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Beatles Songs and their Meaning

Ever since becoming the biggest band in the world, every inch of The Beatles has been analysed and scrutinised to find out a wider meaning. This is especially true when it comes to their song writing, with the hidden themes and ideas of John Lennon’s and Paul McCartney ’s lyrics poured over by fans across the world.

The 1960’s brought a change in consciousness. It was a very tumultuous and divisive decade and to an extent the birth of open-mindedness in the modern-age. Young people no longer trusted their parents’ regime and values and they challenged both. The decade had remarkably distinct music from year to year. The social and political conscious of the era is very much reflected in the Beatles albums ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ and ‘Magical Mystery Tour.’  Both albums capture the atmosphere of that era perfectly.

1967 Beatles Songs

1967 was a great year for the Beatles and pop music.  In February 1967 the Beatles released a double A-Side single with ‘Penny Lane’ and ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’.  A few weeks later on June 1st the Beatles album ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ was released.

On the 25th of June they were filmed at EMI Studios in London as Britain’s contribution to the ‘Our World’ which was a first live global television program.  It is estimated 400 to 700 million people around the globe watched the broadcast.  The Beatles sang their next single ‘All You Need is Love’ to close the broadcast:

This was then released as a single on the 7th July with ‘Baby You’re a rich Man’ as the B single.  ‘All You Need is Love’ sky rocked in the sales charts in Britain and also in America and many other countries.  The song became an anthem for the counterculture’s embrace of flower power philosophy.

In November they released ‘Hello, Goodbye’ and ‘I am a Walrus’. This followed with the EP ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ released in the UK on December the 8th.

‘Magical Mystery Tour’ was also a musical film directed by and starring the Beatles.  It filmed between 11 September and 25 September 1967.

Many of the songs from both ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ and ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ have made a lasting impression on the world.

Below we break down the meanings of some of their most famous songs, giving you an insight into some of the most famous songs ever written by The Beatles.

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Album Cover

Paul came up the idea for ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ on a return flight to London in November 1966. No being able to sleep he played around with the idea of creating a new identity or ultra-ego type personas. He thought it would allow them to experiment. Apparently during the flight there was a conversation about the ‘S’ and ‘P’ markings on the salt and pepper sachets. This sparked the idea for the title ‘Sgt. Pepper’.

Penny Lane

‘Penny Lane’ first appeared as a double A-side single with Strawberry Fields Forever in February 1967, originally intending for it to appear on the Sgt. Pepper album. The history behind the song is relatively simple, referring to a depot that John used to regularly visit when changing buses on his way to Paul’s or other people’s houses. It was a well-known bus terminal in the area and Paul also sang in the choir at St Barnabas Church on the opposite side of the street.

Strawberry Fields Forever

‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ was written by John Lennon and credited to John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Lennon’s childhood memories of playing in the garden of Strawberry Field, a Salvation Army children’s home in Liverpool. John Lennon grew up with his aunt Mimi which is just around the corner of the Salvation Army and he would frequent the site. Today its iconic red gates are open to the public as a Beatles tourist attraction. With an interactive visitor exhibition, café, shop and garden space, it’s a great place for Beatles fans. It also houses a ‘Steps to Work’ programme for young adults with learning difficulties or those struggling to get employment.

All you Need is Love

John Lennon wrote “All You Need Is Love” as a message of love and peace. The phrase was a popular saying in the anti-war movement. The song was released in the middle of the Summer of Love and was big part of the vibe. The song is musically unusual as the chorus has only one note, and the song is in a rare 7/4 tempo.

Baby Your a Rich Man

‘Baby You’re a Rich Man’ was the B-side of ‘All You Need Is Love’. The song was written by both John and Paul, they wrote parts separately and combined to make one song. The song is about how everybody can have the things that matter, and it has nothing to do with material possessions. The Beatles were rich, but they claimed that money was not that important to them.

