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

Load Previous


Arguably Lennon's most nakedly vulnerable moment with the Beatles, "Julia" takes its name from his late mother, whose death in a traffic accident when he was 17 inflicted a wound on his psyche that never fully healed. The song is at once an exorcism of this past trauma and also a welcome to a new female force, "ocean child" Yoko Ono, whose name literally means "child of the sea" in Japanese. "The song was actually a combination of imagery of Yoko and my mother blended into one, you see," he told Playboy in 1980. In many ways, the same would occur in his real life: throughout their marriage he would retain the archaic Northern habit of referring to his wife playfully as "Mother." Other lyrical imagery was drawn from poet Kahlil Gibran's 1926 piece "Sand and Foam," which contained a version of Lennon's memorable opener, "Half of what I say is meaningless; but I say it so that the other half may reach you."

Musically, "Julia" showcases Lennon's most advanced "Travis-picking" guitar work to date, learned from singer Donovan while both were students at the Maharishi's ashram. "I used to play acoustic guitar all the time," Donovan remembered in 2012. "In fact, Ringo used to say, 'Don, you never stop playing guitar.' In that nonstop playing, after we meditated, after we ate our health food, after we chased the monkeys off the table, we would play, and as I picked, one day John said, 'How do you do that?'"

Lennon pretty much had it down by the time he shared "Julia" with his mates at Harrison's house. He'd been practicing in his music room at Kenwood (a handful of demos exist of these trial runs), but the Kinfauns tape reveals a few moments when he struggles with the tricky fingering. Singing in a higher key than on the official version, he murmurs like a child in a trance, much as he did when he returned to the loss two years later on the stark solo track "My Mummy's Dead." The bridge contains an instrumental extension in this early take, but it's possible he simply repeated the figure after hitting some clams the first time around. Nearly a full minute longer than the song found on the White Album, the Esher demo ends with a brief whistling solo. Whether it was intended to undercut the intensity of his emotion is unclear, but it remains a goofy sendoff from a man just beginning to mend. Completed in the studio that October, the song would be the only solo recording he ever made with the Beatles.

Back to Top