Julia

The Beatles (White Album) artworkWritten by: Lennon-McCartney
Recorded: 13 October 1968
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Ken Scott

Released: 22 November 1968 (UK), 25 November 1968 (US)

John Lennon: vocals, acoustic guitar

Available on:
The Beatles (White Album)
Anthology 3
Love

Julia was written by John Lennon for his mother, who died in a road accident in 1958. It is the only solo Lennon recording in The Beatles' canon.

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The song was written in India. Like Dear Prudence and Happiness Is A Warm Gun, it contained the fingerpicking guitar style taught to Lennon by Donovan.

Some afternoons we would gather at one of our pads and play the acoustic guitars we had all brought with us. Paul Horn, the American flute wizard, was there. John was keen to learn the finger-style guitar I played and he was a good student. Paul already had a smattering of finger style. George preferred his Chet Atkins style. John wrote Julia and Dear Prudence based on the picking I taught him.
Donovan
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

While inspired as a tribute to his mother, Julia also showed the increasing influence of Yoko Ono upon Lennon's world. The line "Ocean child calls me" referred to Ono, whose name means 'child of the sea' in Japanese.

Julia was my mother. But it was sort of a combination of Yoko and my mother blended into one. That was written in India. On the White Album. And all the stuff on the White Album was written in India while we were supposedly giving money to Maharishi, which we never did. We got our mantra, we sat in the mountains eating lousy vegetarian food and writing all those songs. We wrote tons of songs in India.
John Lennon
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

Sections of the song were adapted from lines from the poem Sand And Foam by the then-fashionable Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran. The opening words of Julia were taken from Gibran's lines, "Half of what I say is meaningless; but I say it so that the other half may reach you."

Lennon also adapted the lines "When I cannot sing my heart, I can only speak my mind" from Gibran's "When life does not find a singer to sing her heart she produces a philosopher to speak her mind". Other imagery, including 'seashell eyes', was also taken from Gibran.

As an exorcism of years of hurt and regret at losing her, Julia marked the point at which Lennon laid bare his soul after years of writing allusions to mother/lover figures. The song implies that he has, in Yoko Ono, finally found a love to equal his mother's, and was thereafter free to lay his soul bare to his new muse.

On the Love album, Julia is used as an instrumental transitional track, between Eleanor Rigby and I Am The Walrus. Lennon's guitar is overlaid with the sounds of children playing, the orchestra from A Day In The Life and effects from Revolution 9.

In the studio

The Beatles had recorded a demo of Julia at George Harrison's Esher bungalow in May 1968. Although very similar to the studio version, it appears to contain vocal contributions from other members of the group, and ends in ad-libbed whistling.

Julia was the last song to be started for the White Album. Lennon recorded three takes of the song on 13 October 1968, double tracking his vocals and acoustic guitar to the last of these.

The mostly instrumental take two was later released on Anthology 3, along with some dialogue between Lennon and Paul McCartney, who was observing the recording from the studio control room.

27 responses on “Julia

    1. John

      I’ve thought the same myself. It makes sense because of the fact that he never really met his mother until his teenage years, when feelings of love and sexual attraction get confused anyway.

  1. Scott

    The song felt like it belonged on the Plastic Ono Band album. It had the same minimalism musically and the same intense emotional honesty as songs like “Mother” (which, I suppose, is appropriate).

  2. Kian

    I might be the only person who believes this but I always felt that the opening lyric was:
    “Half of what I say is meaning less”
    In that half of what he is saying is losing it’s meaning.

    1. Marcus

      I was the same. However, according to wikipedia, The line “Half of what I say is meaningless, but I say it just to reach you” was a slight alteration from Kahlil Gibran’s “Sand and Foam” (1926) in which the original verse reads, “Half of what I say is meaningless, but I say it so that the other half may reach you”. (which in my humble opinion is a far superior line).

  3. StarrTime

    I love tha Anthology version because it shows a vulnerable Lennon who is self-conscious about his guitar playing with a comforting McCartney encouraging him. I think when people really analyze that relationship they tend to look at the bad rather than the good and, I don’t know, listening to that just makes me appreciate the love that they really had for each other.

      1. AlfinaHawaii

        Absolutely! Paul always said he ‘knows’ John in despite the limited spoken words exchanged between them two.

        The thing that might have threatened John was (probably), the fact that Paul read through him despite his tough facade, and he knew it too. Hence the tension between them. I would be threatened and defensive too, if I knew someone is reading through me through my defensive walls and moat.

    1. AlfinaHawaii

      My impression had always been that Paul was despite his younger age, was the more mature of the two – between him and John. AND you were dead on there! I wish we could hear what Paul really said to John during that take 2 recording! But I couldn’t really make it out.

      I had no doubt that you were right, though! Paul was encouraging John to play on, sensing immediately that John was self-conscious, not to mention the subject of the song was a haunting subject which Paul was almost as familiar with as John was, having been ‘there’ with John at the time of Julia’s death.

  4. Tobias Talock

    I find it a little insulting that Lennon named this song after his mother, when it’s all about Yoko. Plus it’s really lazy and amateurish.

  5. Joseph Brush

    A little insulting?
    Not medium insulting?

    The song to me is about both women.
    Lennon is not only talking to Julia but he is telling her about Yoko.

    Why should you be insulted?

    1. Tobias Talock

      Well, maybe because I love my mother. And, if I was gonna write a song about her, I wouldn’t write it about my wife and just name it after her. Lennon should have called the song: “Yoko”. But he probably wasn’t brave enough to do it at the time.

  6. Chiyoko

    Ah. Everytime I hear this song I instantly bawl. I can feel all of the emotion Lennon put into the song. It somehow makes me think of my grandmother who passed away nearly two years ago. Her name wasn’t Julia though. This song is simply breath-taking and I will never tire of it.
    RIP Julia and John Lennon. :)

  7. apple_jam

    Touching moment (for me atleast) on the anthology version: Lennon messes up and sounds a bit embarrassed. You can hear Paul in the background, encouraging him from the control booth. So sad that these two geniuses had to part the way they did.

    1. Gabriel Antonio

      You’re so right. Surprisingly,John seemed a bit insecure recording this song alone.
      The voice of Paul encouraging him shows that, despite the rivalry, they were great friends. “Here Today” from Paul’s solo work it’s a great evidence.

  8. James Waters

    Anyone think the melody line ‘Her hair of floating sky is shimmering’ sounds very like ‘That when I tell you that I love you’ from ‘I Should Have Known Better’? Always strikes me. The melody (I think) is in the Lydian mode, very distinctive. Both wonderful songs, IMO.

  9. bahad?r

    I don’t talk about other than my feelings about John Lennon. As far as I understand John has lived with a heavy heart that he couldn’t live with his mother to his heart’s content. (She’s died in an accident).But I am sure his mother likes, and love”s” him much much more than any other thing. (by the way sorry for my bad English, because I’m a Turk, I can’t use English very well).

  10. Avery

    Do you know if there were engineers/producers/type personnel other than Paul present during this recording? I’ve been sitting on that thought for a while.

  11. TheOneBeatle

    I have been reading and reading that John started to cry while recording the take that appeared on Anthology, but I haven’t found a source that verify this? Is it true or not? I have listened to the song, and it could be true as he sounds like he is singing whispering-cracking-like.

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