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The Beatles

Part One Chapter 6 | You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)

̶  Poets and scientists, Marietta, hand in hand. You know my name…
̶  …look up the number!

I do the intro:

̶̶  Good evening and welcome to Slaggers, featuring Dennis O’Bell…

Not missing a beat, you join in:

̶̶  Good evening…

You mime the maracas and start crooning…

̶̶  You know my name… well then, look up my number…

Cracker! You’ve even got the Scouse!

̶̶  You know my name…
̶  …that’s right, look up my number…

A real la la!

̶̶  You, you know, you know my name…
̶  You know my name, ba-ba-ba-ba-pa-pa-pa-pa…

Your Paul to my John is perfect: Your eyes shine and I see mine in them. And yet, ‘By a name I know not how to tell thee who I am’…

By Ian MacDonald

During much of the summer of 1967, The Beatles were, in effect, just messing about at random in the echo of Sgt. Pepper. Whether, stoned as they were, they knew they were messing about is beside the point. ‘You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)’ is a fair indication of the state they were in. Lennon conceived its opening section as the beginning of a long, chant-like freak-out consisting solely of the title-phrase (‘like a mantra’). This didn’t work and the concept altered many times, expanding at one point to a twenty-minute design in multiple parts before being left for nearly two years and edited down. The result of all this blind-flying is, thanks to the band’s natural humour, quite funny, while the track remains interesting as a glimpse of their creative process preserved in its inchoate initial stages.

From Ian MacDonald, Revolution In The Head: The Beatles Records and the Sixties ((Pimlico, Second Edition, 1998)

Part Nine Chapter 7 | With a Little Help from My Friends

̶  Wouldn’t you be more comfortable without your sneakers?
̶  Is that your question?
̶  Yes.

She undoes her shoelaces and takes off her shoes: The life of the unselfconscious body, conscious of its appeal, moulds her white socks—streamlined, tensile, taut—to the curve of an awakening cat: The arch of her instep, the velocity and repose in her feet—

̶̶  Is it my turn, Sprague, or do you want to ask another question?
̶  Would you believe in a love at first sight?
̶  Yes, I’m certain that it happens all the time.
̶  What do you see when you turn out the light?
̶  I can’t tell you but I know it’s mine.
̶  Tell me true: Do you believe in love at first sight?
̶  No. Lightning never strikes out of a blue sky. It’s when you want to change your life that you fall in love.

By Ian MacDonald

The countercultural spirit of 1966-69 was essentially communal, and The Beatles were, for a while, convinced that the coming Arcadia would be tranquilly collective. This assumption (thematic in Magical Mystery Tour and implied in their TV versions of ‘All You Need is Love’ and ‘Hey Jude’) first entered their music in a song absent-mindedly evolved in a roomful of chattering acquaintances: ‘With a Little Help from My Friends’. At once communal and personal, it’s a song of comfort—an acid lullaby. Touchingly rendered by Starr, it was meant as a gesture of inclusivity: everyone could join in. Anthemised by Joe Cocker, it became a countercultural totem, a symbol of ‘Woodstock Nation’. Yet the lines that resonated most for its late Sixties audience seemed mysterious beyond paraphrase: ‘What do you see when you turn out the light? / I can’t tell you but I know it’s mine.’ These words had the appearance of emerging from beyond the rational mind, and, in 1967, seemed convincing precisely because of that.

From Ian MacDonald, Revolution In The Head: The Beatles Records and the Sixties ((Pimlico, Second Edition, 1998)

Part Nine Chapter 7 | Tomorrow Never Knows

Together we pitch our tunnel tent. The guylines taut, the tent trim, we align the air mattresses inside and roll out our sleeping bags. I adjust the ventilation vents, slip my water into a stowage pocket and stash my clothes; you attach the light diffuser to your headlamp and hang it from a hoop, then stretch out on your sleeping bag. Kneeling on mine, I say:

̶  Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream.

You close your eyes and cross your arms over your breasts. I lay my body on yours and—tracing the bow of your lips with the tip of my tongue—begin my work of resuscitation.

