- Album Songs recorded during this session officially appear on the Magical Mystery Tour (US LP - Mono) LP.
- EMI Studios, Studio One, Abbey Road
More from year 1967
Some songs from this session appear on:
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On August 27, 1967, The Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein passed away, leaving the band in a state of uncertainty. A few days later on September 1, 1967, The Beatles reconvened at Paul McCartney’s London home to discuss their plans moving forward. During this meeting, the band made the decision to work on their new project, the “Magical Mystery Tour” TV special.
Just four days after this meeting, on September 5, 1967, The Beatles began working on one of the highlights of the project’s soundtrack: John Lennon’s surrealist masterpiece, “I Am The Walrus.” This groundbreaking piece of music pushed the boundaries of popular music, incorporating a variety of experimental elements and showcasing The Beatles’ artistic evolution.
There was a pallor across the session that day — we were all distracted, thinking about Brian — but there was a song to be recorded, too. It was one of John’s, and, somewhat fittingly, it might well have been his strangest one yet.
“I am he as you are he / As you are me and we are all together,” Lennon sang in a dull monotone, strumming his acoustic guitar as we all gathered around him in the dim studio light. Everyone seemed bewildered. The melody consisted largely of just two notes, and the lyrics were pretty much just nonsense — for some reason John appeared to be singing about a walrus and an eggman. There was a moment of silence when he finished, then Lennon looked up at George Martin expectantly.
“That one was called ‘I Am The Walrus,’” John said. “So… what do you think?”
George looked flummoxed; for once he was at a loss for words. “Well, John, to be honest, I have only one question: What the hell do you expect me to do with that?”
There was a round of nervous laughter in the room which partially dissipated the tension, but Lennon was clearly not amused. Frankly, I thought George’s remark was out of line. To me, the Beatles seemed a bit lost, as if they were looking for another place to be, a new start… and even in its raw state I could hear that the song had potential. Perhaps it wasn’t one of John’s finest compositional efforts, but with that unique voice of his and our combined creative abilities, I was sure it could turn into something good.
George Martin, however, simply couldn’t get past the limited musical content and outrageous lyrics; he flat out didn’t like the song. […] Despite George’s misgivings, the Beatles were determined to work on the song, so they began running down the backing track, with John accompanying himself, unusually, on a Wurlitzer electric piano.Geoff Emerick – From “Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of The Beatles“, 2006
Over the course of six hours, from 7 pm until 1 am the following morning, the band recorded 16 takes of the rhythm track for the song, the first three takes being recorded over as the tape was rewound to begin Take 4.
During the session, John Lennon played an electric piano, Paul McCartney played bass on the early takes before switching to tambourine, George Harrison played electric guitar and Ringo Starr played drums.
I distinctly remember the look of emptiness on all their faces while they were playing “I Am The Walrus.” It’s one of the saddest memories I have of my time with the Beatles.Geoff Emerick – From “Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of The Beatles“, 2006
George [Martin] became even more exasperated when it became apparent that Ringo was having trouble holding the beat steady; it was a long song, played at a laconic tempo, so it was tough going. For the first few takes, Paul played bass as usual, but then he opted to switch to tambourine, standing directly in front of Ringo, effectively acting as both a cheerleader and a human click track.
“Not to worry, I’ll keep you locked in,” he told his drummer confidently, once again dealing with a tricky situation that George Martin simply couldn’t handle. I thought it was one of Paul’s finest moments. He was trying to inject some professionalism into a session that was drifting away because the others had their minds on Brian’s death. It was a classic case of him taking charge when things were beginning to unravel, and he would do that more and more as the years went on.Geoff Emerick – From “Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of The Beatles“, 2006
Only five of the takes were complete, with take 16 ultimately being selected as the best. Take 16, augmented with John’s lead vocals recorded on the following day, was released on Anthology 2 in 1996.
Lacking at this juncture the many overdubs and effects that would turn it into perhaps the most compelling master ever issued by the Beatles this is Take 16 of I Am The Walrus, the basic track on to which all the extras were added.
Using this recording as his reference, George Martin wrote the string and backing vocal arrangement that not only was sympathetic to John Lennon’s composition but enhanced it in a most dramatic fashion.From Anthology 2 liner notes
Work on “I Am The Walrus” continued on the following day.
Last updated on April 9, 2023
The definitive guide for every Beatles recording sessions from 1962 to 1970.
We owe a lot to Mark Lewisohn for the creation of those session pages, but you really have to buy this book to get all the details - the number of takes for each song, who contributed what, a description of the context and how each session went, various photographies... And an introductory interview with Paul McCartney!
The third book of this critically - acclaimed series, nominated for the 2019 Association for Recorded Sound Collections (ARSC) award for Excellence In Historical Recorded Sound, "The Beatles Recording Reference Manual: Volume 3: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band through Magical Mystery Tour (late 1966-1967)" captures the band's most innovative era in its entirety. From the first take to the final remix, discover the making of the greatest recordings of all time. Through extensive, fully-documented research, these books fill an important gap left by all other Beatles books published to date and provide a unique view into the recordings of the world's most successful pop music act.
If we like to think, in all modesty, that the Paul McCartney Project is the best online ressource for everything Paul McCartney, The Beatles Bible is for sure the definitive online site focused on the Beatles. There are obviously some overlap in terms of content between the two sites, but also some major differences in terms of approach.