Hello, Goodbye

The third single they released in 1967 was ‘Hello, Goodbye’. This is a song about how people are always different in what they say and do. Initially it was called ‘Hello, Hello’ but was changed before its release. The single hit the top spot in the UK and America for three weeks. McCartney said “The answer to everything is simple. It’s a song about everything and nothing. If you have black you have to have white. That’s the amazing thing about life.” The song was written by Paul McCartney apparently after his friend asked how he wrote. As an experiment, Paul asked Taylor to shout out the opposite of whatever he sang, such as black and white, yes and no, hello and goodbye, etc. This is how the song was created. From this, the song was born.

I am the Walrus

‘I am the Walrus’ was released as the B-side to ‘Hello Goodbye’. It was written by John Lennon and he said he threw together nonsense lyrics to mess with the heads of scholars trying to dissect Beatles songs. It is thought he got the idea when he received a letter from a pupil at his old school. Stephen Bayley wrote to John Lennon explaining how his English teacher was having the class analyze Beatles songs. This amused John, he thought people over-analyzing their songs was ridiculous. So he went about writing a lot of nonsense. Lewis Carroll’s ‘The Walrus and the Carpenter,’ also played apart in inspiration for the song. Some of the lyrics came from a childhood rhyme Lennon barely remembered, others just random thoughts and random references. Apparently, John said to his long-term friend Pete Shotton once the song was complete, “Let the f****** work that one out”.

With A Little Help From My Friends

‘With A Little Help From My Friends’ was one of the very last songs John Lennon and Paul McCartney sat down and wrote together in a true collaboration style. They were at Paul’s house messing around on the piano and initially the working title was “Bad Finger Boogie,” a name John came up with because he had injured his finger, but was later changed. The Lines “I get by with a little help from my friends, I get high with a little help from my friends”, was controversial but John Lennon claimed this was not about drugs.

Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds

Although credited to the Lennon-McCartney songwriting partnership, John was mostly responsible for penning the lyrics to this song off Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Almost everyone believes it was an acid-inspired song, but John insists he had no idea it could be abbreviated to spell LSD. He said a drawing by his then 3-year-old son, Julian, of a classmate called Lucy O’Donnell flying through the sky is what actually drove him to write the song. Julian literally said the drawing was of “Lucy flying in the sky with diamonds” – even Ringo and Paul have said the song comes from Julian’s artwork and not from taking drugs!

Being for the Benefit of Mr.Kite

The odd title of this song comes from a standard 19th century phrase used in advertising testimonial performances in Britain: “Being for the benefit of…”. John Lennon got the phrase “Benefit of Mr Kite” when he saw an old poster advertising an old circus show.

Lovely Rita

‘Lovely Rita’ is about the affection for a female traffic warden. Written and sung by Paul McCartney. Paul got a parking ticket which he accepted and then not long after wrote the song. He told biographer Barry Miles that the song wasn’t based on a real person. I think it was more a question of coincidence. Author John Winn writes that Paul’s inspiration came from hearing the term ‘meter maid’, after which he began writing the song.

A Day in The Life

A Day in the Life is a beautiful masterpiece and the last song track on the Sgt. Pepper’s album. It was inspired by a number of trues stories read from the daily newspaper. A 41-piece orchestra conducted by Paul was used on this song.

Other Beatles Songs and their Meanings

The Beatles Album Cover

The hits continued throughout the 60’s. In 1968 they were busy writing their 9th album called ‘White Album’. A plain white album colour, a complete contrast from Sgt. Pepper’s cover.  It was the only double album and was released on 22 November 1968.

Hey Jude

One of the Beatles’ most famous songs and considered by many to be one of the greatest of all time.  ‘Hey Jude’ was released as a single in August 1968 and remains a crowd favourite at any Paul McCartney concert. It came about just shortly after John separated from his first wife, Cynthia (Julian’s mother). Paul says it was a song written for little Julian to comfort him about the break-up of his parents. He started to sing the words ‘Hey Jules’ (later changed to Jude) and the rest of the words followed. John believed it was in reference to him and the start of his relationship with Yoko Ono, encouraging him to go and find happiness – and that it was fine to end Paul and John’s partnership.

Here Comes the Sun

Written by George Harrison, ‘Here Comes the Sun’ is taken from 1969 album,  Abbey Road. It was written at the country home of his friend Eric Clapton, when he was trying to escape the business stress that came with running their music label, Apple. Harrison said it was a relief to get away from having to sign legal documents and deal with straight-laced accountants, and walking round Clapton’s garden with a guitar in hand he came up with the song.