By Ian MacDonald

Lennon took LSD for the third time in January 1966. Apparently intending a serious voyage of self-discovery, he used the instructions given in Leary and Alpert’s The Psychedelic Experience, reading its paraphrase of The Tibetan Book of the Dead onto a tape-recorder and playing it back as the drug took effect. The result was spectacular and he hastened to capture it in song, taking many of his lines directly from Leary and Alpert’s text—above all its rapturous invocation of the supposed reality behind appearances: The Void. As ‘The Void’, the song was the first to be recorded for Revolver. Under its eventual title, ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’, it introduced LSD and Leary’s psychedelic revolution to the young of the Western world, becoming one of the most socially influential records The Beatles ever made.

While later thankful to have escaped its clutches, Lennon always acknowledged that LSD changed him in some ways for the better. Those who knew him in 1966 say his personality suddenly softened, his aggression giving way to a noticeably mellower mood. The drug had a similar impact on his music, playing a role in his most imaginative creations: ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’, ‘A Day in the Life’, and ‘I Am the Walrus’. Yet of all Lennon’s LSD-driven songs, ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ is most directly about the drug. Commencing with a line from The Psychedelic Experience, the song takes its title from a saying of Starr’s, analogous to the hippie maxim ‘Be here now’. Typically horizontal, Lennon’s lazy Mixolydian melody rises and falls over a C drone on bass, tambura, and sitar, producing a mild polychord when it drifts to B flat. The influence of Indian music is obvious.

From Ian MacDonald, Revolution In The Head: The Beatles Records and the Sixties ((Pimlico, Second Edition, 1998)

Prologue | Strawberry Fields Forever | Got to Get You into My Life

̶  I love you once, I love you twice, I love you more than curry and rice! Two-two. Your turn.

Feeling his body still restoring itself, the boy decides to play for time.

̶̶  Jag, who’s your favourite Beatle?
̶  John. He’s the craziest!
̶  I used to like Paul the best, but now it’s George.
̶  I like All Things Must Pass. It’s so dark and mysterious.
̶  And do you hate Yoko for breaking up the band?
̶  No. ‘All things must pass.’ And besides, John and Yoko are obviously in love.
̶  And what’s your favourite song?
̶  Oh, impossible to say. Maybe ‘Got to Get You into My Life’.
̶  Mine’s ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’.
̶  No one I think is in my tree…
̶  I mean it must be high or low…
̶  What a great song!

Paul Klee, Ghost of a Genius, 1922

Paul Klee, Bob, 1920

By Ian MacDonald

The inaugural song [in the recording sessions beginning in November 1966] was to be another of Lennon’s hallucinogenic ventures into the mental interior: ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’. Taking up where ‘She Said She Said’ had left off, ‘Strawberry Fields’ further pursued the theme of sensations too confusing, intense, or personal to articulate (an effect, reproduced in his deliberately stumbling lyric). This time, the character finding it hard to express herself was an orphan at Strawberry Field, a girls’ reform school in Beaconsfield Road near Lennon’s childhood home in Woolton. Never one to repeat himself, he turned the anxious disorientation of ‘She Said She Said’ into something more ambiguous: on the one hand, a study in uncertain identity, tinged with the loneliness of the solitary rebel against all things institutional; on the other, an eerie longing for a wild childhood of hide-and-seek and tree-climbing: the visionary strawberry fields of his imagination. This second aspect of the song effectively inaugurated the English pop-pastoral mood explored in the late Sixties by groups like Pink Floyd, Traffic, Family, and Fairport Convention. More significant, though, was the song’s child’s-eye-view—for the true subject of English psychedelia was neither love nor drugs, but nostalgia for the innocent vision of the child.

Holding a one-note bass-line for its first eight bars, ‘Got to Get You into My Life’ is a taut design that relieves its tension only in the climactic shout of its chorus. Closely miked and limited for a punchy sound, the brass maintains the mood, driving the track to the release of a screaming fade. Starr’s drum fills are slightly stiff, as if inhibited by the metronomic beat, but Harrison’s guitar crescendo precisely captures the wound-up urgency of the music.

Lennon observed that he thought the lyric, which he particularly liked, referred to McCartney’s belated experience of LSD. McCartney has since confirmed this.

From Ian MacDonald, Revolution In The Head: The Beatles Records and the Sixties ((Pimlico, Second Edition, 1998)
Mara Marietta