Video Classics: ‘Happiness Is A Warm Gun’

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John Lennon Memorabilia at Auction (Mario Tama, Getty Images)

John Lennon Memorabilia at Auction (Mario Tama, Getty Images)

Closing out side one of [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]the Beatles[/lastfm] White Album, “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” is a complex, quirky little piece that [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]John Lennon[/lastfm] once called “sort of a history of rock and roll,” as it fits in many different stylistic changes in its numerous sections, all in a song that is under three minutes long.

Like most Beatles songs, the writing credits are for Lennon/McCartney, but as most fans of the Fab Four know, they often issued dual writing credits when, in fact, the song was largely the creation of one or the other. In this instance, the song is largely a Lennon effort, pieced together from many different sources of inspiration and remarkably complex in its construction. The song shifts meter no less than eight different times; quite a musical accomplishment but making it almost impossible to dance to.

Lennon is said to have taken the title from the cover of a magazine George Martin showed him. From Wikipedia:

“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 reportedly Paul McCartney’s favorite song from the White Album. While the band was experiencing quite a bit of internal tension this late in their career together, the challenging nature of the song’s rhythm and meter meant the members had to pull together and work in close cooperation in order to successfully lay down the track. Consequently, the song is less a vanity showcase piece for one individual member’s style (as so many of their songs were becoming) and instead is one of the few true “Beatles” songs on the album.

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