When was it recorded? Sept. 23-26, 1968
When was it first released, and on which album? Nov. 22, 1968 on “The Beatles”
Who wrote it? Lennon (with noteworthy contribution from Derek Taylor)
Have I heard this song before? No
What my research dug up:
In the timeline of “Happiness Is…” sentiments, the phrase coiner was American cartoonist Charles Schultz’s comic strip, “Peanuts.” His “Happiness is a warm puppy” line inspired a number of imitators in the 1960s, including The American Rifleman magazine, which first boasted the headline, “Happiness is a warm gun.”
“George Martin showed me the cover of a magazine that said, ‘Happiness is a warm gun’. I thought it was a fantastic, insane thing to say. A warm gun means you’ve just shot something.” — John Lennon (Anthology)
“Happiness” is admittedly three parts of three different Lennon songs combined. According to the Beatles Bible & Wikipedia, “The first section of the song was made up of phrases thought up by Lennon and Apple’s publicist Derek Taylor during an acid trip the pair experienced along with Neil Aspinall and Lennon’s childhood friend Pete Shotton.” Breaking this part down:
- “She’s not a girl who misses much” = an expression of approval in Liverpool (Beatles Bible)
- “She’s well acquainted with the touch of the velvet hand” = inspired by a glove fetishist Taylor met on the Isle of Man
- “Like a lizard on a window pane” = “a recollection from Taylor’s days living in Los Angeles” (BB) [Seriously, that’s all I get regarding that line? I figured there was more of a story behind it than that.]
- “The man in the crowd with the multicolored mirrors / on his hobnail boots” = inspired by “a Manchester City football fan who had been arrested after inserting mirrors into his footwear in order to see up the skirts of women during matches” (BB) [Keepin’ in classy, UK.]
- “Lying with his eyes while his hands are busy / working overtime” = inspired by a story Taylor heard “about a man who used false hands as an elaborate shoplifting technique” (BB)
- “A soap impression of his wife which he ate / and donated to the National Trust” = OK, no one’s sure where the soap impression wife came from (apart from the acid, I mean), but according to Taylor, “the eating of something and then donating it to the National Trust came from a conversation we’d had about the horrors of walking in public spaces on Merseyside, where you were always coming across the evidence of people having crapped behind bushes and in old air raid shelters. So to donate what you’ve eaten to the National Trust was what would now be known as ‘defecation on common land owned by the National Trust.’” (BB) [And I thought I was joking about keeping it classy above.]
The second part of the song about needing a fix would unarguably be a heroin reference if the person we were arguing the text with weren’t John himself. My sources don’t say he ever said these lines should be interpreted to mean something specific; he just denied they were about drugs.
According to the Beatles Bible, “The double-speed ‘Mother Superior jump the gun’ section, meanwhile, was inspired by his infatuation with Yoko Ono. Mother Superior was a name he used for her, and ‘jump the gun’ could be interpreted as a sexual metaphor.” I don’t know if I’m intrigued or horrified by this knowledge.
John recorded a demo of “Happiness” at George’s Esher home in May 1968. This version appeared on “Anthology 3.”
Under the working title “Happiness is a Warm Gun in Your Hand,” the Beatles recorded 45 takes on Sept. 23 and an additional 25 takes Sept. 24. Yowza. Wikipedia tells me the track was finished at 5:00 AM on Sept. 26.
Wikipedia also claims “Happiness” was “reportedly Paul McCartney’s and George Harrison’s favorite song on the White Album. Although tensions were high among the band during the album’s recording sessions, they reportedly collaborated as a close unit to work out the song’s challenging rhythmic and meter issues, and consequently considered it one of the few true ‘Beatles’ songs on the album.”
Unsurprisingly, given the subject matter, “Happiness” was banned by both US and UK radio stations.
“Happiness” is ultimately another Beatles song I find good but not a personal favorite. I like the beginning and the “Mother Superior” breakdown, but the ending doesn’t do anything for me. For it being three song ideas in one, I think John combined everything really well; the track is definitely cohesive. Overall though, I just doesn’t trip my trigger.