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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'I Am the Walrus'
John Pratt/Keystone/Getty Images33/100

33. 'I Am the Walrus'

Main Writer: Lennon
Recorded: September 5, 6, 27, 28 and 29, 1967
Released: November 27, 1967
4 weeks; no. 56 (B side)

After Brian Epstein died on August 27th, 1967, the Beatles were hardly in the mood to be creative. But when the shellshocked band gathered a few days later, McCartney convinced them there was one sure way to handle their grief: by getting back into the studio. When they did, on September 5th, Lennon brought along an eccentric new song inspired by a report that British school kids were studying Beatles lyrics to discern their hidden meanings. Lennon played a solo acoustic version of "I Am the Walrus," and, as engineer Geoff Emerick recalled, "Everyone seemed bewildered. The melody consisted largely of just two notes, and the lyrics were pretty much just nonsense." Taking off from the Lewis Carroll poem "The Walrus and the Carpenter," the words were a series of non sequiturs about "pigs from a gun," Hare Krishna and Edgar Allan Poe, winding up with a head-scratching "goo-goo-g'joob!" hook.

"What the hell do you expect me to do with that?" George Martin said. Nonetheless, everyone went to work on the track. Lennon vamped on a simple electric-piano figure, and McCartney switched to tambourine to make sure Starr kept on the beat. (McCartney's diligence in keeping the band focused, Emerick later said, was "one of Paul's finest moments.")

The track sprung to vivid, woozy life in post-production. Despite his initial revulsion, Martin composed a masterful orchestral arrangement that felt like vertigo. Lennon asked for as much distortion on his voice as possible — he wanted it to sound as if it were coming from the moon.

"The words don't mean a lot," Lennon said. "People draw so many conclusions, and it's ridiculous. What does it really mean, 'I am the Eggman?' It could have been the pudding basin for all I care." The lyrics contained plenty of inside jokes: "Semolina pilchard" referred to Norman Pilcher, the London drug-squad cop who'd busted rock stars like Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, and "The Eggman" was a reference to both Carroll's Humpty Dumpty and a story Lennon heard from Eric Burdon about the time a girl cracked an egg onto the Animals frontman during sex. On the following year's White Album, Lennon alluded to the song in "Glass Onion" with the line "The walrus was Paul" — his way of thanking McCartney for helping to hold the group together after Epstein's death.

Appears On: Magical Mystery Tour

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