John Lennon Took the Wrong Drug While Recording ‘Getting Better’: ‘It Dawned on Me That I Must Have Taken Acid’

Today, The Beatles remain one of, if not the most influential musical group, in rock and roll history. In the 1960s, the band’s rise in popularity on both sides of the pond put pressure on it to continually create hit after hit. In the seven years of the Fab Four producing music together, 12 albums were released in the UK. While the 1967 album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was not the group’s highest-selling, it may have been the most controversial and influential.

John Lennon wearing yellow glasses with his hands on his hand
John Lennon | Penny Tweedie/Corbis via Getty Images

The Beatles songs and albums

“Here Comes the Sun,” released in 1969, is The Beatles’ most-streamed song, according to Official Charts. Their 1968 hit, “Hey Jude,” spent 19 weeks on the music charts, according to Newsweek. The band’s 1969 Number 1 hit, “Come Together,” spent 16 weeks on the charts. The White Album, released in 1968, far and away has outsold any other album by the band with more than 24 million copies sold. But it was Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, released a year earlier, that Rolling Stone named as the best album of all time. The basis of the album was Paul McCartney’s, conceived while he was aboard an airplane.

The idea was that each band member would assume an alter-ego in the “Lonely Hearts Club Band” to be performed in concert to create the album. The name Sgt. Pepper came from the letters S for salt and P for pepper which McCartney had to explain to his assistant while eating an in-flight meal, according to Mental Floss. Sgt. Pepper’s included hits such as “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” “With a Little Help from My Friends,” “Lovely Rita,” “When I’m Sixty-Four,” and “Getting Better.” As with most of their music, the songs on the album were written by members of the band, mostly by John Lennon and McCartney. 

The Beatles used many illicit drugs

It is no secret that each member of The Beatles took drugs at some point. “Just about everyone was doing drugs in one form or another and we were no different,” McCartney said in a Today interview. McCartney admitted that drugs were an influence on some songs. “A song like ‘Got to Get You into My Life,’ that’s directly about pot, although everyone missed it at the time,” McCartney said. Lennon had called the album, Revolver, the band’s acid album. Songs on the Sgt. Pepper album more than hinted about drugs including “Day Tripper,” which was about LSD, McCartney said, and “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” although Lennon denied it at the time. Lennon had claimed it was inspired by a drawing that his young son, Julian, had drawn. McCartney admitted “it was pretty obvious,” that drugs were the influence.

Writing and recording ‘Getting Better’

McCartney and Lennon wrote the lyrics to “Getting Better.” McCartney came up with the title phrase one morning while walking his sheepdog, along with journalist Hunter Davies. The reference was to welcoming spring. While McCartney saw it as an optimistic line, Lennon commented, “It couldn’t get no worse.” It was Lennon who added darker lyrics to the song that would “deal with anger, unruliness at school and violence towards women,” according to Beatles Bible. When it came to recording the song, Lennon took what he thought to be an upper (amphetamine) in preparing for a long night in the studio. He later realized he had taken the wrong pill. “I thought I felt ill and I thought I was going cracked … then it dawned on me that I must have taken some acid,” Lennon said in a 1970 interview.

Lennon made his way to the production room where Beatles producer, George Martin, was working. He had a “strange, glazed look on his face,” Martin said. Unaware that Lennon was under the influence, Martin suggested Lennon may just need to get some air. To avoid the hundreds of fans outside, Martin led Lennon to the studio roof, unaware that he had taken drugs, and left him alone on the roof and returned to the work at hand. It was McCartney and George Harrison who ran up to the roof having realized their bandmate was alone up there while on an acid trip. The band decided to give up on recording backup vocals for the song that night.

McCartney walked Lennon the short distance home. He made a snap decision. While fearful of acid, McCartney decided maybe this was the time to finally take a trip with his friend. “It’s been coming for a long time. It’s often the best way, without thinking about it too much, just slip into it. John’s on it already, so I’ll sort of catch up,” McCartney said. “It was my first trip with John, or any of the guys. We stayed up all night, sat around and hallucinated a lot.” McCartney called the experience that night “mind-boggling … You dissolve into each other. … And it was amazing.” He could see himself through his good friend’s eyes. “It was a good trip.”