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Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds

"I swear to God or to Mao or to anybody you like. I had no idea it spelled LSD."

-John Lennon

Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds is a song written primarily by John Lennon (credited to Lennon/McCartney) in 1967, and recorded by The Beatles for their album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

ArrangementEdit

The song has a complex arrangement typical of later Lennon/McCartney compositions; much of the song is in triple metre (3/4 time aka "waltz time"), except the chorus, where it switches to 4/4 time. The song also shifts between musical keys, using the key of A for the verse, B-flat for the pre-chorus or bridge section, and G for the chorus. It consists of a very simple melody (reminiscent of a nursery song), sung by Lennon over an increasingly complicated underlying arrangement which features a tambura, played by George Harrison, and a Lowrie organ, whose sound was altered by producer George Martin, played by Paul McCartney.

Lyrics and titleEdit

The lyrics of the song — which is commonly believed to be about an acid trip — feature image-laden verses which present an overtly psychedelic travelogue, describing a boat trip through a fantastic land of "rocking horse people", "newspaper taxis" and "marshmallow pies", alternating with chorus sections which simply repeat the song's title. The Beatles, however, have steadily maintained that the initials of the title forming "LSD" (Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds) is mere coincidence, as the title is taken from a drawing by a young Julian Lennon. Forty years later the phrase "plasticine porters" inspired the name of the French female band the Plastiscines.

Julian's drawingEdit

According to the Beatles, one day in 1966 Lennon's son, Julian, came home from nursery school with a drawing he said was of his classmate, a girl named Lucy. Showing the artwork to his father, young Julian described the picture as "Lucy – in the sky with diamonds."

Julian later said, "I don't know why I called it that or why it stood out from all my other drawings, but I obviously had an affection for Lucy at that age. I used to show dad everything I'd built or painted at school, and this one sparked off the idea for a song about Lucy in the sky with diamonds."

His son's artwork appears to have inspired Lennon to draw heavily on his own childhood affection for Lewis Carroll's "Wool and Water" chapter from Through the Looking-Glass. At least one lyric was influenced by both Carroll and skits on a popular British comedy programme (the Goon Show) making references to "plasticine ties", which showed up in the song as "Plasticine porters with looking glass ties". Carroll's work has also been cited as having influenced Lennon's two books, In His Own Write and A Spaniard in the Works.

Who was Lucy?Edit

The Lucy referred to in the song may have been the late Lucy O'Donnell, born in Weybridge in 1963 (making her the same age as John's son). She sat next to Julian at Heath House School. She met up with him on a few occasions, and occasionally appeared on daytime shows for the anniversary of the "Sergeant Pepper's" album. She is featured in the book "A Hard Days Write." She lived in Surbiton in Surrey, and owned a nanny agency for children with special needs until she was taken ill with psoriatic arthritis and lupus; she died in 2009.

There is another candidate for the original Lucy – British comedian Peter Cook's daughter, Lucy. Lennon and Cook were seeing quite a bit of each other at the time (Lennon made a guest appearance on Cook's TV show Not Only... But Also as a doorman). According to Cook's biographer, Harry Thompson, Lennon told Cook's then wife, Wendy, that the song was inspired by Lucy Cook.

Reference to drugs and the title of the songEdit

While Lennon and the Beatles were often frank about their drug use, for decades they denied that "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" had anything to do with LSD. In a 2004 interview, however, Paul McCartney spoke openly about his Beatles-era drug use, revealing that songs such as "Day Tripper" and "Got to Get You into My Life" were written directly about LSD and marijuana. When questioned about "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," he noted that Julian's painting had inspired the song, but that it was "pretty obvious" that the song was about an acid trip.

In a 1971 interview Lennon recalled hearing about how the initials of the title spelled out LSD, then checking if the same thing had happened with other Beatles songs and finding "they didn't spell out anything." In that same interview, he stated the song was composed in a conscious attempt to craft poetry, and in 1980 he confirmed the images were taken from Alice in Wonderland.

In The Beatles Anthology (2000), Ringo Starr claimed he was present when Julian showed his "crazy little painting". Paul recounted the time he and John spent in John's music room, swapping suggestions for lyrics, saying, "We never noticed the LSD initial until it was pointed out later, by which point people didn't believe us."

Although the Beatles say they did not name the song after LSD, the song was conceived and recorded during a time when the Beatles were experimenting with LSD frequently, and creating much of their music under the influence.

Furthermore, some LSD users report a specific type of hallucination when they look at nightly sky with stars; when watching a particular star, a "copy" of it may periodically "flash" nearby either to the left or to the right. When looking at many stars under the influence of the drug, the whole sky seems to be "sparkling" with flashing stars, so "diamond sky" may be a metaphor of this vision.

