The ‘Sgt. Pepper’ Song John Lennon Said Was ‘Pure’ ‘Like a Watercolor’

As the years passed, John Lennon seemed to think less and less of his Beatles songs. In 1980, while sitting for his last major interview, John labeled a number of his well-liked compositions as either “throwaways” or “pieces of garbage.”

That list included tracks as diverse as “And Your Bird Can Sing” from Revolver (“another horror”) and “Cry Baby Cry” from The White Album (“a piece of rubbish”). And while John was proud of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, he labeled “Good Morning, Good Morning” as more junk.

However, there was one Sgt. Pepper’s song that gained in stature in John’s eyes over the years. Though he described it as a rush-job around the time he wrote and recorded the song with The Beatles, he ended up calling it “pure, like a painting, a pure watercolor” shortly before he died.

John considered ‘Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!’ a pure piece of writing

The Beatles film the television special ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ at West Malling Air Station in Maidstone, 23 September 1967. | Mark and Colleen Hayward/Getty Images

While John aimed for straightforward songwriting, he had his moments of writing obscurely. “And Your Bird Can Sing,” which some heard as a dig aimed at Frank Sinatra (or possibly The Rolling Stones), is an example of a song John wrote that’s baffled listeners ever since.

With “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” there is no such mystery. One day, while he and the other Beatles were filming the video for “Strawberry Fields Forever,” John wandered into an junk shop in Kent and bought a Victorian poster advertising a circus show.

John pulled almost all of the song’s lyrics from that 1840s poster. “It was a straight lift,” he said in 1968. “There would be hoops and horses and someone going through a hogs head of real fire … I hardly made up a word, just connecting the lists together. Word for word, really.”

However, looking at a reproduction of the poster, it’s clear John changed some things. Pablo Fanque ran this circus (not Mr. Kite’s former showcase) and the horse went by the name of Zanthus (not Henry). But indeed most of his material came verbatim from the poster.

John wanted to ‘smell the sawdust’ in the backing music to ‘Mr. Kite’

John Lennon of the Beatles sits in a psychedelic Radford Mini de Ville owned by George Harrison, 7 November 1967. | Keystone Features/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

When John wrote Mr. Kite, he felt pressured to get a song ready for Sgt. Pepper. Outside of “A Day in the Life,” John’s main contributions to the Paul McCartney-dominated album were “Mr. Kite” and “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.”

In the Hunter Davies Beatles biography, John described his blunt approach to songcraft with “Mr. Kite.” “I shoved a lot of words together then shoved some noise on,” he said. “I just did it. I didn’t dig that song when I wrote it. I didn’t believe in it when I was doing it.”

By his 1980 Playboy interviews, John saw it differently. He described “Mr. Kite” as “cosmically beautiful” and “like a pure watercolor.” Several decades later, John’s final take holds true. Part of the magic comes from producer George Martin’s sound effects and backing music.

As he did on so many occasions, John vaguely told Martin he wanted some sort of circus/carnival atmosphere behind him. “I want to smell the sawdust,” Martin recalled John telling him. Martin didn’t let him down on this classic Sgt. Pepper cut.

Also seeThe Beatles Song John Lennon Said Paul McCartney ‘Tried to Subconsciously Destroy’