But in the meantime, there's "Sun King." So let's all cross our legs and tilt our heads back and have a few deep breaths, shall we?
There are those who would argue that "Sun King" would be nothing without the Abbey Road B-side medley all around it to give it context and meat. But I respectfully disagree. Yeah, you know, without the medley they might never have found room for it on the album. But it surely could have made either a surprising entry to John's solo career down the line, or a delightful bootleg for the fans to happen upon later. It's solid enough to be fine on its own, is what I'm saying, despite the paucity of lyrics and, arguably, substance. This is a song that's all about feeling. And it nails the feeling. Which is cool, because "Sun King" doesn't really feel like any other song (not even "Flying"), and yet it's utterly realized. It is hugely weird, and hugely lovable, but most of all really well done.
This most mellow of Beatles tracks leads us in from the high drama of "You Never Give Me Your Money" with a fairly seamless transition-- the crickets that chirp through the end of that one stay with us through the first several bars. And then the lazy sounds of George's surf guitar alongside Paul's twanging octaves on the bass, as the crickets gradually fade away. We sort of hang out on this E major chord for what feels like rather a long time, and then go through a few repeats of this little cadence from the ii to the V to the I again-- though all the time there are weird added pitches to assure that we never feel too stable (as if we are sitting on a surfboard in a calm sea rather than on solid ground). Nothing about this is unusual musically, and in fact it lulls us into a sense of musical security that's quite nice.
Which is what makes the entrance of the vocals on "ah" so sublime. They come in on an unexpected chord (it's C major), and the sound is gloriously thick and treble-ized and dare-I-say Beach Boys-esque. And from there John, Paul, and George lead us through these slowly blooming three-part harmonies. There's barely a melody at all, just rippling chords, and the best ripple is on the repeat of "here comes the sun king" in which Paul's voice, the acoustic equivalent of the crest of the wave, leads the vocals into that lovely high flourish. It kind of makes your heart melt-- the texture is so static and slow-moving that that vocal moment sounds like a huge event. Even George's guitar isn't doing anything very active-- and yet it's some of my favorite guitar work of George's possibly ever. The sound he gets is just amazing. When they start in on the Romance language gibberish, they really have abandoned all pretense not just of making sense, but of making melody-- though the vocal clip has picked up to some degree, the stasis is as static as ever.
All in all, the perfect song for a summer Friday, don't you think? Makes me wish I'd played hooky and gone to the beach to let "Sun King" just wash over me through my iPod.
"Sun King," released in the U.K. side B track 4 of Abbey Road, September 26, 1969; in the U.S. October 1, 1969.