Blue Jay Way

Magical Mystery Tour album artworkWritten by: Harrison
Recorded: 6, 7 September; 6 October 1967
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Geoff Emerick

Released: 8 December 1967 (UK), 27 November 1967 (US)

George Harrison: vocals, Hammond organ
John Lennon: backing vocals
Paul McCartney: backing vocals, bass
Ringo Starr: drums, tambourine
Unknown: cello

Available on:
Magical Mystery Tour

Blue Jay Way, George Harrison's contribution to the Magical Mystery Tour soundtrack, was written while he was waiting for The Beatles' publicist Derek Taylor, who was lost in fog in the Los Angeles canyons.

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The song was composed in the Hollywood hills on 1 August 1967. Harrison was visiting California with his wife Pattie, plus Neil Aspinall and Alexis Mardas. They were staying at a rented house in Blue Jay Way, high in the Hollywood hills, which belonged to the manager of Peggy Lee.

The Beatles' former publicist Derek Taylor had become delayed on his way to meet them. The jetlagged Harrison found a Hammond organ in the house and began writing the song as an outlet for his ennui.

Derek Taylor got held up. He rang to say he'd be late. I told him on the phone that the house was in Blue Jay Way. And he said he could find it OK... he could always ask a cop. So I waited and waited. I felt really knackered with the flight, but I didn't want to go to sleep until he came. There was a fog and it got later and later. To keep myself awake, just as a joke to pass the time while I waited, I wrote a song about waiting for him in Blue Jay Way. There was a little Hammond organ in the corner of this house which I hadn't noticed until then... so I messed around on it and the song came.
George Harrison

Harrison's stay in the house was arranged by Brian Epstein, who called The Beatles' attorney Robert Fitzpatrick to enquire whether a house could be leased. Fitzpatrick persuaded the owner of the house, another entertainment attorney named Ludwig Gerber, to lend Harrison his LA residence.

Ludwig Gerber was a former US Army colonel who had managed Peggy Lee for many years. He was also a film producer and lawyer. In his house there was a Hammond S-6 organ, which Harrison used for writing the song while waiting for Taylor to arrive.

In the Magical Mystery Tour film, Harrison 'performed' the song while playing a keyboard chalked onto the ground. One of the movie's most psychedelic sequences, Harrison's appearance is subjected to dated camera techniques involving prism refractions to create multiple images.

In the studio

The rhythm track of Blue Jay Way, including the distinctive swirling organ part, was recorded in one take on 6 September 1967. Crucial to the recording was ADT - artificial double tracking, a technique invented by Abbey Road engineer Ken Townsend in 1966 - which on the song gave the phasing effect.

The vocals - many of which were played backwards in the final mix - were recorded the following evening. The final overdubs - cello and tambourine parts - were added on 6 October.

32 responses on “Blue Jay Way

  1. Tio Wally

    Blue Jay Way is a very creepy song, as well as a very short street.

    (Can you find the house? Google “1400 Blue Jay Way Hollywood” and you’ll land at the beginning of the street. Good Luck!)

      1. Francisco Javier Gil Vidal

        I’m not quite sure it’s a decapitated corpse; rather it looks like a live man with a naked torso, filmed in such a short plane that his head falls out of the frame. A very strange image indeed, but not quite as macabre as it is claimed to be…

  2. pinkydisco

    I always felt that, towards the end of the song, when the words “please don’t be long” and “don’t be long” are repeated over and over again, Harrison was starting to say “don’t belong”. Far-fetched I’m sure, but given the relationships between the four of them towards the end I suppose it’s quite possible. Even if it was more of an after-thought.

    1. Silly Girl

      Oh yes, I seem to recall some of the highbrow music critics thought the same– something about George encouraging young people to not belong to society, and to drop out, or the saying whole generation had lost their way. I’m fairly sure it was just another “goo goo, goo joob” type sound.

