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I Am the Walrus

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


"I Am the Walrus" is a 1967 Beatles song, written by John Lennon and credited to Lennon-McCartney. Lennon later claimed he wrote the first two lines on separate acid trips.[1] The song was used in their 1967 television film and album Magical Mystery Tour, and was released as the B-side to the #1 hit "Hello, Goodbye". It is one of the Beatles' most striking and effective experimental songs from the psychedelic period, and is noted as being one of the most adventurous examples of Lennon's wordplay.

Lennon composed the song by combining three separate songs he had been working on. Additionally, when he learned that a college professor was having his students analyze Beatles' lyrics, he added on a verse of specifically nonsensical words designed to confuse listeners.

The Walrus within the song is a reference to the walrus from Lewis Carroll's The Walrus and the Carpenter. Lennon later expressed dismay at learning that the Walrus was the villain within the poem (see below).


An alternate cover for the Hello Goodbye/I Am the Walrus single
An alternate cover for the Hello Goodbye/I Am the Walrus single

The history of the lyrics begins with three different song ideas that Lennon was working on, the first of which was inspired by hearing a police siren while at his home in Weybridge; Lennon wrote the lines "Mis-ter c-ity police-man" to the rhythm of the siren. The second idea was a short rhyme about Lennon sitting in his Weybridge garden, while the third idea was a nonsense lyric about sitting on a corn flake. Unable to finish the ideas as three different songs, he instead chose to combine them into one.

Sometime later, Lennon received a letter from a pupil of Quarry Bank Grammar School, which he had attended as a child. The writer mentioned that their English master was making his class analyse Beatles' song lyrics. (John wrote an answer to the letter, dated September 1, 1967, which was auctioned by Christie's of London in 1992).

Lennon, amused that a teacher was putting that much effort into understanding Beatles lyrics, decided to write the most confusing, unusual lyric he could. Lennon's childhood friend and former fellow member of the Quarrymen Peter Shotton was visiting, and he asked Shotton about a silly playground nursery rhyme that they used to sing when they were kids.

Shotton remembered the words:

"Yellow matter custard, green slop pie,
All mixed together with a dead dog's eye,
Slap it on a butty, ten foot thick,
Then wash it all down with a cup of cold sick".

Lennon borrowed a couple of words from the rhyme, added the three old unfinished ideas and the result was the lyrics to "I Am the Walrus". Beatles official biographer Hunter Davies was present while the song was being written, and wrote an account in his 1968 book on the band. Upon finishing the lyrics, Lennon remarked to Shotton, "Let the fuckers work that one out."[2]

An interesting factor to the music is that all the chords used are major chords or seventh chords, and all the 'musical' letters of the alphabet (A, B, C, D, E, F, and G) are so used. The song ends with a descending progression of A7, G7, F7, E7, D7, C7, and B7, repeated over and over until the end.

Lennon explained much of the song in an interview he gave to Playboy in 1980:[1]

  • "The first line was written on one acid trip one weekend. The second line was written on the next acid trip the next weekend, and it was filled in after I met Yoko. Part of it was putting down Hare Krishna. All these people were going on about Hare Krishna, Allen Ginsberg in particular. The reference to "Element'ry penguin" is the elementary, naive attitude of going around chanting, "Hare Krishna," or putting all your faith in any one idol. I was writing obscurely, a la Dylan, in those days." (This despite the remarkably little-noted fact that the song's opening line, "I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together", clearly parodies the opening line of the song "Marching to Pretoria", by The Weavers: "I'm with you and you're with me and we are all together.")
  • "It never dawned on me that Lewis Carroll was commenting on the capitalist and social system. I never went into that bit about what he really meant, like people are doing with the Beatles' work. Later, I went back and looked at it and realized that the walrus was the bad guy in the story and the carpenter was the good guy. I thought, Oh, shit, I picked the wrong guy. I should have said, 'I am the carpenter.' But that wouldn't have been the same, would it? [Singing] 'I am the carpenter....'"

The song also contains the unusual exclamation, goo goo goo joob. Various unsatisfactory hypotheses exist regarding the origin and meaning of these syllables. One claim is that the phrase was derived from the very similar "koo koo ka choo" in Paul Simon's song Mrs. Robinson, written in 1967. However, the film The Graduate, where "Mrs. Robinson" debuted, was not released until December 1967, a month after the release of "I Am the Walrus", and The Graduate Original Soundtrack (which contained only fragments of the final version of "Mrs. Robinson") was not released until January 1968. It has also been noted that James Joyce's Finnegans Wake contains the words googoo goosth at the top of page *557, where it appears: milk-juggles as if it was the wrake of the hapspurus or old Kong Gander O'Toole of the Mountains or his googoo goosth she seein, sliving off over the sawdust lobby out of the backroom, wan ter, that was everywans in turruns, in his honeymoon trim, holding up his fingerhals...

