Doctor Robert

Written by Lennon - McCartney

Album This song officially appears on the Yesterday and Today (Mono) LP.
Timeline This song has been officially released in 1966

Master release


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Song facts

There’s some fellow in New York, and in the States we’d hear people say: “You can get everything off him; any pills you want.” It was a big racket, but a joke too about this fellow who cured everyone of everything with all these pills and tranquilizers, injections for this and that; he just kept New York high. That’s what Doctor Robert is all about, just a pill doctor who sees you all right.

Paul McCartney – From Aldridge, Alan (14 January 1968). “Paul McCartney’s Guide to the Beatles’ Songbook”. Los Angeles Times.

From Wikipedia:

“Doctor Robert” is a song by the English rock band the Beatles. It was released in 1966 on their album Revolver, apart from in North America, where it instead appeared on their Yesterday and Today album. The song was written by John Lennon (and credited to Lennon–McCartney), although Paul McCartney has said that he co-wrote it. The Beatles recorded the track in seven takes on 17 April 1966, with vocals overdubbed on 19 April.

Background and inspiration

According to musicologist Walter Everett, the lyrics to “Doctor Robert” “contained the most overt drug references of any published Beatles song” up to 1966, and he adds that in their recording of the song, the band “found musical ways to portray the doctor as a saint”. The character is in keeping with the idea of a “Dr Feelgood”, a physician who prescribed drugs such as amphetamines under the guise of legitimate medical practice. Lennon recalled that McCartney might have helped him write the “Well, well, well” bridge; despite this, according to music journalist Robert Fontenot, “most agree the song is almost all John’s brainchild.”

In his book Beatles ’66, author Steve Turner says that Lennon was possibly encouraged to write about a drug supplier after discussing “Mother’s Little Helper” – a song from the Rolling Stones’ just-released Aftermath album – with Mick Jagger, when Jagger had attended a recent session for Revolver. Turner cites Donovan’s 1965 track “Candy Man” as another song that might have served as an example for Lennon. According to his friend Pete Shotton, when Lennon played him the acetate of “Doctor Robert”, “he seemed beside himself with glee over the prospect of millions of record buyers innocently singing along.”

Multiple theories have circulated about the identity of the real Dr Robert. Author Barry Miles identified him as Dr Robert Freymann, a New York doctor known for dispensing vitamin B-12 shots laced with amphetamines to wealthy clientele. Aged around 60 in 1966, Freymann was a German-born Manhattan physician known to New York’s artists and wealthier citizens for his vitamin B-12 injections, which also featured liberal doses of amphetamine. Freymann bragged that he could rattle off 100 names of his celebrity patients (reportedly including Jackie Kennedy) “in 10 minutes”.

Turner, who also identifies Dr Robert as Freymann , writes that “some in the Beatles’ circle thought Dr Robert was a reference to Robert Fraser” – an art gallery owner, “reliable source of pot and cocaine for London’s hip set”, and friend of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. In a 1980 interview that Fontenot says “muddied the issue further”, Lennon said the song was “mainly about drugs and pills” but: “It was about myself. I was the one that carried all the pills on tour.”

In a 2009 article for the Spinner website, James Sullivan listed three other people who were speculated to be the real-life Dr Robert:

Musical characteristics

“Doctor Robert” uses the keys of A major and B major, and its melody is in the Mixolydian mode based on B. The musical arrangement has staggered layering, with backing vocals starting in the second verse, the lead guitar entering just before the bridge, and the bridge itself featuring added harmonium and extra vocals. Lennon’s lead vocal is automatically double tracked with each of the two slightly-out-of-phase tracks split onto separate stereo channels; creating a surrealistic effect supporting the lyric about drug use. An interesting feature is the suitably “blissful” modulation (on “Well, well, well, you’re feeling fine”) to the key of B on the bridge via an F♯7 pivot chord (VI7 in the old key of A and V7 in the new key of B).

The extended jam that lasts 43 seconds at the end was recorded, but it was removed and replaced with a fade-out. In the US mono mix of the song, as released on Yesterday and Today, Lennon appears to say “OK, Herb” at the very end of the track.

