Written to order when John Lennon and Paul McCartney realised they needed a new single at the tail end of 1965, ‘Day Tripper’ was released as a double a-side with ‘We Can Work It Out’.

‘Day Tripper’ was [written] under complete pressure, based on an old folk song I wrote about a month previous. It was very hard going, that, and it sounds it. It wasn’t a serious message song. It was a drug song. In a way, it was a day tripper – I just liked the word.
John Lennon

John Lennon had the initial idea for ‘Day Tripper’, and collaborated with McCartney to complete the song. Written at Kenwood, Lennon’s house in Weybridge, Surrey in October 1965, the song is based on a 12-bar blues in E, switching up a tone (F#) for the chorus.

That was a co-written effort; we were both there making it all up but I would give John the main credit. Probably the idea came from John because he sang the lead, but it was a close thing. We both put a lot of work in on it.
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

The song was a knowing reference to the burgeoning drugs-based counterculture of the mid-1960s. ‘Day tripper’ was a slang term for someone who failed to fully embrace the hippy lifestyle.

That’s mine. Including the lick, the guitar break and the whole bit. It’s just a rock ‘n’ roll song. Day trippers are people who go on a day trip, right? Usually on a ferryboat or something. But it was kind of – you know, you’re just a weekend hippie. Get it?
John Lennon, 1980
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

John Lennon's handwritten lyrics for Day Tripper

Lennon and George Harrison had both been introduced to LSD earlier in 1965, although their use wouldn’t peak until 1967. McCartney later admitted the song was about drugs, though The Beatles’ clean-cut image at the time meant that the references were well hidden to all but those in the know.

‘Day Tripper’ was to do with tripping. Acid was coming in on the scene, and often we’d do these songs about ‘the girl who thought she was it’… But this was just a tongue-in-cheek song about someone who was a day tripper, a Sunday painter, Sunday driver, somebody who was committed only in part to the idea. Whereas we saw ourselves as full-time trippers, fully committed drivers, she was just a day tripper.
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

The lyrics employed other double meanings. “She’s a big teaser” was originally “She’s a prick teaser”, though they never seriously considered recording it like that.

I remember with the prick teasers we thought, That’d be fun to put in. That was one of the great things about collaborating, you could nudge-nudge, wink-wink a bit, whereas if you’re sitting on your own, you might not put it in.
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

‘Day Tripper’ was a part of The Beatles’ live repertoire from 1965 until they gave up touring. It was the fourth song performed at their final concert at Candlestick Park, San Francisco, on 29 August 1966.

In the studio

‘Day Tripper’ was recorded in three takes during the sessions for Rubber Soul.

On the afternoon of 16 October 1965 the band spent some hours rehearsing the backing rhythm track, recording three takes, only the final one of which was complete.

That evening they added a number of overdubs; Lennon and McCartney both shared lead vocals, and Lennon played the climactic guitar solo.

The Beatles also recorded the rhythm track for Harrison’s ‘If I Needed Someone’ during the same session.

Promotional films

The Beatles made three promo films for ‘Day Tripper’ on 23 November 1965, at Twickenham Film Studios in London.

In the first film The Beatles wore their Shea Stadium suits, and George Harrison and Ringo Starr stood behind a railway carriage prop; Starr brought out a saw and began dismantling the set. Lennon and Paul McCartney were positioned behind a nearby 1920-style aeroplane.

Chart success

The Beatles originally intended for ‘Day Tripper’ to be the a-side of their final single of 1965. However, after the group recorded ‘We Can Work It Out’ four days later, on 20 October, that was considered the more commercial song.

Lennon’s protestations resulted in the single being marketed as the world’s first double a-side. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that ‘We Can Work It Out’ was requested by a greater proportion of record buyers, and was likewise favoured by radio stations.

‘Day Tripper’/’We Can Work It Out’ was released in the UK on 3 December 1965 – the same day as the Rubber Soul album, on which it did not feature. Five days later the single entered the chart at number one, where it remained for five weeks. It sold over a million copies.

It fared less well in the US, where it was released on 6 December. ‘We Can Work It Out’ was the more successful of the two titles; ‘Day Tripper’ peaked at number five in the Billboard Hot 100, and stayed in the top 40 for eight weeks.

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