I Am The Walrus

In the studio

The Beatles began recording I Am The Walrus on 5 September 1967, just nine days after the death of Brian Epstein. Sixteen takes were recorded on that first day, just five of them complete. At this point it was bass, lead guitar, electric piano and drums, with an overdubbed Mellotron.

I Am the Walrus - Magical Mystery Tour


This version, without the various orchestral overdubs that came later, can be heard on the Anthology 2 collection. The sparseness of the recording serves to highlight the magic and mastery of George Martin's orchestration.

The following day more bass and drums were taped, along with John Lennon's vocals, snarled with such ferocity that the studio levels often peaked and distorted.

I Am The Walrus was then left until 27 September, when the orchestral and choral overdubs were recorded. George Martin conducted the 16-piece orchestra in an afternoon session in Abbey Road's Studio One, and in the evening the Mike Sammes Singers were brought in to Studio Two.

John worked with George Martin on the orchestration and did some very exciting things with the Mike Sammes Singers... Most of the time they got asked to do Sing Something Simple and all the old songs, but John got them doing all sorts of swoops and phonetic noises. It was a fascinating session. That was John's baby, great one, a really good one.
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

The singers, eight female, eight male, were seasoned session performers. George Martin's rather unorthodox score consisted of a series of whoops, "ho ho ho, he he he, ha ha ha", "Oompah, oompah, stick it up your jumper" and "Got one, got one, everybody's got one".

The idea of using voices was a good one. We got in the Mike Sammes Singers, very commercial people and so alien to John that it wasn't true. But in the score I simply orchestrated the laughs and noises, the whooooooah kind of thing. John was delighted with it.
George Martin
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn

Lennon spoke about the choir in his 1980 interview for Playboy magazine.

I had this whole choir saying 'Everybody's got one, everybody's got one.' But when you get thirty people, male and female, on top of thirty cellos and on top of the Beatles' rock 'n' roll rhythm section, you can't hear what they're saying.
John Lennon
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

On 29 September the final overdub took place, and it was a memorable one. By this point they were at the remix stage, with 17 mono mixes being made during the session. Only two were complete, and the final master copy was an edit of the two.

The first part of the song came from mix 10, and lasted up until the end of the second chorus. From then it was joined to mix 22, which incorporated a live radio feed from the BBC Third Programme, the day before it became Radio 3.

That night a broadcast of Shakespeare's The Tragedy Of King Lear was broadcast, and Lennon's radio happened to settle on Act IV, Scene VI featuring Gloucester, Edgar and Oswald, played by Mark Dignam, Philip Guard and John Bryning respectively.

We did about half a dozen mixes and I just used whatever was coming through at that time. I never knew it was King Lear until, years later, somebody told me - because I could hardly make out what he was saying. It was interesting to mix the whole thing with a live radio coming through it., So that's the secret of that one.
John Lennon
Anthology

The noise of the detuned radio appears before the line "Sitting in an English garden waiting for the sun". A snippet from King Lear can be heard in the chorus immediately before the "Expert texpert choking smokers" line, with an exchange between Gloucester and Edgar:

Lennon: I am the eggman
Gloucester: Now, good sir, what are you?
Lennon: They are the eggmen
Edgar: A most poor man, made tame to fortune's blows
Lennon: I am the Walrus

The King Lear performance reappears more prominently towards the song's end, as the strings reach their climax and amid the choir's chant of "Everybody's got one". The radio dial once more flits between channels, and in the song's final minute a longer passage was used.

Oswald: Slave, thou hast slain me. Villain, take my purse.
If ever thou wilt thrive, bury my body;
And give the letters which thou find'st about me
To Edmund Earl of Gloucester; seek him out
Upon the English party: O! untimely death. [Dies.]
Edgar: I know thee well: a serviceable villain;
As duteous to the vices of thy mistress
As badness would desire.
Gloucester: What! is he dead?
Edgar: Sit you down, father; rest you.

81 responses on “I Am The Walrus

    1. Boele Gerkes

      Does anyone know why “I am the Walrus” is mixed they way it is? It goes from that typical 60s hard panned stereo to a sort of phased or double mono (left/right) from the middle part on, to end full mono (but sweeping from left to right) again in the babble part at the end.
      I have always considered THAT to be one of the highlights of the song (apart from being it genious in terms of lyrics and chord progression and melody). Did I already mention that everything about this song is unmatched? :-)

      1. James Ferrell

        The radio broadcast was added to the mono mix, so they had to use that (converted into fake stereo) for the end of the song even in the stereo mix.