    1. JP

      I agree. Ringo’s work here is great (as is pretty much everything he did behind the drum kit for the Fabs). I assume Ringo probably enjoyed working on George’s songs, and John’s songs, more than Paul’s around this time. I think it was about a year later that Ringo walks out of White Album sessions due to Paul’s perstering. Then a few months later, George does the same for the same reason. I think Paul is brilliant and love a vast majority of his work. Still, you can see what an arrogant control-freak he was and how he attempted to dominate the group (acquiescing a supporting role to John, but deliberately trying to minimize the roles played by George, in particular, and Ringo).

      1. Joseph Brush

        Yes that’s true. Ringo put up with a lot from Paul.
        John was only going to endure a supporting role position in the group for only so long. Same with George.

        1. Francisco Javier Gil Vidal

          Perhaps a good indication of what you both (JP & Joseph) say can be seen at the beginning of the “I am the Walrus” clip in MMT, when Paul energetically “cues” Ringo into the song, as if this monster of a drummer wasn’t able to measure the right time with uncanny accuracy! in fact, when ALL the other three got lost amid the screaming maelstrom of live performances (and in quite a few studio takes too) it was “Big Ben” Ringo who kept the time as solidly as the Rock of Gibraltar! Paul was/is a talented musician and a competent lyricist, but no more than that. He’s not the over-arching genius he likes to believe he is and, certainly, contrary to his belief, the world did not begin going round on June 18th, 1942!

  3. Beatless

    I like how the song’s words – which are literally a description of a rather mundane situation – take on an ominous, metaphoric overtone when they are married to the song’s spooky music and instrumentation.

    1. Francisco Javier Gil Vidal

      Yes, “Beatless” (what a FAB nick!) That’s what GENIUS is all about. With this song, George proves he’s on a par with the other two great composers (and monster egos) of The Beatles in quality, if not quantity.

    1. Nelson

      The cello part is looped but it’s an actual cello. The song uses so many things like leslie vocals on the vocals and backup vocals, phasing on the drums, backward vocals and drums, altered organ sounds and there is no guitars also. The song is obviously influenced by Indian music and it uses the rarely used Lydian mode.

  4. Jan Padre

    Blue Jay Way is not a Small House! My daughter lived right across the street for 5 years…..and I have heard practically ever “story” that has gotten confusingly distorted over the years. I agree that the lyrics combined with you just “sticks!” Especially when you are creepily sleeping across the street of this house!

  5. Tyler Litzinger

    I don’t believe that John says “Paulie is bloody”, but what IS he saying? Are their any lyrics that try to tell us what John is saying backwards(im pretty sure most of them are backwards.)

