Why You Can Hear Part of ‘King Lear’ in The Beatles’ ‘I Am the Walrus’

The Beatles‘ “I Am the Walrus” is very different from the plays of William Shakespeare. Despite this, barely audible lines from King Lear are present in the song. During an interview, John Lennon explained why those lines are part of the mix.

The Beatles in the animal costumes they wore while performing "I Am the Walrus" in 'Magical Mystery Tour'
The Beatles in animal costumes | Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images

John Lennon compared making Beatles songs to making solo songs

According to the book Lennon on Lennon: Conversations With John Lennon, John opened up about his music during a 1975 Rolling Stone interview. He was asked if he took a long time to craft The Beatles’ songs. The “Imagine” singer said this was not the case. “If there’s a quality that occasionally gets in the way of my talent, it’s that I get bored quick unless it’s done quick,” he said. 

John said he didn’t take any longer to produce The Beatles’ “I Am the Walrus” than he took to produce his solo song “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night.” “But ‘I Am the Walrus’ sounds like a wonderful production,” he said. “‘Strawberry Fields [Forever]‘ sounds like a big production. But I do them as quick as I possibly can, without losing (a) the feel and (b) where I’m going.”

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John Lennon didn’t realize lines of ‘King Lear’ are in ‘I Am the Walrus’ at 1st

Barely audible lines from King Lear are in “I Am the Walrus” near the end of the song. During a 1974 interview, John explained why the passage was part of the song. “When I was mixing the record, I just heard a radio in the room that was tuned to some BBC channel all the time, and we did about, I don’t know, half a dozen mixes, and I just used whatever was coming through at the time,” he recalled. 

John wasn’t initially aware of the song’s Shakespeare connection. “I never knew it was King Lear till years later somebody told me, because I could hardly make out what he was saying,” he said. “But I just sort of … it was interesting to mix the whole thing with a live radio coming through it.”

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The way ‘I Am the Walrus’ performed in the United States and the United Kingdom

“I Am the Walrus” didn’t impact the charts in the United States much. The single hit No. 56 on the Billboard Hot 100. It lasted four weeks on the chart. “I Am the Walrus” was part of the soundtrack of The Beatles’ television film Magical Mystery Tour. The soundtrack hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and remained on the chart for 93 weeks.

“I Am the Walrus” made even less of an impact in the United Kingdom. The Official Charts Company reports it did not chart there. On the other hand, Magical Mystery Tour hit No. 31 and stayed on the chart for 10 weeks.

“I Am the Walrus” has a connection to Shakespeare even if it’s difficult to hear.

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