When was it recorded? Sept. 11-20 and Oct. 10, 1968
When was it first released, and on which album? Nov. 22, 1968 on “The Beatles”
Who wrote it? Lennon
Have I heard this song before? No
What my research dug up:
The Beatles Bible summarizes this one nicely – “John Lennon’s answer to those who looked for hidden meanings in The Beatles’ music was ‘Glass Onion,’ a song deliberately filled with red herrings, obscure imagery and allusions to past works.” Shout outs to “Strawberry Fields Forever,” “I Am the Walrus,” “Lady Madonna,” “The Fool on the Hill,” “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” and “Fixing a Hole” abound.
Other information that might be handy:
- Glass Onions are a type of bottle or lamp, usually made of hand blown glass. Wikipedia tells me they were fashioned in the onion shape because they were used on ships and had to resist falling over when the boat started rocking. John had suggested it as a name for The Iveys (who I wrote about on Day 38: “Come and Get It”); according to the Beatles Bible he liked that the term suggested transparency and multiple layers.
- The Cast Iron Shore (“The Cassie” or “The Cazzy” if you’re nasty) is a costal region south of Liverpool.
- Dovetail joints are a type of woodwork joinery (obviously). The ends of the lumber are cut to lock together once in place and require no fasteners. That said, John was probably just looking to make a marijuana reference. (Unlike Glass Onion, Dovetail Joint is the name of a band, one that released a self-titled Black Album. Uncanny.)
- Bent backed tulips were a staple of Parkes, “a then-fashionable restaurant on London’s Beauchamp Place” (Beatles Bible). Derek Taylor described them better than I can.
“You’d be in Parkes sitting around your table wondering what was going on with the flowers and then you’d realise that they were actually tulips with their petals bent all the way back, so that you could see the obverse side of the petals and also the stamen. This is what John meant about ‘seeing how the other half lives’. He meant seeing how the other half of the flower lives but also, because it was an expensive restaurant, how the other half of society lived.” — Derek Taylor (Steve Turner, A Hard Day’s Write)
Even without knowing this song, I knew The Walrus was Paul, and I knew that came from “Glass Onion.” According to John, “That’s me, just doing a throwaway song, à la Walrus, à la everything I’ve ever written. I threw the line in – ‘the Walrus was Paul’ – just to confuse everybody a bit more” (Beatles Bible). Then again, he later said the line was supposed to foreshadow his exit from the band: “The line was put in partly because I was feeling guilty because I was with Yoko and I was leaving Paul. I was trying — I don’t know. It’s a very perverse way of saying to Paul, you know, ‘Here, have this crumb, this illusion… because I’m leaving’” (Beatles Bible).
The Beatles originally recorded a “Glass Onion” demo at George’s home in Esher. As you can hear it… wasn’t exactly finished. This demo appeared on “Anthology 3.” It’s basically John on his guitar.
According to Wikipedia, “Glass Onion” was the first song off the White Album to feature Ringo on the drums (I mentioned why he was absent on Day 19: “Back in the U.S.S.R.”). The band taped 34 takes of the rhythm track on Sept. 11; John recorded his vocals the following day. Then this happened.
If you’re too lazy to listen, here’s what you missed – “a selection of sound effects assembled by Lennon… include[ing] a telephone ring, smashing glass, an organ note and a loop of the BBC football commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme exclaiming ‘It’s a goal!’” (Beatles Bible) Paul recorded a part on recorder that I think I heard in there somewhere. It doesn’t matter because they threw out all these effects and replaced the ending a string octet (scored again by George Martin).
I’m not sure how much analytical thought I can give “Glass Onion” without defeating the entire purpose of the song. It’s not my favorite Beatles song, but I have a feeling it will grow on me.