alan w. pollack's
notes on ...

Notes on "Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite"


Notes on ... Series #112 (BFTBOMK)
  by Alan W. Pollack
       Key: e minor (by way of d and c minor)
     Meter: 4/4 (first bridge in 3/4)
      Form: Intro | Verse | Verse | Bridge |
                  | Verse | Bridge (with complete ending)
        CD: "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band",
            Track 7 (Parlophone CDP7 46442-2)
  Recorded: 17th February 1967, Abbey Road 2;
            20th February 1967, Abbey Road 3;
            28th, 29th, 31st March 1967, Abbey Road 2
UK-release: 1st June 1967 (LP "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band")
US-release: 2nd June 1967 (LP "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band")

General Points of Interest


Style and Form

  Next note "Mr. Kite..." has a visual vividness uncommon for the likes of words and music, what with its circus poster lyrics, the harmonium that sounds like a calliope, and the bustle of those electronic tape loops.
  Next note The musical materials are unusual but are also frugally deployed to the extent that all the sections are built upon the same om-and-about fourteen-measure long chord progression. I think this is motivated, if for no other reason, by the principle that if you're going to go crazy in one department (in this case, the electronic noise overdubs), than you've got to keep the musical backbone clear and firm in other departments.

Melody and Harmony

  Next note You might say that different parts of this song are respectively in the keys of d, c, and e minor, but I think it's a cop out to describe the song as simply spanning three different keys and leave it like that.
  Next note The notion of a single home key is the central doctrine of tonal music theory. And, to the extent that you're challenged, in a case like this, to contemplate the manner in which your mind perceives one of the keys as "home" and the others as being away from it is part of the game. Furthermore, to the extent that goal-orientedness is an equally central doctrine of tonal chord or key progressions, you'll tend to award the strongest home-steading claim to the key in which you arrive at the end; not the in the middle or at the beginning.
  Next note All this is to say that I believe the home key of this song is e minor, and that the opening in d minor, and the starting of the verses in c minor is a clever ruse perpetrated intentionally to throw you off balance. It's sort of the harmonic equivalent of one of those multi-planed Escher engravings where your sense of the direction pointed to by gravity's rainbow depends on where on the page you focus your gaze.
  Next note This explanation may sound far fetched, but you know we've often seen examples in this series of songs which begin with chords that are out in left field with respect to the ultimate home key; look at "Help!" and "Dr. Robert" just to pick two Lennon' songs off the top of the head. At any rate, the idea of starting within a key (not just a single chord) that is remote from the ultimate home key is a logical extension of the same trick.


  Next note The electronic effects on this track are no less effective for the relatively primitive way in which they were developed by nineties' standards. I leave it to others to describe the underlying details.
  Next note Compositionally, the important thing to grasp about these effects is how, for the most part, they are superimposed in the manner of a collage on top of (as opposed to integrated with or inlaid within) an otherwise relatively traditional piece of music.

Section-by-Section Walkthrough



  Next note The tendency to modulate is in evidence right from the start with this three-measure intro in which the music first converges toward d minor only to pivot straight away from it to c minor:
      |B-flat         |A              |d      G       |
   d:  VI              V               i
                                   c:  ii     V

   [Figure 112.1]


  Next note The verse is an unusual fourteen measures long and consists of alternating phrases of four and three measures each (AA'BB'), the asymmetry lending a subtle limping effect:
      |c      G-aug  |B-flat   d     |G              |G-aug          |
   c:  i      V#5     vi-of-ii ii     V               #5

      |c      G-aug  |B-flat   d     |A              |
   c:  i      V#5     vi-of-ii ii
                  d:  vi       i      V

      |d             |g        A     |d              |g       A      |
   d:  i              iv       V      i               iv      V

      |d             |g        A     |d      G       |
                                  c:  ii     V
   d:  i              iv       V      i

   [Figure 112.2]
  Next note Harmonically, the section opens in c minor, but most of its time is spent in the key of d minor! Even the first phrase, which overall consists of a traditional move from i to V, manages to anticipate the move to d with the way it moves to that chord by way of the G-augmented and relatively remote B-flat chords.


  Next note The two instrumental interludes of the song provide the formal contrast you'd expect from a bridge, though in this song, these interludes surprisingly turn out to be built on the same musical plan as the verses!
  Next note It's cleverly disguised by the lack of vocals and the distraction of the overdubbed sound effects; the first one, all the more so because of its presentation in a ternary meter (hint, 3/4 = good ol' Henry dancing the waltz). But do check it out carefully — the chords are identical, only transposed up a step.
  Next note Keep in mind that the verse had started out in c minor and quickly modulated up to d minor. Therefore, the instrumental sections, by virtue of starting in d minor wind up quickly modulating up to e minor. Without some intervention, this kind of thing could go on indefinitely, which is why you have the sudden call to attention at the end of the first interlude which both terminates the waltz beat and abruptly modulates you back to c minor.

Some Final Thoughts

  Next note The song has no outro, per se; instead, the second instrumental interlude (now back in the 4/4 meter) is allowed to simply end the piece.
  Next note The final chord is sustained for a full two measures, during which the overdubbed noises seem to integrate with the underlying music for just this final instant. It's as if sound boils over and evaporates before your eyes.
  Alan (021096#112)
Copyright © 1996 by Alan W. Pollack. All Rights Reserved. This article may be reproduced, retransmitted, redistributed and otherwise propagated at will, provided that this notice remains intact and in place.