The Paul McCartney Project

Blue Jay Way

Written by George Harrison

Album This song officially appears on the Magical Mystery Tour (Stereo) EP.
Timeline This song has been officially released in 1967

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Song facts

From Wikipedia:

Blue Jay Way” is a song recorded by the English rock group the Beatles. Written by George Harrison, it was released in 1967 on the band’s Magical Mystery Tour EP and album. The song was named after a street in the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles where Harrison stayed in August 1967, shortly before visiting the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco. The lyrics document Harrison’s wait for music publicist Derek Taylor to find his way to Blue Jay Way through the fog-ridden hills, while Harrison struggled to stay awake after the flight from London to Los Angeles.

As with several of Harrison’s compositions from this period, “Blue Jay Way” incorporates aspects of Indian classical music, although the Beatles used only Western instrumentation on the track, including a drone-like Hammond organ part played by Harrison. Created during the group’s psychedelic period, the track makes extensive use of studio techniques such as flanging, Leslie rotary effect, and reversed tape sounds. The song appeared in the Beatles’ 1967 television film Magical Mystery Tour, in a sequence that visually re-creates the sense of haziness and dislocation evident on the recording.

While some reviewers have dismissed the song as monotonous, many others have admired its yearning quality and dark musical mood. The website Consequence of Sound describes “Blue Jay Way” as “a haunted house of a hit, adding an ethereal, creepy mythos to the City of Angels“. Among its continued links with Los Angeles, the song was one of the first Beatles tracks that cult leader Charles Manson adopted as the foundation for his Helter Skelter theory of an American race-related countercultural revolution. Artists who have covered the song include Bud Shank, Colin Newman, Tracy Bonham, Siouxsie and the Banshees and Greg Hawkes.

Background and inspiration

George Harrison wrote “Blue Jay Way” after arriving in Los Angeles on 1 August 1967 with his wife Pattie Boyd and Beatles aides Neil Aspinall and Alex Mardas. The purpose of the trip was to spend a week with Derek Taylor, the Beatles’ former press officer and latterly the publicist for California-based acts such as the Byrds and the Beach Boys. The visit also allowed Harrison to reunite with his sitar tutor, Ravi Shankar, whose Kinnara School of Music and upcoming concert at the Hollywood Bowl he helped publicise.

The title of the song came from a street named Blue Jay Way, one of the “bird streets” high in the Hollywood Hills West area overlooking the Sunset Strip, where Harrison had rented a house for his stay. Jet-lagged after the flight from London, he began writing the composition on a Hammond organ as he and Boyd waited for Taylor and the latter’s wife, Joan, to join them. The home’s location, on a hillside of narrow, winding roads, together with the foggy conditions that night, created the backdrop for the song’s opening lines: “There’s a fog upon L.A. / And my friends have lost their way.” Harrison had almost completed the song by the time the Taylors arrived, around two hours later than planned.

The week with Taylor proved to be important for the direction of the Beatles. At the height of the Summer of Love and the popularity of the band’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album, Harrison, Taylor and their small entourage visited the international “hippie capital” of Haight-Ashbury, in San Francisco, on 7 August. Harrison had expected to encounter an enlightened community engaged in artistic pursuits and working to create a viable alternative lifestyle; instead, he was disappointed that Haight-Ashbury appeared to be populated by drug addicts, dropouts and “hypocrites“. Following his return to England two days later, Harrison completed work on “Blue Jay Way” at his home in Esher. He also shared his disillusionment about Haight-Ashbury with John Lennon, soon after which the Beatles publicly denounced the popular hallucinogen LSD (or “acid“) and other drugs in favour of Transcendental Meditation under Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. While noting Harrison’s role in “inspir[ing] the West’s mainstream acquaintance with Hindu religion” through his leadership in this aspect of the Beatles’ career, author Ian MacDonald describes “Blue Jay Way” as a “farewell to psychedelia“, just as “It’s All Too Much“, which the Beatles recorded in May 1967, became Harrison’s “farewell to acid“.

Composition

Music

Blue Jay Way” was one of several songs that Harrison composed on a keyboard over 1966–68 – a period when, aside from in his work with the Beatles, he had abandoned his first instrument, the guitar, to master the sitar, partly under Shankar’s tutelage. The song is in 4/4 time throughout; its structure consists of an intro, three combinations of verse and chorus, followed by repeated choruses. While MacDonald gives the musical key as “C major (minor, diminished)“, musicologist Alan Pollack views it as a mix of C major and C modal, and acknowledges the “highly unusual” incorporation of the notes D♯ and F♯. The inclusion of the latter note suggests the Lydian mode, which, according to musicologist Walter Everett, had only been heard previously in popular music in the Left Banke’s 1966 single “Pretty Ballerina“.

