Doctor Robert

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"Doctor Robert"
Song by the Beatles from the album Revolver
Released 5 August 1966
Recorded 17 and 19 April 1966
EMI Studios, London
Genre Psychedelic rock
Length 2:15
Label Parlophone
Writer Lennon–McCartney
Producer George Martin
Revolver track listing
"Doctor Robert"
Song by the Beatles from the album Yesterday...and Today
Released 20 June 1966
Recorded 17 and 19 April 1966
EMI Studios, London
Genre Psychedelic rock
Length 2:14
Label Capitol
Writer Lennon–McCartney
Producer George Martin

"Doctor Robert" is a song by the Beatles released on the album Revolver in the United Kingdom and on Yesterday and Today in the United States. The song was written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney[1] and recorded in seven takes on 17 April 1966 with vocals overdubbed 19 April.[2]

McCartney stated: "The song was a joke about this fellow who cured everyone of everything with all these pills and tranquilizers." "Doctor Robert," he added, "just kept New York high."[3]

Musical characteristics[edit]

The song is written in the key of A major, though the key center is B, thereby making it in the Dorian mode.[4] The musical arrangement has staggered layering, with backing vocals starting in the second verse, the lead guitar just before the bridge while the bridge itself has added harmonium and extra vocals mixed. John's lead is automatically double tracked with each of the two slightly-out-of-phase tracks split onto separate stereo channels; creating a surrealistic effect supporting the lyric about drug use.[4] An interesting feature is the suitably "blissful" modulation (on "well, well well you're feeling fine"[5]) to the key of B on the bridge via an F#7 pivot chord (VI7 in the old key of A and V7 in the new key of B) [6] The extended jam that lasts 43 seconds at the end was recorded, but it was removed and replaced with a fade-out. However, John says: "OK Herb", at the very last second of the song.

Personnel[edit]

Personnel per Ian McDonald.[7]

Identity of "Doctor Robert"[edit]

Multiple theories, some contradictory, have circulated about the identity of the real "Doctor Robert" and what, exactly, he peddled.

Candidates promulgated by The Beatles[edit]

The Beatles, themselves, promulgated some of these contradictory theories. In 1968, McCartney described the meaning of the song, saying: "There's some fellow in New York, and in the States we'd hear people say: 'You can get everything off him; any pills you want.' That's what Dr. Robert is all about, just a pill doctor who sees you all right."[8] In 1980, Lennon said that he was Doctor Robert: "I was the one who carried all the pills on tour ... in the early days".[9] But 17 years later, as the "Doctor Robert" article at the website "Beatles Music History! The In-Depth Story Behind the Songs of the Beatles" notes:

The speculation about the identity of "Dr. Robert" is convincingly cleared up in Paul McCartney's book "Many Years From Now." Co-author Barry Miles, reiterating Paul's account, explains as follows: "In fact, the name was based on the New York Dr. Feelgood character Dr. Robert Freymann, whose discreet East 78th Street clinic was conveniently located for Jackie Kennedy and other wealthy Upper East Siders from Fifth Avenue and Park to stroll over for their vitamin B-12 shots, which also happened to contain a massive dose of amphetamine. Dr. Robert's reputation spread and it was not long before visiting Americans told John and Paul about him."[10]

Other candidates[edit]

In "Twisted Tales: The Beatles' Real-Life Dr. Robert Had the Feel-Good Cure for Celebs" (2009), Spinner's James Sullivan addresses several others who had been considered candidates for the real-life Dr. Robert.[3] In addition to John Lennon and Dr. Robert Freymann, he cites:

  • "Bob Dylan, who had introduced the Beatles to the joys of smoking pot in the summer of 1964"
  • "gallery owner Robert Fraser. Fraser, who was friends with all the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and helped advance the careers of Pop artists like Peter Blake and Andy Warhol, was a bon vivant known as 'Groovy Bob' for his endless supply of mind-altering substances."[3]
  • Doctor Robert MacPhail, a fictional character in Island (1962), the last book by noted LSD advocate Aldous Huxley
  • "a dentist named John Riley", an acquaintance of John and Cynthia Lennon, George Harrison, and George's girlfriend Pattie Boyd, who "slipped their first hits of LSD in cups of coffee"

Dr. Robert Freymann[edit]

After considering each of the six above-mentioned candidates (Lennon, Freymann, Dylan, Fraser, MacPhail, and Riley), Sullivan concludes: "In fact, 'Dr. Robert' was about none of the above, or maybe a little of each. The real Doctor Feelgood was most likely Dr. Robert Freymann (c.1906-1987), a German-born Manhattan physician known to New York's artists and well-to-do for his vitamin B-12 injections, which also featured liberal doses of amphetamine. Freymann, who signed jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker's death certificate in 1955 (estimating the saxophonist's addiction-ravaged 34-year-old body to be between 50 and 60), bragged that he could rattle off 100 names of his celebrity patients (reportedly included Jackie Kennedy) in 10 minutes." Not surprisingly, writes Sullivan, "Freymann eventually lost his license to practice medicine".

The About.com Oldies Music article, "The Beatles Songs: Doctor Robert (The history of this classic Beatles song)" indicates "most historians" came to the same conclusion:

Paul McCartney, however, claims the real inspiration was Dr. Robert Freymann, a "speed doctor" on East 78th St. in Manhattan who regularly injected his famous clientele with amphetamines to get them through their day (or night). Most historians tend to agree with this explanation; everyone from Jackie Kennedy to Charlie Parker came for the good doctor's shots of Vitamin B-12 laced with speed. John's lyric, however, claims he "works for the National Health," which would make Dr. Robert a Brit, but this may have just been another example of Lennon's wordplay.[11]

The same About.com article provides further details:

Freymann, who authored a 1983 autobiography called What's So Bad About Feeling Good?, was ruined by the US government, which cracked down on amphetamine distribution in the early 70s after a series of deaths and an increasing number of addicts. Freymann, who later said that speed was "a good drug"[,] unfortunately "killed" by addicts, lost his medical license in 1975. He died in 1987.[11]

Cover versions[edit]

When Mojo released Revolver Reloaded in 2006, part of a continuing series of CDs of Beatles albums covered track-by-track by modern artists, "Doctor Robert" was covered by Luke Temple.[12]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Miles 1997, p. 290.
  2. ^ Lewisohn 1988, p. 75.
  3. ^ a b c James Sullivan (September 4, 2009). "Twisted Tales: The Beatles' Real-Life Dr. Robert Had the Feel-Good Cure for Celebs". Spinner. 
  4. ^ a b "Alan W. Pollack's Notes on "Doctor Robert"". Icce.rug.nl. Retrieved 2014-06-29. 
  5. ^ Gilliland 1969, show 39, track 5.
  6. ^ Walter Everett. The Beatles as Musicians: Revolver Through the Anthology. Oxford University Press. NY. 1999. p46
  7. ^ MacDonald 2005, p. 198.
  8. ^ Aldridge, Alan (14 January 1968). "Paul McCartney's Guide to the Beatles' Songbook". Los Angeles Times. p. B19. 
  9. ^ Sheff 2000, p. 180.
  10. ^ "Doctor Robert". "Beatles Music History! The In-Depth Story Behind the Songs of the Beatles". Retrieved May 2013. 
  11. ^ a b Robert Fontenot, About.com Guide. "The Beatles Songs: Doctor Robert (The history of this classic Beatles song)". About.com. Retrieved May 2013. 
  12. ^ "Revolver Reloaded - Track Listing | Mojo Cover CDs - The Definitive List". Mojo Cover CDs. Retrieved 2014-06-29. 

References[edit]

External links[edit]

See also[edit]