  6. Don

    For Part 1 of 5, see “Help!”
    How [not] to interpret a Beatles’ song, Part 2 of 4: Don’t delude yourself.
    George was waiting at a rented house on Blue Jay Way in the Hollywood Hills of L.A., California. His friend said that he would be there soon – he could ask a cop for directions if he needed them – but still he got lost in the fog and was delayed. Wishing that his friend wouldn’t be long in arriving, George whiled the time away by writing a song, a hauntingly beautiful song as it turns out: “There’s a fog upon L.A. and my friends have lost their way. ‘We’ll be over soon,’ they said; now they’ve lost themselves instead. Please don’t be long.” The meaning is obvious. The wrinkle is that the phrase “be long” sounds like the word “belong.” Is there an anti-establishment message in the song?
    Rule #1 for interpreting a Beatles’ song warns us not to be fooled by what the songwriter says about a song’s meaning. Rule #2 is the companion: don’t fool yourself by reading into a song what you want to hear. Charles Manson heard interesting things in Beatles’ songs that clearly were not there. We all know to be wary of optical illusions; it is also important to be wary of aural illusions: you can think you hear something that isn’t really there.
    If “Blue Jay Way” contains an anti-establishment message, then we may have to conclude that the song is badly written. The sound the Beatles’ achieved in the recording, together with the hypnotic pace, fits perfectly with the feeling created in the lyrics of bleary-eyed sleepiness and the boredom of waiting; the foggy-headed feeling is matched by the “fog” in the lyrics and the misty tones George achieved on the Hammond organ. An anti-establishment message sneaking in at the end might be like pinning a donkey’s tail on a swan: it just doesn’t fit organically with the rest of the creature, and that’s just poor craftsmanship.
    The best defense of this potential donkey’s tail is the reference in the second verse to the police. Police can be helpful, but why should George add the additional comment about the police that, “There’s so many there to meet”? This line completes the verse, and “meet” rhymes with “street.” However, it is difficult to ignore the role the police play in forcefully defending the established order. “There’s so many” suggests the difficulty of escaping their gaze. No matter how innocent our actions, e.g. trying to find a friend, the police with their coercive force are never far away – it’s almost like being surrounded by fog.
    Are we over-thinking the song? Perhaps. And yet, it was George who wrote both “Taxman” and “Piggies,” and who, just a few days after working out “Blue Jay Way,” visited the Haight Ashbury district in San Francisco to see what the anti-establishment fuss was all about. He was a reflective, culturally aware, intelligent songwriter, and it is possible that some of his cheeky irreverence colors “Blue Jay Way.” Just as John wasn’t fully aware at the time he wrote “Help,” that he was crying for help in his song, so also George’s anti-establishment sentiments may have exerted a subtle influence even he may not even have been fully aware of at the time he wrote it. The song simply sounded good to him, but it may well be that it sounded good to him partly because his ear heard the subtle insinuation of coercion in the reference to the “many” police, and perhaps also in the slightly claustrophobic texture of the foggy sound the Beatles achieved in the studio.
    The simple fact that “be long” sounds like “belong” is not enough to support an anti-establishment interpretation. There are aural illusions and we mustn’t fool ourselves. In order to make this a reasonable interpretation, we must listen more carefully to hear whether the song is a well-written whole, and if so, whether such a message emerges organically from the whole sound.

    For Part 3 of 5, see “From Me To You.”

  7. carlos

    Thanks Don for your reflection. I wonder if there´s a timpani in the first verse. It sounds like a timpani. Is there any information about it? Ringo playing timpani and then the drum kit?

  8. James W Barber

    This was written just a few weeks before Brian died, during the “late” part of their psychedelic phase. Not only was George bored while waiting for Derek Taylor to show up (who really was lost in the fog) but he was bored with the Beatles. I love the double meaning of “Don’t Be Long” and “Don’t Belong”. George meant both.

    I think it was the beginning of the end for the group and he knew it.

    The Beatles hadn’t toured in a year, and though Pepper was a triumph for the group and a great ego boost for Paul and John, it was not very much fun for George (or Ringo) to record. Pepper was assembled much like a movie and NOT 4 guys in a room playing Rock-n-Roll, like the records before or the live band on stage. Both were looking for ways to “Not Belong”. The band wasn’t having fun any more.

    Paul was trying to lead the band by then, mostly because John was occupied with acid and laying around in bed watching TV for weeks on end. Paul began making more and more decisions about what the group would do next and when. I think anyone in George’s position, would consider (or hope) that it would be over soon. Or at least see the writing on the wall. Two years later it really was over and George saw it coming.

  9. johnlemon

    This has been my favorite track on the Magical Mystery Tour album and all this time I thought it was Lennon’s…well I found my favorite Harrison song 🙂 listening to this track on acid is wicked

  10. Lex Lewis

    This is a great song. The melody is haunting and that, combined with the smooth lyrics draws one in. Ringo’s drumming is just right for this song (as is always the case). He truly holds the band together throughout all the rhythmic changes. The vocal effects are superb. As with all their recordings, you still can hear the actual timber and pitch in their voices, unlike most modern pop stars with their auto-tune and vocal filtering. George wrote a great song and the group, George Martin and his engineers made a great recording.

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