"I Am the Walrus" is a 1967 song by The Beatles, written by John Lennon and credited to Lennon/McCartney. Lennon claimed he wrote the first two lines on separate acid trips. The song was in the Beatles' 1967 television film and album Magical Mystery Tour, and was the B-side to the #1 hit "Hello, Goodbye".
Lennon composed the avant-garde song by combining three songs he had been working on. When he learned that a teacher at his old primary school was having his students analyse Beatles' lyrics, he added a verse of nonsense words. Music critic Ian MacDonald argued that the song was Lennon's "final creative high water mark" with the Beatles.
The walrus is a reference to the walrus in Lewis Carroll's "The Walrus and the Carpenter" (from the book Through the Looking-Glass). Lennon expressed dismay upon learning that the walrus was the villain in the poem.
Lennon received a letter from a pupil at Quarry Bank Grammar School, which he had attended. The writer mentioned that the English master was making his class analyse Beatles lyrics (Lennon wrote an answer, dated September 1, 1967, which was auctioned by Christie's of London in 1992). Lennon, amused that a teacher was putting so much effort into understanding Beatles lyrics, wrote the most confusing lyric he could. Lennon's friend and former fellow member of The Quarrymen, Peter Shotton, was visiting, and Lennon asked Shotton about a playground nursery rhyme they sang as children.
Lennon borrowed a couple of words, added the three unfinished ideas and the result was "I Am the Walrus". Beatles official biographer Hunter Davies was present while the song was being written and wrote an account in his 1968 book on the band. Lennon remarked to Shotton, "Let the fuckers work that one out."
All the chords are major chords or seventh chords, and all the musical letters of the alphabet (A, B, C, D, E, F and G) are used. The song ends with a chord progression built on ascending and descending lines in the bass and strings, repeated over and over as the song fades. Musicologist Alan W. Pollack analyses: "The chord progression of the outro itself is a harmonic Moebius strip with scales in bassline and top voice that move in contrary motion. The bassline descends stepwise A, G, F, E, D, C, and B, while the strings' part rises A, B, C, D, E, F#, G: this sequence repeats as the song fades, with the strings rising higher on each iteration. Pollack also notes that the repeated cell is seven bars long, which means that a different chord begins each four-bar phrase.
Lennon explained much of the song to Playboy in 1980:
Some have speculated that the opening line, "I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together", is a parody of the opening line of "Marching to Pretoria", a folk song: "I'm with you and you're with me and we are all together."
The song also contains the exclamation goo goo g'joob with "koo koo g'joob heard clearly in the second. Various hypotheses exist regarding the origin and meaning. One is that the phrase was derived from the similar "koo koo ka choo" in Simon and Garfunkel's Mrs. Robinson, written in 1967. However, the film The Graduate, where "Mrs. Robinson" debuted, did not appear until December 1967, a month after "I Am the Walrus", and The Graduate Original Soundtrack (which contained only fragments of the final version of "Mrs Robinson") was not until January 1968.
The unusual monologue in the mix towards the end of the song is a few lines of Shakespeare's King Lear (Act IV, Scene VI), which were added to the song direct from an AM radio receiving the broadcast of the play on the BBC Home Service (or possibly the BBC Third Programme). The bulk of the audible dialogue, heard in the fade, is the death scene of the character Oswald (including the words, "O untimely Death! Death!"); this is just one additional piece of the Paul is Dead urban legend.
The basic backing track of "I Am the Walrus" featuring the Beatles was released in 1996 on Anthology 2. George Martin arranged and added orchestral accompaniment that included violins, cellos, horns, clarinet and a 16-piece choir. Paul McCartney said that Lennon gave instructions to Martin as to how he wished the orchestration to be scored, including singing most of the parts as a guide. A large group of professional studio vocalists named "The Mike Sammes Singers", took part in the recording as well, variously singing "Ho-ho-ho, hee-hee-hee, ha-ha-ha", "oompah,oompah, stick it up your jumper!", "got one, got one, everybody's got one" and making a series of shrill whooping noises.
