AUTHORSHIP Lennon (.8) and McCartney (.2)
This song was taken almost entirely from a Victorian circus poster. The poster, advertising a performance by Pablo Fanque's Circus Royal to be held at the Town Meadows, Rochdale, on February 14, 1843, was bought by John from an antique shop in Sevenoaks, Kent, when the Beatles were filming a promotional clip for "Strawberry Fields Forever" on January 31, 1967. All the main characters of the song feature on the poster: for example, Mr. Henderson, who announced his intention to leap "through a hogshead of real fire . . . Mr. H. challenges the World!" The evening was advertised as "Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite".
LENNON: " 'Mr. Kite' was a straight lift. I had all the words staring me in the face one day when I was looking for a song. It was from this old poster I'd bought at an antique shop. We'd been down in Surrey or somewhere filming a piece. . . . There was a break, and I went into this shop and bought an old poster advertising a variety show which starred Mr. Kite. It said the Hendersons would also be there, late of Pablo Fanques Fair. There would be hoops and horses and someone going through a hogshead of real fire. Then there was Henry the Horse. The band would start at ten to six. All at Bishopsgate. Look, there's the bill, with Mr. Kite topping it. I hardly made up a word, just connecting the lists together. Word for word, really." The Beatles: Illustrated and Updated Edition
PETE SHOTTON: "John composed 'Mr. Kite' squinting across the room at the framed poster, while his fingers found suitable melodic patterns." John Lennon: In My Life
McCARTNEY: " 'Mr. Kite' was a poster that John had in his house in Weybridge. I arrived there for a session one day and he had it up on the wall in his living room. It was all there, the trampoline, the somersets, the hoops, the garters, the horse. It was Pablo Fanque's fair, and it said 'being for the benefit of Mr. Kite'; almost the whole song was written right off this poster. We just sat down and wrote it. We pretty much took it down word for word and then just made up some little bits and pieces to glue it together. It was more John's because it was his poster so he ended up singing it, but it was quite a co-written song. We were both sitting there to write it at his house, just looking at it on the wall in the living room. But that was nice, it wrote itself very easily. Later George Martin put a fairground sound on it." Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now
McCARTNEY: ". . . 'The Hendersons' - you couldn't make that up." Own Words
The poster was bought during the filming of the "Penny Lane" and "Strawberry Fields Forever" film clips. The performance it advertised was for February 14, 1843. It Was Twenty Years Ago Today
LENNON: "I wasn't very proud of that. There was no real work. I was just going through the motions because we needed a new song for Sgt. Pepper at that moment." The Beatles: Illustrated and Updated Edition
February 17, 1967, at Abbey Road, with overdubbing February 20 and March 28, 29, and 31
MARTIN: "Paul would sit down and ask what I planned to do with his songs, every note virtually. . . . Lots of the arrangements of his songs were very much his ideas which I would have to implement. John would be more vague in what he wanted. He would talk in metaphors about his ideas. I'd have to get inside his brain to find out what he wanted. It would be more of a psychological approach.
"He'd say - for example, on 'Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite!' - 'This song's about a fairground. A little bit mystified. I want to get the feeling of the sawdust and the feel of the ring. Can you do something about it?' I'd then have to think how that imagery could be transformed into sound." Lennon : The Definitive Biography
Lennon wanted the authentic sound of a steam organ, but Martin told him none that existed could be played by hand (they were all played by punched cards). The Long and Winding Road: An Intimate Guide to the Beatles
So Martin took tapes of old Victorian steam organs and asked the engineer to cut them into small sections, about a foot long. Then he told him to fling them up into the air and put them back together again at random. The result, of course, made no sense in strictly musical terms, but it did produce the kind of aural wash Martin was looking for. The Long and Winding Road: An Intimate Guide to the Beatles
GEORGE MARTIN: " 'Geoff,' I said, 'we're going to try something here; I want you to cut that tape there up into sections that are roughly fifteen inches long.' Geoff reached for the scissors and began snipping.
"In no time at all we had a small pyramid of worm-like tape fragments piled up on the floor at our feet. 'Now,' I said, 'pick them all up and fling them into the air!' He looked at me. Naturally, he thought I'd gone mad . . .
"'Now, pick 'em up and put them together again, and don't look at what you're doing,' I told Geoff . . . When I listened to them, they formed a chaotic mass of sound . . . it was unmistakably a steam organ. Perfect! There was a fairground atmosphere we had been looking for. John was thrilled to bits with it." Summer of Love: The Making of Sgt. Pepper
McCARTNEY: bass, lead guitar
LENNON: Hammond organ (main melody), lead vocal
GEORGE MARTIN: Wurlitzer organ (countermelody), piano
MAL EVANS: harmonica
NEIL ASPINALL: harmonica
The last half of McCartney's guitar solo was on an acoustic with its tone altered. The Long and Winding Road: An Intimate Guide to the Beatles with Guitar (November 1987)
McCARTNEY: "I remember we had one thing that required a sustained organ note, 'Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite', so I said to Mal, 'Look, that's the note. I'll put a little marker on it. When I go "There", hit it.' Which he did. And I said, 'When I shake my head, take your finger off.' So for that kind of a part, he was very helpful." Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now
COMMENTS BY BEATLES
LENNON: "People want to know what the inner meaning of 'Mr. Kite' was. There wasn't any. I just did it. I shoved a lot of words together, then shoved some noise on. I just did it. I didn't dig that song when I wrote it. I didn't believe in it when I was doing it. But nobody will believe it. They don't want to. They want it to be important." The Beatles: Illustrated and Updated Edition
LENNON: "The story that Henry the Horse meant heroin was rubbish." Hit Parader (April 1972)
LENNON: "Everything in the song is from that poster, except the horse wasn't called Henry. Now, there were all kinds of stories about Henry the Horse being heroin. I had never seen heroin in that period. No, it's all just from that poster. The song is pure, like a painting, a pure watercolour." September 1980, All We Are Saying: The Last Major Interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono