The Beatles are iconic for innumerable reasons: topping international charts, creating a global impact on the rock genre, and some of the most timeless and transcendent lyrics of all time. All for a band that was only united with its most memorable members for eight years. Beatles fans and psychedelic aficionados alike have debated the influence of psychedelic substances on the band.
There is private and public discourse surrounding the songwriter’s use of psychedelics as the inspiration for the 1967 song Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. What is the true Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds meaning? And maybe more importantly: How does the listener’s interpretation of Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds relate to the artist’s intentions while creating it?
What Is Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds?
After honing their performance chops in the clubs of Liverpool, The Beatles gained international popularity in 1964. Coined, The British Invasion, the early 1960s brought a slew of British pop and rock artists across the Atlantic and to the top of the American music charts. In 1967, The Beatles released their seventeenth studio album titled Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
John Lennon and Paul McCartney were the primary writers for the album and together they created the infamous song Lucy in The Sky With Diamonds. Dreamy lyrics, accompanied by layers of tarumba and electronic organ paint a picture of an immersive visual landscape, complete with an ethereal woman in the sky.
Upon the release, critics and audiences sang their praises for the song. Today, the album has sold over 32 million copies worldwide. Elton John released a cover of Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds in 1975, calling it one of the best songs ever written. This reverence is timeless, exhibited by the 2014 ‘The Flaming Lips’ cover of the song featuring big names like Miley Cyrus and Moby on the track.
Background and Inspiration
“This is the truth — my son came home with a drawing and showed me this strange looking woman flying around. I said what is it? He said it’s Lucy in the sky with diamonds.”
Drummer Ringo Star, as well as Lennon’s then-wife Cynthia, corroborated this story — the drawing can also be found online. Julien Lennon was three years old at the time of his chorus-inspiring drawing, but childhood favorites also influenced the imagery for the rest of the lyrics.
Lennon attributed the fantastical imagery in the verses to his reading of Lewis Carrol’s Alice in Wonderland books. The whimsical tale of Alice’s tumble into a world of colorful characters and vibrant landscapes has similar themes to the make-believe land of rocking horse people and marmalade skies.
The Real Lucy
The strange-looking woman flying around in the sky was Julien’s preschool classmate Lucy Vodden, then O’Donnell. Lucy described her and Julien’s playful relationship in a 2007 BBC Documentary. Two school children on either side of an easel, laughing and throwing paint at each other much to the chagrin of their teacher. The mischief-filled friendship dwindled naturally with time as they grew apart and Julien left their school after his parent’s divorce.
The two met briefly at a concert of Julien’s in the ‘80s but did not rekindle their previously close relationship until 2009 under sorrowful circumstances. Julien reached out upon learning of Lucy’s battle with an advanced stage of Lupus to offer love and support, as well as bonding over their shared love of gardening. Lucy died later that year after her five-year struggle with Lupus. Julien memorialized her with a duet between himself and James Scott Cook titled “Lucy.” All of the proceeds from the song were donated to Lupus charities.
Songs in Pictures
Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds was not the first or only Beatles’ song inspired by pictures. Scottish artist Donovan, a close friend of John Lennon, described Lennon’s artistic process in an interview with Song Facts. He recounted his own process when writing songs: mirroring it to an artist facing a blank canvas and building out the song just as a painter layers paint. Donovan and Lennon share this songwriting process, first thinking about the song in terms of artwork and using their creative tools and instruments to design a masterpiece.
Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds Meaning: LSD Association
Whether or not Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds was intended to be about LSD, it did not stop fans or the media from speculating to such a degree that it became a song about LSD. Soon after its release, fans noticed that the first letter of the nouns in the title spelled out LSD. Though Lennon and McCartney both denied that this was intentional it seems no one believed them. Perhaps because in an interview shortly after their album’s release, McCartney admitted to using LSD and other psychedelic substances.
In the interview McCartney accused the reporter of strengthening this skewed narrative and that McCartney himself was not promoting the use of substances, but rather the media’s fixation on it was. Lucy Vodden herself was shocked, when as a teenager she shared with friends that she was the inspiration for the song and was met with strong opinions stating that the song was actually about a psychedelic experience.
Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds was even banned temporarily from British radio because of fear it was encouraging young people to experiment with illegal drugs. Today, the song is considered a cornerstone of the psychedelic rock genre.
However, The Beatles did admit to using psychedelics throughout their most prolific years. In a 2004 interview, McCartney acknowledged that it was “pretty obvious” substances had an effect on their music, including Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds. Psychedelic experiences can be mind-expanding, providing inspiration for artists and non-creatives alike. It is no surprise that these experiences leaked their way into the imagery of numerous Beatles songs.
The colorful and playful world of Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds describes visuals that can definitely be interpreted as psychedelic: bright colors, flowers grown to seemingly incredible heights and transitory images a proverbial self moves through.
“Everyone smiles as you drift past the flowers
That grow so incredibly high
Newspaper taxis appear on the shore
Waiting to take you away
Climb in the back with your head in the clouds
And you’re gone”
“Within You Without You,” another song off of the same album has thematic elements that are also incredibly psychedelic, though the title does not have hidden initialism for the media to run wild with. This song describes the interconnected flow of all beings, the power of seeing the world outside of one’s own perspective and the freedom of self-discovery.
“Try to realize it’s all within yourself
No one else can make you change
And to see you’re really only very small
And life flows on within you and without you”
Both of these songs can be interpreted through a thematically psychedelic lens.
Psychedelic themes are nothing more than ideas seemingly too large, fantastical or mind-blowing to have occurred to a person in their sober frame of mind. The Beatles were all about promoting new waves of consciousness, which helped strengthen the counterculture movement of peace and love that continues to have lasting effects.
Whether the Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds meaning was about or inspired by LSD ultimately doesn’t matter. Varied interpretations are what make art impactful. Though the artist’s intentions provide a framework they are not the be-all end-all for what the viewer or listener gets out of it. The Beatles may not have intended to create a psychedelic rock anthem, but they did.
The lessons and themes within their music as a whole, and particularly in Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds, show listeners a world transcending their day-to-day life. Transporting audiences into a frame of mind open to the majesty of existence: the beauty of life through a child’s eyes, the magic of a dark sky alight with twinkling stars and the comfort of a mystical woman with kaleidoscope eyes.
What do you think about psychedelics’ influence on The Beatles? Or, vice-versa, The Beatles’ influence on 60’s counter-culture? Sound off in the comments below and don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter for updates about our newest content.