Wayne Coyne's Guide to the Beatles - Rolling Stone
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Wayne Coyne’s Guide to the Beatles

Flaming Lips leader breaks down some of his all-time favorite songs and explains why Keith Richards “is conservative compared to Miley Cyrus”

Wayne Coyner Sergeant PepperWayne Coyner Sergeant Pepper

Beatles and the Sergeant Pepper Lonely Hearts Club Band


Wayne Coyne was born in 1961, and some of his earliest memories include his older siblings playing newly released Beatles records at their Oklahoma house. “It just always had this power over me,” Coyne says. The Beatles’ influence can prominently be heard in the Flaming Lips albums like The Soft Bulletin and Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, and after tackling Dark Side of the Moon in 2009, the band decided to re-imagine Sgt. Pepper’s as With a Little Help From My Fwends. Out this week, the LP is raising money for the Bella Foundation, which provides low-income pet owners with veterinary care. It features fwends Jim James (“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”), Maynard James Keenan (“For the Benefit of Mr. Kite”) and Miley Cyrus (“Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and “A Day in the Life”).


“Some very angry rabid Beatles fans are going to want to kill me for remaking Sgt. Pepper, but most people I talk to, they are little more relaxed about their music and really have really been loving it,” says Coyne. “We definitely learned that from doing the Pink Floyd stuff five or six years, where you’re like, ‘Why does this matter so much?’ All I can say to them is that the Beatles music is untouched. . .Ours is just another version of it and if you don’t like it, it has no effect on the other music.”

Coyne selected some of his favorite Beatles tracks and told us what he loves about them:

“Tomorrow Never Knows”
“It’s one chord, this beat that never changes. They have endless melodies and harmonies and chord structure and beats and all these things at their command – and yet they choose to say, ‘No we’re just gonna do this.’ It’s still such a stunning recording.”

“A Day in the Life”
“When you think about when they made it, in ’67, it does set the sort of blueprint that becomes classic rock. I mean, a lot of groups were starting to do that kind of thing, but them having such an epic, strange, mind-fuck of a song and it being done by someone who’s gonna end up being one of the Gods of the universe, John Lennon – it’s just such a motherfucker, it’s almost untouchable.

“Steven Drozd and I both thought we knew what they were doing there for the longest time. It wasn’t until later that we realized there were a couple of piano tracks and one of them isn’t playing the same music that the other one is. And then, the chords the acoustic guitar is playing aren’t really the chords the piano is playing.

“At the very end of our [version], when [producer] Dave Fridmann was doing the final mix, he pointed out, ‘You know, there’s nothing at the end.’ You know, where the 12 pianos play this diminished E chord or something. But we heard Miley Cyrus say to Steven, ‘Am I making you nervous?’ I think she was just getting really, really stoned or something, and when we heard that it was like, ‘Well that’s a good ending!’ 


“You know, a stoned Miley Cyrus mumbling, ‘Am I making you nervous?’ is, like, the way that the Beatles even were in their career. They were a group that was one way in the beginning – they wore certain clothes and haircuts and were very much about popular music. And they changed, really: Just a couple years later, they were doing what a lot people still say is some of the most radical music ever made. In a lot of ways, that’s what Miley is doing. She’s never going to not be Hannah Montana to some people, but I think as the years go, she’s going make – and has already started to make – some of the most radical music, because she’s a radical person.

“That thing that she says at the end: ‘Steven am I making you nervous?’ It’s like, dude, people don’t know what a freak she is, you know? Keith Richards is conservative compared to Miley Cyrus.”

“Strawberry Fields Forever”
“I don’t know how much of this is my subconscious seeping in and making it magical and mysterious and beautiful, because ‘Strawberry Fields’ is so much a part of me – when I was a child even. Even when the Beatles made it, I remember my brothers playing it and listening to the end where John is supposed to be saying, ‘I buried Paul’ and ‘Paul McCartney’s dead’ and all this great stuff.

“John Lennon is just a motherfucker. He does things that sound really simple, and he has this attitude where you know it’s not about playing and perfection, it’s about feeling. But it’s not simple at all. You know, Paul McCartney’s compositions, they have a lot of storytelling, they have this kind of emotional arc. You can think, ‘That shit’s sophisticated, I can’t fuck with that.’ But the John Lennon ones can trick you into thinking that they’re simple. And then you get in there and he’s fucking weird as fuck.”

“Here Comes the Sun”
“It’s so perfectly arranged, you forget that they’re really playing quite fast. That’s something that you learn about Beatles music but you always forget. ‘Here Comes the Sun’ just rolls along so quick and you really have to sit and play along with it. You’re like, ‘Hold on! Hold on!’ You always think this is going too fast, and then you listen to theirs and they were always faster than you are. It still feels very relaxed and very mellow and all that, and it’s zipping along and they’re just such great, great singers.”

“We were asked to do ‘Revolution,’ the more rowdy electric version, for a Steve Jobs tribute or something like that a couple of years back. And that’s another one where you know, you can walk around your whole life and think, ‘I know that song,’ and you get in there and it’s like, ‘What the fuck?’ John Lennon, he’s just a very unique guitar player, and you forget that because he’s John Lennon and you think he’s a songwriter. You think of him sitting on the piano doing ‘Imagine,’ but he’s so much richer and deeper than that. You get in there like, ‘Fuck!’ you know?”

“It’s All Too Much”
“This is a weird song. Not everyone knows it as well as I do, but once you get in there, again, it’s always cool and stunning. George, who’s looked at as under John and Paul, was just a fucking phenomenal singer with his own trip. The time signature is challenging even for someone like Steven. It sounds simple, but it ain’t simple.

“The song has this feedback-y, great, distorted guitar. When you’re young, you’re really drawn to those dynamic, loudish things – you get the feeling that they all probably had heard Jimi Hendrix before the rest of the world. There’s these great fucking freaky effects. There are a lot of those evocative impressionistic tricks that the music’s playing off. They’re just great lessons to remember – and of course, you never do because you get excited.”

In This Article: The Flaming Lips, Wayne Coyne


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