The song’s melody oscillates over the chords of C major and C diminished, a chord favoured by Harrison in his Indian music-inspired compositions for the Beatles. Acknowledging Harrison’s statement that the tune is “slightly Indian“, Everett considers “Blue Jay Way” to be related to the ragas Kosalam and Multani. According to author Simon Leng, however, Harrison based the song partly on Raga Marwa. Following the inclusion of a raga-style introduction (or alap) in his previous Indian compositions, “Love You To” and “Within You Without You“, “Blue Jay Way” begins with a preview of the song’s melody played softly, in free time, over the opening drone. Author Ian Inglis credits the song’s incorporation of ambient drone, specifically its role in providing “an anchorage point for vocal and instrumental improvisation“, as one of the first examples of a musical device that soon became prevalent in the work of Fairport Convention, the Incredible String Band and other folk artists.

The length of the verses falls short of an even eight bars through the omission of a final beat. Pollack recognises this detail as reflecting a sense of impatience, in keeping with the circumstances surrounding the song’s creation. Following the third verse–chorus combination, the outro comprises four rounds of the chorus, with the lyrics to the final round consisting of the repeated “Don’t be long” refrain. As a feature that Pollack terms “compositionally impressive“, each of the four sections in this outro varies in structure by being either shorter in length or less musically detailed.

Lyrics

The lyrics to “Blue Jay Way” relate entirely to Harrison’s situation on that first night in Los Angeles. He refers to fighting off sleep and recalls his advice to Taylor to ask a policeman for directions to Blue Jay Way. Author Jonathan Gould views the song as “darkly funny“, with the singer’s concern over his friends’ tardiness almost resembling “a metaphysical crisis“. In the choruses, Harrison repeatedly urges “Please don’t be long / Please don’t you be very long“, a refrain that Inglis identifies as central to the composition’s “extraordinary sense of yearning and melancholy“.

Taylor later expressed amusement at how some commentators interpreted “don’t be long” as meaning “don’t belong” – a message to Western youth to opt out of society – and at how the line “And my friends have lost their way” supposedly conveyed the idea that “a whole generation had lost direction”. With regard to whether Harrison was telling contemporary listeners not to “belong“, Inglis writes, this “alternative reading” of the song aligned with Timothy Leary’s catchphrase for the 1960s American psychedelic experience, “Turn on, tune in, drop out“. In Gould’s opinion, the continual repetition of the line at the end of “Blue Jay Way” transforms the words into “a plea for nonattachment – ‘don’t belong’“. Rather than attaching any countercultural significance to this, however, Gould views it as the Beatles repeating the wordplay first used in the chorus of Lennon’s 1963 song “It Won’t Be Long“.

Production

Recording

The Beatles began recording “Blue Jay Way” on 6 September 1967 at EMI’s Abbey Road Studios in London. The song was Harrison’s contribution to the television film Magical Mystery Tour, the first project undertaken by the band following the death of their manager, Brian Epstein. Author Nicholas Schaffner describes “Blue Jay Way” as the first Harrison-written Beatles recording on which he “adapt[ed] some of his Indian-derived ideas to a more Western setting“, with Hammond organ, cello and drums serving the function of, respectively, tambura drone, sitar and tabla.

The group achieved a satisfactory rhythm track in a single take. On 7 September, this recording – comprising two organ parts, bass guitar and drums – was reduced to two tracks on the 4-track master tape, after which Harrison overdubbed his double-tracked lead vocal, and he, Lennon and Paul McCartney added backing vocals. Among Beatles biographers, MacDonald credits Harrison as the sole organ player on the song, while Kenneth Womack and John Winn write that Lennon played the second keyboard part. Recording was completed at Abbey Road on 6 October, with the addition of tambourine, played by Ringo Starr, and cello. The latter was performed by an unnamed session musician. As with all the songs recorded for Magical Mystery Tour, final mixing was carried out on 7 November.

Studio effects

Blue Jay Way” features extensive use of three studio techniques employed by the Beatles over 1966–67: flanging, an audio delay effect; sound-signal rotation via a Leslie speaker; and (in the stereo mix only) reversed tapes. Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn compares “Blue Jay Way” with two Lennon tracks from this period, “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “I Am the Walrus“, in that the recording “seized upon all the studio trickery and technical advancements of 1966 and 1967 and captured them in one song“. Together with the pedal drone supplied by the keyboard parts, the various sound treatments reinforce the sense of dislocation evident in the song.

In the case of the reversed-tape technique, a recording of the completed track was played backwards and faded in at key points during the performance. This effect created a response to Harrison’s lead vocal over the verses, as the backing vocals appear to answer each line he sings. Due to the limits of multitracking, the process of feeding in reversed sounds was carried out live during the final mixing session. Described by Lewisohn as “quite problematical“, the process was not repeated when the Beatles and their production team worked on the mono mix. […]

From The Usenet Guide to Beatles Recording Variations:

  • [a] stereo 7 Nov 1967. edited.
    UK: Parlophone SMMT 1 (EP) Magical Mystery Tour 1967.
    US: Capitol SMAL 2835 Magical Mystery Tour 1967.
    CD: EMI CDP 7 48062 2 Magical Mystery Tour 1987, EMI EP box set 1991.
  • [b] mono 7 Nov 1967. edited.
    UK: Parlophone MMT 1 (EP) Magical Mystery Tour 1967.
    US: Capitol MAL 2835 Magical Mystery Tour 1967.
    CD: EMI EP box set 1991.

