Doctor Robert

Revolver album artworkWritten by: Lennon-McCartney
Recorded: 17, 19 April 1966
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Geoff Emerick

Released: 5 August 1966 (UK), 20 June 1966 (US)

John Lennon: vocals, rhythm guitar, harmonium
Paul McCartney: backing vocals, bass
George Harrison: backing vocals, lead guitar, maracas
Ringo Starr: drums

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Doctor Robert, written mainly by John Lennon, is notable for containing The Beatles' first explicit references to drugs, although at the time of release they went largely unnoticed.

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John Lennon later described the song as autobiographical.

Another of mine. Mainly about drugs and pills. It was about myself. I was the one that carried all the pills on tour. Well, in the early days. Later on the roadies did it. We just kept them in our pockets loose. In case of trouble.
John Lennon
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

Although many in London thought the titular doctor referred to art dealer Robert Fraser, it was actually written about Dr Robert Freymann, who ran a discreet clinic on Manhattan's East 78th Street.

Known as Dr Robert or the Great White Father, Freymann had a reputation for giving vitamin B-12 injections containing large doses of amphetamines, mainly to well-heeled New Yorkers.

Word spread of his willingness with prescriptions, eventually finding its way to Lennon and McCartney on one of their American trips.

John and I thought it was a funny idea: the fantasy doctor who would fix you up by giving you drugs, [the song] was a parody on that idea. It's just a piss-take. As far as I know, neither of us ever went to a doctor for those kinds of things. But there was a fashion for it and there still is. Change your blood and have a vitamin shot and you'll feel better.
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

In the studio

The Beatles began recording Doctor Robert on Sunday 17 April 1966. The laid down seven takes of just the backing track: lead and rhythm guitar, bass and drums, plus overdubbed maracas, harmonium and piano. The vocals were added two days later.

24 responses on “Doctor Robert

  1. mjb

    We hear the basic track of Rickenbacker bass, drums, maracas and distorted guitar. Overdubs include John’s harmonium and an ovedubbed Leslied lead guitar from George that has its signal split with one half receiving ADT.

    John’s lead and Paul’s descant vocals were added to the fourth track with ADT added.

    ADT was also added in the final mix and a fade out given to a full ending to mask an extended jam of forty-three seconds that completed the original recording.

  2. Edward

    I’d always thought that this song, with obvious references to drugs, was like a homage to those who introduced the Beatles to a new and “another kind of mind”, for the inspiration that gave them and for what they created after that. They being, the DOCTOR (dentist) who first gave them LSD, and ROBERT (Zimmerman) who first shared with the fab four the well accepted (by them) cannabis. This idea, though Lennon says the song is about him, at least would explain the title. 😉

    1. Vonbontee

      Hey, that’s a nice interpretation! And it might even help to suggest why they apparently sing “Bob Robert” a couple of times near the song’s end.

  3. Tweeze

    Here you go, folks. John featured very prominently on guitar. Maybe not technically stellar or pyrotechnic – but a great sound and tone. Very Lennon. I’ve always been in awe of John’s playing. He takes simple and gives it a bigger sound. BB King doesn’t play phenomenally complicated anything either – but that sound.

  4. Bungalow Bob

    I always liked the way this song elevated itself from the ordinary with nice touches like the intricate vocal arrangement. For instance, the “Well, well, well…” middle 8 is SO much better with the layered voices. And Lennon’s sense of humor is nicely showcased here, too. And… well, heck, MY name is “Robert,” so there’s THAT, too.

  5. The Bentbacktulip

    May never no one deny that the intention for the song was the feeling of A certain kind of experience, wich they have had… and besides, they do it magnificently in the middle 8… precisely THAT middle 8, just like that.

  6. Riffking

    It’s always amazed me that George has never gotten more credit for his amazing work on this tune. Just before the “well, well, well, you’re feeling fine” vocals…his fills are just fantastic. Great tasty stuff. Not to mention his sneering guitar work throughout.

  7. Sam

    We have to constantly remember to do our own thinking, to discern meanings of Beatles lyrics, especially those of John.

    Hearsay, anecdotes, even John’s own wry descriptions of any subject, rarely are factual.

    That being said, this is a great song, on a legendary album.

    George Harrison, who probably was factual, most or all of the time, on the Dick Cavett show, 1971, clearly states that the dentist they had, gave them coffee, laced with the notorious “L”.

    “Take a drink from his special cup…” I mean, what could be more obvious?

    A dentist is a doctor. And whether or not his real name was Robert, is also immaterial.

    This whole charade is almost as blatant as Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. In that song, everyone I knew, felt strongly that it was a reference to LSD.

    Naturally, the band denied this. You have to remember the mindset of America, (one of the Beatles’ best markets ), at the time.

    If they admitted this, It would have caused a major outrage.

    That bit about Julian’s picture, was pomp and circumstance.

    Far too much of a coincidence that the initials in it, just happened to be LSD.

    Decades later, in a interview, Sir Paul admitted that it was an obvious reference to LSD.

  8. John

    Okay, I’ve been trying for a few hours now to get the intro riff to this very cool John song right. I’ve got a ’64 Epiphone Casino played through a Vox AC30, and a Boss ME-50 multi effects pedal with multiple effects engaged in order to get the snarly sound on the guitar right. Got that. It’s just the riff itself… Sounds simple (built around an A7 chord, but is it barred or is it in the open position?), but it’s actually bamboozling to get it just right, like it sounds on Revolver. Seen lots of attempts online, but NO ONE really gets it.

    Was George playing along on the intro riff, or was it just John? I can clearly hear George’s guitar at various points in the song, but the intro sounds like just one guitar to me, but it seems to be doing just a bit too much to be just one guitar (of course Paul’s simple bass line can be heard underneath…). Any wisdom on this that anyone can impart would be appreciated.

    1. Sam P.

      I play the A7 barred. It makes it easy to slide down to F#7. B7 is easier that way too. The YouTube tutorials don’t sound quite right to me though. I think it should just be slightly 4th with your pinky while keeping it 7th.

      And I agree that it’s too busy for just one guitar on the intro. But John and George’s guitars have sounded great woven together before, like on I Feel Fine, Nowhere Man and She Said She Said (on this album). And of course on Rain.

  9. Graham Paterson

    Largely a John Lennon song, great tongue and cheek lyrics. I love the “Well,well,well,you’re feeling fine….” line. Brilliant rhythm and lead guitar work by John and George. John, Paul, George’s harmonizing, outstanding. This song has great drive. Loved this song from the first time I obtained and listened to “Revolver”.

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