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Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill

Richard Cooke III, his mother Nancy and the tiger
The time that the Beatles spent in Rishikesh, India in early 1968 was a particularly fertile one for the songwriting skills of John, Paul and George.  The hours of meditation plus many more hours sitting around with their acoustic guitars yielded a bumper crop of songs that would result in a double album later in the year.  John, however, also derived inspiration from a few incidents that occurred during his seven-week stay, including a tiger hunt by an American who came to visit his mother at the ashram.  Lennon lampooned the macho ritual by turning it into a jolly cartoon singalong with a cardboard hero.

The group met at George's house at the end of May to record demos of all of the songs they had ready to go once sessions for the new album commenced.  The demo for The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill  reveals that John had the composition pretty much set, yet the band did not get around to actually recording the song until months later when the sessions for the "White Album" were nearly over.

In fact, realizing that the finish line was in sight by the evening of October 8th, Lennon pushed the group to complete two of his songs in a marathon sixteen-hour session.  The bulk of the time was allotted to I'm So Tired before they turned their attention to Bungalow Bill around 4am.  With John and George on acoustic guitars, Paul on bass and Ringo on drums, only three takes were recorded before John was satisfied with the basic track.

They then moved on to overdubs of John playing an organ, Ringo shaking a tambourine and Paul adding more bass.  When John recorded his lead vocal, the informal atmosphere of the session was preserved by having everyone in the room join in the chorus, including all four Beatles, Yoko and Ringo's wife Maureen.  Furthermore, John had Yoko sing a solo line and double one of his lines.

George Martin was back in the producer's chair, but young Chris Thomas, who had produced several tracks for the album while Martin was away on holiday, was present and was corralled into playing the most interesting overdubs on the track.  The Mellotron, that fascinating early version of the synthesizer, was used throughout the song, sounding like a mandolin in the verses and like a trombone during the repeated choruses at the end.  In addition, the intricate Spanish guitar part which opens the song came from a tape heard when depressing one of the Mellotron's keys, making it one of the earliest examples of sampling on record.    

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