Lewisohn notes editing but does not explain.

Stereo [a] includes a backing vocal track mixed center, part of it backwards, that is hardly used at all in mono [b]. The source of the backwards vocals that are faded in and out seems to be another tape of the whole song being played backwards. All the mixes have a very heavy use of phasing with a particularly long delay.

The 1988 stereo mix for home video Magical Mystery Tour makes very little use of the backing vocal track, so it is more like the mono mix [b].

Last updated on November 30, 2016

Lyrics

There's a fog upon L.A.
And my friends have lost their way
We'll be over soon they said
Now they've lost themselves instead

Please don't be long
Please don't you be very long
Please don't be long
Or I may be asleep

Well it only goes to show
And I told them where to go
Ask a policeman on the street
There's so many there to meet

Please don't be long
Please don't you be very long
Please don't be long
Or I may be asleep

Now it's past my bed I know
And I'd really like to go
Soon will be the break of day
Sitting here in Blue Jay Way

Please don't be long
Please don't you be very long
Please don't be long
Or I may be asleep

Please don't be long
Please don't you be very long
Please don't be long

Please don't be long
Please don't you be very long
Please don't be long

Please don't be long
Please don't you be very long
Please don't be long

Don't be long
Don't be long
Don't be long
Don't be long

Don't be long
Don't be long
Don't be long

Officially appears on


Magical Mystery Tour (Stereo)

Official album

3:55 • Studio versionB

Paul McCartney :
Backing vocals, Bass
Ringo Starr :
Drums, Tambourine
John Lennon :
Backing vocals
George Harrison :
Hammond organ, Vocals
George Martin :
Producer
Geoff Emerick :
Recording engineer

Session Recording:
Sep 06, 1967
Studio :
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Session Overdubs:
Sep 07, 1967
Studio :
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Session Overdubs:
Oct 06, 1967
Studio :
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Session Recording:
Nov 07, 1967
Studio :
EMI Studios, Abbey Road


Magical Mystery Tour (Mono)

Official album • Released in 1967

3:55 • Studio versionA

Paul McCartney :
Backing vocals, Bass
Ringo Starr :
Drums, Tambourine
John Lennon :
Backing vocals
George Harrison :
Hammond organ, Vocals
George Martin :
Producer
Geoff Emerick :
Recording engineer

Session Recording:
Sep 06, 1967
Studio :
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Session Overdubs:
Sep 07, 1967
Studio :
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Session Overdubs:
Oct 06, 1967
Studio :
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Session Recording:
Nov 07, 1967
Studio :
EMI Studios, Abbey Road


Magical Mystery Tour (Mono)

EP • Released in 1967

3:52 • Studio versionA • Mono

Paul McCartney :
Backing vocals, Bass
Ringo Starr :
Drums, Tambourine
John Lennon :
Backing vocals
George Harrison :
Hammond organ, Vocals
George Martin :
Producer
Geoff Emerick :
Recording engineer

Session Recording:
Sep 06, 1967
Studio :
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Session Overdubs:
Sep 07, 1967
Studio :
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Session Overdubs:
Oct 06, 1967
Studio :
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Session Recording:
Nov 07, 1967
Studio :
EMI Studios, Abbey Road


Magical Mystery Tour (Stereo)

EP • Released in 1967

3:51 • Studio versionB • Stereo

Paul McCartney :
Backing vocals, Bass
Ringo Starr :
Drums, Tambourine
John Lennon :
Backing vocals
George Harrison :
Hammond organ, Vocals
George Martin :
Producer
Geoff Emerick :
Recording engineer

Session Recording:
Sep 06, 1967
Studio :
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Session Overdubs:
Sep 07, 1967
Studio :
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Session Overdubs:
Oct 06, 1967
Studio :
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Session Recording:
Nov 07, 1967
Studio :
EMI Studios, Abbey Road

Bootlegs


Complete Acetate Collection 1961-1970

Unofficial album

4:05 • Studio version • 1


Complete Acetate Collection 1961-1970

Unofficial album

3:58 • Studio version • 2


Complete Acetate Collection 1961-1970

Unofficial album

4:00 • Studio version • 3


Magical Mystery Tour Sessions

Unofficial album

3:53 • Alternate take • Take 3 RM1 acetate mono


Magical Mystery Tour Sessions

Unofficial album

3:57 • Alternate take • RS from take 3 1988 Video mix stereo


Live performances

Paul McCartney has never played this song in concert.


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