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Friday, December 9, 2016

Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite

The story goes that the Beatles were in Sevenoaks, Kent making a promotional film for their new single Strawberry Fields Forever on January 31st, 1967 when, during a break, John Lennon wandered into an antique shop and bought a poster that he fancied which described a circus act in great detail.  The lyrics for the song Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite come almost exclusively from that poster.  For many years, it was believed that Lennon wrote the song alone, but Paul McCartney has rather recently revealed that he and John worked on the song together at John's house while constantly referring to the poster for inspiration.

The song was ready to be recorded on February 17th.  The only instruments on the basic track this day were Ringo's drums, Paul's bass and a harmonium played by producer George Martin.  On Anthology 2, we hear the first two very brief takes, with Paul advising John on how he should sing the song after the second take breaks down.  Take seven was best and two reduction mixes (remember that the Beatles were still using four-track tape at this time!) brought the master to take nine.  John overdubbed a new lead vocal and Paul and George added their brief harmony vocals onto this take.

At this point, John merely told George Martin that he wanted "to smell the sawdust" as a guide to all further work on the track.  Over the weekend, Martin searched high and low for a calliope that could be brought into the studio to help create a circus atmosphere, then opted instead for as many recordings of calliope music as he could round up on short notice.

On February 20th, as the Beatles waited impatiently in the studio, Martin and engineer Geoff Emerick cut the tapes of calliope samples into pieces, threw them up in the air and reassembled them at random.  The resulting wash of sound delighted the group once they heard it, though it would not be overdubbed onto the master for more than a month.

Work on the album Sgt. Pepper was nearing completion by the time they returned to the recording on March 28th.  Bass harmonicas were added to the song on this date, with George, Ringo and assistants Neil Aspinall and Mal Evens all taking turns playing according to various reports.  John also added a Hammond organ and Paul picked out a guitar part featured in the instrumental break.  The calliope tape was overdubbed on the 29th and George Martin added a second organ piece on a Wurlitzer, once again playing at half-speed as he had on In My Life so he could more easily make the chromatic runs.

The recording was finally finished on the 31st with Martin adding yet another swirling organ run and a glockenspiel at the end of the song and possibly pounding out the piano chords that introduce the last verse, as well.  Even on an album noted for the complexity of the recording process for each of its songs, Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite stands out as one of the most complex.  

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