Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds

The Beatles

Song Review by Richie Unterberger

"Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" was one of the best songs on the Beatles' famous Sgt. Pepper album, and one of the classic songs of psychedelia as a whole. There are few other songs that so successfully evoke a dream world, in both the sonic textures and words. The hallucinogenic quality of the production was emphasized by the initials of the main words in the title, which, as was no secret even when it was first released, spell LSD. That was a controversial happenstance that the Beatles, and principal author John Lennon, would spend decades answering. Lennon, for his own part, always insisted that the title derived from his three-year-old son Julian Lennon's description of a painting he had done in nursery school, Lucy being a girl in his class. (The original painting, and a picture of the real-life Lucy, can be seen on pages 122-123 of Steve Turner's book A Hard Day's Write: The Stories Behind Every Beatles' Song.) That was certainly a remarkable coincidence, but regardless of whether the lettering was intentional or not, the psychedelic quality of the song's reverie would have been noted whether the initials spelled LSD or something else. The gorgeous melody of the opening lines is amplified by Lennon's unearthly, almost whispery vocals and the delicate unaccompanied keyboard, a Lowry organ made to sound like a celeste. The lyrics, whether ingested with the aid of substances or not, are very much like those seen in a dream, with the images of tangerine trees, marmalade skies, kaleidoscope eyes, cellophane flowers, and newspaper taxis. The song also unfolds with the lack of linear logic that characterizes dreams, starting on a boat, following an enchanting girl to a fountain, your head suddenly in the clouds, the girl mysteriously reappearing and disappearing. The pace of the song picks up after the first few lines, made more emphatic by the introduction of a pumping bass, then bursting into a chorus with much harder rock instrumentation and exultant vocal harmonies. The end of that chorus, with a wordless harmony suddenly fading as Lennon goes back into the quiet verse, creates the appropriate sensation in the listener of falling back into a dream. Occasional subtle tamboura drone (played by George Harrison) embellishes the exotic ambience. Although John Lennon usually eschewed descriptive story songs in favor of compositions that expressed an intensely personal point of view, in 1967 his songs tended toward observational imagery, as if trying to record the pictures in his head during his drug experiments. "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" is certainly the most successful and enchanting of his efforts in this direction, completed with some help from Paul McCartney (who contributed the cellophane flowers and newspaper taxis references, for example). In the mid-'70s, Elton John took a far less exotic and more ordinary version of "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" to number one, with Lennon singing backing vocals and playing guitar. The principal difference in arrangement -- which sounds like an almost gratuitous, smug touch -- was doing part of the song in a reggae tempo. Star Trek star William Shatner recorded a ludicrous spoken word-recital version that has drawn some guffaws for its camp value.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band 1967 Apple Records / Capitol 3:28
Yellow Submarine [Film] 1969 MGM 0:00
1967-1970 1973 Apple Records 3:29
The Compleat Beatles [Video] 1984 MGM
Sessions 1990 Capitol 3:25
The Ultimate Box Set 1995 Capitol 3:28
Anthology 2 1996 Capitol / EMI Records / Apple 3:05
Yellow Submarine Songtrack 1999 Capitol / EMI Records / Apple 3:28
Love 2006 Capitol / EMI Records / Apple 4:10
The Beatles: Stereo Box Set 2009 Capitol 3:28
The Beatles USB 2009 Capitol / EMI 3:28
1962-1970 2010 EMI / Parlophone 3:29
The Beatles: Spooky Songs 2020 Universal 3:28
The Beatles for Kids: Colours 2021 Universal 3:28
Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds EMI