Day 194: “Polythene Pam”

When was it recorded?   Jul. 25-30, 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:

I had to have Wikipedia explain this to me, but in case anyone else is in the same boat, “Polythene is a British variant of the word polyethylene, a plastic material.” I totally knew what polyethylene was and kind of inferred “polythene” has something to do with it, but I wasn’t 100% sure on it. Useful information right there.

According to the Beatles Bible, “The character of Polythene Pam is believed to have been drawn from two women from different times in The Beatles’ existence.” Numero uno is Pat (Hodgett) Dawson, an early fan of the band who regularly went to their performances at the Cavern Club.

“I started going to see The Beatles in 1961 when I was 14 and I got quite friendly with them. If they were playing out of town they’d give me a lift back home in their van. It was about the same time that I started getting called Polythene Pat. It’s embarrassing really. I just used to eat polythene all the time. I’d tie it in knots and then eat it. Sometimes I even used to burn it and then eat it when it got cold.” — Pat Dawson (Steve Turner, A Hard Day’s Write)

I’m kind of grossed out right now, no lie. I guess I’ve seen people eat weirder stuff, but still… yeesh.

Anyway, Woman #2 is Stephanie, the girlfriend of English beat poet Royston Ellis (back in the day anyway).

“That was me, remembering a little event with a woman in Jersey, and a man who was England’s answer to Allen Ginsberg, who gave us our first exposure… I met him when we were on tour and he took me back to his apartment and I had a girl and he had one he wanted me to meet. He said she dressed up in polythene, which she did. She didn’t wear jackboots and kilts, I just sort of elaborated. Perverted sex in a polythene bag. Just looking for something to write about.” — John Lennon (David Sheff, All We Are Saying)

According to the Beatles Bible, “The incident actually occurred in Guernsey following The Beatles’ concerts on 8 August 1963. Ellis and Stephanie invited Lennon back to their rented flat where the three wore polythene and shared a bed out of curiosity about kinky sex.” Kinky indeed…

The Beatles first recorded “Polythene Pam” in May 1968 at Kinfauns (AKA, it was an Esher demo and considered for inclusion on the White Album). This demo appeared on “Anthology 3.”

“Polythene Pam” was recorded in the studio as one with “She Came In Through the Bathroom Window,” which follows it on “Abbey Road.” Work began on Jul. 25, 1969 when the Beatles taped 39 takes of the rhythm track. Later that session they rerecorded the drums and bass and added lead vocals.

Skip to Jul. 28, when a multitude of overdubs were added. Even more overdubs were added Jul. 30, when the song was completed and most of the final mixing was “Abbey Road” was finished.

As I mentioned back on Day 166, “Polythene Pam” ties into the previous “Abbey Road” song, “Mean Mr. Mustard.” Lyrically, Pam appears in MMM as Mr. Mustard’s sister. Quoth the Beatles Bible, “While recorded separately, the two songs appear back-to-back on the album, having been recorded in the same key and edited together without a gap.”

As Alan Pollack points out, “The two songs have contrasting backbeats, a side effect of their handling syncopation differently. ‘Mean Mr. Mustard’ leaves you with the musical aftertaste of a marching cakewalk in spite of its occasionally placing hard syncopations on the eighth note before the downbeat. ‘Polythene Pam’ creates a more swinging aura without as much syncopation, relying on its faster tempo, and the widespread use of the rhythmic motif that emphasizes the last three eighth notes in the first half of a 4/4 measure.” (I just listened to MMM & PP again, and that is cool.) Alas, you’ll have to wait to hear them all together until I get to “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window.” For now…



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