The Creative Spark
A new love affair, a child's drawing, something remembered from a dream—a songwriter's inspiration can come from anywhere. And the Fab Four proved it. Here, to mark Paul McCartney's birthday, are the creative secrets behind 10 timeless tunes by the Beatles.
"Why she had to go, I don't know, she wouldn't say"
"I think the psychiatrist would have a field day with that one," Paul McCartney told Mojo magazine in 2012. Back in 1965, however, he wasn't conscious of the song's inspiration. The tune had come to him in a dream, and he nailed down the lyrics some months later. But it took nearly a half-century for McCartney to realize "I was singing about my mum"—Mary McCartney, who died of an embolism when Paul was 14.
"Come together / Right now / Over me"
"It's gobbledygook," John Lennon told Playboy magazine, referring to lines like "He wear no shoe shine/he got toe-jam football." Yet "Come Together" was originally written as a political campaign song—for acid guru Timothy Leary, then a candidate for governor of California. Leary's campaign was cut short when he was jailed for possession of marijuana.
"Sexy Sadie, what have you done / You made a fool of everyone"
When you hear "Sexy Sadie," think "Maharishi." In 1968, the Beatles made a pilgrimage to India, but left disappointed after the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi reportedly hit on Mia Farrow and asked the band to tithe a quarter of their earnings from their next album. When John Lennon told him they were leaving, the guru giggled and asked why. John's reply: "Well, if you're so cosmic, you'll know why."
She Said She Said
"She said, 'I know what it's like to be dead / I know what it is to be sad'"
"She" is Peter Fonda, who dropped acid (in a Beverly Hills home rented from Zsa Zsa Gabor) with members of the Beatles and the Byrds. As a child, Fonda had accidentally shot himself, and he was presumably referring to that when he whispered over and over that he knew what it was like to be dead, which made John Lennon "feel like I've never been born."
Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds
"Picture yourself in a boat on a river / With tangerine trees and marmalade skies"
The obvious hint was there in the title: LSD. But John Lennon said this surrealistic song was actually inspired by his son's portrait of a nursery school classmate, Lucy O'Donnell. When 4-year-old Julian presented the colorful drawing to his father, he explained, "It's Lucy in the sky with diamonds."
"And anytime you feel the pain, hey Jude, refrain / Don't carry the world upon your shoulders"
Julian Lennon inspired this song too, about a year later, when his parents divorced. Paul McCartney, who was very close to his fellow Beatle's son, originally sang "Hey Julian," and then "Hey Jules," as he developed the lyrics. Ironically, John Lennon later said he thought "Hey Jude" was a message of reassurance from Paul to him.
Ticket to Ride
"She's got a ticket to ride / But she don't care"
According to John Lennon, the title of this track from "Help!" harks back to the Beatles' early days in Hamburg, Germany, where prostitution was legal but streetwalkers were required to carry a document certifying a clean bill of health. John dubbed that certificate a "ticket to ride."
"We would be warm below the storm / In our little hideaway beneath the waves"
One of just two Beatles songs written by the band's drummer, this one was inspired by a Mediterranean vacation Ringo Starr took on actor Peter Sellers' yacht, according to Steve Turner, author of "A Hard Day's Write." Octopus was on the lunch menu. Ringo declined. Then the captain began telling him how octopuses built gardens at the bottom of the sea.
I Am the Walrus
"Sitting on a cornflake / waiting for the van to come"
After receiving a letter from a student whose teacher had told him to decipher Beatles lyrics as a homework assignment, John Lennon set out to write a song that would defy analysis. The result included phrases like "crabalocker fishwife, pornographic priestess" summed up by the refrain "goo goo goo joob!"
"Something in the way she knows / And all I have to do is think of her"
Written by George Harrison, this No. 1 hit went on to become the band's second most covered song, after "Yesterday," which was the most covered song of all time. Although George said "Something" was sparked by the music of Ray Charles, his ex-wife Pattie Boyd later revealed a more intimate inspiration: "He always told me that it was about me."
A Fourth of July playlist
Classic movie moments set against a backdrop of sand and sea
25 stunning snapshots of the New Wave legend and sex symbol
Music that makes you almost taste the hot dogs and french fries they sell
For these classic singles, you can thank women ranging from Princess Diana to Courtney Love
You never know where the creative spark might come from