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Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!

"Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!" is a song recorded by the English rock band the Beatles for their 1967 album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. It was written and composed primarily by John Lennon and credited to Lennon-McCartney.

Most of the lyrics came from a 19th-century circus poster for Pablo Fanque's Circus Royal appearance at Rochdale. It was one of three songs from the Sgt. Pepper album that was banned from playing on the BBC, supposedly because the phrase "Henry the Horse" combined two words that were individually known as slang for heroin. Lennon denied that the song had anything to do with heroin.

Background

The inspiration to write the song was a 19th-century circus poster for Pablo Fanque's Circus Royal appearance at Rochdale. Lennon purchased the poster in an antique shop on 31 January 1967, while the Beatles were filming the promotional films for "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Penny Lane" in Sevenoaks, Kent. Lennon claimed years later to still have the poster in his home. "Everything from the song is from that poster," he explained, "except the horse wasn't called Henry." (The poster identifies the horse as "Zanthus".)

Mr. Kite is believed to be William Kite, who worked for Pablo Fanque from 1843 to 1845. "Mr. J. Henderson" was John Henderson, a wire-walker, equestrian, trampoline artist, and clown. While the poster made no mention of "Hendersons" plural, as Lennon sings, John Henderson did perform with his wife Agnes, the daughter of circus owner Henry Hengler. The Hendersons performed throughout Europe and Russia during the 1840s and 1850s. A hogshead is a large wooden cask.

"Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!" is credited to Lennon–McCartney, but Lennon said he had written it entirely himself. In 1977, when shown a list of songs Lennon claimed writing on (including "Mr. Kite"), McCartney disputed only "In My Life". In his 1997 memoir, he claimed to have also co-written "Mr. Kite". In a 2013 interview with Rolling Stone magazine, he recalled spending an afternoon with Lennon writing the song based on the poster, and said that "the song just wrote itself".

Recording

One of the most musically complex songs on Sgt. Pepper, it was recorded by the Beatles on 17 February 1967 with overdubs on 20 February (organ sound effects), 28 March (harmonica, organ, guitar), 29 March (more organ effects) and 31 March. Lennon wanted the track to have a "carnival atmosphere", and told producer George Martin that he wanted "to smell the sawdust on the floor". In the middle eight bars, multiple recordings of fairground organs and calliope music were spliced together to attempt to satisfy this request. In a 1968 interview, Martin recalled that he achieved this "by playing the Hammond organ myself and speeding it up". In addition to the Hammond organ, an attempt was made to find a 19th-century steam organ for hire in London, in order to enhance the carnival atmosphere effect, but to no avail. After a great deal of unsuccessful experimentation, Martin instructed recording engineer Geoff Emerick to chop the tape into pieces with scissors, throw them up in the air, and re-assemble them at random.

Before the start of the first take, Lennon sings the words "For the benefit of Mr. Kite!" in a joke accent, then Emerick announces, "For the Benefit of Mr. Kite! This is take 1." Lennon immediately responds, "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!", reinforcing his title preference from a phrase lifted intact from the original Pablo Fanque poster. The exchange is recorded in The Beatles Recording Sessions and audible on track 8 of disc 2 of Anthology 2. The original recording can also be heard during the loading screen for the song if it is downloaded in the video game The Beatles: Rock Band.

Although Lennon once said of the song that he "wasn't proud of that" and "I was just going through the motions", in 1980 he described it as "pure, like a painting, a pure watercolour".

Personnel

  • John Lennondouble-tracked lead vocals and harmony vocals, Hammond organ, tape loops, and harmonica
  • Paul McCartney – bass guitar, harmony vocal, lead guitar
  • George Harrison – harmonica, shaker
  • Ringo Starr – drums, tambourine, harmonica
  • George Martin – piano, harmonium, Lowrey organ, Wurlitzer organ, Hammond organ, glockenspiel, tape loops
  • Mal Evansbass harmonica
  • Neil Aspinall – harmonica
  • Geoff Emerick – tape loops

    Covers and influence

  • Bee Gees, with Maurice Gibb on lead vocals, and George Burns performed the song in the 1978 film Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Burns plays the Mr. Kite character as the mayor of the band's home town and the song is played by the band as a playful announcement of their return to the town for Mr. Kite's benefit.
  • Električni Orgazam recorded a version on their 1983 cover album Les Chansones Populaires.
  • Billy Connolly recorded a mostly spoken-word recording of the song for the George Martin compilation In My Life.
  • In the film Across the Universe, Eddie Izzard appears in a cameo as Mr. Kite, a circus ringmaster and does a cover of the song in a spoken form, adlibbing in between verses.
  • In 2009, Cheap Trick released Sgt. Pepper Live, which includes the song.
  • The Residents performed a cover of the song at a 40th Anniversary celebration of Sgt. Pepper with the London Sinfonietta.
  • Les Fradkin has an instrumental cover in his 2007 release Pepper Front to Back.
  • Easy Star All-Stars covered the song on the album Easy Star's Lonely Hearts Dub Band.
  • Eric McFadden covered this song on his Devil Moon CD (2005).
  • Frank Sidebottom covered this song on the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band 21st anniversary charity album Sgt. Pepper Knew My Father.
  • Andy Timmons covered the song on his 2011 CD Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
  • Al Di Meola covered the song on his 2013 CD All Your Life.
  • The Beat Bugs covered this song on Season 1's soundtrack, which is available on iTunes.
  • Caspar Babypants covered this song on his "Baby Beatles" album.