Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Baby You're a ... What?

"Baby You're a Rich Man" was a joining of two separate songs, the first, written by John, was called "One of the Beautiful People"; the other, which became the chorus of the completed song, was "Baby You're a Rich Man", written by Paul. Combining two unrelated songs — one a John song, one a Paul song — had worked well for the Beatles a few months earlier, for the finale of the Sgt Pepper album — "A Day in the Life" — which was a John song surrounding a Paul song ("Woke up, fell out of bed" etc.) in the middle. In the case of "A Day in the Life", John's part was in the key of G and Paul's was in E, and the Beatles, rather than resolve this dilemma the easy way — i.e., by changing the key of one of the song fragments; or of both and meeting somewhere in the middle, around F or F# — chose, instead, to add the famous 24 bars of orchestra instrumentation, with George Martin, the Beatles' producer, instructing the very nervous classical orchestra instrumentalists to start at the lowest note their instruments were capable of and, proceeding ever upwards on the scale, end, 24 bars later, at the instrument's highest note — and nobody would question how they got there as long as everyone got there by the end of bar 24.

Martin explained:

What I did there was to write ... the lowest possible note for each of the instruments in the orchestra. At the end of the twenty-four bars, I wrote the highest note...near a chord of E major. Then I put a squiggly line right through the twenty-four bars, with reference points to tell them roughly what note they should have reached during each bar ... Of course, they all looked at me as though I were completely mad

This insane structure led to the making of what is considered by many to be the best recording, the best song, of the Beatles' entire career.

So combining two entirely different songs was a strategy that had worked well, to put it mildly, for the Beatles in the past.

It works well, here, too, in "Baby You're a Rich Man". This is no masterpiece, like "ADitL" — in fact, it was issued as a B side to a single ("All You Need Is Love"), so the Beatles themselves were under no illusions as to its relative quality. Still, it is a good song that I always liked and it has a rich and interesting history of it's own. A history that also makes the song kind of hard to enjoy.

"BYaRM" is rumored to be aimed at Brian Epstein, the Beatles manager. Epstein, who was Jewish and homosexual, began managing the Beatles in late 1961 after he saw the then leather-clad Beatles perform at the Cavern Club in Liverpool. There have been reductivist arguments that the only reason the cultured upper-middle class Epstein was interested in the Beatles was because he was attracted to John Lennon because of the latter's bad-boy-in-leather persona. This is utter hogwash, in my estimation, although it is true that Epstein was attracted to John.

John, in turn, cared deeply for Brian, but John treated him as he did just about every person in his life: with a mixture of affection and cruelty. When the Beatles hit it big and Epstein was approached to write an autobiography detailing How He Made The Beatles Big, he would often muse out loud in front of the lads, "O, I wonder what I should call my book?"

John, tiring of these attempts by Brian to draw attention to himself, once brought Epstein to tears by cruelly answering, "How about Queer Jew?" Epstein ultimately titled the book, A Cellarful of Noise — the "cellar" being the famous literally underground Cavern Club — which John and the other Beatles would often derisively refer to as A Cellarful of Boys.

By May of 1967, when the Beatles recorded "Baby You're a Rich Man", Epstein was in a tailspin (he would die of an accidental drug overdoes in August of 1967) because the Beatles had stopped touring and he was convinced that they might not need him anymore. His life was falling apart, noticeably, and "Baby You're a Rich Man" was rumored to be the Beatles' attempt to let him know that everything was okay, that there was nothing to worry about: "Baby, you're a rich man, too!"

Except it was also rumored that John, allowing his cruel streak to show through even here, can be heard, at the end of the song, to be singing quite distinctly, "Baby You're a Rich Fag Jew." As much as I'd like to say that that is utter balderdash, that one can hear no such thing, I'm pretty sure it's there. There are other videos of "BYaRM"on youtube, ones that don't have voice overs on them describing the Beatles' attempt to buy a Greek Island in 1967, but I chose this one because you can actually hear the ending better and I swear the homophobic and anti-Semitic slur is palpably, sadly, lamentably there.

I love the Beatles and John in particular is one of my heroes, but he could be needlessly cruel and spiteful, as he himself was quick to point out. I wish he hadn't done this, hadn't publicly ridiculed his manager, his friend, but I'm pretty sure he did.

I may return to this topic tomorrow, if the mood strikes me. There is much more to say on it.

But I may also just leave it here because it may just be the case that the less said about it the better.


  1. WHERE IS LUMU?! Did you wear off on her? Is she trying to be like you?IS SHE YOU? Is she your alias?

  2. I knew John could be a real asshole, but shrugged if off to his being a genius, and I guess we as a culture tend to forgive geniuses for being assholes because they have to deal with the rest of us, and even for those of us who are not geniuses...we find the general public often difficult to deal with, so who could blame them. BUT, I have little patience for those who are mean and cruel to those who love them, which makes this account of John hard to read and very, very, very, sad. I like to think that someone who could have such insight into the human condition would be more of one himself, but perhaps that's asking too much.

    OK...I've rambled on about something I know very little about (forgive me), but thanks for giving me something new to think about tonight.