The ‘fab four’ group of Liverpudlians certainly mastered the timeless art of catchy music; the expression was literally flowing out of them. With the worldwide appeal of ‘Beatlemania’, coupled with an impressive array of albums, they were the ’embodiment of the counterculture of the 60s’ and lasted for the full decade before their breakup in 1970.
But was their music just catchy pop, or was there more to their success? Being known for experimenting with psychedelics and studying transcendental meditation at Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s ashram in India, The Beatles became a band who surfed the wave of progressive rock and pop. They deepened their repertoire, maturing artistically and carved their names in history forever. However, it is perhaps not their apparent dabbling in altered states that enabled them to create such a wealth of work, but an innate integrity that was with them from the beginning.
Here are 8 Beatles lyrics that carry that weight:
Blackbird singing in the dead of night,
Take these broken wings and learn to fly,
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise.
Like all Beatles songs, or any quality song writing for that matter, the lyrics on their own are often so frustratingly simple that without the melody and interpreted on the most basic level they seem to be incredibly rudimentary. Conveying the act of going-through-the-motions of any typical relationship, heartbreak or obvious turning point in our lives, these songs could be applied to any situation, or any-one. And that, of course, is the beauty of them. But if we read in to the higher meanings, whether they were intentional on the part of the song writer or not, then spiritual messages shoot off them like sparks.
This particular Beatles song conveys something so chilling yet hopeful with such lyrics as take these broken wings and learn to fly. On one hand it is a melancholic song about a blackbird experiencing some dark night of the soul, yet chirping on through it; making the best of its suffering by shining a light on it with its song. Yet you were only waiting for this moment to be arise speaks so resolutely of becoming, awakening and the image of the daybreak being a metaphor for the moment we ‘step into our inner forest’.
2) Strawberry Fields Forever
Let me take you down,
’cause we’re going to Strawberry fields.
Nothing is real.
And nothing to get hung about,
Strawberry fields forever.
Living is easy with eyes closed,
Misunderstanding all you see,
It’s getting hard to be someone but it all works out
It doesn’t matter much to me.
No one I think is in my tree
I mean it must be high or low
That is you can’t you know tune in but it’s all right
That is I think it’s not too bad
This song might signify the Beatles as front-line leaders of the progressive movement in the sixties and the reference to strawberry fields seems obvious, especially with Lennon as the lead songwriter. Either an acid flashback or some picture of heaven, you don’t need to be stoned to appreciate the imagery. The song also references the popular belief that the universe is a hologram, or entirely illusory. Life is an experiment, an exploration and reality malleable.
The Beatles sing about taking up the positive side of a disagreement in their songs, but it seems that here they have progressed from ‘You say stop, and I say go, go go,’ to ‘No-one is living in my tree/living is easy with eyes closed, misunderstanding all you see.’
The latter lyric is certainly a reference to perception and our choice in the experience of our lives; the ego closes itself off to others and aggressively stands its corner, misunderstanding everything that comes its way. The best route is an openness and lightness to everything, but that is also the difficult path as keeping our eyes open in order to experience truth threatens the ego and our baser, survival instincts.
3) Golden Slumbers
Once there was a way, to get back homeward
Once there was a way, to get back home,
Sleep pretty darling do not cry, and I will sing a lullaby-ee
Golden slumbers fill your eyes, smiles awake you when you rise.
OK, so this song on The Abbey Road album written by Paul McCartney is based on the poem ‘Cradle Song’, which is a lullaby written by Thomas Dekker. And, despite this particular phrase of Golden Slumbers and most of the lyrics of the first stanza being the bit McCartney used, the lyrics take on a new dimension when accompanied with the strong vocals and melody.
The childlike imaginations of the Beatles themselves and the songs they wrote – such as Yellow Submarine and Octopus’s Garden – always added to their appeal, and so Golden Slumbers, as well as being part of a fantastic climactic medley at the end of album Abbey Road, compliments this childlike charm.
They are innocent like any wise men or women should be; nurturing their inner child and balancing the masculine aspects of themselves with the feminine. In fact, a huge part of the unique songwriting ability of the signature partners, dynamic duo Lennon and McCartney seems to stem from the heartbreak both experienced over losing their mothers at an early age.
4) Cant’ Buy Me Love
I’ll buy you a diamond ring my friend if it makes you feel alright
I’ll get you anything my friend if it makes you feel alright
Cos I don’t care too much for money, and money can’t buy me love
OK, so it’s a continuation of their 1950s skiffle and rock and roll era of the early days, but this song was a turning point for the Beatles; it signifies a time when the confidence in their popularity was peeking and they were really beginning to sun the feathers of their true colours. A far cry from Twist and Shout, they were becoming bold enough to comment on our material world rather than simply rack up catchy love songs that made the charts.
