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Sunday, February 5, 2017

Cry Baby Cry

In his authorized biography of the Beatles, Hunter Davies describes a conversation with John Lennon about songwriting in which John revealed that he had an idea for a song based on an ad jingle that went "cry baby cry, make your mother buy."  This conversation took place some time before the group's trip to India in early 1968.  Donovan Leitch recalls that John returned to the song while in Rishikesh, working on the Lewis Carroll-like verses.  It was definitely finished by May and was, in fact, the very first demo recorded at George's house before the Beatles began sessions for the "White Album."

With so many songs having been written in India, a month and a half went by before the band returned to this composition to make a proper recording.  During an afternoon session on July 15th, they put some finishing touches on both Revolution and Ob-la-di Ob-la-da.  After a break, the lads reconvened at 9pm to rehearse Cry Baby Cry.  They spent six hours and as many as thirty takes getting the arrangement that John wanted, then broke for the day.  Unbelievably, these rehearsal tapes were re-used over the following days, wiping out some potentially fascinating glimpses into the process.

The rehearsals did pay off, however, as the official take one, recorded the next day and available on Anthology 3, demonstrates.  John sings a guide vocal and plays acoustic guitar, and Paul and Ringo play bass and drums as usual.  There is a brief instrumental introduction that would be eliminated by the master take, but many of the subtle touches that enhance the menacing mood of the piece are already in place.  By take ten, the master, George was adding some occasional notes from an organ to the mix.  Overdubs of producer George Martin on harmonium and John on piano were also added on this evening.

Overdubbing continued on July 18th, including a new lead vocal by John, backing vocals by Paul, a bit of lead guitar from George, tambourine from Ringo and more harmonium by George Martin.  The group also recorded some tea party sound effects heard during the third verse.  By this point, the song was considered complete, yet on September 17th, with eight-track recording now available at Abbey Road Studios, an eight-track copy of the master was made in preparation for more possible overdubs.  None were ever made.

During the twenty-four hour session on October 16th and 17th when John, Paul and George Martin determined the running order of the album, they made the inspired decision to tack an uncredited snippet from McCartney (generally known as "Can You Take Me Back") onto the abrupt end of Cry Baby Cry.  This piece perfectly matches the haunting mood of Lennon's song and creates a clever segue into the sound collage Revolution 9.

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