When it comes to The Beatles and paranoia, a few songs could act as contenders for being the most anxious. There are the suicidal tendencies of ‘Yer Blues’, the inscrutable nonsense of ‘Revolution 9’, and the defensive George Harrison cut ‘Not Guilty’, and those are just from the White Album sessions alone.
But according to John Lennon, it was ‘Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!’ that was his definitive statement on paranoia. “I wrote that as a pure poetic job, to write a song sitting there. I had to write because it was time to write,” Lennon told Rolling Stone in 1970. “And I had to write it quick because otherwise I wouldn’t have been on the album. So I had to knock off a few songs. I knocked off ‘A Day In The Life’, or my section of it, and whatever we were talking about, ‘Mr Kite’, or something like that. I was very paranoid in those days, I could hardly move.”
When analysing the song in later years, Lennon dropped the paranoia angle and simply claimed that all the story elements of the song came from his famous purchased poster bearing the same name. “The whole song is from a Victorian poster, which I bought in a junk shop,” Lennon told David Sheff in 1980. “It is so cosmically beautiful. It’s a poster for a fair that must have happened in the 1800s. Everything in the song is from that poster, except the horse wasn’t called Henry. Now, there were all kinds of stories about Henry the Horse being heroin. I had never seen heroin in that period. No, it’s all just from that poster. The song is pure, like a painting, a pure watercolour.”
Since the song was recorded after the band had ceased touring, it seemed as though the wild carnival atmosphere of ‘Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!’ would never see the stage. But then, surprisingly, Paul McCartney began covering the song during his live performances in 2013. It was an odd choice, considering its dense arrangement and the fact that McCartney wasn’t the lead singer on the song, but that was part of its appeal as well.
“‘Mr Kite!’ is such a crazy, oddball song that I thought it would freshen up the set,” McCartney told Rolling Stone in 2013. “Plus the fact that I’d never done it. None of us in the Beatles ever did that song [in concert]. And I have great memories of writing it with John. I read, occasionally, people say, ‘Oh, John wrote that one.’ I say, ‘Wait a minute, what was that afternoon I spent with him, then, looking at this poster?’”
“He happened to have a poster in his living room at home,” McCartney continued. “I was out at his house, and we just got this idea, because the poster said ‘Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite!’ – and then we put in, you know, ‘there will be a show tonight,’ and then it was like, ‘of course,’ then it had ‘Henry the Horse dances the waltz.’ You know, whatever. ‘The Hendersons, Pablo Fanques, somersets…’ We said, ‘What was ‘somersets’? It must have been an old-fashioned way of saying somersaults. The song just wrote itself. So, yeah, I was happy to kind of reclaim it as partially mine.”
Check out the original recording of ‘Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!’ down below.