LSD (part three)

Due to McCartney’s natural reticence, it wasn’t until the end of 1965 that he decided to take LSD. It was in the company of Tara Browne, a young socialite whose death in December 1966 inspired the opening lines of A Day In The Life. McCartney’s decision not to take his first trip with the other Beatles was indicative of a gap that was opening up between him and the rest of the group, which would widen further towards the end of the decade.

It took place the night after the Beatles’ final British tour date. After performing in Cardiff on 12 December 1965 they were driven to London, where they celebrated the end of the tour at the Scotch of St James nightclub. The following night Lennon and McCartney returned to the club, where they met Tara Browne's wife Nicky, who invited them all back to her Eaton Row home. Lennon declined and returned to Weybridge, but McCartney and Pretty Things drummer Prince accepted the offer, as did several girls, and a dancer, Patrick Kerr, from the television show Ready Steady Go!

At the house, Tara Browne suggested they all take LSD. McCartney and Prince were unsure, having never tried the drug.

I was more ready for the drink or a little bit of pot or something. I’d not wanted to do it, I’d held off like a lot of people were trying to, but there was massive peer pressure. And within a band, it’s more than peer pressure, it’s fear pressure. It becomes trebled, more than just your mates, it’s, “Hey, man, this whole band’s had acid, why are you holding out? What’s the reason, what is it about you?” So I knew I would have to out of peer pressure alone. And that night I thought, well, this is as good a time as any, so I said, “Go on then, fine.” So we all did it.
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

Nicky Browne served the guests tea, also offering them sugar lumps impregnated with liquid LSD. Unlike the Dental Experience, however, nobody had their drinks spiked, and all stayed in the house through the night.

It was such a mind-expanding thing,’ McCartney remembered. ‘I saw paisley shapes and weird things, and for a guy who wasn’t that keen on getting that weird, there was a disturbing element to it. I remember looking at my shirtsleeves and seeing they were dirty and not being too pleased with that, whereas normally you wouldn’t even notice. But you noticed and you heard. Everything was supersensitive.

We sat around all evening. Viv Prince was great fun. Someone said, “Do you want a drink?” And everyone would say, “No thanks, don’t need drink, this is plenty.” If anything, we might smoke a joint. But Viv demolished the drinks tray: “Oh yeah, a drink!” Cockney drummer with the Pretty Things. “Orrright, yeah! Nah, does anyone want a drink? I fink I’ll ’ave one of them.” And he had the whisky and he had everything. He was having a trip but his was somehow a more wired version than anyone else’s. In the morning we ended up sending him out for ciggies.

Then one of the serious secretaries from our office rang about an engagement I had; she had traced me to here. “Um, can’t talk now. Important business” or something. I just got out of it. “But you’re supposed to be at the office.” “No. I’ve got ’flu.” Anything I could think. I got out of that one because there was no way I could go to the office after that.

Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

McCartney took LSD several more times, although he didn’t embrace it with the fervour of Lennon and Harrison.

I had it on a few occasions after that and I always found it amazing,’ he said. ‘Sometimes it was a very very deeply emotional experience, making you want to cry, sometimes seeing God or sensing all the majesty and emotional depth of everything. And sometimes you were just plain knackered, because it would be like sitting up all night in a train station, and by the morning you’ve grown very stiff and it’s not a party any more. It’s like the end of an all- nighter but you haven’t danced. You just sat. So your bum might be sore, just from sitting. I was often quite wiped out by it all but I always thought, Well, you know, everybody’s doing it.
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

Indeed, it was McCartney’s lack of stamina which largely put him off LSD.

The thing I didn’t like about acid was it lasted too long. It always wore me out. But they were great people to be around, a wacky crowd. My main problem was just the stamina you had to have. I never attempted to work on acid, I couldn’t. What’s the point of trying, love?
Paul McCartney
Groovy Bob, Harriet Vyner

LSD and The Beatles' songwriting

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.

Paul McCartney believed it to be their only recording about the LSD experience. Speaking to Playboy in 1984, he said: "It was a kind of Bible for all the psychedelic freaks. That was an LSD song. Probably the only one."

The song perhaps most often associated with The Beatles' use of LSD, however, 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.

Julian Lennon's painting of Lucy in the sky with diamonds

Lennon only took LSD once in the studio, unwittingly, on 21 March 1967 during a recording session for the Sgt Pepper song Getting Better.

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.
John Lennon
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. This became the first occasion on which Lennon and McCartney took LSD together, with the trusty Mal Evans looking after them.


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