No song in the Beatles' catalog features as many literary and social references in its lyrics as "I Am the Walrus."
In writing it, John Lennon drew inspiration from Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland (the walrus), a playground nursery rhyme that he and his pals sang as children (the line beginning with "yellow matter custard") and the traditional song "Marching to Pretoria" (whose lyric "I'm with you and you're with me and we are all together" Lennon mimics in the opening lines).
Along the way he namechecks the Hare Krishna movement, which was then growing in popularity, the Beatles' own "Lucy in the Sky" and Edgar Allen Poe. By this point, Lennon was aware that his increasingly obscure lyrics were becoming the subject of interpretation, and he relished the idea of tossing his listeners a few red herrings.
Beatles biographer Hunter Davies, who was present during one of the writing sessions for the song, recalls Lennon saying, "Let the fuckers work that one out!"
The Beatles recorded the basic track over 16 takes on September 5 in Abbey Road Studio One. (It was the first Beatles song to be recorded after the death of their longtime manager, Brian Epstein, on August 27.) According to Paul McCartney, Lennon then instructed producer George Martin on how he wanted him to score the song, singing most of the parts to Martin, who arranged them for violins, cellos, horns, clarinet and 16-piece choir. The orchestration was recorded on September 27 in Studio One.
But the song wasn't quite finished yet. Two nights later, Martin began the mono mixing sessions for the song. Lennon, clearly intent on being involved at every stage of the track's development, sat in to oversee the work.
During one of the two mono mixes of the song completed that evening, a live radio feed was patched into the mixing board at Lennon's request, so that he could add random sounds to the recording as he flicked through stations up and down the dial. Eventually, he brought the dial to rest on a live presentation of Shakespeare's Tragedy of King Lear, where it remained for the duration of the mix.
Lennon was so pleased with the result that he had Martin splice together a master version using roughly the first half of the mix without the radio broadcast and the last half of the other. The splice occurs just before the line "Sitting in an English garden."
The finished recording demonstrates not only Lennon's genius but also his incredible luck — the lines from Shakespeare are a spine-tingling addition to the track and help make "I Am the Walrus" one of the most spectacular productions in the Beatles' catalog.
RECORDED: September 5, 6, 27, 28 and 29, 1967; Abbey Road Studio One and Two