The Top 20 Beatles Songs, #13: “Julia”


Videos by American Songwriter

Album: The Beatles (The White Album) (1968)

Composer: Lennon/McCartney

“Julia” is John Lennon’s only solo contribution to any Beatles record. Some Beatles scholars believe that the song was written as a tribute to Lennon’s late mother, who was run over by an off-duty police officer in 1958. In reality, Lennon explains, “Julia was my mother. But it was sort of a combination of Yoko and my mother blended into one.”

Evidence of Yoko first appears in the second stanza (“Julia, Julia, ocean child calls me”); in Japanese, Yoko means “child of the sea.” By conflating two of his greatest loves into one melancholic requiem, Lennon is able to emote his various longings more clearly.

Though the song is a Lennon composition, much of the material is borrowed. He wrote “Julia” while spending time with the band in India. During that time (presumably while in an Eastern state of mind), Lennon read works by the Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran. Many of the song’s lyrics, including the opening line (“Half of what I say is meaningless, but I say it just to reach you”), are direct or paraphrased quotations from Gibran’s poems. Also, John’s fingerpicking on this track is due in part to a few lessons from the Scottish folk singer Donovan.

Nevertheless, this song is a poignant ode that could only be devised by the great John Lennon.


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  1. Only two lines in the song came from Gibran—and those were freely adapted to suit Lennon’s needs—so saying “many of the song’s lyrics” come from Gibran is more-than-a-little unfair. And Lennon learned an established fingerpicking style from Donovan? So what? Does that make the song”borrowed”?

    Great art takes its inspirations and transforms them into something new, fresh and personal. That’s exactly what John Lennon did with Julia.

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