Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds - The Beatles

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"Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" - The Beatles (1967)

Despite the urban legend labelling “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” as being about an LSD trip, it was actually based on a picture Lennon’s son Julian brought home from school.

In 1970 Lennon said:

“I worked deliberately on the poetic quality of the lyrics. They were ‘self-conscious’.”

Ten years later, he said:

“The images were from Alice in Wonderland. It was Alice in the boat. She is buying an egg, and it turns into Humpty Dumpty. The woman serving in the shop turns into a sheep and then the minute they are rowing in a boat somewhere, and I was visualizing that.”

In another interview published after his death, he declared:

“I heard Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds on the radio last night. It’s abysimal, you know. The track is just terrible. I mean, it’s great, but it wasn’t made right.”

Even though Lennon’s voice is childlike, he plays the calm but awestruck storyteller, describing scenes by which he finds himself entranced.

The opening line’s invitation – “Picture yourself on a boat on a river”- allows the listener to participate in the experience by observing and living within the illusion of Lucy’s world. The musical colors and words have no gravity as the narrator drifts aimlessly among the images and makes them float in the hazy atmosphere the music provides.

Despite all of the electronic effects in the song, it never sounds too “heavy.” The organ swirls lazily in the background and the guitar is soothing - both instruments used to help induce a dreamy, floating state of mind that John exudes through his voice. The music is as mercurial and elusive as the imagery of the words.

George Martin remarked that John sang nearly the entire track in just one note - a very difficult task. The very complicated arrangement contains an Indian instrument, a tamboura, played by George Harrison. McCartney played on an organ altered to sound like a celeste to give the opening notes of the song an “otherworldly” tone.

Harrison said that he was imitating “an instrument called a sarangi, which sounds like the human voice.” He wanted to incorporate the practice of the sarangi playing in unison with the vocalist, adding: “but because I’m not a sarangi player I played it on the guitar.”

The complex manipulation of tape speeds during the tape transfer and the overdubbing of the lead and backing vocals gives Lennon’s voice an almost feminine sound quality. The natural double-tracking of his voice is used at the end of each verse and echo is applied liberally to achieve a “spacey hallucinogenic personality.”

The track creates a wavy, heard-through-water vocal effect that suggests the unreality of the various people and objects “seen” in the lyrics. The heavy drumbeats that establish the rhythm of the song’s refrain seem to move the music from a dreamier world into a more emphatic - but also hypnotically repetitive - one.

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