  1. Boris

    In my view, it is the very best of all Beatles’ songs. Most creative, both for the music and the words, and still very fresh… it really stands the test of time.

  2. AJ Lewis

    Many of my friends are all avid John Lennon fans. However most of my favorite Beatle songs turn out to be Paul McCartney’s. I have always considered I Am the Walrus to be a minor masterpiece and one of several Beatle songs at the height of their creativity.

  3. Joseph Brush

    There are expressions here that have some relation to reality. Selmelina Pilchard is liverpool slang for sardine. Yellow matter custard is a reference to Eric Burdon’s penchant for breaking eggs on the torsos of female groupies. At least that is the story I have heard. This song is a major masterpiece not a minor masterpiece because there is nothing else quite like it lyrically and musically. Listening to it now Walrus still amazes me with its audicity.

    1. Tweeze

      Semolina is a wheat derivative used to make pasta and cereal. Pilchards are, indeed, sardines. The ‘yellow matter custard’ derives as the article notes – John getting Pete Shotton to recall an old grotesque schoolyard rhyme. The use of ‘eggman’ is also likely to have come about as the article above professes. But I do agree – “I Am The Walrus” is simply a masterpisece in every sense. Strangely enough it really isn’t that far removed in the evolutionary scale from ‘Revolution 9′ which most people, except me, hate.

      1. Mustard

        @Tweeze , “I Am the Walrus” is the Beatles at their psychedelic and sarcastic best. It is grown on me over the years, and it is one of my all-time favorite songs.

        Thank you for pointing out the connection to “Revolution 9.” Incidentally, I think “Revolution 9″ is a great piece of avant gard music. Pardon my poor spelling.

        1. Chris

          I thought “Semolina Pilchard” was a reference to that Pilcher fuckhead who hounded British musicians for possession of drugs until he was jailed for perverting the course of justice.

  4. James

    Superb Lennon Song, great sounding song and one his most fantastic vocals. Thanks also to the Abbey Road engineer for recording his vocal on a cheap microphone done on purpose.

    1. Joe Post author

      That was the rumour in the 1960s, but I’m pretty sure it’s “Got one, got one, everybody’s got one”. I also once read that some people thought it was “Everybody fuck off”, which clearly isn’t the case!

      1. Tweeze

        With today’s modern CDs the ability to hear more clearly what resides in the soundtrack is much better. Even though a good vinyl copy has a warmth that is lacking in CDs, vinyl has a tendency to wear until the sound muddies. Even after muliple pressings of an album the 1000th copy isn’t quite as pristine as the 1st. I have a lot of Beatles’ vinyl in my collection. Some of the sound quality in songs like this are fairly atrocious and, yes, one could think that the singers are possibly maybe perhaps saying — something else.

  5. SgtPepper1909

    I read that “semolina pilchard” was a reference to Detective Sgt. Norman Pilcher, the junkie-buster whose crossed path with The Beatles’ a few times.

    1. Tweeze

      It may have been, but John wasn’t busted until October 1968 – or about a year after this song. Semolina is a wheat used for pasta and cereals – in John’s case – pudding.

  6. Joseph Brush

    No Beatle crossed Norman Pilcher’s path in 1967 when Walrus was released.
    His phony drug planting scheme originally nailed several pop stars including two Beatles (in 1968 & 1969).
    He was eventually caught smuggling drugs into the U.K. and was sentenced to a term in prison.

  7. SgtPepper1909

    Thanks—the sardine explanation was a lot more rational.
    Also— doesn’t “see how they run like pigs from a gun” stike an almost Pink Floyd-esque chord?
    Those lyrics are somewhere on the fine line between brilliant lyricism and acid nonsense.

    1. James Ferrell

      In the new Lewisohn book (Tune In) he mentions that in 1958 John and Paul started writing a play about a Jesus-like character they called “Pilchard.”

  8. Fiquito

    Heard that John wrote this song because he was amused by the fact that school teachers in Britain were analyzing his songs in class, as if they were literature. True?

    1. Beatguy

      Mclerristarr- If I’m not mistaken, this version is from the Beatles Anhthology video series. It’s mostly the entire original MMT version, but they seem to have added some home-movie type footage that wasn’t included in the original MMT movie…

      1. BrianK

        As there is no Mellotron audible in the final mix (just electric piano and the cellos), so it is fair to say that it’s “left out”. I’ve owned several Mellotrons and worked on the one John used at home; I do know them VERY well.

