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The title came from an article in a gun magazine John Lennon saw. "Happiness Is A Warm Gun" was the slogan of the National Rifle Association. It struck Lennon as "fantastic, insane… a warm gun means you've just shot something."
This complicated song, which involved various different time signatures, (the 6/8 middle section was made more convoluted by Ringo continuing to drum in 4/4), took 15 hours and over 100 takes to nail. The first half of one take was combined with the second half of another to form the complete song.
Like the composer Wagner, Lennon felt that a song must have increasing excitement, climax and redemption. The song is built from pieces of several different little songs, with different melodies and rhythms, and one after another, the excitement is increasing. The climax is the falsetto, and finally the redemption is in the continuing call and answer.
When The White Album was released in 1968, it was not commonly known that Lennon was a composer, as many people thought that he was only a lyric writer. After The Beatles broke up, their individual songwriting contributions were revealed in greater detail. (thanks to Johan Cavalli, who is a music historian in Stockholm)
Lennon said of this song: "It's sort of a history of Rock 'n' Roll." Much of the imagery in the lyrics was about his sexual passion for Yoko.
Lennon considered this one of his favorites. It's also Paul McCartney's favorite song on The White Album.
In the last section of the song, the backing vocals are "Bang, Bang, Shoot, Shoot." (thanks, Dan - Riverside, CT)
A popular theory is that Lennon meant for this to be a drug metaphor for doing heroin:
-"Needing a fix"
-"Jump the gun" meaning to cook it up
-"Bang, Bang, SHOOT, SHOOT"
-"When I hold you in my arm, nobody can do me no harm" - heroin addicts tell how when you're on it, nothing can do you no harm and Lennon's overall nature seem to point to this. (thanks, Matt - Edgewood, KY)
This was banned by the BBC for sexual symbolism. They thought the gun was a phallic symbol.
The original line "When I hold you in my arms and feel my finger on your trigger..." appears in unreleased, bootlegged versions of "I'm So Tired" as "When I hold you in your arms, when you show me each one of your charms, I wonder should I get up, and go to the funny farm." This could mean the line was originally sexual but was put in as a metaphor for a gun later on. (thanks, Conrad - Los Angeles, CA)
The final Doo-Wop chorus of this song has the exact same chord progression as "This Boy
," just in a different key.
Tori Amos covered this on her 2001 album Strange Little Girls
. All the songs on the album were written by men - Amos took on different characters to interpret them from a woman's point of view. Yoko Ono had to approve this, and she did.
The Breeders covered this on their 1990 album Pod. (thanks, Melissa - Madrid, IA)
Ville Valo of HIM
The lead singer for HIM shares some surprising insights about their songs, which he says can take years to complete.
Greg Lake of Emerson, Lake & Palmer
Greg talks about writing songs of "universal truth" for King Crimson and ELP, and tells us about his most memorable stage moment (it involves fireworks).