These kind of lyrics mark the beginnings of the glorious ladder that made the sixties so distinctive; it was the first rung towards progressive pop and an unapologetic ideology concerned with peace and love. They went on to write songs such as You’ve got to hide your love away on the album Help!; a folkish song in the style of Dylan that has been suggested is about manager Brian Epstein having to keep his homosexuality a secret. And thus the albums – ‘though forever steeped in essential love songs’ – became increasingly controversial and about questioning the status quo.
5) Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds
Picture yourself in a boat on a river
With tangerine trees, and marmalade skies.
Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly,
The girl with kaleidoscope eyes.
Lucy in the sky with Diamonds, another song inspired by child, was written by John Lennon when shown a drawing by his young son Julian. Controversy arose when people speculated as to whether the song was about LSD, the nouns in the title spelling this, but the Beatles denied it all the while, instead insisting it was inspired by children’s novel Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. After Paul McCartney publicly admitted to taking the drug and that it had inspired a lot of his songwriting, it’s no wonder that the meaning has stuck.
Like the imaginative lyrics of so many of their songs, the lyrics capture the plethora of moments in childhood when pure bliss encapsulates you and you are engrossed in the present moment; so much so that your imagination runs away with you. McCartney on the inspiration of Carroll’s famous book says that ‘Lucy’ was “God, the Big Figure, the White Rabbit.” The ‘lavish daydream’ (Rolling Stone) depicted by the song is certainly a spiritual trip referencing an experience of passing over to the other side, glimpsing nirvana, or those moments when the subconscious bleeds over in to waking life.
6) Tomorrow Never Knows
Turn off your mind relax and float down-stream,
It is not dying, it is not dying,
Lay down all thoughts, surrender to the void,
It is shining, it is shining.
Yet you may see the meaning of within,
It is being, it is being,
Love is all and love is everyone,
It is knowing, it is knowing.
That ignorance and haste may mourn the dead,
It is believing, it is believing,
But listen to the color of your dreams,
It is not living, it is not living.
So play the game of “existence” to the end.
Of the beginning, of the beginning.
Apparently John Lennon adapted the lyrics of this great track from a manual on the Tibetan Book of the Dead. The ‘instructions’ state precisely that – to turn off, relax your mind and float downstream, being another reference to floating downstream in order to have psychedelic experiences as is depicted in Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.
Lennon is said to have read the book whilst tripping on LSD and The Void was considered as an alternate title. During recording Lennon had told their producer George Martin that he wanted to sound like ‘a hundred chanting Tibetan monks’ (Wikipedia) and so they decided to use a Leslie speaker and tape loops to produce the distinctively transcendental sounds that make this Beatles track so hugely popular.
7) All You Need is Love
There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done.
Nothing you can sing that can’t be sung.
Nothing you can say but you can learn how to play the game.
Written as a message designed for everyone to receive and understand, the Beatles delivered this song on the album Magical Mystery Tour. The song’s well-known lyrics could be the epitome of the Beatles’ message to the world and reflect Lennon’s obsession with propaganda; his work on this track paves the way for his later work with Yoko Ono and slogans such as Give Peace a Chance.
He wanted to create a positive yet simple and therefore memorable slogan that the whole world could relate to. Tying in with his participation in the Vietnam war protests and Bed-In for peace honeymoon, this song particularly symbolises Lennon’s impression on the world, complimenting his later solo single Imagine.
An anthem for peace and a humble reminder that we shouldn’t try to get ahead of others and can do nothing that hasn’t already been done. Why not learn how to play the game and accept simplicity. All you need is love!
8) The Long and Winding Road/Let it Be
The long and winding road that leads to your door,
Will never disappear
I’ve seen that road before it always leads me here
Leads me to your door.
And in my hour of darkness
She is standing right in front of me
Speaking words of wisdom
Let it be.
And finally, the simplicity of the Beatles lyrics reiterate that although the path towards the light is complex and full of potholes, the inevitability of release pulls us through. As with any spiritual experience, we always find that the message is ‘it is always here for you, it will never go away, you are loved’.
The beauty and longevity of the Fab Four was clearly woven into the fact that they were not only modest about their overwhelming fame, but that they served as excellent channels to some themes that whole generations have leaned on and been inspired by. And that, in my book, makes them, not only fabulous musicians, but bloody good humans too.