Just couldn't let this one pass without a few words, even if it's mostly cribbed from my own old post...
“Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” / The Beatles
I didn’t know what to make of this song in 1967; it weirded me out a whole lot more than the psychedelic images of “Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds,” or even the apocalyptic sorrow of “A Day In the Life.” I’m not sure I know what to make of it even now . . . but in some ways it’s my favorite song on this album. And with the news of George Martin's passing, it's a good time to listen again to see what that revolutionary record producer contributed to the brilliance of the Beatles.
Apparently John Lennon transcribed this song almost word for word from an old circus poster, with just a few tweaks to make things rhyme. That info makes this song at least a bit more comprehensible to me. Veering in and out of minor keys, Lennon's melody weaves a nightmare experience -- and the sinister sound effects added by George Martin were crucial.
There's that haunting barrel organ, the whirligig Wurlitzer fills, splashes of tinny harpsichord, the cacophony of triangles and backwards snippets of strings and who-knows-what-else at the end, as Mr. Kite tops the bill. (That part is practically like a Hieronymus Bosch painting.) And above all the stealthy bass line and relentless lockstep drums -- that foregrounded cymbal crash, over and over. It gives me the chills, every time.
The strange phrases filched from the poster only add to the creepy carnival atmosphere – the hogshead of real fire, Henry the Horse dancing the waltz, Mr. Henderson demonstrating ten somersaults on solid ground, it’s all surreal and discombobulated. Whatever the lyrics tell you, the music is telling you that this is dangerous territory – something akin to Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, about an evil traveling show blowing into a small town. Mr. Kite could very well be Satan (Mr. K will challenge the world! Mr. K performs his tricks without a sound! And tonight Mr K is topping the bill!). No wonder it freaked me out when I was 13.
I assume that this tacky showbiz outfit has some parallel to the Beatles themselves, thrust into the spotlight and expected to perform like capering monkeys. The insane circus that surrounded the Beatles – something in this freakish daredevil act obviously spoke to John Lennon. And as Lennon tapped into his subconscious, George Martin was there at his elbow, like a good shrink in his proper English gentleman's suit and tie, feeding him all the aural threads to weave into the tapestry.