Baby You’re a Rich Man: how does it feel…?

“How does it feel to be one of the beautiful people?” – John Lennon

Ringo, John, Paul, and George (image courtesy of NPR and the artist)

This song, coming as it does in the wake of the triumphant Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, is one of those that often slips beneath the radar of even Beatles aficionados (well, it slips beneath this Beatles aficionado’s radar regularly). It was a song written for what was at the time the anticlimactic Magical Mystery Tour, a soundtrack for the much maligned (but more recently reassessed positively) film of the same name. “Baby You’re a Rich Man” served as the “B” side of one of Lennon’s most important Beatles compositions, “All You Need is Love.” John in his usual dismissive manner, described the song’s composition as:

That’s a combination of two separate pieces, Paul’s and mine, put together and forced into one song. One half was all mine. [Sings] ‘How does it feel to be one of the beautiful people, now that you know who you are, da da da da.’ Then Paul comes in with [sings] ‘Baby, you’re a rich man,’ which was a lick he had around.

I’ve been re-reading Wilfrid Mellers’ classic musicological study of the Beatles, Twilight of the Gods. Mellers gives “Baby You’re a Rich Man” a pretty thorough treatment and remarks on its importance as a bridge from Sgt. Pepper to their new focus on their exploration of their inner lives, especially the effects of being:

…four lads from Liverpool transported overnight on a magical mystery tour to fame, fabulous fortune, and the omnipresent, all-embracing culture of the global village….

The “global village” is reflected in the song’s instrumentation which Mellers describes as an “electronic collage of sounds and musics Eastern and Western….” The Beatles Bible explains how, in part, the musical texture of the song was created: “Lennon played a clavioline, a three-octave monophonic keyboard which was sped up to give an oboe-like effect.”

All this creates what Mellers calls a “richly exotic burbling of shawm and other oriental noises….” Over this John and Paul combined their song fragments into a critique of sudden fame and fortune:

Baby, You’re A Rich Man

How does it feel to be
One of the beautiful people?
Now that you know who you are.
What do you want to be?
And have you travelled very far?
Far as the eyes can see

How does it feel to be
One of the beautiful people?
How often have you been there?
Often enough to know
What did you see when you were there?
Nothing that doesn’t show
Baby you’re a rich man
Baby you’re a rich man
Baby you’re a rich man too
You keep all your money in a big brown bag inside a zoo
What a thing to do
Baby you’re a rich man
Baby you’re a rich man
Baby you’re a rich man too

How does it feel to be
One of the beautiful people?
Tuned to a natural E
Happy to be that way
Now that you’ve found another key
What are you going to play?
Baby you’re a rich man
Baby you’re a rich man
Baby you’re a rich man too
You keep all your money in a big brown bag inside a zoo
What a thing to do
Baby, baby you’re a rich man
Baby you’re a rich man
Baby you’re a rich man too
Baby you’re a rich man
Baby you’re a rich man
Baby, baby you’re a rich man too

For a song that too often gets lost in the canon of the Fabs, it’s a pretty remarkable piece of work.

Here’s a remastered version from Spotify:

 

 

 

 

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About Jim Booth

Novelist, college professor, rock musician - are we getting the band back together? Maybe....
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