New GCSE to include study of Beatles' drugs song lyrics

William Stewart

William Stewart

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Pupils will study the meaning of the lyrics of a Beatles song, widely suspected to be a portrayal of a drug-induced "trip", under a planned new GCSE.

Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds is one of three tracks from the Beatles’ classic 1967 album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band that the AQA exam board is including in its music GCSE for the first time.

The board says: “As part of the teaching for the course, students will be asked to look at the various aspects which make up the songs – including the melody, harmony, structure, rhythm and the meaning behind the music and lyrics.”

The course will also give pupils the option of demonstrating DJing skills such as hip-hop style “scratching” for the performance section of the qualification.

Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds has long been thought by some to be a portrayal of an LSD trip, because of the initials of the main words in the title and the content of the lyrics.

Lines in the track include “Picture yourself on a train in a station with plasticine porters with looking-glass ties” and “Everyone smiles as you drift past the flowers that grow so incredibly high”.

LSD, a psychedelic drug popular in the 1960s and taken by Beatles John Lennon and Paul McCartney, can induce vivid hallucinations.

Lennon always denied any reference to drugs in the song and said it was inspired by his son Julian’s nursery school drawings. McCartney has also said that the song title had nothing to do with LSD, but in a 2004 interview he admitted the track had been influenced by drugs, saying “that’s pretty obvious”.

An AQA spokesperson said: “We know that the Beatles have said the song is not a reference to drugs, so this might be something that gets debated – although there’s no specific requirement for this to happen.”

The other songs from the same Beatles album included in the proposed new GCSE are With a Little Help from My Friends and Within You, Without You.

The course will also include songs from legendary guitarist Carlos Santana’s Supernatural album and classical music by composers Copland and Haydn.

Seb Ross, head of AQA’s music department, said: “Pop music began in this country with the Beatles in the swinging Sixties, so what better band to look to for the study of contemporary music than the Fab Four.

“We’ve chosen the Beatles because John, Paul, Ringo and George helped to define popular music and the iconic Sgt. Pepper album has taken on a life of its own, so it’s an exciting addition to AQA’s music GCSE.”

Ernie Sutton, treasurer of the British Beatles Fan Club, said: “It's a great tribute to the Beatles that their music is being studied for the new AQA music GCSE.

“The Beatles changed the face of popular music and songwriting in a very short space of time, which future musicians benefited from. It is fantastic that young people can study their groundbreaking and influential Sgt. Pepper album, which changed recording techniques for ever.”

The GCSE is being submitted to exams regulator Ofqual and if accredited will be available to teach from September 2016.

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