The Beatles

Doctor Robert

Composed by John Lennon / Paul McCartney

Song Review by

It took until the end of 1965 for the Beatles to start writing songs that had nothing to do with man-woman romance. Typically, once that barrier was broken, there was nothing holding them back, and by the time of 1966's Revolver, they were writing about all sorts of subjects that had nothing to do with standard pop music situations. "Doctor Robert" was one of these, and it must have puzzled much of the group's audience, who not only had no idea who "Doctor Robert" might have been, but who totally missed out on the song's coded references to drugs that would not have been dispensed by most ordinary physicians. Musically, however, "Doctor Robert" was one of Revolver's more conventional and accessible tracks, and could have easily been performed live, unlike some of the record's more exotic offerings. Its choppy, clipped assertive guitar chording fit in well with the English mod rock of 1966, perhaps slightly influenced by bands such as the Who. The verse boasted a device the Beatles had perfected in previous years: the alternation of lines with solo lead vocals (by the song's principal composer, John Lennon) and phrases with thicker harmonies. Paul McCartney delivered some particularly strong, urgent high harmonies when the song unexpectedly descended keys for the latter parts of the verses. In these respects the song was much like previous Lennon-McCartney Beatles compositions, the chief difference here being the enigmatic lyrics, enthusiastically if a bit sardonically hailing a miracle doctor of sorts who got you feeling chipper, like a new man, after paying him visits. What a probable low percentage of the group's youth-dominated audience probably figured out was that "Doctor Robert" was the kind of guy who administered not always legal amphetamines and shots to harried jetsetters suffering fatigue, particularly celebrities such as the Beatles. The calming effect of Doctor Robert's medicines was perhaps deliberately evoked by the unusual bridge, in which the song slowed drastically and an angelic organ drifted in as the group beatifically sang about feeling fine, as if they'd just been artificially transported into a new sensation. In A Hard Day's Write: The Stories Behind Every Beatles' Song, Steve Turner speculated that Dr. Robert was probably Dr. Robert Freymann, a New York doctor who administered amphetamines to many in the performing arts scene. (Freymann was eventually expelled from the New York State Medical Society for malpractice, in 1975.) Getting back to "Doctor Robert" the song, it benefits from a neat subtle kick at the very end, where the Beatles raise the key several notches as they repeat the title on the fade, though perhaps the track shouldn't have been faded out before the final guitar chord (which can be faintly heard bringing the cut to a cold close).

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Revolver 1966 EMI 2:14
No Image 1992 Toshiba EMI
The Ultimate Box Set 1995 Capitol 2:15
The Beatles: Stereo Box Set 2009 EMI 2:13
The Beatles USB 2009 Capitol 2:14
The Beatles in Mono [Vinyl Box Set] 2014 Capitol
The Beatles Christmas Pack Emd Int'l
blue highlight denotes editor's pick