Happiness Is a Warm Gun is a song by The Beatles featured on the eponymous double-disc album The Beatles also known as The White Album. It is primarily a John Lennon composition, credited to Lennon/McCartney. The original working title of the song was "Happiness Is a Warm Gun in Your Hand," which was inspired by a magazine containing the phrase, which in turn parodied "Happiness Is a Warm Puppy," a Peanuts book written and illustrated by Charles Schulz in 1962.
According to Lennon, the title came from the cover of a gun magazine that producer George Martin showed him: "I think he showed me a cover of a magazine that said 'Happiness Is a Warm Gun.' It was a gun magazine. I just thought it was a fantastic, insane thing to say. A warm gun means you just shot something."
"Happiness Is a Warm Gun" is Paul McCartney's favorite song on The White Album. Although tensions were high among the band during the album's recording sessions, they reportedly collaborated as a close unit to work out the song's challenging rhythmic and meter issues, and consequently considered it one of the few true "Beatles" songs on the album.
Lennon said he "put together three sections of different songs ... it seemed to run through all the different kinds of rock music." The song begins with a brief lilting section ("She's not a girl who misses much..."). Drums, bass and distorted guitar are introduced as this portion of the song proceeds. The surreal imagery from this section is allegedly taken from an acid trip that Lennon and Derek Taylor experienced, with Taylor contributing the opening lines. After this, the song transitions into a Lennon song fragment called "I Need a Fix," built around an ominous-sounding guitar riff. This section drifts into the next section, a chorus of "Mother Superior jumped the gun."
The final section is a doo-wop send up, with the back-up of vocals of "bang, bang, shoot shoot." The song's multiple sections inspired Radiohead's three part "Paranoid Android" on OK Computer.
One of the most salient musical features of the song is its frequent shifts in time signature. Beginning in 4/4 time, the song has one measure of 6/4 time for the line "She's well acquainted..." before changing back to 4/4 time for the next line ("The man in the crowd..."). It then uses a measure of 5/4 followed by a measure of 4/4 for the line "a soap impression of his wife which he ate and donated to the National Trust". The subsequent guitar solo features a measure of 9/8 followed by two measures of 12/8. This pattern is repeated in the "I need a fix..." section. This gives way to alternating 9/8 and 10/8 measures in the "Mother Superior..." section before returning to 4/4 for the doo-wop style ending. The "When I hold you..." section slows down dramatically and employs one of the few examples of polyrhythm in the Beatles, where the drums play triplets while the rest of the instruments and background vocals use a duple rhythm.
Many different interpretations of the song have been offered down the years. It has been said that, in addition to the obvious reference mentioned above, the "Warm Gun" could also allude to Lennon's sexual desire for Yoko Ono and also to his well documented problems with heroin at the time of the recording of The White Album (in this case, the gun being a loaded syringe, although Lennon claimed to have snorted, rather than injected, heroin during the time that he used the drug). Another heroin reference in the song is the line "I need a fix, 'cuz I'm going down/Down to the bits that I left uptown."
- John Lennon - Lead and Backing Vocals,Rhythm Guitar (1965 Epiphone 230TD Casino)
- Paul McCartney - Backing Vocals and Bass Guitar (1964 Rickenbacker 4001S)
- George Harrison - Backing Vocals and Lead Guitar (1964 Gibson SG Standard)
- Ringo Starr - Drums and Tambourine
- Tori Amos, on the album Strange Little Girls
- Phish, on the album Live Phish Volume 13
- U2, as a B-side of the single "Last Night on Earth"
- Alanis Morissette, during the 1995-1996 Can't Not Tour
- Joe Anderson with Salma Hayek, for the soundtrack of Across the Universe
- Guns N' Roses on the Use Your Illusion Tour
- The Breeders, on the album Pod
- Marc Ribot, on the album Saints
- Dream Theater, circulating in live bootlegs online
- Hajime Chitose, on the album Kataritsugu Koto
- World Party, on the EP Thank You World
- Gavin DeGraw, at the White Concert, Denmark, December 2008
- Danger Mouse, used as a sample in "The Grey Album"
It was featured in the Michael Moore documentary Bowling for Columbine in a montage sequence and in the film Across the Universe in which Maxwell is being injected with morphine. Marilyn Manson's single "Get Your Gunn" contains a remix entitled "Mother Inferior Got Her Gunn," a reference to the line "Mother Superior jump the gun."
The song was not met warmly by American and British censors, being banned by the BBC for risk of damage since the 1966 "We're more popular than Jesus"-"Butcher Cover" fiasco.
The main drugs pusher in Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting is called / nicknamed Mother Superior.
- "Paranoid Android". Green Plastic Radiohead. http://www.greenplastic.com/lyrics/paranoidandroid.php. Retrieved on 2007-09-21.
- Hertsgaard, Mark (1995). A Day in the Life: The Music and Artistry of the Beatles
. New York: Delacorte Press. ISBN 0-385-31377-2.
- "Across the Universe soundtrack". http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0445922/soundtrack. Retrieved on 2009-09-24.
- Wenner, Jann S (2000). Lennon Remembers (Full interview from Lennon's 1970 interview in Rolling Stone magazine)
. London: Verso. ISBN 1-85984-600-9.