It is not clear that Joyce is the source, or what it means if he were the source, but Lennon was a reader and admirer of Joyce's.[3]

The unusual monologue buried in the mix towards the end of the song is actually a few lines of Shakespeare's King Lear (Act IV, Scene VI), which were added to the song direct from an AM radio receiving the broadcast of the play on the BBC Home Service (or possibly the BBC Third Programme).[2]

The basic backing track of "I Am the Walrus" featuring the Beatles was released in 1996 on Anthology 2. George Martin arranged and added an orchestral accompaniment that included violins, cellos, horns, clarinet and a 16-piece choir.

The stereo mix of the record has an interesting twist: At almost exactly two minutes into the song, the mix changes from regular stereo to "fake stereo", with most of the bass on one channel, and most of the treble on the other. The mix appears to 'wander' sonically in the fadeout, from left to right. The reason for the change in mixes was because the radio was inserted during the mono mixdown. The mono single mix also includes an extra bar of music before the words "yellow matter custard".

Parodies and influences

The song has been parodied as "Piggy In The Middle" by The Rutles (the Rutles TV show includes a highly accurate parody of the song's appearance in Magical Mystery Tour), and as "The Mole from the Ministry" by The Dukes of Stratosphear (actually XTC). It was also a major influence on "Sowing the Seeds of Love" by Tears for Fears. The most recently-released parody, titled "I'm the Decider" by Musician/Actor Paul Hipp, was inspired by George W. Bush and can be heard here.

We can also hear a special lyric by Jim Carrey in Man on the Moon.

Who was the Walrus?

The 1968 Beatles song "Glass Onion", written by Lennon, and featured on the White Album, refers to earlier Beatles compositions. Mentioning "I am the Walrus", Lennon sings, "Here's another clue for you all, the walrus was Paul."

In the 1980 Playboy interview, John responded to the confusion:

"I threw the line in — 'the Walrus was Paul' — just to confuse everybody a bit more. And I thought 'Walrus' has now become me, meaning 'I am the one.' Only it didn't mean that in this song."

Lennon also comments in The Beatles Anthology that he wrote the song at a point when the band was beginning to fall apart, and hoped by putting this line in combination with "I told you 'bout the walrus and me man, you know that we're as close as can be man", he could begin to patch things up with the band.

The fact that McCartney was dressed as a walrus on the cover of the Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour LP was also stated by Lennon to have inspired the line.

Paul also responded to the lyric in an interview broadcast on a Beatles documentary on WYNY 1981:

"[John] happened to have a line go 'the walrus was Paul' and we had a great giggle to say 'yeah, let's do that,' because everybody's gonna read into it and go crackers cause they all thought that John was the walrus."

On Lennon's 1970 solo album Plastic Ono Band, the song "God" contains the lines "I was the Walrus, but now I'm John." Also, in the music video for "I Am the Walrus", Lennon is the one wearing the walrus costume.

The Eggman

'The Eggman' from the song is believed to be to lead singer of The Animals, Eric Burdon. The reason being that Burdon was known as 'Eggs' to his friends, originating from his fondness of breaking eggs over naked girls. Eric's biography mentions such an affair taking place in the presence of John Lennon, who shouted 'Go on, go get it, Eggman ..."¹

