Wednesday, July 20, 2011

60. Beatles, "Happiness Is a Warm Gun" (1968)


This is mostly a John Lennon song but Paul McCartney has supposedly said (reported by Wikipedia without citation) that it's his favorite on the White Album. That alone arguably makes it as good an example as any of a "Lennon/McCartney" composition, so many written by one and tweaked by the other and hashed into their beguiling final forms in the studio (in many ways the real instrument they played over the arc of their career, one reason I'm satisfied to call George Martin the one and only fifth Beatle). I admit I'm a bit of a Beatles crank when it comes to the White Album; I think it somehow manages the feat of being a good deal less than the sum of its parts. But the parts that are good (this, "Back in the U.S.S.R.," "Good Night," a few others) are very, very good. Lennon later denied "Warm Gun" was the drug song so many read into it (i.e., gun = syringe) on the basis that his period of heroin addiction did not involve injections. Well, maybe. He claimed rather that he got it off a headline on a gun lovers' magazine. He did acknowledge the sexual innuendo, maintaining that side of it emerged as part of the sparking with Yoko Ono. But trying to "explain" this song falls short of the complexity and piercing harshness so compacted into its less than three minutes: the altogether oppressive vibe, a quasi rape scene rendered in classic Lennon streams of language, the squawls and menacing lines of guitar, "I need a fix 'cos I'm going down," a mother superior (what?) who "jumped the gun," and a vocal performance that flits in and out of something dredged from the bottom of a soul, with a good deal of dynamics. Plus "bang bang shoot shoot" going on in the background on the chorus—for the comic relief, I suppose.


  1. Great choice. Quite possibly my favorite on the White Album.

    What do you think of The Breeders cover of this?

  2. The Breeders cover is a nice gesture but the Beatles version is so original that it's a tough act to follow.