God, like I Am The Walrus and Happiness Is A Warm Gun before it, was made from three unfinished compositions. Lennon and McCartney often worked in this way, combining unrelated works on songs such as She Said She Said, A Day In The Life and I’ve Got A Feeling, as well as much of Abbey Road. Lennon also combined three different works in progress to create the Double Fantasy song (Just Like) Starting Over.
God was recorded at EMI Studios, Abbey Road, later in 1970. Lennon initially performed the song on an acoustic guitar; a version was included on the John Lennon Anthology box set in 1998. He later turned to the piano, and also brought in his old friend Billy Preston to add another piano part.
Preston had first met The Beatles in Hamburg in the early 1960s, and in 1969 performed with them on the Let It Be and Abbey Road albums. On God, Preston played a Steinway grand piano, while Lennon performed on a honky tonk-style upright Steinway offering a considerably different sound.
He was on Let It Be and they got on really well. Billy loved the band and they loved Billy. John actually said, ‘Come on Billy, do a little of your gospel piano, it’s about God, you know.’ So it inspired him to something that’s his upbringing; Billy learned piano playing and organ playing in church. He really believed in God and that’s the way he played on this song. It’s beautiful.
Classic Albums: Plastic Ono Band
Ringo Starr’s performance during the ‘I don’t believe’ litany was remarkable for its variety of drum fills, none of which were the same. Starr later explained that he never played the same part twice, preferring instead to perform with instinct depending on what was required at that moment.
The studio version of God also included the ‘dream is over’ coda. Having delivered the bombshell that ‘I don’t believe in Beatles’, Lennon reinforced the message further:
I was the dream weaver, but now I’m reborn
I was the walrus, but now I’m John.
And so dear friends you just have to carry on.
The dream is over.
The section featured some of the finest vocals of John Lennon’s entire career. It was as if, finally free from making myths, casting spells and co-writing the 1960s, he had at last found his true voice. All illusions had been cast off and he had found his reality with Yoko Ono. The rest of the world had to find its own way now.