When was it recorded? Feb.-Mar. 1967
When was it first released, and on which album? Jun. 1, 1967 on “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”
Who wrote it? Lennon (with noteworthy contribution from McCartney)
Have I heard this song before? No
What my research dug up:
“Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” was mainly written by John Lennon, who later said he “wasn’t proud of” it and that he “was just going through the motions,” and then even later said it was “pure, like a painting, a pure watercolor,” so whatever. Paul claimed last year he had more of a hand writing it than was previously mentioned and “was happy to kind of reclaim it as partially mine” instead of letting the song remain a solo-Lennon-credited number.
The reason John probably wasn’t so proud of it and that Paul claimed the song wrote itself was the all but one of the lyrics come from a 19th-century circus poster for Pablo Fanque’s Circus Royal, Rochdale. The one change? The horse called Henry in the song was named Zanthus. Here’s the poster!
Based on this information, the real Mr. Kite is probably William Kite, who worked for Fanque from 1843-1845. The Hendersons mentioned in the song were presumably John and Agnes Henderson, circus performers who toured Europe and Russian during the 1840s and ‘50s.
Putting “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” together was a complicated affair. Here’s how recording for the song broke down:
- Feb. 17 = the main vocal and instrumentation tracks
- Feb. 20 = organ sound effects added
- Mar. 28 = harmonica, organ, guitar added
- Mar. 29 = more organ sound effects added
- Mar. 31 = completed mix
Given the nature of the song’s inspiration, “Kite” has, per John’s request, “a carnival atmosphere.” The middle eight features (numerous) fairground organs and calliopes; quoth Wikipedia, “after a great deal of unsuccessful experimentation, [George] Martin instructed recording engineer Geoff Emerick to chop the tape into pieces with scissors, throw them up in the air, and re-assemble them at random.” Lo and behold, it works.
The BBC banned “Kite” from the radio, claiming “Henry the horse” was a reference to heroin (John denied these claims). I’m not an expert on heroin or British culture but I can’t say I’ve ever heard those euphemisms before. Personally I would have claimed the song had to do with pot and being high as a kite, but I’m not the one in charge of the BBC.
“Kite” is a weird song but it accomplishes exactly when John intended it to do. I like the backing instrumentation more than the lyrics, and the carnival breakdown is oddly disconcerting but not bad.