The Classic Beatles Song John Lennon Described as ‘a History of Rock ‘n’ Roll’
Compared to other Beatles records, The White Album was a bona fide avalanche of material. With four sides and over 93 minutes of music and effects, it was over three times as long as A Hard Day’s Night and nearly an hour longer than Revolver.
Speaking not long after its release, George Harrison said it was so long it could be overwhelming. “It’s too big for people to really get into it,” George commented. “For the reviewers and also [fans].”
But fans of John Lennon couldn’t help but celebrate. On the double-record release, you get 11 tracks featuring John’s writing and 10 with him on lead vocal. And from “Dear Prudence” on Side One to “Revolution 1” on Side Four, it was John at or near his best.
Among John’s tracks were Ringo’s favorite from the album (“Yer Blues”) and one both George and Paul McCartney greatly admired (“Happiness Is a Warm Gun”). With “Happiness Is a Warm Gun,” we got a song only John Lennon could have written — and one he called “a history of rock ‘n’ roll.”
‘Happiness Is a Warm Gun’ runs through 4 styles of rock in 2:47
Fans and critics have always wanted to know what The Beatles were thinking when they wrote certain songs. In 1972, John found himself still being asked about “Happiness Is a Warm Gun.”
“They all said it was about drugs, but it was more about rock ‘n roll than drugs,” he said. “It’s sort of a history of rock ‘n roll.” Well, you don’t need to search too hard to find why people thought it as about drugs. The line, “I need a fix ’cause I’m going down” will boost any such argument.
But John’s point is well taken. In a song that comes in at less than three minutes, John manages to pack in multiple rock styles. With the opening line and first verse, John is carrying with a poetry-packed rock style he himself perfected with “Strawberry Fields Forever.”
In the next session it gets dark, with John singing about needing a fix and the guitar sounded eerie (and quite metal). Next up comes the uptempo section with “Mother Superior jumped the gun” repeated several times. Finally, the song shifts to John’s shouted vocal with ’50s-style doo-wop behind him.
John pulled the title from a gun magazine
As for the song’s lyrics, “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” is hard to top. John plucked the title itself from a gun magazine he found in the studio around this time. (It was the article’s title.) Otherwise, he weaved in various images with references to Yoko Ono (“Mother Superior”) along the way.
Paul was impressed how John took the title and ran with it. “It’s just such a great line,” he said. “John took that and used that as a chorus. And the rest of the words … I think they’re great words, you know. It’s a poem. And he finishes off, ‘Happiness Is A Warm Gun, yes it is.’ It’s just good poetry.”
When asked about possible sexual references (“finger on your trigger” etc.), John didn’t rule out the possibility. “Well, by then I’m into double meanings,” he told Playboy’s David Sheff in 1980.
“The initial inspiration was from the magazine. But that was the beginning of my relationship with Yoko and I was very sexually oriented then. When we weren’t in the studio, we were in bed.”
As for the “bang, bang / shoot, shoot” doo-wop vocals, that was John and his bandmates having fun in the studio. “We were cracking up when I was doing all that,” John said.