When was it recorded? Jun. 27 and Jul. 1, 1968
When was it first released, and on which album? Nov. 22, 1968 on “The Beatles”
Who wrote it? Lennon
Have I heard this song before? No
What my research dug up:
(I’ve been listening to the same Bastille song for the past four hours, so this ought to be a shock to the system.)
The Beatles Bible calls this number “[a] bridge between the willful nonsense of ‘I Am The Walrus’ and the confessional songs of [John’s] early solo career,” and according to Wikipedia, “Monkey” has the longest title of any Beatles song.
“That was just a sort of nice line that I made into a song. It was about me and Yoko. Everybody seemed to be paranoid except for us two, who were in the glow of love. Everything is clear and open when you’re in love. Everybody was sort of tense around us: you know, ‘What is she doing here at the session? Why is she with him?’ All this sort of madness is going on around us because we just happened to want to be together all the time.” — John Lennon (David Sheff, All We Are Saying)
I don’t know why I assumed the monkey was Yoko, but apparently I was right (and maybe kind of racist). However, Paul argued the monkey was a reference to heroin, which both John and Yoko were on at the time (according to the Beatles Bible, “they claimed they used it to escape the press interest in their relationship”). The Beatles Bible also notes that “a monkey on the back” was jazz slang for heroin addiction.
Regarding the rest of the lyrics, George noted that “Everybody’s got something to hide” was originally a quote from Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (who they would have been studying with around this time). He claimed he had no idea where the “monkey” metaphor came from though.
Worth noting structurally is what Alan Pollack calls the “wrenching meter effect” in the refrain. “Monkey” is primarily in 4/4 time, but the last two measures of the refrain switch to 3/4 time. It happens again in “Strawberry Fields Forever,” which I think more people are familiar with.
The Beatles recorded a demo of “Monkey” at George Harrison’s home in May 1968. Quoth Wikipedia, it “features all-acoustic instrumentation,” resulting in a bluesier sound than the hard rock version on The White Album, “and a vocal sung an octave lower than the released version.”
Of this demo, Pollack wrote, “compared to the official version, is unusually sketchy with respect to musical detail: e.g. no intro, the chord progressions are incomplete and in some places different; the guitar work lacks punch, the tune doesn’t fit properly above the chords, and the most distinctive melodic riffs appear to have yet been composed.”
“Monkey” was first recorded Jun. 26 during the Beatles’ day of rehearsal, which was only “in case The Beatles came up with anything usable” (Beatles Bible). Six takes were recorded Jun. 27. The Beatles Bible also notes, “A reduction mix to free up spare tracks also resulted in the song being sped up from 3 [minutes] 7 [seconds] to 2 [minutes] 29 [seconds]; it would end up faster still following a later mix.” Huh. Here’s how it appears on the White Album.
I think I’m in love with that bassline at the end.
The more I listen to “Monkey,” the more I enjoy it. It’s just such a fun song, it’s infectious.