Beatles: The Infamous Man Who Inspired Their Song ‘Mean Mr. Mustard’
Many Beatles songs revolve around fictional characters. Life might be a little more interesting if there was a real Sgt. Pepper or a real Maggie Mae. However, that’s not the case.
“Mean Mr. Mustard” is one of the Beatles’ most whimsical songs. Some fans assume it’s about a fictional character as are their other songs. Actually, the track centers on a real man: John Alexander Mustard.
The real ‘Mean Mr. Mustard’
Lots of people would like to see their name on the front page of a newspaper. When Mustard got on the front page, however, the news wasn’t flattering. The article was about how cheap he was.
The article noted how Mustard would shave in the dark – just like the character in the Beatles song. Mustard would also turn off the lights in his home when he and his wife listened to the radio because he felt they didn’t need to see to enjoy the radio. The article even said Mustard would hide money in a private part of his anatomy to keep it from others.
John Lennon on whether or not the song was about drugs
John had some difficulty writing songs about fictional characters the way Paul McCartney did. John said Paul had the ability to create new characters like a novelist. However, with a little help from a newspaper article, John was able to craft an interesting character study.
John altered the real Mustard’s story. In the song, Mustard simply puts money up his nose. This lyric could easily be interpreted as referring to someone snorting cocaine using paper money.
In a 1980 Rolling Stones interview, John dismissed the song as well as the theory it’s about cocaine. “That’s me, writing a piece of garbage. 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.”
The mistake the Beatles left in the final mix
While many Beatles fans find the song funny, Paul wasn’t a fan. He told an assistant engineer to throw the track away. The engineer had previously been ordered to preserve everything the Beatles created during a recording session, so he disregarded Paul’s request.
The engineer attached the tape to a mix of “Her Majesty.” The engineer arranged the track so that the crashing notes which were supposed to end “Mean Mr. Mustard” opened the track “Her Majesty.” This edit gives “Mean Mr. Mustard” an almost comically abrupt ending and makes “Her Majesty” seem even more biting because of its harsh opening cacophony.
The Beatles liked how that sounded and the mistake made it into the album Abbey Road. In a strange way, the connective tissue between the “Her Majesty” and “Mean Mr. Mustard” makes sense. “Her Majesty” is about Queen Elizabeth II, while “Mean Mr. Mustard” briefly mentions her. Little connections between Beatles tracks – both intentional and unintentional – are part of what makes the Fab Four fascinating. Thanks to its eccentricities, “Mean Mr. Mustard” remains one of the many compelling diversions crafted by the Beatles.