot of great rockers have made. Kurt Cobain, Layne Staley, Janis Joplin, John Frusciante -- the list goes on and on. There’s nothing fun about dancing with Mr. Brownstone, but Lennon was using the drug in the late ’60s, and ‘Happiness Is a Warm Gun' is about that push-and-pull of addiction, and "shoot, shoot" may be a reference to, well, shooting up. Luckily, Lennon beat the habit and avoided becoming another drug casualty.
One night in the '60s, at a hippie shindig the Beatles were also attending, actor Peter Fonda kept repeating that he “knew what it’s like to be dead,” apparently recounting a near-death experience from his childhood. The line struck a nerve with John Lennon, and he ended up writing it into the song ‘She Said She Said,’ next on our list of the Druggiest Beatles Songs. Interesting postscript: Fonda went on to write the movie ‘Easy Rider' and based one of the main characters on David Crosby of the Byrds, a notorious drug-user and big-time Beatles fan. Crazy, man. Crazy.
Lennon always claimed ‘Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds’ has nothing to do with LSD (or Lysergic Acid Diethylamide), and that it was his son that came up with the idea for the song’s title. But come on -- this ‘Sgt. Pepper’s' classic is obviously about psychedelic drug use. No sober person could have written something this bizarre. It’d be like asking Salvador Dalí to paint a watercolor of a house and a yard with a lemon-yellow sun. Not gonna happen.
“Turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream / It is not dying.” That’s how the Beatles’ ‘Tomorrow Never Knows,’ on 1966’s ‘Revolver,’ kicks off. It's the "This is your captain speaking" moment, delivered by Capt. John of the Airship High. Yes, folks, you’re eight miles high, flying at an altitude unknown to your parents -- your head is spinning right ’round like a record on your friend’s sofa, your eyes following the needle as it creates a strange, warm, crackling sound in the black groove on the circular disc that's turning, turning, turning. This was a new sound to say the least, and all these years later, it still has the power to amaze.
‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ has become synonymous with John Lennon. The portion of New York's Central Park where fans celebrate his memory is named for the 1967 song -- a giant psychedelic leap forward for a band that had been holding girls’ hands and loving them eight days a week just a few years prior. The song gets its drippy, droney melody from then-futuristic Mellotron keyboard, and it features absurdest lyrics that at one point place the narrator in a "tree" he figures "must be high or low.” There’s no "or" there, buddy. You’re just high.