With the release of The Beatles: Rock Band right around the corner, let's look back at the inspirations behind some classic Beatles tunes.
1. Prudence of “Dear Prudence” from the White Album is about Mia Farrow’s sister (pictured). The sisters were in India studying under Maharishi Mahesh Yogi at the same time the Beatles were in the late ‘60s, and Prudence was very focused on meditation and stayed in her room alone a lot. This was John’s musical plea to get her to come out and join the group.
2. Lucy of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” from Sgt. Pepper was a real person. The song was not about drugs, as was (and still is) rumored at the time. Years later, when John admitted that other songs were, in fact, about drugs, he maintained that Lucy was based on a drawing his son Julian had done of his classmate, soaring through a bejeweled sky.
3. Sadie, another White Album gal, wasn’t actually a gal at all. “Sexy Sadie” was about Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, whom the Beatles had had a falling out with. They were under the impression that the holy man had made a pass at Mia Farrow and other girls studying with him and were convinced that he “made a fool of everyone” who had some to learn from him. Most of the group, including Mia Farrow, later said Maharishi’s actions had been misinterpreted and they were sorry to have doubted him.
4. Martha is another one who wasn’t really a girl – at least, not a human girl, although she was utterly devoted to Paul McCartney. “Martha My Dear” was named for his beloved English Sheepdog. He has since admitted that the title may have borne Martha’s name, but the lyrics were “probably” about his ex-fiancee Jane Asher.
5. Eleanor Rigby, the haunting girl from Revolver, has a couple of different stories. The song was almost “Daisy Hawkins,” but McCartney decided that it didn’t quite flow and began searching for a more suitable name. The Beatles had just starred in Help! with Eleanor Bron, and McCartney later said her name was probably rattling around in his subconscious when he chose Rigby’s identity. The surname part of it came from a shop called Rigby – McCartney said he felt it was a very ordinary name, but rather special all at the same time. He put the two together, and sad Eleanor Rigby was born. However, there’s rumor of an Eleanor Rigby who actually lived in Woolton, England, where John and Paul used to hang out back in the early days. That’s her gravestone in the picture. “It’s possible that I saw it and subconsciously remembered it,” McCartney later said.
6. Pam of Abbey Road’s “Polythene Pam” was a fan from the Cavern Club days, but her name was Pat. By her own admission, she used to tie polythene (Polyethylene, the stuff shopping bags are made of) into knots and eat it. So… that’s weird. But even stranger is John’s later admission that some of the song was based on a girl named Stephanie who was dating poet Royston Ellis in 1963. She liked to dress in polythene for kinky sex purposes, although John said he may have stretched the truth a little bit. “She didn’t wear jackboots and kilts,” he said. “I just sort of elaborated. Perverted sex in a polythene bag. Just looking for something to write about.”
7. “Julia,” on the surface, was about John’s mother who was hit by a car and killed when he was just 17. But it’s also about Yoko Ono, whose first name means “Ocean child” in Japanese. Lennon had a lot of mother (and parent) issues, so it’s not surprising that he tangled up mother and wife all in one song.
8. Rita from “Lovely Rita,” another Sgt. Pepper tune, has no cryptic meaning – it’s really about meter maids. After the song came out, a woman who did actually issue violations said she gave McCartney a ticket when he was parked at Abbey Road Studios. Her name was Meta Davies, and he came out just as she was placing the ticket on his car. According to Davies, he looked at her signature on the ticket and asked if her name was really Meta, apparently finding “Meta” and “meter” to be rather lyrical. But McCartney says nay. “’Wow, that woman gave me a ticket, I’ll write a song about her’ – never happened like that,” he commented. Rather, he said, he was amused by the American term “meter maid” and found that “Rita” rolled off the tongue nicely when coupled with the phrase.
9. Melanie Coe isn’t mentioned by name in Sgt. Pepper’s “She’s Leaving Home,” but she inspired it just the same. Paul had seen a headline in The Daily Mail about a 17-year-old girl who had run away from home, leaving her parents with no clue as to why she had left. She says he got most of the details right, except that she didn’t met “a man from the motor trade,” but a casino worker; she also split in the afternoon and not the morning.
10. “Michelle” from Rubber Soul isn’t really about anyone in particular, and was in fact just a little song Paul messed around with before the Liverpudlian lads were famous. He had been at a party where he felt some art school guys were being pretentious with their French singing and goatees and decided to make up a song to mock them. It included a lot of faux-French and groaning noises. During the Rubber Soul sessions, John asked Paul if he remembered the little faux-French ditty and encouraged him to make it a real song.
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