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The Beatles: Julia

This week we are re-sharing a week of posts from our first summer of Song of the Day! Today’s post by Steven Blier originally ran on July 22, 2015.

I am up to the “White Album” in my summer traversal of the Beatles songs. My feeling so far is that they reached their apex with “Revolver,” a startlingly good record. But there are certainly some amazing songs on “Sgt. Pepper” (“A Day in the Life” blew my mind—I felt as if I’d never heard it before) and the very messy “White Album.” One that struck me afresh: “Julia,” which Lennon recorded solo, overdubbing his vocal so that he sounds like a trio of Lennons. By now there is a huge amount of Beatles lore available online, and it seems that all of the songs have backstories. “Julia” is about Lennon’s mother, who was struck and killed by a car driven by an off-duty policeman when John was 17 years old. He’d been raised by his aunt, Julia’s sister; when he was a boy John’s mother felt that he’d do better growing up in a stable, two-parent home. Lennon’s father had abandoned his family early on—he completely disappeared from view when he went AWOL from the navy.

It was only when the Beatles went off to meditate with the Maharishi in 1968 that Lennon was finally able to tap into his grief over his mother’s death ten years earlier. In India Lennon also met the rock singer Donovan, who taught Lennon a new guitar-picking style. This is what we hear him doing on this track, his only solo recording during his years with the Beatles. And “ocean child”? The English translation for “Yoko.”

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