Who ‘didn’t notice that the lights had changed’?

Kieran McGovern
The Beatles FAQ
Published in
3 min readFeb 28


The ‘rather sad’ news about a friend of The Beatles

Tara Browne and wife Nicky in 1966

He blew his mind out in a car.

He didn’t notice that the lights had changed

A crowd of people stood and stared. They’d seen his face before

A Day in the Life (Lennon & McCartney)

John Lennon was an avid reader of British newspapers all his adult life. During the second phase of his songwriting career, when he was trying to escape from the restrictions of the ‘I love you/Yes, I do formula’, he sometimes looked to headlines for lyrical inspiration.

While composing his section(s) of A Day in The Life, Lennon had a copy of The Daily Mail of 17th January 1967 open at the piano. This flagrant disregard of the concentrate-on-what-you-are-doing rule directly inspired the opening line:

I read the news today, oh boy. About a lucky man…

We will learn that ‘lucky’ is double-edged here for it refers to the coroner’s report on the death of an Irish socialite, Tara Browne, killed in a road accident. The ‘Oh boy’ hints at the writer’s personal connection.

The Beatles had known the young Guinness heir socially. He had been a fixture on the London club scene, and his Mayfair mews house had often been the venue for after hours parties. John Lennon, who like Browne was a young father and husband, was only an occasional attendee. Paul McCartney saw Browne more frequently, as did The Rolling Stones.

The young socialite was particularly friendly with Paul’s brother Mike and with Brian Jones. Both were on the two private jets ferrying guests to Browne’s bacchanalian 21st birthday party. This was held in Wicklow, Ireland, in March 1966. The presence of one or more Beatles has been rumoured but never confirmed.

Tara (right) his mother Oonagh Guiness at 21st birthday party

On December 18 in the same year Browne died in a car crash. The young Irishman drove his sports car through a red light at high speed (over 100 mph) in South Kensington. This had then crashed into a parked van, killing the driver instantly.

Browne was by this point separated from his wife Nicky. His girlfriend, 18 year-old fashion model Suki Potier, survived the crash. She later suggesting that Browne had swerved his turquoise Lotus Elan to save her life. Court reports indicated high levels of alcohol and LSD in the driver’s blood.

The phrase ‘blew his mind out’ is a macabre pun. It juxtaposes drug-fuelled ecstasy with the brutal reality of Browne’s death. The vocal phrasing is disembodied, as if both the writer and subject are tripping on LSD.

Lennon McCartney?

John Lennon immortalised the tragic death of someone he neither knew well,nor particularly liked. According to Tara’s estranged wife, Nicky, Lennon was openly contemptuous of Browne and his aristocratic fast set.

Ironically, Tara Browne had a much stronger link with the McCartney brothers. It was Tara, who Paul described as ‘a sensitive guy’, who persuaded McCartney to take LSD (he had previously resisted overtures from the other Beatles).

Tara was also with Paul in Liverpool on the occasion of his moped accident in December 1965. The resulting McCartney chipped tooth lead to the first appearance of the Sergeant Pepper moustache.

McCartney has expressed unease about identifying his late friend with the lyric. In his wide ranging 1997 conversation with Barry Miles, he attempted to correct the record.

The verse about the politician blowing his mind out in a car we wrote together. It has been attributed to Tara Browne, the Guinness heir, which I don’t believe is the case; certainly as we were writing it.

I was not attributing it to Tara in my head.

In John’s head it might have been. In my head I was imagining a politician bombed out on drugs who’d stopped at some traffic lights and didn’t notice that the lights had changed. The “blew his mind” was purely a drugs reference, nothing to do with a car crash.



Kieran McGovern
The Beatles FAQ

Author. Write here about growing up in an Irish family in west London. Plus Beatles FAQ & Brief Lives - tales about writers, musicians & other reprobates