The Beatles' Revelatory White Album Demos: A Complete Guide

We delve deep into the 1968 home recordings that planted the seeds for the band's classic self-titled double LP

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"Happiness Is a Warm Gun"

For "Happiness," which ranked among the Beatles' favorite tracks on the White Album, Lennon pieced several district sections of music into a fractured mini-suite, weaved together into what he described as a "history of rock 'n' roll" in miniature. "That's one of my best," he told Rolling Stone in 1970 – high praise from a man who often dismissed most of his Beatles work as "crap" in various permutations. "I love it. 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." An early draft of the lyrics indicate Lennon divided the piece into three movements: "Dirty Old Man," "The Junkie" and "The Gunman (Satire of '50s R&R)." Only the second of these, the middle section on the final version, was given a public airing as the tapes rolled at Kinfauns.

Halting guitar chords open the track before Lennon's weary voice can be heard uttering the despondent words: "I need a fix 'cos I'm going down, back to the bits that I left uptown." The song is barely a sketch at this stage, which likely explains why he left it until late in the session. It's so new that he doesn't quite know how it goes, and the first pass quickly breaks down. "Oh, shit," he says sheepishly. "Wrong chord!" He has better luck the second time through, vaulting through the "Mother Superior" section with renewed vigor. Given the inspiration behind the line, it's not surprising why. "Mother Superior was Yoko," he explained in 1970. "She was rabbiting on in the car one day, and I said, 'mother superior jumped the gun again,' because she's always one jump ahead. So that was Yoko really." From there he fingerpicks a hauntingly beautiful guitar figure, sadly removed from the final piece, over which he gently sings the cute aural pun "Yoko ... Ono – Oh, no. Yoko ... Ono – Oh, yes."

The song would eventually come together at Abbey Road that September, with Lennon repurposing the Fifties doo-wop coda he'd originally employed on early versions of "I'm So Tired." Donovan's fingerpicking guitar technique came in handy again, providing Lennon with an introductory piece (the so-called "Dirty Old Man" element) featuring lyrics culled from a long night of acid-tripping with Derek Taylor, former roadie (and future Apple chief) Neil Aspinall and Lennon's childhood friend, Pete Shotton. The memorable title came from some reading material left in the Abbey Road control room by the band's loyal producer. "'Happiness Is a Warm Gun' was from the cover of a gun magazine that George Martin had in the studio when we were making the double album," Lennon recalled. "On this cover it had a picture of a gun that had just been shot and was smoking. I thought, 'Wow! Incredible' ... I thought it was a fantastic, insane thing to say."

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