Back in the U.S.S.R.

The 1968 double album simply called, The Beatles, features ‘Back in the U.S.S.R.’ as the opener, performed in an old school rock n’ roll style, parodying Chuck Berry’s classic Back in the U.S.A and the Beach Boys’ California Girls. To give it further context, this was a time when the Cold War between America and Russia was at its peak. Paul wrote the lyrics and imagined it to be a traveling Russian who has just arrived at Miami. It’s a tongue-in-cheek song that has a lot of little jokes inserted into the lyrics, and Paul even tried to sing it in his “Jerry Lee Lewis voice” to get himself into the right mood to perform it.

Yellow Submarine
Yellow Submarine album cover

The 10th studio album ‘Yellow Submarine’ came out on the 17th January 1969, slightly earlier in the States.  It was also the soundtrack to the animated film which premiered in London the year before.

The song ‘Yellow Submarine’ had been released in August of 1966 and it stayed at the top of the UK charges for four weeks. ‘Yellow Submarine’ came to Paul one night when he was falling asleep. He said in Anthology: “I remember lying in bed one night, in that moment before you’re falling asleep – that little twilight moment when a silly idea comes into your head – and thinking of Yellow Submarine: ‘We all live in a yellow submarine…’I quite like children’s things; I like children’s minds and imagination. So it didn’t seem uncool to me to have a pretty surreal idea that was also a children’s idea. I thought also, with Ringo being so good with children – a knockabout uncle type – it might not be a bad idea for him to have a children’s song, rather than a very serious song. He wasn’t that keen on singing.”

Only 6 out of the 13 songs on the album were written by the Beatles:

Yellow Submarine
Only a Northern Song
All Together Now
Hey Bulldog
It’s All too Much
All you Need is Love

The other songs on the album were from the film’s orchestral soundtrack which was produced by producer George Martin and the George Martin Orchestra.

Rubber Soul

Out of all the Beatles recordings, ‘Rubber Soul’ was the album where they became artists in their own right. Before 1965 they released pop songs to please the fans effectively. Typical pop music about love and fast cars such as ‘She loves you’ and ‘Love me Do’. All of which made them irresistible to their young girl fans buying the records.

It is thought that a meeting with Bob Dylan in 1964 changed the group’s attitudes. They didn’t want to make music just to sell records, they want to express themselves and have more freedom. It turned out to be pivotal moment for the group.
The boys recorded the album in London in October in 1965 and release in December. They had full commitment to the album over 4 weeks.

The title ‘Rubber Soul’ comes from ‘plastic soul’, which is a term used to describe white musicians playing a traditionally black style of music- essentially “fake” soul music. Paul heard the quote from an American who described Mick Jagger and The Rolling Stones as “good, but plastic soul”. McCartney says that this was “the germ of ‘Rubber Soul’.

Norwegian Wood

‘Norwegian Wood’ was written mostly by John Lennon but credited to the Lennon and McCartney. The song features a sitar part, played by George Harrison.  George had a bit of a fascination with sitar. A sitar is a large long-necked Indian lute with movable frets and is played with a wire pick.  It was the first time that instrument was used on rock/pop music in the West. Rolling Stone magazine ranked ‘Norwegian Wood’ number 83 on its list of ‘The 500 Greatest Songs’.  Many music critics recognise the song as a key work in the early evolution of world music.

Lennon said the song was a veiled account of an extramarital affair he had in London.  He began writing the song which he was on holiday with his wife, Cynthia, and record producer George Martin at St. Moritz in the Swiss Alps. In 1971

In an interview with Rolling Stone in 1971 (3 years after his divorce from Cynthia), John recalled “I was trying to write about an affair without letting my wife know I was having one. I was sort of writing from my experiences – girl’s flats, things like that. I was very careful and paranoid because I didn’t want my wife, Cyn, to know that there really was something going on outside of the household.” “I’d always had some kind of affairs going on, so I was trying to be sophisticated in writing about an affair, but in such a smoke-screen way that you couldn’t tell.  But I can’t remember any specific woman it had to do with.”

 

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