Picture yourself in a chapter by Carroll (one of John's favourite writers, included in the Pepper Band audience) and it's not difficult to see that a large part of "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds'" landscape was clearly lifted from Wonderland
. Go ask Alice, I think she'll know...
And, whether or not L
eliberately those infamous initials into the title, it's pretty damn obvious that — just like "White Rabbit" — this trip Through The Looking Glass
ties in with one of his acid excursions. Remember what the dormouse said...
Personally, I tend to go along with the 'Julian's painting' story, backed-up by all the other Beatles. None of them were precisely hiding their habits away by then, let's face it. Paul's notorious ITN news interview — 'Yes, we've taken it, but you don't have to broadcast it' — came just a couple of weeks after Pepper
's release and the track's BBC ban, and so the whole world knew that they'd been taking LITSWD. And tea... and biscuits.
Wherever the name had come from, there's little doubt what had really inspired Tweedle-J and Tweedle-P's session of 'swapping psychedelic suggestions' in order to tint those "tangerine trees and marmalade skies" and got them — like the cellophane flowers — "so incredibly high", grinning like a pair of Cheshire Cats.
It was a really nice trip, too: or a nice part of one, at least. There's no cosmic head-twisting revelation like "Tomorrow Never Knows", nor any of the paranoiac introspection of "Strawberry Fields", and there's certainly not the cold-sweat rush of Ms Slick's near-contemporary tumble down the rabbit hole. No: though the landscape and its inhabitants are all kind of weird, they're all familiar enough — in a technicoloured dream sort of way — to make them more intriguing than threatening. Besides,Ev'ryone smiles as you drift past the flowers...
Just as The Reverend Dodgson's stories were never intended to be taken as 'just kid's stuff', Lennon's adaptation is also a nursery-tale for grown-ups (or woke-ups); with a L
alí melted in for good measure. I think it was Roy Carr or Tony Tyler who coined the word psychedelicatessen
to describe him dishing out the marshmallow pies. Nice one!
That spiraling harpsichord/celeste/organ thingy and the lullaby lilt of the lyric lure you into the adventure, "curiouser and curiouser", enticed onwards by the bass and guitars and the shifting percussion, until youLook for the girl with the sun in her eyes
And she's gone!
So are you: the drums kick in the full dose via a surging key and tempo change and a sensory onslaught of instrumentation, all wrapped up in multiple layers of vocal harmony. There's no turning back, and you'll quite happily "follow her down to a bridge by a fountain", into the sky, or just about anywhere she might feel like taking you. George always liked the way they got the Indian feel to fit so effectively into its western structure and sequence, and also rated his guitar work on the track as some of his very finest on acoustic (Lennon played lead). Perhaps the fact that he was actually playing with
John here — so closely that he was following the vocal melody at times — rather than simply dubbing on a leadline, was part of the pleasure he found in the song. Paul's basswork throughout is also exemplary,Waiting to take you away...
The Beatles' version is an indisputable psychedelic classic. The recording, though John always claimed it was neglected, immaculately evokes the scene and the sensations. It was actually one of the first tracks on which they tried the trick of using different tape speeds for successive overdubs, intrinsic to its 'kaleidoscope sound'. The accompanying sequence in the Yellow Sub
movie was also inspired: well-played the animators for giving it as liberal an interpretation as Lennon had to Lewis!
His sole opportunity to play it on stage was as part of the 1974 settle-the-bet with Elton set, but was probably the most lacklustre of the three duets they performed and recorded at Madison that November night. More inspired, perhaps — and in that same year — was the naming of a newly discovered 3.2 million year-old, chimp-sized, proto-human Australopithecus afarensis
skeleton as "Lucy", in honour of the song, which was being constantly played on a cassette in the arcaeologists' camp .
Timeless, indeed: though if you dare to take things to the very final frontier, there is
William 'Captain Kirk' Shatner's 1968 rendition, inspired by god alone knows what...