Ahhh Psychedelia. Though it’s debatable as to which artists invented the musical form, The Beatles and Psychedelia certainly go hand in hand. Whether from the wellspring of hallucinized minds, or just a natural occurrence of the utterly creative, it’s a trip for the listener that carries on nearly 50 years later through bands such as Tame Impala. So in celebration of the Beatles Month, here is the Top 10 Most Trippy/Psychedelic Beatles Songs (as decided by me):
#10: ‘She Said, She Said’ From: ‘Revolver’ (1966):
With a biting guitar riff kicking things off, this beauty form ‘Revolver,’ oozes and throbs in technicolor glory. It was penned by Lennon (the most psychedelically inclined of the four) after an incident at an acid party. “Peter Fonda came in when we were on acid and he kept coming up to me and sitting next to me and whispering, ‘I know what it’s like to be dead. He was describing an acid trip he’d been on. We didn’t want to hear about that! We were on an acid trip and the sun was shining and the girls were dancing and the whole thing was beautiful.”
#9: ‘It’s All Too Much’
This George Harrison-penned tune is one of the band’s most captivating works from the psychedelic era, and one of the Beatles’ great lost songs. The song was originally written in the latter half of ’67 and was considered for ‘Magical Mystery Tour,’ but ultimately shelved. It finally found a home on the ‘Yellow Submarine’ album in early-1969. A truly great trip!
#8: ‘A Day In The Life’
Almost 50 years on it’s easy to forget how groundbreaking this album and song was. From the unassuming intro of acoustic guitar, piano and vocal, the song twists and turns as it adds colour and flavour along the way, until its mid song chaotic climax explodes and suddenly becomes a totally different song. The perfect example of one of Lennon’s and McCartney’s ideas woven together seamlessly into a totally unique creature.
#7: ‘Within You Without You’
“We were talking about the space between us,” so begins this heady masterpiece of ethereal drone from the ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ LP. The pure bliss of 1967 is in full bloom on this Harrison-penned beauty. Sitars and strings wow and flutter, as tabla instigates the rhythm that flows like an Eastern river into previously uncharted pop group waters, while George delivers some suitably intriguing lyrics.
#6: ‘I’m Only Sleeping’
One of John Lennon’s most haunting songs, and of course, that’s saying a lot. With Lennon’s droning vocal sitting atop a lazy, shuffle rhythm, the song creeps along with a certain acidic nonchalance complete with some tasty backwards guitar lines throughout. The spot-on backing vocals and McCartney’s always splendid bass lines are the cherry on top.
#5: ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’
‘Strawberry Fields Forever’, one of my favourite Beatles songs of all time, was famously made up of two totally different takes; one slightly speed up, with the other slightly slowed down. After the two takes were spliced together, the effect was the creation of one of the most unique records ever made. It was unlike anything anyone had ever heard from a pop group before with its lyrical imagery, expansive use of instruments, and haunting vibe. The craziest thing of all, while existing miles away from ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’, the record was created just three years after!
#4: ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’
While it could be argued that this controversial record is the Beatles most psychedelic song, there can be no debate surrounding how delightfully odd this three-and-a-half minutes of pure lysergic bliss is. It’s full of picturesque and surreal lyrics set to one of the Beatles’ most trippy songs. Trippy yes, but surging skyward at the same time, especially on the dynamic chorus. The inventive bass playing of Paul McCartney kept getting more crucial to the band’s sound, and it is in full flight here.
#3: ‘Only A Northern Song’
A somewhat controversial entrant, this song was recorded during the ‘Sgt. Pepper’ sessions but wouldn’t see the light of day until ithe ‘Yellow Submarine’ soundtrack in early-1969, nearly two years after it was originally put to tape. The song creeps in slowly and builds as it moves along. A variety of wild tape loops, harsh trumpets and percussion are used to create a slightly disorienting effect. Lyrically, it was Harrison’s witty and biting jab at the Beatles publishing arrangement.
#2: ‘I Am The Walrus’
‘I Am The Walrus’ is, without question, one of John Lennon’s finest creations and a 100% psychedelic adventure. The LSD-inspired lyrics mesh with lyrics that Lennon himself called nonsense. “The first line was written on one acid trip one weekend. The second line was written on the next acid trip the next weekend” Lennon went on to add that, “I was writing obscurely, a la Dylan, in those days.” The percussive use of strings is brilliant and adds an ominous touch to the journey, while the end of song chaos that erupts is a mind-blower unto itself. ‘I Am The Walrus’ is pure genius all the way!
#1: ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’
This song is the be-all and end-all of psychedelic rock and roll and has no equal. The final song on the ‘Revolver’ album is one of the most mesmerizing slices of music ever recorded. The song’s shape was helped immeasurably by Paul McCartney who suggested the insistent drum pattern and contributed the backwards guitar solo. Though not much of a psychedelic-styled writer himself, Sir Paul certainly knew how to decorate the tree! The surging beat pushes the song into the clouds while the sitar drone, chanting, and tape loops all brew together in this wonderful psychedelic stew. The unconventional lyric itself was inspired by ‘The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead.’ Lennon said he wanted it to sound like “a group of Tibetan monks chanting on a mountain top.” Ok then…
Well, did you have a nice trip? Don’t mind the eggman, he’ll find his way back home. I had to leave ‘Love You To,’ ‘The Inner Light,’ and ‘Because’ on the shelf with ‘Revolution 9’, but hope you had a splendid time nonetheless. If I failed to include your favorite lysergic-laced Liverpudlian limerick, you can let me know in the comments section below.