Recording

The Beatles recorded “Doctor Robert” during the early part of the Revolver sessions. The session for the song took place on 17 April 1966 at EMI Studios (now Abbey Road Studios) in London. It was a relatively straightforward track to record, compared to the more experimental songs such as “Tomorrow Never Knows” and “Rain“. The band achieved a satisfactory basic track after seven takes, with a line-up comprising Lennon on rhythm guitar, McCartney on bass, Harrison on maracas, and Ringo Starr on drums. Harrison then overdubbed lead guitar, treated with automatic double tracking (ADT) and fed through a Leslie speaker to enhance the sound, and Lennon added harmonium over the two bridges. McCartney played a piano part, although it was not retained on the finished recording.

Vocals were added to the track at the group’s next session, on 19 April. These consisted of Lennon’s lead vocal and McCartney’s high harmony part, and Harrison supplying a third voice over the bridges. Lennon’s vocal was also treated with ADT. The song was mixed in mono for its US release on 12 May and in stereo on 20 May. It was subsequently remixed in mono on 21 June.

Release and reception

“Doctor Robert” was one of the three songs from the Revolver sessions, all written by Lennon, that were given to Capitol Records in early May 1966 for inclusion on the US release Yesterday and Today. In other countries, it appeared on Revolver, where it was sequenced as the fourth track on side two of the LP, between “For No One” and “I Want to Tell You“. The album was released on 5 August, shortly before the Beatles commenced their final concert tour, in Chicago. Author Shawn Levy describes Revolver as pop music’s “first true drug album” rather than merely a “record with some druggy insinuations”, and he attributes this especially to Lennon’s contributions.

In November, artist Alan Aldridge created a cartoon illustration of “Doctor Robert” and three other Revolver tracks to accompany a feature article on the Beatles in Woman’s Mirror magazine. The illustration depicted Lennon dressed in a black cape that was partly drawn aside to reveal a set of shiny surgical instruments, although Aldridge’s original design – which was overruled by the magazine’s management for fear of offending potential advertisers – instead showed human limbs hanging inside the cape. Impressed with the artist’s work, Lennon bought the original picture and proudly displayed it at his home. According to Aldridge, Lennon told him that he had “got it wrong, though” in depicting Dr Robert as a physician concerned with the human anatomy; instead, he was a “New York doctor who sold speed”.

In his review of Revolver, Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic calls “Doctor Robert” Lennon’s “most straightforward number” on the album, when compared to his other Revolver compositions “And Your Bird Can Sing“, “She Said She Said“, “I’m Only Sleeping” and “Tomorrow Never Knows”. Richie Unterberger, in his review of the song for AllMusic, complimented the song’s guitar pattern, being a possible influence from bands such as the Who. Unterberger also praises the vocal performances, particularly McCartney’s high harmonies during the verses. Writing in his book Revolution in the Head, Ian MacDonald says that although the song is only a “minor” Beatles track, it is among the band’s “most incisive pieces”. He highlights the combination of Lennon’s “caustic vocal”, McCartney’s “huckstering harmony in fourths” and Harrison’s “double-tracked guitar, with its unique blend of sitar and country-and-western”.

Reviewing the album for Mojo in 2002, Charles Shaar Murray grouped “Doctor Robert” with “And Your Bird Can Sing”, “She Said She Said” and “I Want to Tell You” as guitar-based tracks that “glisten” with “glorious cascades of jangle”. He identified this jangle quality as the Beatles’ response to “what the Byrds had done with the Fabs’ own proto-folk-rock sound on A Hard Day’s Night“. When Mojo released Revolver Reloaded in 2006, part of the magazine’s series of CDs of Beatles albums covered track-by-track by modern artists, “Doctor Robert” was covered by Luke Temple. […]

Paul McCartney in "Many Years From Now", by Barry Miles:

John and I thought it was a funny idea: the fantasy doctor who would fix you up by giving you drugs, [the song] was a parody on that idea. It’s just a piss-take. As far as I know, neither of us ever went to a doctor for those kinds of things. But there was a fashion for it and there still is. Change your blood and have a vitamin shot and you’ll feel better.

