Thursday, July 13, 2006

Stories of the Songs: Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds

"I liked ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’ a lot. John always had a way of having an edge to his songs. I particularly liked the sounds on it where I managed to superimpose some Indian instruments onto the Western music."
(George Harrison, Beatles Anthology)


"Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" appeared on the album "Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" and was written mainly by John Lennon with some help from Paul McCartney.
The song was inspired by a drawing that Julian Lennon brought home from school one day in 1966. He described it to his father as his friend Lucy - "in the sky with diamonds".

Julian Lennon's famous drawing

"I don't know why I called it that or why it stood out from all my other drawings but I obviously had an affection for Lucy at that age. I used to show dad everything I'd built or painted at school and this one sparked off the idea for a song about Lucy in the sky with diamonds."
Julian Lennon

"My son Julian came in one day with a picture he painted about a school friend of his named Lucy. He had sketched in some stars in the sky and called it 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds'. Simple."

John Lennon (Playboy, 1980)

Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and John's friend, Pete Shotton, also remembered the occasion:

"I went up to John's house in Weybridge. When I arrived we were having a cup of tea, and he said, 'Look at this great drawing Julian's done. Look at the title!' He showed me a drawing on school paper, a five-by-seven-inch piece of paper, of a little girl with lots of stars, and right across the top there was written, in very neat child handwriting, I think in pencil, 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds'. So I said, 'What's that mean?' thinking 'Wow, fantastic title!' John said, 'It's Lucy, a friend of his from school, and she's in the sky.'
...People later thought 'Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds' was LSD. I swear we didn't notice that when it first came out. In actual fact, if you want to be pedantic you'd have to say it is LITSWD, but of course LSD is a better story."

(Paul McCartney, 1994)

"I was actually with John when Julian came in with this little kid’s painting, a crazy little painting, and John (as the dad) said, ‘Oh, what’s that?’ and Julian said, ‘It’s Lucy in the sky with diamonds.’ And then John got busy."

(Ringo Starr, Beatles Anthology)

"I also happened to be there the day Julian came home from school with a pastel painting of his classmate Lucy's face against a backdrop of exploding, multi-coloured stars. Unusually impressed with his son's handiwork, John asked what the drawing was called. "It's Lucy in the sky with diamonds, Daddy," Julian replied.
"Fantastic!" said John, and promptly incorporated that memorable phrase into a new song. Though John was certainly ingesting inordinate amounts of acid around the time he wrote "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," the pun was indeed sheer coincidence."

(Pete Shotton, 1984)

Despite this evidence, many people still believe that the title was chosen on purpose because the initial letters of Lucy, Sky and Diamonds spell LSD. However, John denied that this was intentional:

"I swear to God, or swear to Mao, or to anybody you like, I had no idea it spelt LSD. This is the truth: My son came home with a drawing and showed me this strange-looking woman flying around. I said, "What is it?" and he said, "It's Lucy in the sky with diamonds," and I thought, "That's beautiful."
(John Lennon, 1970)

He was still denying it in his 1980 Playboy interview: "It was purely unconscious that it came out to be LSD. Until somebody pointed it out, I never even thought it, I mean, who would ever bother to look at initials of a title? It's NOT an acid song."

It is thought that the line 'plasticine porters with looking-glass ties' may have been inspired by the mention of 'plasticine ties' in "The Goon Show", a British comedy show which the Beatles were fans of.

Another big influence on the song's lyrics was Lewis Carroll's "Through The Looking Glass", the sequel to "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland". In Chapter 5, 'Wool and Water', Alice is rowing a boat, and in Chapter 3, 'Looking-Glass Insects, she travels on a train.

"The images were from "Alice in Wonderland." It was Alice in the boat. She is buying an egg and it turns into Humpty Dumpty. The woman serving in the shop turns into a sheep and the next minute they are rowing in a rowing boat somewhere and I was visualizing that. There was also the image of the female who would someday come save me - a "girl with kaleidoscope eyes" who would come out of the sky. It turned out to be Yoko, though I hadn't met Yoko yet. So maybe it should be "Yoko in the Sky with Diamonds."
(John Lennon, Playboy, 1980)

"It's very Alice. Both of us had read the Alice books and always referred to them, we were always talking about 'Jabberwocky' and we knew those more than any other books really. And when psychedelics came in, the heady quality of them was perfect. So we just went along with it. I sat there and wrote it with him: I offered 'cellophane flowers' and 'newspaper taxis' and John replied with 'kaleidoscope eyes'. I remember which was which because we traded words off each other, as we always did."

(Paul McCartney, Many Years From Now, 1984)

Beatles' producer George Martin added:

"A girl with kaleidoscope eyes, marmalade skies, cellophane flowers - these were definitely not conventional adjectives, even for John and Paul. But they were very Salvador Dali: bold, inventive and surreal. Rocking horse people eating marshmallow pies, though - that was John more in his jabberwocky mood - Dali, Dylan Thomas and Lewis Carroll - that was John."

Song Trivia

"Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" was one of the songs John Lennon performed live when he made an appearance at Elton John's Madison Square Garden concert. Elton's version was released as a single in 1975 and reached number one on the Billboard chart.

A female skeleton discovered in Ethiopia in 1974 by Donald Johanson and Tom Gray was named Lucy because "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" was played at the party held by the anthropologists to celebrate the discovery.
More about Lucy's skeleton

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