Released: 26 September 1969 (UK), 1 October 1969 (US)
John Lennon: vocals, guitar, maracas
Paul McCartney: harmony vocals, bass, harmonium, piano, tape loops
George Harrison: harmony vocals, lead guitar
Ringo Starr: drums, bongos, tambourine
George Martin: Lowrey organ
The second song in Abbey Road’s long medley, Sun King was written by John Lennon. It was recorded back-to-back with another of his compositions, Mean Mr Mustard.
That’s a piece of garbage I had around.
All We Are Saying, David Sheff
Although Lennon most likely got the title from The Sun King, Nancy Mitford’s 1966 biography of the French King Louis XIV, the song descends into cod-Spanish, Italian and Portuguese nonsense, with the odd English phrase thrown in.
When we came to sing it, to make them different we started joking, saying ‘cuando para mucho’. We just made it up. Paul knew a few Spanish words from school, so we just strung any Spanish words that sounded vaguely like something. And of course we got ‘chicka ferdi’ – that’s a Liverpool expression; it doesn’t mean anything, just like ‘ha ha ha’. One we missed: we could have had ‘para noia’, but we forgot all about it. We used to call ourselves Los Para Noias.
Sun King, which allegedly came to Lennon in a dream, opens with the sound of bells, bubbles and chimes – part of the crossfade joining the song to the end of You Never Give Me Your Money. A guitar passage then begins, influenced by Fleetwood Mac’s 1969 instrumental hit Albatross.
At the time, 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 that was the point of origin.
Part of the song’s middle section was reversed and retitled Gnik Nus on the 2006 album Love. Sun King’s guitar intro also appeared at the close of Octopus’s Garden on the same album.
In the studio
Under the working title Here Comes The Sun-King (later truncated due to its similarity to George Harrison’s Here Comes The Sun), The Beatles began recording Sun King/Mean Mr Mustard as one on 24 July 1969.
They taped 35 takes of the basic track: Lennon played rhythm guitar and sang a guide vocal, McCartney played bass, Harrison was on lead guitar and Starr on drums.
The next day the group overdubbed vocals, piano and organ, the latter played by George Martin. They then finished the two songs on 29 July, with the addition of more vocals, piano, organ and percussion.