‘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.
Lennon later described ‘Doctor Robert’ as an autobiographical song.
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.
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.
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, on 19 April 1966.