Text painting refers to how the music and text relate. The line "And of course Henry the Horse dances the waltz" features text painting in two ways: First, a waltz is in 3/4 time (one-two-three, one-two-three, oom-pah-pah, oom-pah-pah) and although the rest of the song is in 4/4, the music transforms into a waltz exactly when Lennon sings the word "waltz". Second, the organ, which comes to the fore at that precise moment, musically simulates the sound of a horse's whinny through rapidly descending chromatic scales.
Furthermore, this neighing showcases the technical studio sophistication so characteristic of the Beatles' experimental years. George Martin played the part one octave lower and half as fast as heard on the album. He then ran the tape back at twice the original speed, producing a result that sounded exactly one octave higher and two times quicker than originally recorded. This allowed him to easily play what would have otherwise been extraordinarily difficult to perform.
Structurally speaking, "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite" is unusual in that it has no chorus. This is strange because it is often the chorus that is the most catchy and easily recognizable part of a song, and is often where the title lyrics are sung ("She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah . . .", "Oh, I get by with a little help from my friends . . .", "It won't be long, yeah . . .", "Hey, you've got to hide your love away . . .", "Come together right now over me . . .", "Here comes the sun, doo doo doo doo . . .", "Bang! Bang! Maxwell's silver hammer came down upon her head . . .", et cetera) But "Mr. Kite" does not have a chorus, and the title lyrics are thus found in the opening verse.
"Mr. Kite" also features a brilliant three-part tonal scheme, in which C minor, D minor and E minor all jostle for supremacy. This is illustrated by the chart below:
Track Timing Tonality Cumulative Seconds in this Tonality
0:00-0:06 D minor 6
0:06-0:21 C minor 15
0:21-0:36 D minor 6+15=21
0:36-0:51 C minor 15+15=30
0:51-1:15 D minor 21+24=45
1:15-1:28 E minor 13
1:28-1:44 C minor 30+16=46
1:44-2:12 D minor 45+28=73
2:12-2:34 E minor 13+22=35
Thus, the 154 total seconds of the song are divided among the three tonalities relatively equally: D minor (73/154=47%), C minor (46/154=30%), E minor (35/154=23%). And thus, "Neither C, D, nor E can claim traditional authority as a single tonal center, especially with the same melodic/harmonic material appear in each key. Rather, the three centers can be heard as the rings of a circus, with action taking place in all arenas and no particular object of attention the 'correct' one" (Everett p. 110-11). This type of macro-scale tonal planning would culminate in songs on the Beatles' last albums - those found on "The White Album", "Let it Be", and especially "Abbey Road".
But the crowning jewel of "Mr. Kite" - the cherry on top - is the coda (ending). Lennon, notoriously technically inept, said "I’d love to be able to get across all the effects of a really colourful circus. The acrobats in their tights, the smell of the animals, the merry-go-rounds. I want to smell the sawdust" (Martin p. 89). Martin got the idea to use recordings of old steam organs and calliopes that so acutely musically capture the ambiance of a circus. "I went back to all the recordings of marches and what-not I’d collected ... Then I got hold of Geoff, who by this stage was more than my engineer on our extraordinary album, he was my co-conspirator. ‘Geoff,’ I said, ‘we’re going to try something here; I want you to cut that tape there up into sections that are roughly fifteen inches long.’ Geoff reached for his scissors and began snipping. In no time at all we had a small pyramid of worm-like tape fragments piled on the floor at our feet. ‘Now,’ I said, ‘pick them all up and fling them into the air!’ He looked at me. Naturally, he thought I’d gone mad. It was a wonderful moment - it snowed pieces of tape all over the control room. ‘Now, pick ‘em up and put them together again, and don’t look at what you’re doing,’ I told Geoff. ... In this peculiar way we made up a patchwork quilt of different parts of steam organ recordings, all in roughly one-second segments: lots of different pieces whirling around. When I listened to them, they formed a chaotic mass of sound: it was impossible to identify the tunes they had come from; but it was unmistakably a steam organ. Perfect! There was the fairground atmosphere we had been looking for. John was thrilled to bits with it (Martin p. 91-92). But of course, this collage is not the only one on Sgt. Pepper - this collage may be seen as the sonic equivalent the album's famous cover.
To hear just the concluding sound collage, click here.
To hear the final product full song, click here.
Davies, Hunter. The Beatles. W W Norton & Company, New York, NY, 1996.
Everett, Walter. The Beatles as Musicians: Revolver through Anthology. Oxford University Press, New York, NY, 1999.
Martin, George. With a Little Help from My Friends: The Making of Sgt. Pepper. Little, Brown and Company, New York, NY, 1994.
Turner, Steve. A Hard Day's Write: The Stories Behind Every Beatles Song. itbooks, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, New York, NY, 2005.