  9. jerald

    one of the beatles finest b-sides that could have been an a-side or equal.i am the walrus is an excellent song just like revolution, rain , and don’t let me down, who went out as a b-side.

  10. StarrTime

    I can’t believe this was a B-side to Hello, Goodbye…I mean I can’t think of two songs more different in style, although i’ve never really heard a song like Walrus, so what else could go with this? This was Lennon at his best!

    1. EltonJohnLennon

      Totally agree. “Hello, Goodbye” is not a bad song but “Walrus” is musically much more valuable. It should have been on the A-side.

  11. found error

    “The third part started from the phrase “sitting in an English country garden” which, as Davies noted, Lennon was fond of doing for hours at a time. Lennon repeated the phrase to himself until a melody came.”

    I double checked the book, but I couldn’t find anything about that. Hunter Davie never said that. Where did you get that?

    1. Joe Post author

      “He also had another piece of tune in his head. This had started from the phrase, ‘sitting in an English country garden’. This is what he does for at least two hours every day, sitting on the step outside his window looking at his garden. This time, thinking about himself doing it, he’d repeated the phrase over and over again till he’d put a tune to it.”

      I have a first edition of the book. It’s on page 292, in the section ‘The Beatles and their music’. Later editions may be different.

  12. H.Hogan

    Actually, re EGG MAN/Eggman – if you read Eric Burdon’s autobiography, it’s a Jamaican girlfriend who cracked an egg on Burdon during sex. Whoever runs this site should change this in the body text because it now reads as though Burdon traditionally cracked eggs on his sex partners. Totally the opposite, and a one-time-deal, it appears. Burdon told the story to Lennon and Lennon laughingly said to Burdon: “Go on, go get it, Egg Man”

  13. Deadman

    ==Warning: adult themes==

    “It may have been one of my more dubious distinctions, but I was the Eggman–or, as some of my pals called me, ‘Eggs’.
    The nickname stuck after a wild experience I’d had at the time with a Jamaican girlfriend called Sylvia. I was up early one morning cooking breakfast, naked except for my socks, and she slid up beside me and slipped an amyl nitrate capsule under my nose. As the fumes set my brain alight and I slid to the kitchen floor, she reached to the counter and grabbed an egg, which she cracked into the pit of my belly. The white and yellow of the egg ran down my naked front and Sylvia slipped my egg-bathed cock into her mouth and began to show me one Jamaican trick after another. I shared the story with John at a party at a Mayfair flat one night with a handful of blondes and a little Asian girl.

    “‘Go on, go get it, Eggman,’ Lennon laughed over the little round glasses perched on the end of his hook-like nose as we tried the all-too-willing girls on for size.”

    Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood
    by Eric Burdon with J Marshall Craig
    (Rowville, Victoria; 2003), pp. 61-62.

      1. Liz

        Overrated? Absolutely! Surrealistic King? I’m pretty sure. Muzak? Not hardly – it’s too disturbing for that. I LOVE Beatle songs, but if “Walrus” comes on, I TURN IT OFF. That’s how much it bothers me. Even more than “Blue Jay Way,” and that one is pretty creepy too! Even “Revolution # 9″ is not as disturbing – it just sounds stupid to me.

  14. Bob W.

    Listening to the isolated vocal track is a real treat. The background vocal “swoops” are incredible. There are two distinct chants at the end of the song, the low voices are chanting, “Oompa, oompa, stick it up your jumper” while the high voices are saying, “Everybody’s got one, everybody’s got one”.

    The orchestra track is simply astounding. What a fantastic arrangement. This song is surely a masterpiece in every sense of the word.

    1. Deadman

      Whilst I agree that IAtW is excellent, I suggest that “a masterpiece in every sense of the word” is unnecessarily hyperbolic.

      A masterpiece, originally, was a physical piece of work by a craftsman accepted as qualification for membership of a guild as an acknowledged master. A masterpiece was also the thesis submitted by a student in order to gain the degree of Master of Arts. A masterpiece can also refer to any very famous, valuable painting.

      So, “I Am the Walrus” is not a masterpiece in EVERY sense of the word.

