The Beatles‘ “I Am the Walrus” might appear meaningless at first glance. Despite this, John Lennon said it offered commentary on the Hare Krishna movement. Beyond that, John revealed how the song’s lyrics are similar to Bob Dylan’s songwriting.
John Lennon said The Beatles’ ‘I Am the Walrus’ directly references a popular poet
The book All We Are Saying: The Last Major Interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono is an extended interview from 1980. In the interview, John was asked if “I Am the Walrus” criticized the Hare Krishnas. “I’d seen Allen Ginsberg and some other people who liked [Bob] Dylan and Jesus going on about Hare Krishna,” he said. “It was Ginsberg, in particular, I was referring to.” For context, Ginsberg was a writer and mystic most known for the controversial poem “Howl.”
John discussed how “I Am the Walrus” criticized religion. “The words ‘Element’ry penguin’ meant that it’s naïve to just go around chanting Hare Krishna or putting all your faith in one idol,” he said.
Why John Lennon compared some of The Beatles’ songs from that era to Bob Dylan’s songs
John compared his songwriting on “I Am the Walrus” and other Beatles songs to Dylan’s. “In those days I was writing obscurely, à la Dylan, never saying what you mean, but giving the impression of something,” he said. “Where more or less can be read into it. It’s a good game. I thought, ‘They get away with this artsy-fartsy crap; there has been more said about Dylan’s wonderful lyrics than was ever in the lyrics at all. Mine, too.'”
John elaborated on the critical reception of his songs. “But it was the intellectuals who read all this into Dylan or The Beatles,” he added. “Dylan got away with murder. I thought, Well, I can write this crap, too. You know, you just stick a few images together, thread them together, and you call it poetry.”
How ‘I Am the Walrus’ performed on the charts in the United States and the United Kingdom
“I Am the Walrus” became a minor hit in the United States. The track peaked at No. 56 on the Billboard Hot 100, staying on the chart for four weeks. The Beatles released “I Am the Walrus” on the soundtrack of the film Magical Mystery Tour. The album reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200, staying on the chart for 93 weeks altogether.
The Official Charts Company reports “I Am the Walrus” did not chart in the United Kingdom. On the other hand, the Magical Mystery Tour soundtrack was a bigger hit there. The album reached No. 31 in the U.K. and stayed on the chart for 10 weeks.
“I Am the Walrus” wasn’t one of The Beatles’ bigger hits — but it contains some notable religious commentary.