Cultural references

  • Cover versions:
    • Spooky Tooth recorded a version for their 1969 album The Last Puff.
    • Leo Sayer covered the song for the 1976 ephemeral musical documentary All This and World War II.
    • Joe Pop-O-Pie covered the song on Joe's Third Album.
    • Manchester rock band Oasis covered the song live on numerous occasions, and released one version on the B-side to their 1994 single "Cigarettes & Alcohol". The track can also be found on their album The Masterplan. Liam Gallagher on vocals himself being a huge fan of John Lennon.
    • Sting also released a cover version.
    • A performance of the song by actor and comedian Jim Carrey appears on George Martin's album In My Life. At the end of his version, he cries, "There, I did it! I've defiled a timeless piece of art! For my next trick I'll paint a clown face on the Mona Lisa using the Shroud of Turin as a drop cloth!"
    • Frank Zappa covered the song during his 1988 tour. Zappa was refused the rights to issue his cover version of this and other Beatles tunes by then-catalog owner Michael Jackson, who was offended by Zappa's "Why Don't You Like Me?," which mocked the pop star. Thus, these recordings have yet to appear on an official release, although audience recordings have circulated on bootlegs.
    • In 2004, the rock band Styx performed a cover of the song at Eric Clapton's Crossroads Festival, where the song was received so well that it was the basis of a whole album of covers, 2005's The Big Bang Theory, as well as consistently being played by Styx during concert. Their cover reached the Top 10 in the Mediabase Classic Rock charts.
    • The German band Die Toten Hosen covered the song on their 1999 album Crash Landing.
    • The band Boingo covered the song on their 1994 album Boingo.
  • Ferris Bueller: "I quote John Lennon: 'I don't believe in Beatles — I just believe in me'. A good point there. After all, he was the Walrus. I could be the Walrus — I'd still have to bum rides off of people."
  • In The Big Lebowski (1998), directed by Joel Coen and starring Jeff Bridges, John Goodman and Steve Buscemi, one reference is made to the song:
The Dude: "It's like what Lenin said... you look for the person who will benefit, and, uh, uh..."
Donny: "I am the walrus."
The Dude: "You know what I'm trying to say..."
Walter Sobchak: "That fucking bitch..."
Donny: "I am the walrus."
Walter Sobchak: "Shut the fuck up, Donny! V.I. Lenin! Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov!"
  • In The Million Dollar Hotel (2000), directed by Wim Wenders and starring Jeremy Davies, Milla Jovovich and Mel Gibson, one of the residents of the hotel (played by Peter Stormare) claims that he is the Walrus and complains that he never received "royalties" for all the songs he wrote for the Beatles. He plays "I Am the Walrus" during the film's climax.
  • In the short lived Weird Al Show, there was a cartoon segment called "FatMan" where Al played a superhero of the same name who, due to a glandular problem, would become obese and have superhero-like powers. In one episode an enemy by the name of "The Eggman" introduced himself, then following the barking of a Walrus in his helicopter commented "and that's the Walrus" to which a nearby police officer exclaimed "goo goo goo joob!"
  • In the BBC comedy show The Office, Tim Canterbury references the song: "It's like an alarm clock's gone off, and I've just got to get away. I think it was John Lennon who said: 'Life is what happens when you're making other plans,' and that's how I feel. Although he also said: 'I am the Walrus, I am the eggman,' so I don't know what to believe."
  • I.M.D. Walrus (I'm dee walrus) is a character in Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie. He is head of "The Eggheads" which is a kind of scientific organization on the planet Kahani.
  • 9-years-old Oskar Schell, the narrator of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer recalls his Dad who sometimes would whistle "I Am the Walrus" — "because that was his favorite song, even though he couldn't explain what it meant, which frustrated me." A major theme in the 2005 novel is Oskar's searching for meaning, following the death of his father in the September 11, 2001 attacks, by closely examining a series of apparently random events and otherwise unrelated observations.
  • The Doctor Who serial The Three Doctors references the song. It happens when one of the Doctors tries to explain that he and the other two Doctors are all the same person. His explanation follows closely to the lyrics when he says, "I am he, and he is me..." Jo Grant, his main companion at the time, breaks in and asking "and we are all together, goo goo goo joob?" This confuses the Doctors until the assistant explains, "It's a song by the Beatles."
  • In Strong Bad's 151st email, Strong Bad (as he often does with postal abbreviations) confuses Matt M. WA for "Matt M., Walrus Association". An easter egg found by clicking "WA" brings up a mock business card for "Walrus Association", and the quote at the bottom reads "Koo koo ka-choo or summat", an obvious reference to the famous chorus.
  • Stephen Colbert has opened his show, The Colbert Report, with the line, "I am the walrus, koo koo ka-truth."
  • The Simpsons made a reference of this song in episode number 312, Bart of War, when Bart gets trippy from an old novelty Beatles soda he says "Yellow matter custard, dripping from a dead dog's eye" while hallucinating Milhouse "morph" through the different phases of the band's career.
  • In an episode of Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi ("Rock n' Roe") revolving around a cut-rate sushi bar and parodying the style of the Yellow Submarine movie, Ami and Yumi hallucinate that their tour bus is about to be eaten by a monstrous green walrus, with Yumi reacting in panic, "We're about to be coo-coo-ca-chewed!"
  • In one episode of Yvon of the Yukon, Harland kills Yvon's pet walrus. Yvon is convinced that the walrus is still alive, and finds a man that looks like one. After hugging the man for a long time, the man climbs onto a truck, and complains to Yvon, "I am not a walrus. I am the egg man!" as he throws eggs at Yvon.
  • The main villain of the Sonic the Hedgehog Series is named Doctor Eggman, potentially after this song. Even though his last name was changed for early western media, his first name was "Ivo", the reverse of "Ovi", which is "Egg" in the Greek Language. Further, in the game Sonic Adventure 2, the character's theme song includes the line "I am the Eggman"
  • In Stephen King's Dreamcatcher one of the main characters, Henry, keeps quoting the song and calling himself the "eggman" or the "walrus".
  • In the Broadway musical Avenue Q, the character Princeton makes Kate a mix tape with "I Am the Walrus" on it.
  • In a Family Guy parody of Kids Say the Darndest Things, Bill Cosby pretends to go skiing and yells the line "Goo goo gajoob!" for no known reason.
  • In the X-Files episode 'Eve', Dana Scully asks 'Eve 8' "Are you Sally Kendrick?" To which she replies, "No. But she is me... and I am her... and we are all together!"
  • In the X-files episode Hollywood AD, a speech proportedly by Jesus Christ recorded on the surface of a piece of pottery is translated as saying "I am the bearded cow-like sea beast". The original Aramaic is heard as "Goo goo g'joob".


  • Songfacts - I Am The Walrus - Accessed March 27, 2006
  • ¹Miles, Barry. Paul McCartney - Many Years From Now. Secker & Warburg, 1997. Page: 357. ISBN 0436280221.


  1. ^ a b Playboy. Interview with Yoko Ono and John Lennon.
  2. ^ a b About the Beatles. I Am the Walrus.
  3. ^ The Modern World. The Beatles and James Joyce.


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