  15. Daniel

    Guys, do you know what I wish? I wish the extra bar before “Yellow Matter Custard” part was mixed for stereo since it was never located anywhere such as the Love Soundtrack and The Beatles: Rock Band video game except one of the worldwide single releases.

  16. Gaura

    George Martin is often under-rated for his significant contribution to Beatles songs, like this one. If there was ever a 5th Beatle, it’s George Martin.

    Regarding the words “elementary penguin, singing Hare Krishna “, at this time the devotees of Krishna were completing renovations on their first temple in Bury Place, London, and there was no place for their visiting spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada to reside, so John sent his paisley painted Rolls Royce to the airport to pick up the Swami so that he could reside at John & Yoko’s ( former Cadbury family estate ) in Ascot, Tittenhurst, for three months, enlightening John, Yoko and George about Krsna consciousness.

    Instant Karma was later inspired by this visit. The ‘elementary penguin singing Hare Krishna” is actually Allen Ginsburg, the New York poet who used to begin his poetry recitals dressed in a tuxedo, looking like a penguin, while he pumped a harmonium he had purchased in India, while chanting the Hare Krishna mantra. Allen and Prabhupada became good friends.

  17. Adjective

    One pertinent issue is missing on this page. Certainly Lewis Carroll’s Looking Glass served as inspiration for the characters in the song, but so too were they inspiration for James Joyce ‘s Finnegan’s Wake. Joyce uses many Carroll characters, not least cosmic eggman Humpty Dumpty whose last words after he falls off the wall and as his yolk is running out are “Goo, goo, g’joob”.

    The literary references along with Liverpudlian slang and gutter rhymes and the Eric Burdon anecdote help underscore why this is such a great song and Lennon such a great lyricist. The song really does work on so many levels.

    1. Joe Post author

      Where in Finnegans Wake (no apostrophe, btw) does Humpty Dumpty say those words? It’s been a long time since I read it but I’m all but almost certain that Lennon invented the phrase. It’s not in Carroll either.

      1. Adjective

        Truth be told, it’s been awhile since i carved my way through FW; I got this story ages ago from an old Paul Simon interview in Rolling Stone where he was asked specifically about the similar phrase in Mrs. Robinson. A quick web search brought up the following

        “It has also been noted that James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake contains the words googoo goosth at the top of page *557, where it appears:

        …like milk-juggles as if it was the wrake of the hapspurus or old Kong Gander O’Toole of the Mountains or his googoo goosth she seein, sliving off over the sawdust lobby out of the backroom, wan ter, that was everywans in turruns, in his honeymoon trim, holding up his fingerhals…

        It is not clear that Joyce is the source, or what it would mean if he were, but it has been a hypothesis put forward by fans of both artists alike.”

        Either way, even if it’s not true, it certainly has permeated the legend surrounding the lyric, and should be included in the discussion if only for debunking purposes. Here is some further reading on the IATW/FW connection:

        http://www.themodernword.com/Joyce/muSic/beatles.html

        1. Joe Post author

          Interesting. Thanks for that. I know Lennon was asked about James Joyce after publishing In His Own Write and A Spaniard In The Works, and said he’d never read him before they were published. In a 1968 interview he said he’d since got a copy of Finnegans Wake and couldn’t see much resemblance between his and Joyce’s writing, apart from a bit of wordplay, and had only read a chapter of it.

          “Q: A lot of people wrote about your book and said ‘Oh, James Joyce, Edward Lear,’ and so on. What did you think when they said that?

          JL: Well, when they said James Joyce I hadn’t… I must have come across him at school but we hadn’t done him like I remember doing Shakespeare and remember doing so-and-so. I remember doing Chaucer a bit, or somebody like him doing funny words. But I don’t remember Joyce, you see. So, the first thing they say ‘Oh! He’s read James Joyce,’ you know. So I hadn’t. And so the first thing I do is buy Finnegans Wake and read a chapter. And it’s great, you know, and I dug it, and I felt as though he’s an old friend. But I couldn’t make it right through the book, and so I read a chapter of Finnegans Wake and that was the end of it. So now I know what they’re talking about. But I mean, he just went… he just didn’t stop, you know. Yeah.

          Q: What actually, though, had you read that you KNOW was important to you when you were young?

          JL: Only kids’ books, you know. Alice In Wonderland. The poems are all from Jabberwocky… started me into that kick.”

