Day 166: “Mean Mr. Mustard”

When was it recorded?   Jul. 24-29, 1969

When was it first released, and on which album?   Sept. 26, 1969 on “Abbey Road”

Who wrote it?   Lennon

Have I heard this song before?   Yes

What my research dug up:

Recorded as one with Sun King, Mean Mr Mustard was composed in India by John Lennon in spring 1968. It was considered for inclusion on the White Album, but wasn’t recorded in the studio until the Abbey Road sessions the following year.

(I can’t tell if all my sources just forgot the period after the “Mr.” abbreviation or it’s a case of trademarking, like how “Dr” in “Dr Pepper” doesn’t have a period for marketing reasons, so I’m just going to forget about it and do what makes me happy grammatically.)

John wrote “Mean Mr. Mustard” in India.   As per usual, John would beat himself up over this composition in his later years, calling it “a bit of crap I wrote in India” (Anthology)

“That’s me, writing a piece of garbage. I’d read somewhere in the newspaper about this mean guy who hid five-pound notes, not up his nose but somewhere else. No, it had nothing to do with cocaine.” — John Lennon (David Sheff, All We Are Saying)

[In case you needed a hint, the man was hiding his money up his ass. You’re welcome.]

Tony, Bramwell, the Beatles’ friend and later Apple Corps press officer, later claimed, “There was an old ‘bag lady’ who used to hang around the Knightsbridge end of Hyde Park, London, close to the army barracks. She had all her possessions in plastic bags and slept in the park. I’m sure that she had something to do with the song.” I for one wonder if the closing “dirty old man” lyrics are a reference to the character of Paul’s Grandfather in “A Hard Day’s Night” (probably a stretch – but what a clean old man!).

Alan Pollack defended the song in his notes, writing, “Amazingly, no matter how awkwardly John is caught up with here, compositionally on the run, so to speak, we find him making the effort, expending the bandwidth to work in odd phrase lengths, more mosaic tiling, and a metric modulation. It’s not fair to call this just a throwaway.” Pollack also remarked (positively) on how “Mean Mr. Mustard” bridges the gap between “Sun King” and “Polythene Pam.”

“Mean Mr. Mustard” appeared on the tape of Esher demos from May 1968. In this early version, Mustard’s sister is named Shirley, the decision to make her (Polythene) Pam occurring later. This version appeared on “Anthology 3.”

“Mean Mr. Mustard” was recorded as one song with “Sun King” for the “Abbey Road” album. The Beatles recorded 35 takes of the rhythm track on Jul. 24, then added overdubs to the back-to-back tracks on Jul. 25 and 29.

As I noted on Day 88, the final chord of “Mean Mr. Mustard” was lopped off during mixing. The crashing D chord appears at the start of “Her Majesty,” which originally came after “Mustard” on the album. Quoth Wikipedia, “‘Mustard’ instead hard-edits into ‘Polythene Pam.’”  We’ll get to hear that later.




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