Well, he’s like a joke … about this fellow who cured everyone of everything with all these pills and tranquilizers, injections for this and that; he just kept New York high. That’s what ‘Doctor Robert’ is all about: just a pill doctor who sees you all right. It was a joke between ourselves, but they go in in-jokes and come out out-jokes because everyone listens and puts their own thing on it, which is great … You put your own meaning at your own level to our songs and that’s what’s great about them.

Paul McCartney, Paul McCartney in His Own Words, Paul Gambaccini, 1976

‘Doctor Robert’ is like a joke. There’s some fellow in New York, and in the States we’d hear people say, ‘You can get everything you want off him – any pills you want.’ It was a big racket, but a joke too about this fellow who cured everyone of everything with all these pills and tranquillisers, injections for this and that. He just kept New York high. That’s what ‘Doctor Robert’ is all about, just a pill doctor who sees you all right. It was a joke between ourselves, but they go in in-jokes and come out out-jokes, because everyone listens and puts their own thing on it, which is great. I mean, when I was young I never knew what ‘gilly gilly otsen feffer catsa nell a bogen’ was all about, but I still enjoyed singing it.

Paul McCartney – From “The Beatles Anthology” book, 2000

Dr. Robert was almost certainly Dr. Robert Freymann, a 60-year-old (at the time) German-born physician who had a practice on East 78th Street in New York City. (The ‘Dr. Charles Roberts’ cited in some Beatles books didn’t exist. It was an alias used by Jean Stein, the biographer of Andy Warhol actress Edie Sedgwick, to conceal the identity of another ‘speed doctor’.) Known as Dr. Robert or the Great White Father (he had a shock of white hair). Freymann was well connected with the city’s arts scene. He had helped, among others, Theolonius Monk and Charlie Parker (whose death certificate he signed in 1955), and had a reputation for being generous with amphetamines.

A Hard Day’s Write, Steve Turner, 1994

From The Usenet Guide to Beatles Recording Variations:

[a] mono 12 May 1966. edited.
US: Capitol T 2553 Yesterday & Today 1966.

[a1] mock stereo made from [a] 1966, by Capitol.
US: Capitol ST 2553 Yesterday & Today 1966 first issue.

[b] stereo 20 May 1966. edited.
UK: Parlophone PCS 7009 Revolver 1966.
CD: EMI CDP 7 46441 2 Revolver 1987.

[c] stereo 20 May 1966. edited.
US: Capitol ST 2553 Yesterday & Today some later issues, c.1973.

[d] mono 21 Jun 1966. edited.
UK: Parlophone PMC 7009 Revolver 1966.

The editing removed 43 seconds of the song in all four cases.

At the very end of the fade, US mono [a] seems to reach the true end of the song, and then has John (?) saying “OK Herb” (?), which is not even on the mock stereo made from it [a1]. The “well well well” parts are also mixed differently here than on the other mixes.

The UK mono [d] seems to have the vocal mixed louder than [a], but perhaps it is better to say the guitar backing is quieter during the verses, while the vocal and rhtyhm section is more powerful.

The “some later issues” of Yesterday & Today that have the US stereo mix are (1) all tape format copies since 1966 [reel-to-reel YT-2553, eight-track 8X2T-2648 and later 8XT-2553, cassette 4XT-2553, and even the four-track 4CL-2553!], (2) Capitol record club LP copies beginning in 1968, (3) many general release LPs pressed at the Winchester plant [indicated by -<| the sideways wine glass] since 1973, the date I use for the LP reissue. The use of old LP stampers with fake stereo, however, continued as late as 1988, the end of LPs.

