When was it recorded? May 11, 1967
When was it first released, and on which album? Jul. 7, 1967
Who wrote it? Lennon-McCartney
Have I heard this song before? Yeeeeeep
What my research dug up:
Oh boy… let’s see, “Baby, You’re a Rich Man” came about as a combination between two fragments of songs John & Paul were working on separately. The verses come from John’s “One of the Beautiful People,” while Paul had an unaccompanied chorus (the titular “baby, you’re a rich man”). It’s interesting to have this information then read Alan Pollack’s analysis of the music composition. He points out the differences, such as the verse being “a blues-like three-phrase ABB section, though its first phrase is an unusual uneven, three measures in length” and the chorus, “while also three phrases in structure,” like the 11-measure verses, “is an even 12 measures long, with a form of ABA.” Cool cool.
According to Beatles historian Walter Everett, “Rich Man” “asks an unnamed Brian Epstein [the Beatles’ manager] what it’s like to be one of the ‘beautiful people.'” Furthermore, to quote Pollack,
“By the same token, [“Rich Man”] does bear the earmarks of its period in the large number of instruments and effects used in the recording, and the consciousness-pricking themes in the lyrics of identity crisis, impatient dissatisfaction with wealth that is only material, and an ambiguity in the author’s stance between tender encouragement and nasty ridicule.” — Alan Pollack
Regarding the instrumentation, it’s worth pointing out the tight woodwind and swirly background sound effects were created using a clavioline – a forerunner of the modern synthesizer – and a spin-echo/feedback delay. Also important to point out – according to Wikipedia, “Mick Jagger [of the Rolling Stones] was present at the recording and his name appears on a session tape box, possibly indicating that he provided backing vocals near the end of the song.”
“Rich Man” was originally released as the B-side to the single “All You Need is Love.” The band didn’t want it to appear on the “Magical Mystery Tour” album, but lo and behold, it happened. It was then featured in the “Yellow Submarine” movie but not featured on the “Yellow Submarine” soundtrack. Go figure.
I dug up a lot of interesting information about the mixing process of “Rich Man” and how the original stereo and mono remixes differed, but since I’m only including one link to one version of the song I don’t know how useful that information would be to readers. I’ll explain why I’m only using one sound link after the song.
I have to be honest – I’m not a huge fan of this song. Something about it makes me uncomfortable, probably the condescension. I don’t know, something about the lyrics rubs me the wrong way and makes me unable to listen to the instrumentation objectively, which is a shame because a lot of what I learned about the recording was fascinating. Eh, not everything is for everyone.
The Beatles as Musicians: Revolver Through the Anthology – Walter Everett (1999)