Cry Baby Cry - The Beatles

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"Cry Baby Cry" - The Beatles (1968)

Although written by Lennon, the outro of “Cry Baby Cry” is a short segment referred to as “Can You Take Me Back”- an unrelated and unlisted song which was written and sung- or to be more accurate- ad libbed, by McCartney.

The track features a chugging descent of chords and piano which takes the form of a nursery rhyme- and in fact, could even pass for one.

Scottish folk singer legend Donovon believes that the lyrics were inspired by nursery rhymes and the songs he was writing which were “fairy tale” in style.

He said:

“I think the eventual imagery was suggested by my own songs of fairy tales. We had become very close in exchanging musical vibes. The song was based in part by two nursery rhymes, ‘Sing A Song Of Sixpence’ and ‘Cry, baby, cry...stick a finger in your eye’...etc.”

Beatle scholar Ian McDonald called Cry Baby Cry a “haunted creation:”

“It exudes a memorably creepy atmosphere created partly by verbal ambiguity and partly by an ominously recurring blues B flat which belongs in neither the chorus’s G major nor its related minor. The song with its deceptive sunshine and mysterious laughter behind half-open doors, is one of the most evocative products of Lennon.”

David Quantick, who wrote the only book on The White Album, said that Lennon’s delivery- dry, neutral, and almost not there- adds a lot to the song’s peculiar ambience:

With its eerie cast of fairy-tale nobility engaged in bizarrely mundane domestic tasks, its references to séances in the dark, and its constant references to séances in the dark, and its consistent references to a group of unseen children, is a song with an air of particularly dreamlike ghost story.”

Music critic Al Barger reminds us that The Beatles were known for being bonus babies: they frequently threw in a hot melodic idea at the beginning or end of a song which was not repeated.

“When they do it on Cry Baby Cry is particularly good, and really completes the song. All the fancy production tricks drop away as Paul pleads forlornly ‘Can you take me back where I came from, brother can you take me...baaack.’ That lonesome high note on the last ‘back’ is just the saddest thing. This makes perfect sense, and needs no further explanation.”

As compelling as the song is, it is sometimes hard to get a handle on it. The lyrics do make literal sense, but the point is not as obvious as details of the day-to-day personal lives of a king and queen are presented but there is no punch line, or obvious significance to the story.

It could be that the lack of meaning is exactly the point of the composition. The melody is quiet and melancholy which creates a sense of being suspended in the midst of a dream. Yet all is not well in the dream as a constant feel of emptiness and foolishness surrounds the words and music.

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