It's interesting to note that on one of the greatest pop albums in history, tracks two through five are essentially a loosely joined ode to drugs. After the simple infectious hooks of "With A Little Help From My Friends" comes perhaps the most tripped out song in The Beatles' entire songbook, "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds."

The story goes that Julian Lennon drew a picture at school, titled it "Lucy in the sky with diamonds" and brought it home to dad John. Enamored by the picture and title, he penned a song about it. Later, when it was revealed that the prominent initials in the song were LSD, John denied everything, and rightfully so. How apocryphal this story may be will probably never be known; one thing for sure is that The Beatles were never ones to shy away from their drug use and its influence on their music, and thus their vehement denials carry more weight than normal. Everyone in the wide and looming canon of Beatles mythology, from Paul to George Martin to Neil Aspinall, has verified this story. The picture itself can be found on the Internet at snopes.com, although it is untitled on paper.

Given Lennon's inspiration and work here, the song is musically similar to some of his other drug-induced work (most notably "I'm Only Sleeping", though the song also rings of "Strawberry Fields Forever" and the eerie tones of "I'm So Tired") in that it's seeped in reverb, echoes, a slow dream-state tempo, and hypnotic harmonies. Beginning with its now-famous I-I7-vii-iv harpsichord, the song plays out marvelously to the simple plodding bassline and repeating hook, until it gets to the reverb-drenched bridge, which meanders its way into a ceremonious I-IV-V marching chorus with harmonies rising up from the third to the fifth triad in the two lines. For some reason, the vocal phrasings of the "Aaaaahhhhs" that close out the chorus have always been associated with the psychedelic movement in my head. I wonder why. In a way, this song is the ultimate psychedelic song, inspiring artists as varied as The 13th Floor Elevators, Can, Primal Scream, The Flaming Lips, Pink Floyd, R.E.M., and Jimi Hendrix.

Lyrically, the song is the simple abstraction of drug-induced patter amongst friends. Lines like "newspaper taxis" and "marmalade skies" were the direct result of sitting around together, smoking pot, and riffing on imaginary imagery. The song itself is primarily nonsense, with no allusions or references beyond itself. Lennon attributes most of the ideas and the style of the lyrics to his own readings of Lewis Carroll and the "Alice in Wonderland" series of stories. Julian may have drawn the picture, but we all know exactly what those "flowers that grow incredibly high" are. The lyrics were stunningly visualized in the cartoon Yellow Submarine.

Recorded on March 1 and 2 of 1967 at Abbey Road studio, the song features John on lead vocals and lead guitar, with Ringo on drums, Paul on bass, and George in one of his rare recordings with the tamboura.

For you Paul is dead fanatics, this song's absurdist hypnotism doesn't provide very much concrete evidence as to The Cute One's demise, but one could easily infer that the "newspaper taxis" coming to take "you" away is John wishing Paul a safe trip to heaven.

The song has been covered numerous times, including versions by The Black Crowes, Natalie Cole, Elton John, Aimee Mann, Hugo Montenegro, and Latin sensation Marc Anthony. It has also been covered by Leonard Nimoy, who was playing light tribute to his commander in chief, William Shatner. Shatner's version of the song on his 1968 spoken word album Transformed Man is a comic highlight of the actor's brief recordmaking career. Using his (now much-parodied) idiosyncratic syncopation for ultimate dramatic effect, Shatner's reading of the admittedly goofy drug lyrics is a joy to behold, if for nothing else than it offers you little choice but to simply go along for the ride.

Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds
(Lennon/McCartney)

Picture yourself in a boat on a river
With tangerine trees and marmalade skies
Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly
A girl with kaleidoscope eyes

Cellophane flowers of yellow and green
Towering over your head
Look for the girl with the sun in her eyes
And she’s gone

Lucy in the sky with diamonds!
Lucy in the sky with diamonds!

Follow her down to a bridge by a fountain
Where rocking horse people eat marshmallow pies
Everyone smiles as you drift past the flowers
That grow so incredibly high

Newspaper taxis appear on the shore
Waiting to take you away
Climb in the back with your head in the clouds
And you’re gone

Lucy in the sky with diamonds!
Lucy in the sky with diamonds!

Picture yourself on a train in a station
With plasticine porters with looking glass ties
Suddenly someone is there at the turnstile
The girl with the kaleidoscope eyes.

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
With A Little Help From My Friends | Getting Better

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