The original 1967 stereo mix of the record has an interesting twist: At almost exactly two minutes into the song, the mix changes from regular stereo to "fake stereo", with most of the bass on one channel, and most of the treble on the other. The mix appears to 'wander' sonically in the fadeout, from left to right. The reason for the change in mixes was that the radio broadcast was inserted during the mono mixdown. The U.S. mono single mix also includes an extra bar of music before the words "yellow matter custard" - an early, overdub-free mix of the song released on The Beatles Anthology 2 reveals John singing the lyrics "Yellow mat - " too early; this was edited out. The mono version opens with a four-beat chord while stereo mix features six beats on the initial chord.
In 2003, the first-ever stereo mix of the song (except for the intro) was included as part of the soundtrack for the DVD release of The Beatles Anthology.
In 2006, the first-ever stereo mix of the complete song (from beginning to end, including the formerly "fake stereo" second half) was issued on the Beatles' album Love. The only "issue" with this is that cellos from "A Day in the Life" are joined to the intro, and crowd noises from a live Beatles performance are faded in during the coda
Critical reception at the time of the track's release was positive:
Despite the fact that John Lennon wrote this song as a response to his alma mater interpreting Beatles songs, "I am the Walrus" is often interpreted by the public Writer Ian MacDonald interpreted the song as an oblique, angry statement on Lennon's part against the rigidity and hypocrisy of English life and culture at the time, particularly the education system, which Lennon felt stifled his own creativity as a youth.
In the booklet that accompanies the Magical Mystery Tour album, "I Am the Walrus" is given the subtitle (in small print) "'No you're not!' said Little Nicola." (Nicola is a little girl in a segment of the Magical Mystery Tour film, who keeps contradicting everything the other characters say.) The 1968 Beatles song "Glass Onion", written by Lennon, and featured on the White Album, refers to earlier Beatles compositions. Referring to "I Am the Walrus", Lennon sings, "Here's another clue for you all, the walrus was Paul."
In the 1980 Playboy interview, John responded to the confusion:
"I threw the line in — 'the Walrus was Paul' — just to confuse everybody a bit more. And I thought 'Walrus' has now become me, meaning 'I am the one.' Only it didn't mean that in this song."
Lennon also comments in The Beatles Anthology that he wrote the song at a point when the band was beginning to fall apart, and he hoped that by inserting this line in combination with "I told you 'bout the walrus and me man, you know that we're as close as can be man", he could begin to patch things up with the band.
Lennon said that the fact that McCartney was dressed as a walrus on the cover of the Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour LP inspired the line. However, Lennon himself was dressed as a walrus in the music video for "I Am the Walrus", instead of Paul who is wearing a hippopotamus costume.
Paul also responded to the lyric in an interview broadcast on a Beatles documentary on WYNY 1981:
Eric Burdon, lead singer of The Animals, is claimed by some to be the 'Eggman'. The reason for this is that Burdon was known as 'Eggs' to his friends, originating from his fondness for breaking eggs over naked girls. Burdon's biography mentions such an affair taking place in the presence of John Lennon, who shouted "Go on, go get it, Eggman...
At the time the song appeared, and years before Lennon himself explained that the Carroll poem was the genesis of the song, there was speculation on what the walrus symbolized in The Beatles song. During the "Paul is Dead" imbroglio, journalist John Neary, the author of the cover story "The Magical McCartney Mystery" in the November 7 1969 issue of LIFE Magazine, incorrectly claimed that the "black walrus was a folk symbol of death." B.J. Phillips, writing in the Washington Post on October 22 1969 ("McCartney 'Death' Rumors"), made the assertion that, "According to the hypothesis, the walrus is a symbol of death, although its origins have been attributed to such dissimilar sources as the ancient Greeks and modern Eskimos."
According to the Paul is Dead Web Site Turn Me on Dead Man, there actually are no cultural links between the walrus and death. Such "folklore" was generated by the perpetrators of the "Paul is Dead" myth.