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The Truth About 'Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds:' Is It About LSD, Or What?

Music | January 4, 2020

Left: Elton John's chart-topping cover of 'Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.' Right: cover art for the sheet music for the song. Sources: discogs.com; Wikimedia Commons

Picture yourself in a boat on a river, using your kaleidoscope eyes to read about the writing and recording of “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds,” the seminal Beatles hit from 1967’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band that became a hit again in 1975 when Elton John covered the song for Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy.

Whether you’ve heard the song once or you’re a Lucy fanatic you’ve definitely wondered what the eff is going on in this song. Is it about gettin' off your noggin on LSD? What does "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" mean? Is it a play at Alice in Wonderland? Or just a bunch of gobbledygook? We’ll get into that, and how John Lennon came up with the song, how it was interpreted, and how Elton John had secret help from a Beatle (hint: it was John) in making his cover a #1 song. 

The song came to John Lennon after seeing his son's drawing

source: reddit

So duh, the song was written by The Beatles as the centerpiece for one of their most beloved albums. But it wasn’t the call for their listeners to tune in, turn on, and drop out that everyone thought it was… at least not completely. When Lennon’s son Julian brought home a drawing of his classmate Lucy O'Donnell, papa John Lennon saw that it was titled “Lucy – in the sky with diamonds.” Lennon said, "I thought that beautiful. I immediately wrote a song about it."

Even though that’s pretty good evidence that the song was inspired by Julian’s drawing, eagle eyed fans noticed something about the song’s title - the letters L S and D. The trippy lyrics definitely seem to reference the hallucinogenic effects of taking LSD, but throughout his life John Lennon claimed that the song was nothing but a childlike bit of pop reverie.

The song is full of lyrical allusions to Alice in Wonderland

source: pinterest

Follow her down to a bridge by a fountain where rocking horse people eat marshmallow pies/Everyone smiles as you drift past the flowers that grow so incredibly high…

You’re not completely off your rocker if you think that sounds like something that was written about getting high on LSD. Not so says Lennon, after the release of the song he said that the lyrics were written in the style of Lewis Carroll's novel Alice in Wonderland. He said that Julian’s drawing reminded him of the "Which Dreamed It?" chapter of Through the Looking Glass, in which Alice floats in a "boat beneath a sunny sky.” In 1980 he explained:

It was Alice in the boat. She is buying an egg and it turns into Humpty-Dumpty. The woman serving in the shop turns into a sheep and the next minute they are rowing in a rowing boat somewhere and I was visualizing that.

Drugs didn’t influence the song… except when they did

source: pinterest

Throughout his life John Lennon constantly stated that the references to LSD in the song were “purely unconscious” and that he never thought about it until someone pointed it out to him. His cowriter, Paul McCartney, says that even if he and Lennon didn’t sit down and write a bunch of lyrics about tripping their gourds off, they were influenced by the drug. In a 2004 interview with Uncut magazine McCartney said that it was “pretty obvious” that drugs were a major influence on the band at the time, specifically “Lucy in the Sky.” However he added, “It’s easy to overestimate the influence of drugs on the Beatles' music."

Elton John got by with a little help from his friends for his cover

source: MCA

Less than 10 years after The Beatles invented the concept album and inadvertently started the rumor that that “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” was about LSD Elton John brought the song back to the forefront of the world’s consciousness. While he definitely could have recorded the song well enough on his own, he brought out the big guns while recording at Caribou Ranch.

In 1974 Elton John called up John Lennon to help out with backing vocals and guitar for the track, but the former Beatle recorded under the pseudonym Dr. Winston O'Boogie, obviously. Lennon chose the outlandish name in part by using his middle name, Winston. Elton John’s version of the song sat on top of the US Billboard pop charts for two weeks in January 1975, and its b-side was just as Beatles-tastic, it was a cover of "One Day (At a Time)" from John Lennon’s album “Mind Games.”

Lucy wasn't the song that was banned from Sgt. Pepper

source: Parlophone

Depending on who you ask the original version of “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” maybe have been banned by the BBC. Supposedly the song was banned in 1967 because of its alleged references to LSD, although that claim has been disputed by authors Alan Clayson and Spencer Leigh. They state that the BBC never officially banned the song even though they were unsure about the track’s subject matter. The song that was actually banned from Sgt. Pepper’s was the album’s final song, “A Day in the Life” for containing a single line that the BBC believed made a reference to getting someone high.

Fossils and stars have been named after this song

source: discover magazine

The 3.2-million-year-old ape "Lucy" is 40 percent of a complete fossil skeleton of an Australopithecus afarensis skeleton that as discovered in 1974 by paleontologist Donald C. Johanson in Hadar, Ethiopia. At the time of the fossil’s discovery the Beatles were being played nearly constantly in the camp, which lead discovering anthropologists to give the old girl her famous name.

Aside from lending a name to a fossil, “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” accurately describes the biggest diamond ever found. Lucy, also known as V886 Centauri and BPM 37093, is a white dwarf star with 90 percent of its mass crystalized. Because much of the star’s inner core is Carbon, that means that its insides are made up of a 10 billion trillion trillion carat diamond. How’s that for an uncut gem?

Tags: Drugs | Elton John | John Lennon | LSD | Song Meanings, Lyrics, And Facts | The Beatles | Urban Legends

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Jacob Shelton

Writer

Jacob Shelton is a Los Angeles based writer. For some reason this was the most difficult thing he’s written all day, and here’s the kicker – his girlfriend wrote the funny part of that last sentence. As for the rest of the bio? That’s pure Jacob, baby. He’s obsessed with the ways in which singular, transgressive acts have shaped the broader strokes of history, and he believes in alternate dimensions, which means that he’s great at a dinner party. When he’s not writing about culture, pop or otherwise, he’s adding to his found photograph collection and eavesdropping on strangers in public.