John Lennon has never been one to mince his words. Whether it was The Beatles or indeed on his solo projects, the bespectacled icon was never afraid to critique his own work, often saving his most scathing comments for the songs he’d written himself. There’s one classic track from the Fab Four’s back catalogue that he called a “piece of garbage“.
Featuring on the band’s final full-length studio record Abbey Road, the classic song, ‘Mean Mr Mustard,’ was also in Lennon’s crosshairs when he met with David Sheff to discuss his and the band’s extensive canon of work. The song may well not break into the top ten of the group’s greatest hits. It may not even break the top fifty, but there’s a charm to the song, which means it has a place in the hearts and minds of Beatles fans everywhere. However, for Lennon, the song was a piece of “crap.”
Written during his time in India, Lennon once said that the track was inspired by a man in a newspaper story who relentlessly tried to hide his money to stop people trying to make him spend it. It was one of the group’s character assessments that was initially up for inclusion on The White Album but remained in the background until Lennon conjured it up once more for Abbey Road.
There’s no doubt that the song was highly influenced by India. Not because it leans particularly on Eastern philosophy or musical stylings but because it holds the same irreverence as songs like ‘Polythene Pam’ and ‘Rocky Raccoon’, which were both written at a similar time. Lennon was pretty scathing about the former and ‘Mean Mr Mustard’, claiming to link the two songs. “In ‘Mean Mr Mustard’ I said ‘his sister Pam’ – originally it was ‘his sister Shirley’ in the lyric,” recalled Lennon to The Beatles’ Anthology. “I changed it to Pam to make it sound like it had something to do with it [‘Polythene Pam’]. They are only finished bits of crap that I wrote in India.”
It’s difficult for some Beatles fans to assimilate these views with their own connections to certain Fab Four songs. Many dismiss Lennon’s retorts as passing comments, and while that may apply to some songs he lambasted over the years, this is one track he held special disdain for.
“That’s me, writing a piece of garbage,” recalled Lennon when speaking to David Sheff about the band’s songs. It was clear that his love for ‘Mean Mr Mustyard’ never really materialised, even if he did have to clarify that he wasn’t writing about drugs. “I’d read somewhere in the newspaper about this mean guy who hid five-pound notes, not up his nose but somewhere else. No, it had nothing to do with cocaine.”
Lennon was indeed more than happy to aim for his own songs. That’s not because he was particularly downbeat about his work but that he and The Beatles had such high standards that anything which dropped below the watermark was up for bashing. A consummate artist, Lennon disliked anything the band didn’t fully commit to, meaning a song he considered “throwaway” or “garbage” fell quickly to the bottom of the pack.
However, it must be said that just because Lennon wasn’t a fan of the song, it doesn’t mean we can’t all enjoy the irreverence of one of the greatest bands the world has ever known.