Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Happiness is a Warm Gun

John Lennon got the title of the song, "Happiness is a Warm Gun," from an NRA advertisement he saw in a magazine. The full quote "Happiness is a warm gun in your hand" was the working title of the song. The idea of a warm gun (meaning that it was just fired) being the object of happiness was a little shocking to Lennon. He thought a love song for one's gun would be a great exercise in irony. This is ironic in a lot of ways, not only because of Lennon's death by gun violence, but the fact that he may not have known that the advertisement itself was a parody of a Charles Schultz Peanuts books, Happiness is a Warm Puppy. This Beatles' song is a parody of a parody.

Lennon called this song a chronicle of the history of rock n' roll. It changes tempo many times going from 2/4 time to 3/4 time to 6/8, 3/4, 4/4 and ends in 6/4 time. It also includes some spoken word and a doo-wop featuring the lyrics bang bang shoot shoot. It also contains one of my favorite Beatles' lines, Mother Superior jump the gun. It is a great song but didn't get a lot of airplay as you could imagine. Lennon was not only a victim of gun violence but he was a victim of bad timing. The Beatles album (more common known as The White Album) was released in November 1968. Considering what was happening in the news in 1968, one can understand why no radio station would go near this song. The public had had enough of gun violence, the irony of the song would have been lost on most of them I am afraid.

What I have always found interesting about The White Album is how if you shuffle some of the songs around, you basically have a couple of solo albums featuring Lennon and Paul McCartney with a handful of Ringo and George songs thrown in. The Lennon/McCartney songs were a lot more just Lennon or just McCartney songs rather than the usual collaborative pieces. The fissures in the band were very deep by then. The end was near.

The album was originally going to be titled The Doll House but was changed when another band called Family released an album with the same name. The White Album is 10th best selling album of all time and considered by many to be the best Beatles album. Rock 'n roll lends itself well to discord. Some of the best rock albums were created during chaotic situations where the band members were not even talking to each other. Off the top of my head I can think of Rumours by Fleetwood Mac and The Final Cut by Pink Floyd. I am sure there are more.


Theophane said...

Could this song be an example of Poe's Law? People didn't get the intended irony.

Mark Peloquin said...

Yes, I think this is a perfect example of Poe's Law.