Riding So High – The Beatles and Drugs
If you're enjoying this feature, read the full story! Riding So High – The Beatles and Drugs charts the Beatles’ extraordinary odyssey from teenage drinking and pill-popping, to cannabis, LSD, the psychedelic Summer of Love and the darkness beyond.
The only full-length study of the Beatles and drugs, Riding So High tells of getting stoned, kaleidoscope eyes, excess, loss and redemption, with a far-out cast including speeding Beatniks, a rogue dentist, a script-happy aristocratic doctor, corrupt police officers and Hollywood Vampires.
Available as an ebook and paperback (364 pages). By the creator of the Beatles Bible. Click on the image below for more information or to order.
The Beatles had their second encounter with LSD on 24 August 1965, on a break from their US tour. On this occasion Paul McCartney declined, but Ringo Starr decided to partake. He was looked after by Neil Aspinall during his first trip.
Paul felt very out of it 'cause we were all a bit cruel. It's like, 'We're taking it and you're not.' We couldn't eat our food. I just couldn't manage it. Picking it up with our hands, and there's all these people serving us in the house, and we're just knocking it on the floor – oh! – like that. It was a long time before Paul took it. And then there was the big announcement. I think George was pretty heavy on it. We were probably both the most cracked. I think Paul's a bit more stable than George and I. I don't know about straight. Stable. I think LSD profoundly shocked him.
Lennon Remembers, Jann S Wenner
The Beatles held an afternoon party in Los Angeles on 24 August, with guests including Eleanor Bron, The Byrds and journalist Don Short. Also there was actor Peter Fonda, whose tale of accidentally shooting himself as a child while playing with a gun later inspired the song She Said She Said.
He was describing an acid trip he’d been on. We didn’t want to hear about that! We were on an acid trip and the sun was shining and the girls were dancing and the whole thing was beautiful and Sixties, and this guy – who I really didn’t know; he hadn’t made Easy Rider or anything – kept coming over, wearing shades, saying, “I know what it’s like to be dead,” and we kept leaving him because he was so boring! And I used it for the song, but I changed it to 'she'” instead of 'he'. It was scary. You know, a guy… when you’re flying high and [whispers] 'I know what it’s like to be dead, man.' I remembered the incident. Don’t tell me about it! I don’t want to know what it’s like to be dead!
All We Are Saying, David Sheff
LSD had a profound effect on The Beatles' songwriting and recording. The first-released song to mention it was Day Tripper, but over time its influence resulted in less explicit and more abstract references to acid. The Beatles increasingly tapped into the burgeoning counterculture of 1966, and the first song recorded for Revolver was the psychedelic Tomorrow Never Knows, featured lyrics adapted from Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert's 1964 book The Psychedelic Experience, itself a modern reworking of the ancient Tibetan Book of the Dead.
The song perhaps most often associated with The Beatles' use of LSD is Lennon's Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds. While the group always denied that the title was a reference to acid – Lennon and McCartney both maintained it was inspired by a painting drawn by Julian Lennon and named after a schoolfriend – there is little doubt that the Through The Looking Glass imagery was the product of drug intake.
I thought I was taking some uppers, and I was not in a state of handling it. I can't remember what album it was but I took it and then [whispers] I just noticed all of a sudden I got so scared on the mike. I said, 'What was it?' I thought I felt ill. I thought I was going cracked. Then I said, 'I must get some air.' They all took me upstairs on the roof, and George Martin was looking at me funny. And then it dawned on me. I must have taken acid. And I said, 'Well, I can't go on, I have to go.' So I just said, 'You'll have to do it and I'll just stay and watch.' I just [became] very nervous and just watching all of a sudden. 'Is it alright?' and they were saying, 'Yeah.' They were all being very kind. They said, 'Yes, it's alright.' And I said, 'Are you sure it's alright?' They carried on making the record.
Lennon Remembers, Jann S Wenner
In fact, the session was stopped once The Beatles realised that Lennon was tripping. Lennon's car was not at the studio, and so McCartney took him to his nearby home at Cavendish Avenue.
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.
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles