his track is a classic cut-and-shut job, gluing together John’s trippy verses and Paul’s happy/nonsense chorus chant. That’s not a criticism at all – this kind of assembly is a practical way of working that many songwriting partnerships use to make a meal out of morsels– “A Day In The Life” is another example from The Beatles’ canon. This is The Beatles so the sum is greater than the parts, the whole is still somewhat ambivalent.
At first hearing, Lennon’s opening “How does it feel to be one of the beautiful people?” sounds like another challenge to the ‘privileged’ – those financially, spiritually, romantically, politically or otherwise ‘better off’ – from our reliably bitter and twisted working class protagonist. His tirades have certainly been detailed and analyzed before, not least in the essays on this website. By this time, though, the West Coast hippy drop-outs and other ‘beautiful people’ to whom Lennon may have been referring had bought a whole lot of Beatles records – Johnny, You’re A Rich Man, too. Then again, The Beatles started ‘Pop’ and went ‘Weird’ – and took their entranced audience with them – so, unlike many, they could hardly be accused of ‘selling out’: if Baby, You’re A Rich Man is in fact a ‘get over it’ message, as I may be implying, who needs to get over it? Oh, that’ll be bitter and twisted, John, then, after all… the beautiful people’s newest recruit.
The Epstein references? I’m not going there…
Well maybe a bit.
The Epstein thing. As you probably know – Lennon sang (or wanted to) ‘Baby You’re A Rich Fag Jew’ referring to their Semitic Jewish manager Brian Epstein. This I believe to be totally untrue. There’s absolutely no actual recording or other proof of it anywhere. Everywhere I have researched this track, that’s quoted. Slack writing. So tempting and easy to pass the juicy morsel on, untested. Old school journalism – pissed by lunchtime in a pub on Fleet Street, seduced by a tart with a brown envelope full of tenners – but that ain’t how we roll at TBCOU.
Actually, as you may have gathered, especially if you’ve listened to the song, IT’S ALL MADE UP and IT DOESN’T MATTER. Baby, You’re A Rich Man is just a whole bunch of fun. It was recorded and mixed in a single 9 pm to 3 am session at Olympic Studios, engineered by Keith Grant, out of the band’s Abbey Road comfort zone in space and pace. Lennon makes a distinctive mark on the track with the clavioline, an early synthesizer designed to mimic solo string and brass instruments – here it sounds a bit like an oboe or a medieval shawn. Besides the Fab Four, Mick Jagger’s name appears on the tape boxes – usually this is taken to mean he contributed on backing vocals, but to me it sounds more like he played the maracas credited to Ringo. And I can’t pick out Jagger’s singing, in the outros, as often alleged, but I’d know his maracas anywhere!
The ukulele version by songstress, singer and exquisite beauty Emily Zuzik captures all the wide-eyed playful protest of the original with a re-wired clarity, patch-working guitars, electronics, a whole swirl of backing vocals, the occasional drum fill and something that sounds like the clavioline’s bastard grandchild.
Oh, and a ukulele, of course…
More about the clavioline:
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Emily Zuzik sings, sometimes with a raspy whisper, other times with a loud belt, and always in the shower. She also writes lots of music, some you may hear on TV, or the internet, or a Moby record. She’s also a Pisces, a Bond Girl book cover model and Epiphone calendar girl. And soon she’ll be an Angeleno!