Glass Onion - The Beatles

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"Glass Onion" - The Beatles (1968)

McCartney had the original idea for “Glass Onion” of a song that would poke fun at all those who read too much into the Beatles lyrics. He says he came up with its structure and he and Lennon wrote it roughly 50-50.

In a 1971 interview Lennon stated:

“I thought, well, I’ll just say something nice to Paul: ‘It’s all right, you did a good job over these few years, holding us together.’ He was trying to organize the group, and organize the music, and be an individual and all that, so I wanted to thank him. I said ‘the Walrus is Paul’ for that reason. I felt, ‘Well, he can have it. I’ve got Yoko, and thank you, you can have the credit.’”

In 1980, Lennon referred to it as a “throw-away song” and that he threw in the line “The Walrus was Paul” because, as he tells it:

“I was feeling guilty because I was with Yoko and I was leaving Paul. I was trying… I don’t know. It’s a perverse way of saying to Paul, you know, ‘Here, have this crumb, this illusion, this stroke, because I’m leaving’.”

The song could be about Lennon’s expression of disillusionment with intellectuals and their examination of art. Discussing interpretations of his lyrics, he said:

“I do it for me first. Whatever people make of it afterwards is valid, but it doesn’t necessarily have to correspond to my thoughts about it, OK? This goes for anyone’s ‘creations,’ art, poetry, song, etc. The mystery … that is built around all forms of art needs smashing anyway.”

The choice of the onion for the song to focus on is interesting as an onion has a layer within layer. Peel all the layers back and there’s nothing there at the center. And of course it’s a “glass” onion, presumably transparent. So the message is that the message is not hidden inside the songs—the message is the songs themselves.  An “esoteric” perspective of their music.

The track is interesting musically as it starts out acoustic, then a quiet bass and drum line comes in, and then the harmonies, then a verse with some lead lines thrown in, and finally the song climaxes in a mighty crescendo with everyone playing at the top of their forces.

When they recorded it tea towels were used to dampen Ringo’s drums, particularly his snare, which was fortified with a pack of cigarettes sitting on the drum head in order to enhance the effect.

Searching for an innovative means for bringing the composition to a close, George Martin superimposed an arrangement for four violins, two violas, and two cellos onto the track which gave it an eerie string coda that serves to enhance the song’s textually subversive contents.

Beatle scholar Alan Pollack said of "Glass Onion":

“The talking-blues/patter-song packs a surprising amount of novelty especially in its underlying musical structure. This is caused by the lack of an intro, the almost completely unrelieved series of verse,  and the way in which musical phrases are immediately repeated in each of those sections.”

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