‘Julia’ was written by John Lennon for his mother, who died in a road accident in 1958. It is the only solo Lennon recording in The Beatles’ canon.
The song was written in India. Like ‘Dear Prudence’ and ‘Happiness Is A Warm Gun’, it contained the fingerpicking guitar style taught to Lennon by Donovan
Some afternoons we would gather at one of our pads and play the acoustic guitars we had all brought with us. Paul Horn, the American flute wizard, was there. John was keen to learn the finger-style guitar I played and he was a good student. Paul already had a smattering of finger style. George preferred his Chet Atkins style. John wrote ‘Julia’ and ‘Dear Prudence’ based on the picking I taught him.
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles
While inspired as a tribute to his mother, ‘Julia’ also showed the increasing influence of Yoko Ono upon Lennon’s world. The line “Ocean child calls me” referred to Ono, whose name means ‘child of the sea’ in Japanese.
Julia was my mother. But it was sort of a combination of Yoko and my mother blended into one. That was written in India. On the White Album. And all the stuff on the White Album was written in India while we were supposedly giving money to Maharishi, which we never did. We got our mantra, we sat in the mountains eating lousy vegetarian food and writing all those songs. We wrote tons of songs in India.
All We Are Saying, David Sheff
Sections of the song were adapted from the poem ‘Sand And Foam’ by the then-fashionable Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran. The opening words of ‘Julia’ were taken from Gibran’s lines, “Half of what I say is meaningless; but I say it so that the other half may reach you.”
Lennon also adapted the lines “When I cannot sing my heart, I can only speak my mind” from Gibran’s “When life does not find a singer to sing her heart she produces a philosopher to speak her mind”. Other imagery, including ‘seashell eyes’, was also taken from Gibran.
As an exorcism of years of hurt and regret at losing her, ‘Julia’ marked the point at which Lennon laid bare his soul after years of writing allusions to mother/lover figures. The song implies that he has, in Yoko Ono, finally found a love to equal his mother’s, and was thereafter free to lay his soul bare to his new muse.
On the Love album, ‘Julia’ is used as an instrumental transitional track, between ‘Eleanor Rigby’ and ‘I Am The Walrus’. Lennon’s guitar is overlaid with the sounds of children playing, the orchestra from ‘A Day In The Life’ and effects from ‘Revolution 9’.
In the studio
The Beatles had recorded a demo of ‘Julia’ at George Harrison’s Esher bungalow in May 1968. Although very similar to the studio version, it appears to contain vocal contributions from other members of the group, and ends in ad-libbed whistling.
‘Julia’ was the last song to be started for the White Album. Lennon recorded three takes of the song at EMI Studios on 13 October 1968, double tracking his vocals and acoustic guitar to the last of these.
The mostly instrumental take two was later released on Anthology 3, along with some dialogue between Lennon and Paul McCartney, who was observing the recording from the studio control room.
Maybe John Lennon had a bit of Oedipus Complex