John Lennon Escapes through LSD
By the end of their poorly received 1966 U.S. tour, all four Beatles had decided that enough was enough. No more concerts, no more mayhem, no more aggravation. They were worn out by the grind.
More significantly, they were tired of being squeaky-clean. During the past couple of years they had been experimenting with the hallucinogenic drug LSD as a form of escape from all the madness. Fashionable at the time, the drug not only let them "see" things that they had never thought possible, but it also instilled them with a false sense of confidence. John Lennon, who was always on the lookout for something new, for some excitement to break up the boredom, took to it like a duck to water.
While, in the long term, the intake of these chemicals may have been destructive, it is undeniable that their effect on John was to lead him in a brand new musical direction and broaden his scope as a composer.
After taking pep pills to keep going in Hamburg in the early 1960s, and smoking pot in order to relax during the 1964 filming of Help!, he discovered that LSD suddenly gave him a whole new outlook on "the meaning of life." Combined with the ideas planted in his head by the philosophy books that he had been reading -- most notably, Timothy Leary's version of The Tibetan Book of the Dead -- this helped John produce a true rock masterpiece, "Tomorrow Never Knows."
The song is the closing track on the Revolver album. Its heavy psychedelic imagery, strange but interesting sounds -- including a guitar solo recorded backwards -- and eerie vocals were not only in sharp contrast to the other songs on the LP, but also unlike anything ever heard before.
Beatles' producer George Martin recalled in a 1987 interview: "John wanted me to make him sound like a 'Dalai Lama singing from the highest mountain top,' while still being able to hear what he was singing. Of course, it was an impossible task, except that he obviously wanted a kooky effect. ... So what I did was to put his voice through the rotating speaker of a Hammond organ. That gave it the effect you can hear, and to my knowledge that was the first time anyone did that."
Indeed, John did sound as if he were singing into a telephone perched on the top of some far-away mountain, as he invited people to:
So impressed was John with the result of this unorthodox recording technique that soon he came up with an even crazier re-working of the invention: He suggested that he could be suspended upside-down from a rope in the center of the studio ceiling, a microphone could be placed in the middle of the floor, and then after being given a quick push he could sing as he went around and around! Needless to say, although George Martin considered this notion to be "interesting," it wasn't actually ever put into practice.
On the same album, the song "She Said She Said" was related to a specific experience of John's, while taking LSD at a Hollywood party. Sitting in a garden, he was approached by the actor Peter Fonda, who reliably informed him that as a result of the pills that he himself had been taking, he actually knew "what it is like to be dead." This was the last thing that John needed to hear, especially with members of the press hovering nearby, but later on he remembered the episode, played around with it, and translated it into song form:
These lyrics, together with the song's complicated musical structures, were a million miles away from the likes of "She Loves You," recorded less than three years before, and the straightforward rock 'n' roll songs of the 1950s that had inspired the Beatles in the first place. While other artists of the mid-'60s were also delving into new areas, it was John, Paul, George, and Ringo who led the way. Their progress was truly astonishing, advancing in leaps and bounds from album to album. But John, as restless as ever, was still not really content.
After the band had ended its final tour, he took up movie director Richard Lester's offer to appear in his picture, How I Won the War, being shot in West Germany and Spain. This was the first time that one of the Beatles had immersed himself in a full-scale solo project, and later on John was to confess that this experience opened his eyes to a life outside of the group.
"I was always waiting for a reason to get out of the Beatles from the day I filmed How I Won the War," he told Newsweek's Barbara Graustark in 1980. "I just didn't have the guts to do it. The seed was planted when the Beatles stopped touring and I couldn't deal with not being onstage. But I was too frightened to step out of the palace."
Still, subconsciously at least, John was thinking of moving on. November 9, 1966, two days after he had returned to England, marked his visit to an exhibit of works by an avant-garde Japanese artist named Yoko Ono. Little did he know at the time, but within a couple of years Yoko would prove to be the stimulus that he was looking for.