          There’s a lot of gobbledigook in the Wake, and I think it’s probably a bit fanciful to imagine that Lennon happened upon the words “googoo goosth” and decided to incorporate it into IATW. Personally I’d file it under coincidence.

          1. Adjective

            I’m willing to leave it to coincidence also, and that FW similarly co-opts Carroll’s characters. I’m trying to find that Rolling Stone Interviews book so I can re-read the Simon interview just to make sure my memory hasn’t completely failed me.

  18. Jammy_jim

    I’ve always been under the asumption that they’re saying “Everybody’s got one” as well but when I listen to the vocals isolated (Youtube) I swear it sounds like they’re saying `everybody smoke pot.’ I detect an `s’ sound after `everybody.’ Check it out let know what you think.

  19. Nina Bean

    Other cool facts: Lennon composed the song by combining three songs he had been working on. When he learned that a teacher at his old primary school was having his students analyse Beatles’ lyrics, he added a verse of nonsense words to confuse the kids.

    The walrus is a reference to the walrus in Lewis Carroll’s poem “The Walrus and the Carpenter” (from the book Through the Looking-Glass). Lennon expressed dismay upon belatedly realising that the walrus was a villain in the poem.

  20. Eric

    The used to be a Telly show called “Thunderbirds” made by Gerry Anderson. It was huge in England and was enjoyed by adults and children alike. First shown in 1964 I think.
    One of the episodes had a machine called the “crablogger” I often wonder if this was in John Lennon’s sub conscious when he wrote the lyrics.
    If you get a chance, have a listen to the music each time the “crablogger” came on screen.

  21. Gregory Morrison

    The lyric ‘sitting in an English (country) garden’ was adapted/inspired from a popular British song at the time in which Jimmie Rodgers applied music to an old poem, recorded as a children’s record. Cynthia purchased this for Julian, which John inevitably heard playing at home. The original concept of the song came from Lewis Carroll’s poem ‘The Walrus And The Carpenter’. The melody can be heard as far back as 1966 during a chance recording of John with a mouth organ (keyed harmonica) on their last concert tour.

  22. YllwMttrCstrd

    Just a comment to throw into the mix: I have heard the story of John’s friend changing “waiting for the man to come” to “waiting for the van to come.” Whether a coincidence or not I will leave to those more knowledgeable, but there is a play titled “An American Dream” by Edward Albee in which two characters discuss sitting on a cornflake and waiting for the van to come. I am quite certain of this, even though I don’t have the play in front of me. I read the play in 1969 and was instantly struck by the cornflake/van conversation. I have never read anything to corroborate my information, but that doesn’t mean I am in error. On the other hand, I am one of those crazies who hears “Everyone’s f”*cked up” at the end.
    At any rate, this is a great site!!!

  23. Bungalow Bob

    I heard “Everybody’s f**cked up” on the “Walrus” fade-out, too. And I’ve read some Edward Albee, but not “American Dream.” I searched the ‘net for the script, but only was able to read a synopsis of the play. So, I wasn’t able to confirm any dialogue about two characters sitting on a cornflake, waiting for the van to come. But I WAS able to determine THIS about the characters in “An American Dream:” That everybody’s f**cked up.

  24. Edward Goodwin

    All fine and well, but the voices speaking at the end, what are they saying? It’s either three or four voices taken off of some radio or TV show, or perhaps one person doing several voices, the only word I can make out clearly is “grandfather” at one point it sounds like someone saying, quite emphatically, “in the service of a villain.” Where did this come from?

      1. BILLY SHEARS

        Paul is Dead folks love this song. The verse from King Lear at the end “Oh! Untimely death!” Is thought to be a clue to Paul’s death. Not much of a clue in itself, but combine it with the “cranberry sauce – or I buried Paul” on Strawberry Fields Forever” and verses from “Fool on the Hill” – you get a bunch of “clues” on the Magical Mystery Tour LP. Why use that exchange and verses from King Lear? What does it have to do with anything? – or maybe here’s another clue for you all…the Walrus was Paul.

  25. Beatles4ever

    I love the song, but I’m pretty sure John Lennon was the Walrus because he says so himself. He wrote a song after the Beatles had broken up called God and John says: “I was the Walrus, but now I’m John.”

  26. Jude

    I prefer the Anthology version. With only electric piano ( which is different from the piano of the Magical Mystery Tour version ), guitar and drums. I think the vocals are exactly the same track. By the way, who plays the drums on the Anthology version ? Paul or Ringo ?

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