Personnel Edit

  • John Lennon - Lead Vocals, Rhythm Guitar (Gibson J-160E)
  • Paul McCartney - Lowrey Organ, Bass Guitar (Rickenbacker 4001S), Harmony Vocals
  • George Harrison - Maracas, Lead Guitar (Fender Stratocaster), Tambura
  • Ringo Starr - Drums
  • George Martin - Piano

Elton John versionEdit

The most successful remake was a single recorded in 1974 by Elton John, which also appeared on the ephemeral 1976 musical documentary, All This and World War II, with background vocals and guitar by John Lennon (who used the pseudonym Dr. Winston O'Boogie). The single topped the Billboard pop charts for two weeks in January 1975.

During their collaboration, John appeared on Lennon's song "Whatever Gets You Through the Night". Lennon promised to appear live with John at Madison Square Garden if it became a number 1 single. It did, and on 28 November 1974, Lennon kept his promise. They performed "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds", "Whatever Gets You Through the Night", and "I Saw Her Standing There". Those live versions are available on the Lennon box set, as well as Elton John's Here and There.

Other cover versionsEdit

The song has been covered by many artists.

  • A 1968 version by actor William Shatner (included on his album The Transformed Man) wasn't successful at the time, but became well-known on the internet decades later. Reportedly, in both informal and more-structured polls of music fans, Shatner's rendition is considered one of the worst pop recordings ever, although the notoriety may, in fact, have helped his musical career.
  • Another version is on Marty Gold's 1969 album Moog Plays the Beatles.
  • In 2002 the Brazilian artist Rita Lee released a Beatles cover album that included this song.
  • A very different cover was recorded by pianist John Bayless, as a minuet in the style of Bach.
  • In 1988 Frank Zappa changed the lyrics of the song to satirize the sex scandal revolving around televangelist Jimmy Swaggart. In this version it was called: "Louisiana Hooker with Herpes". For legal reasons, the song is not available on the official Zappa catalogue.
  • Katie Melua performed a cover version which appears on the Special Edition of her second album, Piece By Piece, released in 2006.
  • The song has been covered by the Japanese Rocker Hyde from L'Arc~en~Ciel, and was released on the Horizon single.
  • The Grateful Dead have also covered this song in concert.

Cultural echoesEdit

  • In January 1968, John Fred and the Playboy Band parodied the song on their hit single "Judy in Disguise (With Glasses)" which intentionally sounds like "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds." Interestingly enough, the single knocked another Beatles single, "Hello, Goodbye", down the charts.
  • The song inspired the name of an anthropological find. On November 30, 1974, Donald Johanson and Tom Gray discovered the skeleton of a 3.18 million year old female hominid in the Afar Triangle of Ethiopia. They called it Lucy because the Beatles hit was playing while they were discussing a name.
  • On 13 February 2004 astronomers at Harvard announced the discovery of BPM 37093, a celestial object which appears to be a carbon star. Carbon being the element diamonds are composed of, they whimsically named it Lucy, likely in reference to Arthur C. Clarke's 2061: Odyssey Three (1987), which speculates that the core of Jupiter may be an Earth-sized diamond, formed by carbon sedimenting from the outer layers (and when a mountain-sized chunk of diamond appears on Jupiter's moon Europa, Clarke's characters use the codeword "Lucy" to communicate the discovery).
  • SimpsonsPurpleSubmersible
    In the Simpsons episode Last Exit to Springfield, Lisa is given nitrous oxide by her dentist and hallucinates in a scene inspired by the Beatles' Yellow Submarine film. In it, she encounters the four Beatles in their yellow submarine (recoloured purple for copyright reasons), with George Harrison saying, "Look, it's Lisa in the sky!" Followed by Lennon lamenting "No diamonds though."
  • In part III (Full Circle) of the song "Octavarium" by Dream Theater, "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" is mentioned.
  • "Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds" is the name of a superhero in the comic book Runaways. Karolina Dean takes up this name because her alien physiology makes her skin pulse with psychedelic colours and gives her the ability to fly.
  • A mural is dedicated to the song in Westmont High School, in Westmont, Illinois.
  • The song also plays an important role in the movie I Am Sam, starring Sean Penn, in which he names his daughter (Dakota Fanning) Lucy Diamond because of the song.
  • The song is referenced in the Clash track "Julie's Been Working for the Drug Squad."
  • The line "As Lucy in the sky" in the Pink Floyd track "Let There Be More Light" is a direct reference to the song.
  • During the chapter "The Preternatural Courtship" of the movie Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas, actor Benicio Del Toro, playing as "Dr. Gonzo", introduces actress Christina Ricci by the name "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds."
  • A direct callback is made to this song in "I am the Walrus" at the lyrics "see how they fly like Lucy in the sky."

ReferencesEdit

LinksEdit

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