Part of an irregular series of bite-sized posts about 7″ singles I own – shameless nostalgia from the days of vinyl. (Search ‘Backtracking’ to collect the set!)
THE BEATLES – Hello Goodbye b/w I Am The Walrus (Parlophone Records, 1967)
At the impressionable age of 9, The Beatles filled my musical world. John, Paul, George and Ringo seemed like exotic family members I never got to meet but were ever-present.
Up to the time of Magical Mystery Tour their songs had always been accessible and hummable. When you heard them they made you feel good in a pure, uncomplicated way.
Nothing about them was in any way threatening which is probably why Mom and Dad so easily embraced them as a positive influence. The brisk, easy-going charm of Hello Goodbye typified the freshness and immediacy of their melodies.
All this explains why the b-side to this single came as such a shock. On first listen, it was like the ravings of a favourite uncle showing the first signs of senility. Nothing about it made any sense. Surely pop songs were meant to be inspirational, hopeful messages of love and freedom, not full of nonsensical lines like “Yellow matter custard dripping from a dead dog’s eye” or playground chants like “Oompah oompah stick it up your jumper”.
Although it made me uncomfortable, I kept returning to it with the same instinct that makes you want to pick at a scab even though you know you should leave it alone. Gradually, loathing turned to fascination and finally to admiration.
With hindsight, it is a masterpiece of anti-establishment vitriol disguised as an Alice In Wonderland style romp. Ian MacDonald rightly identifies “a damn-you-England tirade that blasts education, art, culture, law, order, class, religion and even sense itself” and called it “the most idiosyncratic protest song ever written”.
The BBC immediately recognised its subversive potential although probably didn’t fully understand why exactly it was subversive. It was banned from radio broadcasts allegedly due to the sexual implications of the line “Oh, you’ve been a naughty girl, you’ve let your knickers down”.
I always think of I Am The Walrus as a kind of epiphany in that it opened my ears to the possibilities of rock/pop music. John Lennon’s LSD fuelled genius was my introduction to music that could unlock the imagination in a unique way and left me desperate to discover more where it came from.
Here is the performance of the song in Magical Mystery Tour: