I Am The Walrus

Magical Mystery Tour album artworkWritten by: Lennon-McCartney
Recorded: 5, 6, 27, 29 September 1967
Producer: George Martin
Engineers: Geoff Emerick, Ken Scott

Released: 24 November 1967 (UK), 27 November 1967 (US)

John Lennon: vocals, pianet electric piano
Paul McCartney: bass guitar, tambourine
George Harrison: electric guitar
Ringo Starr: drums
Peggie Allen, Wendy Horan, Pat Whitmore, Jill Utting, June Day, Sylvia King, Irene King, G Mallen, Fred Lucas, Mike Redway, John O'Neill, F Dachtler, Allan Grant, D Griffiths, J Smith, J Fraser: backing vocals
Sidney Sax, Jack Rothstein, Ralph Elman, Andrew McGee, Jack Greene, Louis Stevens, John Jezzard, Jack Richards: violins
Lionel Ross, Eldon Fox, Bram Martin, Terry Weil: cellos
Gordon Lewin: clarinet
Neil Sanders, Tony Tunstall, Morris Miller: horns

Available on:
Magical Mystery Tour
Anthology 2

John Lennon's final masterpiece of 1967 found him at his surrealistic, sneering best. I Am The Walrus was included on the soundtrack of the Magical Mystery Tour TV film, and first released as the b-side of Hello Goodbye.

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Lennon had wanted I Am the Walrus to be The Beatles' next single after All You Need Is Love, but Paul McCartney and George Martin felt that Hello Goodbye was the more commercial song. The decision led to resentment from Lennon, who complained after the group's split that "I got sick and tired of being Paul's backup band".

The song was written in August 1967, at the peak of the Summer of Love and shortly after the release of Sgt Pepper. Lennon later claimed to have written the opening lines under the influence of LSD.

The first line was written on one acid trip one weekend, the second line on another acid trip the next weekend, and it was filled in after I met Yoko.
John Lennon, 1980
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

I Am The Walrus was a composite of three song fragments. The first part was inspired by a two-note police siren Lennon heard while at home in Weybridge. This became "Mr city policeman sitting pretty..."

Hunter Davies recounted the beginnings of the second part in his authorised 1968 biography of The Beatles:

He'd written down down another few words that day, just daft words, to put to another bit of rhythm. 'Sitting on a cornflake, waiting for the man to come.' I thought he said 'van to come', which he hadn't, but he liked it better and said he'd use it instead.

The third part started from the phrase "sitting in an English country garden" which, as Davies noted, Lennon was fond of doing for hours at a time. Lennon repeated the phrase to himself until a melody came.

I don't know how it will all end up. Perhaps they'll turn out to be different parts of the same song - sitting in an English garden, waiting for the van to come. I don't know.
John Lennon
The Beatles, Hunter Davies

The chord sequence was described by critic Ian MacDonald as "the most unorthodox and tonally ambiguous sequence he ever devised." He ingeniously referred to the looped sequence as "an obsessive musical structure built round a perpetually ascending/descending MC Escher staircase of all the natural major chords".

I Am The Walrus was one of the highlights of the Magical Mystery Tour film. For the performance, filmed in West Malling in Kent, Lennon tellingly wore an 18th century madman's cap.

112 responses on “I Am The Walrus

  1. Johan cavalli

    Interesting, Marcus. You have good ears. That´s typical Lennon: At the same time he is singing a straight melody on the same notes, the accompaniment is descending! That´s more evident in Strawberry Fields Forver (“Living is easy with eyes closed”) and Julia, where the desceding notes are more numerous than in Walrus.
    According to McCartney himself in Many Years From Now, he didn´t contribute anything to the song. Amazing is even the switch to “sitting in an English garden…”.That is a change from darkness to light, so typical for — as a matter of fact — Wagner!

  2. kirbygene

    I downloaded a clean stereo version of this masterpiece from YouTube and it’s the only version I listen to now. It has a “full” sound all the way through without any abrupt jumps into one side of the stereo picture. The orchestration comes through beautifully. I listen to most music at home through headphones so this “stereo-all-the-way-through” effect is much more pleasing

  3. Bongo

    They should have just released it as an A-Side with any other song from the EP as a B-side, and did the same for Hello Goodbye and everybody would have been happy. I’m a little surprised he didn’t push the subject a little more, but I guess that would have been too many singles coming from an EP.

  4. OldFartBassPlayer Walt

    This song is SO much an example of the magic of music. How many post-ers claim it as one of their favorites Beatle songs (myself included). But I can’t tell you WHY, and I bet others would have trouble putting it into words also. IT’s MUSIC, DANGIT, don’t make me explain! (and others just don’t resonate with it…)

    Closest I can come to describing it’s effect on me, is like standing in the hot sun, and having someone slowly dump a 55 gallon barrel of cool gumbo over you- your all awash in multiple textures, pieces of food, smells,
    and its a gloriously refreshing feeling.

    Reading over my post, I am aware of how strange it sounds. But, that’s just me. It’s music dangit!

  5. manteau

    Frank Zappa used to play “I am the walrus” very seriously on stage, he must have loved and respected a lot this song. In 1976 when I first listened to MMT, I found it too far out for me, but it grew on me, and I’ve loved it for ages now

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