To begin with, “Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite!” is a Beatles’ song from their 1967 Sgt Peppers album. The band created an atmospheric track using circus music as well as adding other sound effects.
Recorded: 17th and 20th February; also the 28th, 29th, 31st March, 1967
Genre: Circus music
Track Duration: 2:37
Record Label: Parlophone
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Geoff Emerick
John Lennon: double-tracked lead vocals and harmony vocals, Hammond organ, tape loops as well as the harmonica
Paul McCartney: bass guitar, harmony vocal, also the backwards lead guitar
George Harrison: harmonica, as well as the shaker
Ringo Starr: drums, tambourine, also the harmonica
George Martin: piano, harmonium, Lowrey organ, Wurlitzer organ, Hammond organ, glockenspiel as well as arranging the tape loops
Mal Evans: bass harmonica
Neil Aspinall: harmonica
Geoff Emerick: tape loops
Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite!
Written and composed by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” is another Beatles’ song that the BBC banned because they said it had a reference to heroin. Both words in the phrase “Henry the Horse” were slang for the drug but Lennon says the song was all about a poster in his possession.
“The whole song is from a Victorian poster, which I bought in a junk shop. 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.”
All We Are Saying, David Sheff
The inspiration for the song was a 19th-century circus poster advertising “Pablo Fanque’s Circus Royal” and it’s appearance at Rochdale, England. He bought the framed poster on the 31st January 1967 in an antique shop close to his hotel in Sevenoaks, Kent, where they were staying while they filmed “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane“.
The 1843 poster proudly announces the circus as “being for the benefit of Mr Kite”. Although there is no mention of “The Hendersons” which Lennon sings about, the poster features “Mr J Henderson The Celebrated Somerset Thrower”. Then at the bottom of the poster, Zanthus the horse gets a mention.
While John Lennon claims to be the sole songwriter, Paul McCartney says otherwise:
“Mr Kite! is such a crazy, oddball song that I thought it would freshen up the set. Plus the fact that I’d never done it. None of us in the Beatles ever did that song [at gigs]. 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?'”
McCartney continues his 2013 interview with the Rolling Stone Magazine:
“He happened to have a poster in his living room at home. 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.”
Since the Beatles broke up in 1970, there are just a few examples involving conflicts like this. For example we see a similar conflict with, “In My Life“.
The Beatles began to record “Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite!” on the 17th February 1967 in Studio Two of the EMI Studios, London, during the 7.00pm-3.00am session. There were 7 takes with the last one being suitable for the master rhythm track with bass, harmonium as well as the drums. Obviously to get an authentic circus music track such as this one, access to various sound effects was necessary. Therefore, three days later George Martin began assembling the various components.
“I knew we needed a backwash, a general mush of sound, like if you go to a fairground, shut your eyes and listen; rifle shots, hurdy-gurdy noises, people shouting and – way in the distance – just a tremendous chaotic sound. So I got hold of old calliope tapes, playing Stars And Stripes Forever and other Sousa marches, chopped the tapes up into small sections and had Geoff Emerick throw them up in the air, re-assembling them at random.
I threw the bits up in the air but, amazingly, they came back together in almost the same order. We all expected it to sound different but it was virtually the same as before! So we switched bits around and turned some upside down.”
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn
Of course, George Martin was a marvellous producer whose experience in this field proved immense.
On three further days in late March after more overdubbing the song was complete and ready for the album. On the “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album, the track sits on the end of side 1, after “She’s Leaving Home“. Meanwhile, on their 1996 album, “Anthology 2”, we get takes one and two from the 17th of February.
In 2006, The Beatles’ “Love” album became available with a mashup mix that includes the song. There it sits after track 9, “Something” (with “Blue Jay Way” transition) and before “Help!“. The mix has, “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!, I Want You (She’s So Heavy) as well as Helter Skelter“.