Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds
One afternoon early in 1967, Julian Lennon came home from his nursery school with a painting that he said was of his classmate, four-year-old Lucy O'Donnell. Explaining his artwork to his father, Julian described it as Lucy - 'in the sky with diamonds'.
This phrase stuck in John's mind and triggered off the stream of associations that led to the writing of the dream-like 'Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds', one of three tracks on the Sgt. Pepper album which received special media attention because it was thought to be 'about drugs'. Although it's unlikely that John would have written such a piece of reverie without ever having experimented with hallucinogenics, this song was equally affected by his love of surrealism, word play and the works of Lewis Carroll.
The suggestion that the song was a description of an LSD trip appeared to be substantiated when it was noted that the title spelt LSD. Yet John consistently denied this, going into great detail in interviews about the drugs he had taken. He insisted that the title was taken from what Julian had said about his painting. Julian himself recalls, "I don't know why I called it
that or why it stood out from all my other drawings but I obviously had an affection for Lucy at that age. I used to show dad everything I'd built or painted at school and this one sparked off the idea for a song about Lucy in the sky with diamonds."
Lucy O'Donnell (now 36 and working as a teacher with special needs' children) lived near the Lennon family in Weybridge and she and Julian were pupils at Heath House, a nursery school run by two old ladies in a rambling Edwardian house. "I can remember Julian at school," says Lucy, who didn't discover that she'd been immortalized in a Beatles' song until she was 13. "I can remember him very well. I can see his face clearly... we used to sit alongside each other in proper old-fashioned desks. The house was enormous and they had heavy curtains to divide the classrooms. Julian and I were a couple of little menaces from what I've been told."
John claimed that the hallucinatory images in the song were inspired by the 'Wool and Water' chapter in Lewis Carroll Through The Looking Glass, where Alice is taken down a river in a rowing boat by the Queen, who has suddenly changed into a sheep.
As a child, Alice's Adventures In Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass were two of John's favorite books. He said that it was partly through reading them that he realized the images in his own mind weren't indications of insanity. "Surrealism to me is reality," he said. "Psychedelic vision is reality to me and always was."
For similar reasons, John was attracted to The Goon Show, the British radio comedy programme featuring Spike Milligan, Harry Secombe and Peter Sellers which was broadcast by the BBC between June 1952 and January 1960. The Goon Show scripts, principally written by Milligan, lampooned establishment figures, attacked post-war stuffiness and popularized a surreal form of humor. The celebrated Beatle 'wackiness' owed a lot to the Goons, as did John's poetry and writing. He told Spike Milligan that 'Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds' and several other songs had been partly inspired by his love of Goon Show dialogue. "We used to talk about 'plasticine ties' in The Goon Show and this crept up in Lucy as 'plasticine porters with looking glass ties'," says Milligan who, as a friend of George Martin, sat in on some of the Sgt. Peppers sessions. "I knew Lennon quite well," he said. "He used to talk a lot about comedy. He was a Goon Show freak. It all stopped when he married Yoko Ono. Everything stopped. He never asked for me again."
When Paul arrived at Weybridge to work, John had only completed the first verse and the chorus. For the rest of the writing they traded lines and images; Paul coming up with 'newspaper taxis' and 'cellophane flowers', John with 'kaleidoscope eyes'.