When was it recorded? Oct. 13, 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:
John wrote “Julia” while the Beatles were in Rishikesh in 1968. Julia was his mother, with whom he has a tumultuous relationship. According to Wikipedia, “Julia Lennon had encouraged her son’s interest in music and bought him his first guitar. But after she split with John’s father, John was taken in by his aunt, Mimi, and Julia started a new family with another man; though she lived just a few miles from John, Julia did not spend much time with him for a number of years. Their relationship began to improve as he neared adolescence, though.” His half-sister, also named Julia, recalls John regularly spending time at their home as a teen. “John inherited his love of music from her, and she encouraged him to start with piano and banjo, making him play a tune again and again until he got it right,” Julia Baird said.
However, in Jul. 1958, when John was 17, Julia was struck and killed by a car driven by a drunk, off-duty police officer.
“I lost her twice. Once as a five-year-old when I was moved in with my auntie. And once again when she actually physically died.” – John Lennon
“Julia” the song also contains multiple references to Yoko Ono, who John nicknamed “Mother” near the end of his life. Literally translated, the name “Yoko” can mean “child of the sea,” which became the lyric, “Ocean child, calls me.”
According to the Beatles Bible, “As an exorcism of years of hurt and regret at losing her, ‘Julia’ marked the point at which Lennon laid bare his soul after years of writing allusions to mother/lover figures. The song implies that he has, in Yoko Ono, finally found a love to equal his mother’s, and was thereafter free to lay his soul bare to his new muse.”
John also borrowed phrases from Lebanese artist/writer Kahlil Gibran’s 1926 poem, “Sand and Foam.” It’s hella long, so if you want to read the full poem it’s the last link at the bottom of my sources. Basically, it’s these two lines.
“Sand and Foam”
- Half of what I say is meaningless, but I say it so that the other half may reach you
- When life does not find a singer to sing her heart she produces a philosopher to speak her mind
- Half of what I say is meaningless, but I say it just to reach you
- When I cannot sing my heart, I can only speak my mind
The Beatles recorded a demo of “Julia” in May 1968 at George’s Esher home. Quoth the Beatles Bible, “Although very similar to the studio version, it appears to contain vocal contributions from other members of the group, and ends in ad-libbed whistling.”
John recorded three takes of the song on Oct. 13, 1968, just three days before the White Album was sequenced. Take Two appears on “Anthology 3.”
John worked off the final take for the album version of “Julia.” As Wikipedia noted, “While Paul McCartney made several ‘solo’ recordings attributed to the group… this is the only time that Lennon played and sang unaccompanied on a Beatles track.”
In 1976, “Julia” appeared as the American B-side to the “Ob-La-Di, Ob-Li-Da” single. Talk about Mood Whiplash. In all seriousness though, it’s a lovely song. I think if I didn’t know the backstory, the song would be straight-up beautiful, maybe even uplifting. Then again, there’s an edge of melancholy that’s enough to keep the song out of that territory.