Friday, May 21, 2010

"Happiness Is a Warm Gun"

"Happiness Is a Warm Gun" is a song by The Beatles featured on the eponymous double-disc album The Beatles (also known as The White Album). It is primarily a John Lennon composition, credited to Lennon/McCartney. The original working title of the song was "Happiness Is a Warm Gun in Your Hand," which was inspired by a magazine containing the phrase, which in turn parodied "Happiness Is a Warm Puppy," a Peanuts book written and illustrated by Charles Schulz in 1962.


According to Lennon, the title came from the cover of a gun magazine that producer George Martin showed him: "I think he showed me a cover of a magazine that said 'Happiness Is a Warm Gun.' It was a gun magazine. I just thought it was a fantastic, insane thing to say. A warm gun means you just shot something."

"Happiness Is a Warm Gun" is Paul McCartney'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.


Lennon once claimed the song was "sort of a history of rock and roll," as it features five different sections but is less than three minutes long. The song begins with a brief lilting section ("She's not a girl who misses much..."). Drums, bass and distorted guitar are introduced as this portion of the song proceeds. The surreal imagery from this section is allegedly taken from an acid trip that Lennon and Derek Taylor experienced, with Taylor contributing the opening lines. After this, the song transitions into a Lennon song fragment called "I Need a Fix," built around an ominous-sounding guitar riff. This section drifts into the next section, a chorus of "Mother Superior jumped the gun."

The final section is a doo-wop send up, with the back-up of vocals of "bang, bang, shoot shoot." The song's multiple sections inspired Radiohead's three part "Paranoid Android" on OK Computer.

One of the most salient musical features of the song is its frequent shifts in meter. Beginning in 6/4 time, the song shifts to 4/4 time before the line "a soap impression of his wife which he ate an donated to the National Trust", which uses a measure of 5/4, then 4/4, and to 9/8 and 6/8 time for the guitar solo in the "I need a fix..." section. This gives way to 9/8 and 10/8 measures in the "Mother Superior..." section before returning to 4/4 for the majority of the doo-wop style ending. During Lennon's spoken-word interlude, the song switches into 12/8 for three measures, with Ringo playing a 6/4 beat under it.


Many different interpretations of the song have been offered down the years. It has been said that, in addition to the obvious reference mentioned above, the "Warm Gun" could also allude to Lennon's sexual desire for Yoko Ono and also to his well documented problems with heroin at the time of the recording of The White Album (in this case, the gun being a loaded syringe, although Lennon claimed to have snorted, rather than injected, heroin during the time that he used the drug). Another heroin reference in the song is the line "I need a fix, 'cuz I'm going down/Down to the bits that I left uptown."


* John Lennon - lead vocals, backing vocals, lead guitar
* Paul McCartney - bass guitar, backing vocals
* George Harrison - fuzzed lead guitar, backing vocals
* Ringo Starr - drums, tambourine

Cover versions

* Tori Amos, on the album Strange Little Girls
* Phish, on the album Live Phish Volume 13
* U2, as a B-side of the single "Last Night on Earth"
* Alanis Morissette, during the 1995-1996 Can't Not Tour
* Joe Anderson with Salma Hayek, for the soundtrack of Across the Universe
* Guns N' Roses on the Use Your Illusion Tour
* The Breeders, on the album Pod
* Marc Ribot, on the album Saints
* Dream Theater, circulating in live bootlegs online

Other Uses

It was featured in the Michael Moore documentary Bowling for Columbine in a montage sequence and in the film Across the Universe in which Maxwell is being injected with morphine. Marilyn Manson's single "Get Your Gunn" contains a remix entitled "Mother Inferior Got Her Gunn," a reference to the line "Mother Superior jumped the gun." On the album, "Rarities Volume 1," the song is spelled "Hapiness is a Warm Gun", missing the second "p" in happiness.

Album: The Beatles
Released: 22 November 1968
Recorded: Abbey Road Studios, 24–25 September 1968
Genre: Hard rock, doo wop, Progressive rock
Length: 2:43
Label: Apple Records
Writer: Lennon/McCartney
Producer: George Martin


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