‘Come Together’, the lead song on The Beatles’ Abbey Road album, was conceived by John Lennon as a political rallying cry for the writer, psychologist and pro-drugs activist Timothy Leary.

It was a funky record – it’s one of my favorite Beatle tracks, or, one of my favourite Lennon tracks, let’s say that. It’s funky, it’s bluesy, and I’m singing it pretty well. I like the sound of the record. You can dance to it. I’d buy it!
John Lennon
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

‘Come Together’ was composed for Timothy Leary’s campaign to stand against Ronald Reagan as governor of California. Leary and his wife Rosemary had traveled to Montreal for John and Yoko’s bed-in for peace, which took place on 1 June 1969. The Learys participated in the recording of Lennon’s ‘Give Peace A Chance’, and were both namechecked in the lyrics.

Everybody’s talking about:
John and Yoko, Timmy Leary, Rosemary,
Tommy Smothers, Bobby Dylan, Tommy Cooper,
Derek Taylor, Norman Mailer, Alan Ginsberg, Hare Krishna
Hare Hare Krishna
‘Give Peace A Chance’

The following day Lennon offered to help Leary’s campaign. His slogan was ‘Come together, join the party’. Lennon sent Leary a demo tape of song ideas. However, the campaign ended when Leary was imprisoned for cannabis possession, allowing Lennon to record the song with The Beatles.

The thing was created in the studio. It’s gobbledygook; ‘Come Together’ was an expression that Leary had come up with for his attempt at being president or whatever he wanted to be, and he asked me to write a campaign song. I tried and tried, but I couldn’t come up with one. But I came up with this, ‘Come Together’, which would’ve been no good to him – you couldn’t have a campaign song like that, right?
John Lennon
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

Leary was bemused when he came to hear The Beatles’ recording of the song.

Although the new version was certainly a musical and lyrical improvement on my campaign song, I was a bit miffed that Lennon had passed me over this way… When I sent a mild protest to John, he replied with typical Lennon charm and wit that he was a tailor and I was a customer who had ordered a suit and never returned. So he sold it to someone else.
Timothy Leary
A Hard Day’s Write, Steve Turner

‘Come Together’ was Lennon’s last politicised stance in The Beatles, although much of it was shrouded in imagery: the song lampooned the hippy figureheads who would seek followers among the dropouts of society.

Musically, ‘Come Together’ took its cue from Chuck Berry’s 1956 song ‘You Can’t Catch Me’; both songs contain the lines “Here come old flat-top”. Lennon was later sued by Berry’s publisher Morris Levy. They settled out of court, and Lennon agreed to record more songs owned by Levy.

‘Come Together’ is me – writing obscurely around an old Chuck Berry thing. I left the line in ‘Here comes old flat-top.’ It is nothing like the Chuck Berry song, but they took me to court because I admitted the influence once years ago. I could have changed it to ‘Here comes old iron face,’ but the song remains independent of Chuck Berry or anybody else on earth.
John Lennon, 1980
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

The result was his 1975 album Rock ‘N’ Roll, which contained Berry’s ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’ and ‘You Can’t Catch Me’, along with Lee Dorsey’s ‘Ya Ya’ (also recorded with the 11-year-old Julian Lennon on drums for 1974’s Walls And Bridges).

A version of ‘Come Together’ was included on The Beatles’ Love album. Its lengthy fade-out is augmented with elements from ‘Dear Prudence’. After the song, the “Can you take me back” snippet that followed ‘Cry Baby Cry’ on the White Album can be heard.

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