Last updated on October 24, 2022

Lyrics

Ring, my friend I said you'd call
Doctor Robert
Day or night he'll be there any time at all
Doctor Robert

Doctor Robert
You're a new and better man
He help you to understand
He does everything he can
Doctor Robert

If you're down he'll pick you up
Doctor Robert
Take a drink from his special cup
Doctor Robert

Doctor Robert
He's a man you must believe
Helping anyone in need
No one can succeed like
Doctor Robert

Well, well, well, you're feeling fine
Well, well, well, he'll make you
Doctor Robert

My friend works for the National Health
Doctor Robert
Don't pay money just to see yourself
Doctor Robert

Doctor Robert
You're a new and better man
He help you to understand
He does everything he can
Doctor Robert

Well, well, well, you're feeling fine
Well, well, well, he'll make you
Doctor Robert

Ring, my friend I said you'd call
Doctor Robert
Doctor Robert

Variations


A Mono version • From "Yesterday and Today (Mono)"

A1 Mock stereo made from [A] • From "Yesterday and Today (Stereo)"


B Stereo version • From "Revolver (UK Stereo)"


D Mono version • From "Revolver (UK Mono)"

D2009 2009 mono remaster • From "The Beatles in Mono (2009)"

D2014 2014 mono remaster • From "The Beatles In Mono (Vinyl boxset - 2014)"

D2022 2022 mono remaster • From "Revolver (2022)"

E 2022 stereo mix • From "Revolver (2022)"

F Take 7 • From "Revolver (2022)"

Officially appears on


Revolver (UK Mono)

LP • Released in 1966

2:14 • Studio versionD • Mono

Paul McCartney :
Backing vocals, Bass
Ringo Starr :
Drums
John Lennon :
Harmonium, Rhythm guitar, Vocals
George Harrison :
Backing vocals, Lead guitar, Maracas
George Martin :
Producer
Geoff Emerick :
Recording engineer

Session Recording:
Apr 17, 1966
Studio :
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Session Overdubs:
Apr 19, 1966
Studio :
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Session Mixing:
Jun 21, 1966
Studio :
EMI Studios, Studio Three, Abbey Road


Yesterday and Today (Mono)

LP • Released in 1966

2:17 • Studio versionA • Mono

Paul McCartney :
Backing vocals, Bass
Ringo Starr :
Drums
John Lennon :
Harmonium, Rhythm guitar, Vocals
George Harrison :
Backing vocals, Lead guitar, Maracas
George Martin :
Producer
Geoff Emerick :
Recording engineer

Session Recording:
Apr 17, 1966
Studio :
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Session Overdubs:
Apr 19, 1966
Studio :
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Session Mixing:
May 12, 1966
Studio :
EMI Studios, Studio Three, Abbey Road


Yesterday and Today (Stereo)

LP • Released in 1966

2:16 • Studio versionA1 • Stereo • Mock stereo made from [A]

Paul McCartney :
Backing vocals, Bass
Ringo Starr :
Drums
John Lennon :
Harmonium, Rhythm guitar, Vocals
George Harrison :
Backing vocals, Lead guitar, Maracas
George Martin :
Producer
Geoff Emerick :
Recording engineer

Session Recording:
Apr 17, 1966
Studio :
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Session Overdubs:
Apr 19, 1966
Studio :
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Session Mixing:
May 12, 1966
Studio :
EMI Studios, Studio Three, Abbey Road


Revolver (UK Stereo)

LP • Released in 1966

2:14 • Studio versionB • Stereo

Paul McCartney :
Backing vocals, Bass
Ringo Starr :
Drums
John Lennon :
Harmonium, Rhythm guitar, Vocals
George Harrison :
Backing vocals, Lead guitar, Maracas
George Martin :
Producer
Geoff Emerick :
Recording engineer

Session Recording:
Apr 17, 1966
Studio :
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Session Overdubs:
Apr 19, 1966
Studio :
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Session Mixing:
May 20, 1966
Studio :
EMI Studios, Studio One, Abbey Road


Revolver (UK Mono - first pressing)

LP • Released in 1966

2:14 • Studio versionD • Mono

Paul McCartney :
Backing vocals, Bass
Ringo Starr :
Drums
John Lennon :
Harmonium, Rhythm guitar, Vocals
George Harrison :
Backing vocals, Lead guitar, Maracas
George Martin :
Producer
Geoff Emerick :
Recording engineer

Session Recording:
Apr 17, 1966
Studio :
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Session Overdubs:
Apr 19, 1966
Studio :
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Session Mixing:
Jun 21, 1966
Studio :
EMI Studios, Studio Three, Abbey Road


Yesterday and Today (Butcher cover - Stereo)

