Come Together is the opening track on The Beatles’ 1969 album Abbey Road. It’s pretty catchy and is considered one of the band’s top songs (Rolling Stone ranked it their ninth best). The song’s origin is interesting. Its genesis involved Timothy Leary.
Timothy Leary was a psychologist and Harvard professor who rose to fame (infamy?) in the 1960s for his championing of psychedelic drugs like LSD and psilocybin (mushrooms). He believed that psychedelics could play an important role in psychological treatment. Leary wasn’t the only scientist who believed that psychedelics could be an important drug for treating all sorts of mental health issues as research into the benefits of LSD and psilocybin was widespread in the 1950s and 1960s and used correctly showed great promise in treatment of numerous mental health afflictions.
Leary, rather than other psychologists, rose to fame because, in addition to scientific research, he was a culture warrior and publicity-seeking proponent of widespread psychedelic use. He was a leader of the counterculture movement of the 1960s. Famously, he encouraged young people to “turn on, tune in, drop out” and “think for yourself and question authority.”
Leary’s promotion of the widespread use of psychedelics backfired as mainstream culture pushed back. LSD, psilocybin and other psychedelics were classified as Schedule I substances (i.e., illegal for recreational and medical purposes).
Leary continued to promote psychedelic use after the drugs were banned and was targeted by the Federal Government. He was arrested and jailed in 1966 for possessing a small quantity of Marijuana. Famously, in 1970 he escaped from prison with the assistance of the revolutionary group The Weathermen. Over the remainder of his life, he was jailed 29 times.
Interestingly, research into the beneficial uses of psychedelics has enjoyed a renaissance over the past decade or so. Scientists at major universities (Johns Hopkins is a leader in this area) are studying the effectiveness of psychedelics in treating PTSD, addiction, fear of dying, and depression. Fingers crossed.
In 1969 Timothy Leary mounted a brief campaign for governor of California against actor Ronald Reagan. Around that time, John Lennon and Yoko Ono were hanging out with Leary and Lennon asked him if he could help him with his gubernatorial campaign. Leary responded that he could write a campaign song for him. Leary’s campaign slogan was “Come together, join the party!” so Lennon penned a song called “Come Together.”
The final version of Come Together morphed quite a bit from the early campaign anthem after Lennon spent more time with the song and the rest of The Beatles provided suggestions.
The result was a hit: Come Together hit the top of the charts in the US and rose to No. 4 in the UK. It was the last song the four Beatles collaborated on.