100 Greatest Beatles Songs

From 'Helter Skelter' to 'Sgt. Pepper's,' ranking of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, George Harrison's output

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'Happiness Is a Warm Gun'
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24. 'Happiness Is a Warm Gun'

Main Writer: Lennon
Recorded: September 23-25, 1968
Released: November 25, 1968
Not released as a single

Lennon called this rapid-fire, erotically charged minisuite one of his best songs. "Oh, I love it," he told Rolling Stone in 1970. "I think it's a beautiful song. I like all the different things that are happening in it. . . . It seemed to run through all the different kinds of rock music." The Beatles Anthology book includes a marked-up copy of the lyric sheet, in which Lennon outlines the three different sections that make up "Happiness": "Dirty Old Man," "The Junkie" and "The Gunman (Satire of '50s R&R)."

The title was inspired by a headline in a gun magazine George Martin had showed Lennon that read Happiness is a Warm Gun — a variation on Peanuts cartoonist Charles Schulz's 1962 bestseller Happiness Is a Warm Puppy. "I thought it was a fantastic, insane thing to say," Lennon said. "A warm gun means that you just shot something."

Lennon later claimed that the song "wasn't about 'H' at all," but the drug subtext is everywhere. The "Junkie" sequence from the middle of the song ("I need a fix 'cause I'm going down") was the entirety of his original demo, recorded in May 1968. By the time the song was cut in September, Lennon had begun using heroin — ever since he and Yoko Ono had moved into a London apartment Starr had rented them in July. The "Mother Superior" in the lyrics is a reference to Ono herself, whom Lennon took to calling "Mother."

At this point, "Happiness Is a Warm Gun in Your Hand," as its original title ran, had expanded to its final form. A few of the surreal lines in the opening section, "Dirty Old Man," came from a stoned conversation with Apple press officer Derek Taylor: "Ate and donated to the National Trust," for instance, is a reference to people shitting on public land (a common problem Lennon encountered while walking in and around Liverpool), and the "velvet hand" alludes to a man who had told Taylor that wearing moleskin gloves gave him "a little bit of an unusual sensation when I'm out with my girlfriend." The "Satire of '50s R&R," with its classic doo-wop chord progression, was modified from a similar passage in Lennon's demo of "I'm So Tired."

It took the Beatles 70 takes over two nights to master the tricky tempo shifts of "Happiness." McCartney was particularly fond of the result, calling it one of his favorite tracks on the White Album.

Appears On: The Beatles

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