Top 10 Beatles Psychedelic Songs
Ahh, psychedelia…that warm fuzzy glow of surrealism that drips over — and then into –one’s head. Though it’s debatable as to who invented the musical form, the Beatles were certainly one of the first architects to lend a hand, and mind’s eye, to the proceedings. Whether from the wellspring of hallucinized minds, or just a natural occurrence of the utterly creative, it’s a trip for the listener that carries on nearly 50 years later. So tune in, turn on and rock out as we give you our Top 10 Beatles Psychedelic Songs.
‘She Said, She Said’
With a biting guitar riff kicking things off, this beauty form ‘Revolver,’ oozes and throbs in technicolor glory. Written by John Lennon (obviously the most psychedelically inclined of the four) after an incident at an L.A. acid party. “Peter Fonda came in when we were on acid and he kept coming up to me and sitting next to me and whispering, ‘I know what it’s like to be dead” Lennon told Journalist David Sheff in 1980. “He was describing an acid trip he’d been on. We didn’t want to hear about that! We were on an acid trip and the sun was shining and the girls were dancing and the whole thing was beautiful.” In all of its two-and-a-half minutes of glory, it manages not only genuine psychedelia but pristine pop of the highest order as well.
‘It’s All Too Much’
This George Harrison-penned tune is one of the band’s most captivating works from the psychedelic era, and one of the Beatles’ great lost songs. The song was originally written in the later half of 1967 and was considered for inclusion as part of ‘Magical Mystery Tour,’ but ultimately shelved. It finally found a home on the ‘Yellow Submarine’ soundtrack in early-1969. Clocking in at just under seven minutes, it’s an unrestrained ride for a good portion complete with guitar feedback, trumpets, bass clarinet and general merriment.
‘A Day In The Life’
It’s easy to forget 46 years later, but the entire ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ album was truly groundbreaking stuff on all levels, songwriting, production, presentation and spirit. The finale of the LP, ‘A Day In The Life,’ is a piece of day-glo pop art in 4/4 time and still remains a breathtaking adventure. From the unassuming intro of acoustic guitar, piano and vocal, the song twists and turns as it adds color and flavor along the way, until its mid song chaotic climax explodes and suddenly becomes a totally different song. The perfect example of one of Lennon’s ideas and one of Paul McCartney‘s woven together seamlessly into a totally unique creature. We return to the Lennon theme and once again crescendo out-of-bounds at songs end. Recorded on a four-track machine under the impossible-to-understate guidance of Sir George Martin. No Pro Tools were harmed in the making of this record.
‘Within You Without You’
“We were talking about the space between us,” so begins this heady masterpiece of ethereal drone from the ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band‘ LP. The pure bliss of 1967 is in full bloom on this Harrison-penned beauty. Sitars and strings wow and flutter, as tabla instigates the rhythm that flows like an Eastern river into previously uncharted pop group waters, while George delivers some suitably intriguing lyrics. Though in many ways a Harrison solo track, it was an important piece of the ‘Sgt. Pepper’ puzzle and totally of the moment in time that was the ‘Summer of Love.’
‘I’m Only Sleeping’
One of John Lennon’s most haunting songs, and of course, that’s saying a lot. ‘I’m Only Sleeping’ first appeared in the U.S. on the hodgepodge LP ‘Yesterday And Today’ in June 1996. It would appear in a different mix on the U.K. ‘Revolver’ album a couple months later. With Lennon’s droning vocal sitting atop a lazy, shuffle rhythm, the song creeps along with a certain acidic nonchalance complete with some tasty backwards guitar lines throughout. The spot-on backing vocals and McCartney’s always splendid bass lines drive it onward.
‘Strawberry Fields Forever’
As the Beatles began recording in early-1967, it was obvious a different approach was at play. The first song recorded during the sessions that would ultimately create ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,’ it was unlike anything anyone had ever heard from a pop group before. The final record of ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ was famously made up of two totally different takes, with producer George Martin slightly speeding up one version, while slightly slowing down the other, then splicing them together to create one of the most unique records ever made. The lyrical imagery, the variety of instruments used and the overall vibe of the recording were all miles away from ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand.’ Miles away indeed, but in reality, it had been just three years between the two. The rate of change and growth in such a short time still boggles the mind.
‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’
Although John Lennon always maintained that the lyrics were inspired by a painting his son Julian created, no one was buying it. It just so happened that the letters L, S and D feature so prominently in the title of a colorfully blazing pop song circa 1967? well, believe what you like, it lead to such other preposterous gems like ‘Albert Common Is Dead‘ and ‘Love Seems Doomed‘ (both by the Blues Magoos by the way!) Ultimately, that’s neither here nor there, it’s this song we are concerned with and what a song it is! Three-and-a-half minutes of pure lysergic bliss, full of picturesque and surreal lyrics set to one of the Beatles’ most trippy songs. Trippy yes, but surging skyward at the same time, especially on the dynamic chorus. The inventive bass playing of Paul McCartney kept getting more crucial to the band’s sound, and it is in full flight here. Later covered successfully by Elton John, and brilliantly by William Shatner.
‘Only A Northern Song’
Though it was recorded during the ‘Sgt. Pepper’ sessions, ‘Only A Northern Song’ wouldn’t see the light of day until it was used on the ‘Yellow Submarine’ soundtrack in early-1969, nearly two years after it was originally put to tape. The song creeps in slowly and builds as it moves along. A variety of wild tape loops, harsh trumpets and percussion are used to create a slightly disorienting effect. Lyrically, it was Harrison’ jab at the Beatles publishing arrangement. “Only A Northern Song was a joke relating to Liverpool,” Harrison said in Anthology. “In addition, the song was copyrighted Northern Songs Ltd, which I don’t own, so: ‘It doesn’t really matter what chords I play… as it’s only a Northern Song.'” Would ‘Sgt. Pepper’ have been even greater had this mind-melter been included in favor of, say ‘When I’m Sixty Four?’ All signs point to a positive affirmation.
‘I Am The Walrus’
‘I Am The Walrus’ is, without question, one of John Lennon’s finest creations and a 100% psychedelic adventure. The song appeared on the ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ LP as well as the flip of ‘Hello Goodbye.’ The LSD-inspired lyrics mesh with lyrics that Lennon himself called nonsense. “The first line was written on one acid trip one weekend. The second line was written on the next acid trip the next weekend” Lennon told interviewer David Sheff in 1980, “I was writing obscurely, a la Dylan, in those days.” The percussive use of strings is brilliant and adds an ominous touch to the journey, while the end of song chaos that erupts is a mind-blower unto itself. ‘I Am The Walrus’ is pure genius all the way!
‘Tomorrow Never Knows’
The be-all and end-all of psychedelic rock and roll, ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ has no equal. The final song on the landmark ‘Revolver’ album is one of the most mesmerizing slices of rock and roll ever recorded. Written by Lennon, the song’s shape was helped immeasurably by Paul McCartney who suggested the insistent drum pattern and also contributes the backwards guitar solo here. Though not much of a psychedelic-styled writer himself, Sir Paul certainly knew how to decorate the tree. The surging beat pushes the song into the clouds and beyond. The sitar drone, chanting, and tape loops all brew together in this psychedlic stew. The unconventional lyric was inspired by the Timothy Leary book ‘The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead.’ Lennon said he wanted it to sound like “a group of Tibetan monks chanting on a mountain top.” A truly unique record that still amazes 47 years on.