LP • Released in 1966

2:16 • Studio versionA1 • Stereo • Mock stereo made from [A]

Paul McCartney :
Backing vocals, Bass
Ringo Starr :
Drums
John Lennon :
Harmonium, Rhythm guitar, Vocals
George Harrison :
Backing vocals, Lead guitar, Maracas
George Martin :
Producer
Geoff Emerick :
Recording engineer

Session Recording:
Apr 17, 1966
Studio :
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Session Overdubs:
Apr 19, 1966
Studio :
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Session Mixing:
May 12, 1966
Studio :
EMI Studios, Studio Three, Abbey Road


Revolver (Mono - 2009 remaster)

Official album • Released in 2009

2:14 • Studio versionD2009 • Mono • 2009 mono remaster

Paul McCartney :
Backing vocals, Bass
Ringo Starr :
Drums
John Lennon :
Harmonium, Rhythm guitar, Vocals
George Harrison :
Backing vocals, Lead guitar, Maracas
George Martin :
Producer
Geoff Emerick :
Recording engineer
Paul Hicks :
Remastering
Guy Massey :
Remastering
Sean Magee :
Remastering
Allan Rouse :
Project co-ordinator

Session Recording:
Apr 17, 1966
Studio :
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Session Overdubs:
Apr 19, 1966
Studio :
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Session Mixing:
Jun 21, 1966
Studio :
EMI Studios, Studio Three, Abbey Road


Revolver (Stereo - 2009 remaster)

Official album • Released in 2009

2:14 • Studio versionB2009 • Stereo • 2009 stereo remaster

Paul McCartney :
Backing vocals, Bass
Ringo Starr :
Drums
John Lennon :
Harmonium, Rhythm guitar, Vocals
George Harrison :
Backing vocals, Lead guitar, Maracas
George Martin :
Producer
Geoff Emerick :
Recording engineer
Guy Massey :
Remastering
Steve Rooke :
Remastering
Allan Rouse :
Project co-ordinator

Session Recording:
Apr 17, 1966
Studio :
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Session Overdubs:
Apr 19, 1966
Studio :
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Session Mixing:
May 20, 1966
Studio :
EMI Studios, Studio One, Abbey Road


Revolver (UK Mono - 2014 vinyl)

LP • Released in 2014

2:14 • Studio versionD2014 • Mono • 2014 remaster

Paul McCartney :
Backing vocals, Bass
Ringo Starr :
Drums
John Lennon :
Harmonium, Rhythm guitar, Vocals
George Harrison :
Backing vocals, Lead guitar, Maracas
George Martin :
Producer
Geoff Emerick :
Recording engineer
Sean Magee :
Remastering
Steve Berkowitz :
Remastering

Session Recording:
Apr 17, 1966
Studio :
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Session Overdubs:
Apr 19, 1966
Studio :
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Session Mixing:
Jun 21, 1966
Studio :
EMI Studios, Studio Three, Abbey Road


Yesterday and Today (2014 reissue)

Official album • Released in 2014

2:17 • Studio versionA2014 • 2014 remaster

Paul McCartney :
Backing vocals, Bass
Ringo Starr :
Drums
John Lennon :
Harmonium, Rhythm guitar, Vocals
George Harrison :
Backing vocals, Lead guitar, Maracas
George Martin :
Producer
Geoff Emerick :
Recording engineer

Session Recording:
Apr 17, 1966
Studio :
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Session Overdubs:
Apr 19, 1966
Studio :
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Session Mixing:
May 12, 1966
Studio :
EMI Studios, Studio Three, Abbey Road


Bootlegs


Complete Acetate Collection 1961-1970

Unofficial album

2:17 • Studio version


Revolver Sessions

Unofficial album

2:18 • Alternate take • RM4 From Take 7


Revolver Sessions

Unofficial album

2:16 • Alternate take • RS From Take 7 V1 fake stereo


Revolver Sessions

Unofficial album

2:32 • Alternate take • RS1 From Take 7


The Complete Roger Scott Tapes

Unofficial album • Released in 2015

2:15 • Outtake

Films


Doctor Robert

2022 • For The Beatles

Live performances

Paul McCartney has never played this song in concert.

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