Recording, mixing, editing: Getting Better, Lovely Rita – John Lennon accidentally takes LSD in the studio

Hunter Davies’ account of the session does not specifically mention LSD. It is not clear whether he realised that Lennon was under its influence, although possibly the incident was downplayed as the biography was intended as a family-friendly book to be read by young fans.

They ran through the song about four times and John said he didn’t feel well. He could do with some fresh air. Someone went to open the back door of the studio. There was the sound of loud banging and cheering on the other side. The door began to move slightly inwards, under the strain of a gang of fans who’d somehow managed to get inside the building.

George Martin came down from his box and told John he would be better to go up on the roof and get some air, rather than go outside.

‘How’s John?’ Paul asked into the microphone to George Martin up in the control box.

‘He’s looking at the stars,’ said George Martin.

‘You mean Vince Hill?’ said Paul. He and George started singing Edelweiss and laughing. Then John came back.

The Beatles
Hunter Davies

During the session Norman Smith, who had worked as the balance engineer on almost all The Beatles’ recordings up to 1966, visited Studio Two. He was producing Pink Floyd’s debut album The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn elsewhere at EMI Studios, and the group wished to meet The Beatles.

A man in a purple shirt called Norman arrived. He used to be one of their recording engineers and now had a group of his own, The Pink Floyd. Very politely he asked George Martin if his boys could possibly pop in to see the Beatles at work. George smiled, unhelpfully. Norman said perhaps he should ask John personally, as a favour. George Martin said no, that wouldn’t work. But if by chance he and his boys popped in about eleven o’clock, he might just be able to see what he could do.

They did pop in, around eleven, and exchanged a few half-hearted hellos. The Beatles were still going through the singing of It’s Getting Better, for what now seemed like the thousandth time. By two o’clock they’d got it at least to a stage which didn’t make them unhappy.

The Beatles
Hunter Davies

As it became clear that Lennon would be unable to continue working, McCartney and Mal Evans drove him to 7 Cavendish Avenue, McCartney’s home, which was a short distance from EMI Studios.

Upon their arrival McCartney decided to keep his bandmate company by also taking acid. It was McCartney’s second trip, and his first with Lennon.

I thought, Maybe this is the moment where I should take a trip with him. It’s been coming for a long time. It’s often the best way, without thinking about it too much, just slip into it. John’s on it already, so I’ll sort of catch up. It was my first trip with John, or with any of the guys. We stayed up all night, sat around and hallucinated a lot.

Me and John, we’d known each other for a long time. Along with George and Ringo, we were best mates. And we looked into each other’s eyes, the eye contact thing we used to do, which is fairly mind-boggling. You dissolve into each other. But that’s what we did, round about that time, that’s what we did a lot. And it was amazing. You’re looking into each other’s eyes and you would want to look away, but you wouldn’t, and you could see yourself in the other person. It was a very freaky experience and I was totally blown away.

There’s something disturbing about it. You ask yourself, ‘How do you come back from it? How do you then lead a normal life after that?’ And the answer is, you don’t. After that you’ve got to get trepanned or you’ve got to meditate for the rest of your life. You’ve got to make a decision which way you’re going to go

I would walk out into the garden – ‘Oh no, I’ve got to go back in.’ It was very tiring, walking made me very tired, wasted me, always wasted me. But ‘I’ve got to do it, for my well-being.’ In the meantime John had been sitting around very enigmatically and I had a big vision of him as a king, the absolute Emperor of Eternity. It was a good trip. It was great but I wanted to go to bed after a while.

I’d just had enough after about four or five hours. John was quite amazed that it had struck me in that way. John said, ‘Go to bed? You won’t sleep!’ ‘I know that, I’ve still got to go to bed.’ I thought, now that’s enough fun and partying, now … It’s like with drink. That’s enough. That was a lot of fun, now I gotta go and sleep this off. But of course you don’t just sleep off an acid trip so I went to bed and hallucinated a lot in bed. I remember Mal coming up and checking that I was all right. ‘Yeah, I think so.’ I mean, I could feel every inch of the house, and John seemed like some sort of emperor in control of it all. It was quite strange. Of course he was just sitting there, very inscrutably.

Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

Back at Abbey Road, George Martin recorded the piano solo for ‘Lovely Rita’. This involved slowing the tape machine from 50 cycles per second to 41¼, which made the solo sound much faster upon playback.

I used to try out funny things in odd moments and I discovered that by putting sticky tape over the capstan of a tape machine you could wobble the tape on the echo machine, because we used to delay the feed into the echo chamber by tape. So I suggested we did this using a piano sound. The Beatles themselves couldn’t think what should go into the song’s middle eight and they didn’t really like my idea at first, but it turned out fine in the end because of the effect. It gave the piano a sort of honky-tonk feel. In fact, Paul asked me to play the solo when I made the suggestion but I was too embarrassed.
Geoff Emerick, balance engineer
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn

With the recording of Lovely Rita complete, a mono mix to be made. This was done with the tape machine running at 48¾ cycles per second, leaving the song in the region of E-flat major. It is worth noting that the backing track, bass guitar, vocals and piano solo were all recorded in different keys.

It took 15 attempts to create a satisfactory mono mix, with numbers 11 and 14 considered the best. These were then edited together at the end of this eventful session. Work on Lovely Rita was complete, save for stereo mixes which were made on 17 April.

Riding So High – The Beatles and Drugs

Riding So High: The Beatles and Drugs book coverFor much more on this subject, don’t miss Riding So High, the only full-length study of the Beatles and drugs.

The book charts the Beatles’ extraordinary odyssey from teenage drinking and pill-popping, to cannabis, LSD, the psychedelic Summer of Love and the darkness beyond, with a far-out cast including speeding Beatniks, a rogue dentist, a script-happy aristocratic doctor, corrupt police officers and Hollywood Vampires. It covers everything from the 1950s to the solo years.

Available as an ebook and paperback (364 pages). By the creator of the Beatles Bible. Click here for more information and to order.

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  1. Stephen Evans Monday 22 March 2021

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