Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Baby You're a Rich Man

On my way back to work today and feeling much better. Yesterday, while lying around hating everything, I was listening to, which is my default internet radio choice (and should be yours), and "Baby You're a Rich Man" came on. This is one I hadn't actually listened to for a while, and I realized anew how much I really like this little psychedelic relic. So I'm listening to it again today.

"Baby You're a Rich Man" wasn't actually in Magical Mystery Tour, despite the video made with scenes from that film below. In fact, it was recorded with the intention of putting it in Yellow Submarine, but then it didn't end up in that movie, except in the American version, where it's featured briefly, but then for the re-release in 1999 they put out the British version everywhere, which has "Hey Bulldog" but NOT "Baby You're a Rich Man," and ARRRRRRGH. As usual, everything having to do with the Beatles is more complicated than it has to be. Anyway, these days, "Baby You're a Rich Man" is most easily found on the B-side of the Magical Mystery Tour album. Or below, of course, courtesy of Beatles Tube.

Interestingly, the Magical Mystery Tour album is the ONLY Capitol (that is, American) album to become part of the contemporary Official Beatles Canon. In Britain, the soundtrack to the film (basically, the A-side of the American album) was released as a double EP, which was sort of weird. Americans not being as into EPs as the Brits at the time, and certainly not double EPs, Capitol threw songs from the past couple singles onto a B-side to make a full album. "Baby You're a Rich Man," which had been the B-side to "All You Need Is Love," was among those songs. It was a rare good decision for Capitol, and it makes for an OK album, considering the unevenness of the material (which I've alluded to elsewhere).

You know, I began that last paragraph with "interestingly," but that was probably inaccurate. Let me begin again.

"Baby You're a Rich Man" has a lot to like about it. For one thing, it's a song, like "We Can Work It Out" or "A Day in the Life," that's pretty much a straight-up blend of a John tune with a Paul tune. And we fans love songs that have two of our favorite people getting along and blending their considerable talents together. The verse, with its oblique question-and-answer session, is all John, and the chorus is all Paul.

Secondly, it's the only Beatles song, to my knowledge, to feature the clavioline. That weird little recurring line that sounds like it could be an oboe, or perhaps whatever wind instrument a snake charmer would use, was actually done on this early synthesizer, one of the seemingly limitless weird electronic keyboards that people were playing around with in the middle of the twentieth century. I really must insist you check out Synthtopia to see and hear their demonstration, and for more info, Sound on Sound gives a thorough history.

But there's so much else to love, too. I happen to be a big fan of all the vocals on this-- John's wispy falsetto questions and the big grins you can hear as he sings the answers, and then the exuberance of the yells at the chorus? Awesome all around. Now, the lyrics are kind of lazy, admittedly. "You keep all your money in a big brown bag inside a zoo"? Hmm. I mean, John's verses are kind of convoluted, but at least you could make the argument that the words are clever if meaningless, and you can picture them appearing in A Spaniard in the Works or one of John's books of nonsense poetry-- it's recognizably John. But the lyrics of Paul's chorus, much as I hate to say it, are a lot weaker. To me, it's in keeping with a certain lazy feeling in a lot of the Beatles' psychedelic-tinged recordings after Sgt. Pepper (e.g., much of Magical Mystery Tour). And here's the thing: the free-wheeling artistic vibe of the '60s, and the acid, and so forth, all contributed to the Beatles' creative powers, but also unfortunately gave them too much faith in the brilliance of their very first ideas. Do you know what I mean? There was this aesthetic at the time (I'm no expert, so bear with me) wherein the pure inspiration of art was what mattered most, and to some extent craft and revision-- that is, the WORK of art-- seemed a bit square. In a nutshell, I'm saying that I think Paul wrote this "inside a zoo" line and it made him giggle and he just went for it, thinking "whatever-- we'll throw a clavioline on that!" without bothering to revisit it. (In Paul's solo career, there are so many moments when I think, "Good song, Paul. But if you'd just gone a little BEYOND your first idea... it could have been a thousand times better." Do you do that too?)

But I'm being too harsh on Paul. He might have written inferior lyrics in this particular song, but we're well aware he can be awesome elsewhere, and musically he doesn't disappoint in "Baby You're a Rich Man." Listen to that bass! It is CRAZY. It is just nuts. Seriously. Listen to it again if you need to. I love it. Ringo's no slouch either on this track, rocking the drums and maracas and tambourine and God knows what else to give it this incredible punch. This might be a psychedelic rock song, but it is most certainly a ROCK song, which means that it's the groove you get on the inside listening to it that matters most. The rest is just me dithering. Because, really, "Baby You're a Rich Man" just ROCKS.

"Baby You're a Rich Man," released in the U.K. as B-side w/"All You Need Is Love," July 7, 1967; in the U.S. July 17, 1967.
I am indebted for all discography information to the tremendous


  1. Agreed, one hell of a bassline, especially all that palm muting in the beginning.

  2. Is that what that is? I totally know the effect you mean, but wasn't really aware of how he was doing it.

    I swear, Paul is the best bassist ever.

  3. Don't think Paul gets enough credit for his bass playing. And to think, he wasn't originally the bass player, but agreed to switch to bass from guitar when the band shrunk from five to four. I think he's done some of the most creative bass runs ever laid to rock and roll songs. The story i heard was he bought that Hofner "violin shaped" bass because it was the cheapest, and one he could afford. Created quite a cool look with it! Not to mention the sound.