I Am the Walrus

Originally Performed ByThe Beatles
Original Album“Hello Goodbye” Single B-Side (24 November 1967)
VocalsTrey (lead), all (backing)
Phish Debut2010-06-29
Last Played2023-10-11
Current Gap16
HistorianChris Bertolet (bertoletdown), Isaac Cate (ImStillUpsideDown)
Last Update2023-10-25


Ask a passing Beatles fan about this track and he’s likely to either (a) misquote the gibberish chorus, or (b) offer up a bunch of apocryphal nonsense about how the Walrus was Paul and Paul is dead and if you play the record backwards blah blah blah. But when it comes to “I Am the Walrus,” the truth trumps fiction.

Written by John Lennon (but credited to Lennon/Mccartney) from inspiration by Lewis Carroll's 1871 poem "The Walrus and the Carpenter,'' a couple of acid trips, and hanging with Yoko, the song first appeared as the B-side for “Hello Goodbye” before turning up in the Beatles’ film Magical Mystery Tour. “Writing obscurely, a la Dylan,” as he explained in a 1980 Playboy interview, he intended it partly to skewer celebrity artists like Allen Ginsberg going all-in on Hare Krishna (“naive penguin”) as well to just generally confuse listeners trying to find deep meanings in Beatles songs

The Beatles - “I Am the Walrus” (Official Video). Video by The Beatles. 

Yes, the lyrics were LSD-inspired, but what really sets “Walrus” apart is the song’s unique harmonic structure. All the major chords are used (A through G) and the only other chords are major sevenths. It gets better. The face-melting outro, notes musicologist Alan W. Pollack, “is a harmonic Möbius strip with scales in bassline and top voice that move in contrary motion.” In other words, the bassline is descending and the string parts (covered by Trey and Page in the debut version) are ascending. All of this adds up to a song that is far more difficult to play – or at least to play well – than it might sound.

Phish “I Am the Walrus” – 6/29/10, Canandaigua, NY

Phish’s first crack at “I Am the Walrus” on 6/29/10 in Canandaigua, NY proved to be crowd pleasing and well executed. It emerged from a nitrous oxide fog at the end of “Simple,” sandwiched inside a “Mike’s Groove.” After falling off setlists for six years, the song finally returned in 2016 at Wrigley as the encore, moving into a closing capacity – though they have been flexible with where it falls in that role.

Phish ”I Am the Walrus” – 07/29/17, New York, NY. Video by LazyLightning55a 

Whether you got the next version from the technical-difficulties-ridden Xfinity Center 2016 show as encore, the quote-filled performance on Cinnamon night of the Baker’s Dozen or its following renditions during the 2021 Halloween run and Summer 2023 MSG stand as the first set concluding song, or even the beautiful version from Nutter 2023 to close out the second set, “I Am the Walrus” has become a most well received cover with a powerful outro recalling the band’s mastery of another Beatles’ masterpiece, “A Day in the Life.”

Phish “I Am The Walrus - 8/1/23, MSG, New York, NY. Video by Gregory M

And, while you’re here, check out this incredible mashup of the 10/30/21 version with strings composed by George Martin by phish.net user @gloverab.

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