Sun King - The Beatles
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"Sun King" - The Beatles (1969)
Lennon said “Sun King” came to him in a dream.
An alternative version as to the origins of the track is that he read a book by Nancy Mitford about the life of Louis XIV of France (The “Sun King” was a nickname given to King Louis XIV).
In the late 1970s he remarked:
“It’s a piece of garbage I had around.”
George Harrison said:
“At the time, Fleetwood Mac’s Albatross was out with all the reverb on guitar. So we said, ‘let’s be Fleetwood Mac doing Albatross,’ just to get going. It never really sounded like Fleetwood Mac….but it was the point of origin.”
As the track begins one can hear what seem to be wind chimes moving across the stereo spectrum, suggesting a cool breeze blowing on a warm summer day. These chimes fade down under the gentle chirping of crickets as the music begins. Guitar and bass emerge seemingly from underwater while playing a rising line in the lower part of their registers.
Three-part harmony vocals augment the electric guitar and bass which evokes a playful sense of oneness with the use of the recording technique of cross-channel movement or stereo panning and fading.
The backing track is dominated by two guitar parts, a very prominently mixed bass, and drums. This is all mixed up together with an overlay of what sounds like crickets.
“Sun King” has been interpreted as detailing Lennon’s detachment from the world at that time. He is watching the laughing happy people in the sunshine but does not feel part of them.
The foreign language part of the composition is a garbled mixture of Spanish and Italian, which roughly translates to: “When for much my love of happy heart, world paparazzi my love green for warm sun, hill as much much that small carousel.” “Paparazzi” has the same meaning in Italian as it does in English.
The dream takes place against an idealistic landscape in which enlightenment promises seem largely fulfilled. In the context of a song like this, “making sense” per se is much less important than sounding convincingly as though you do.
The song demonstrates John’s often ingenious approach to form. The track is built up from a small number of short phrases or sections that are flexibly repeated and sequenced in the manner mosaic tiles.
Beatle author Jonathan Gould believes “Sun King” can be thought of as almost a parody of “Because”:
“It applies the same dreamy tempo, gentile choral melody, and rapt vocal harmonies to the lyric describing the arrival of an Appolonian figure whose mere presence leaves everybody glowing with laughter and happiness. Since the effect of this Appolonian figure is precisely the same as that of the Beatles on their fans, the song, while merely a fragment, revives the theme of the charismatic trickster that John expressed so mordantly in "I Am The Walrus"."
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