Sun King

Abbey Road album artworkWritten by: Lennon-McCartney
Recorded: 24, 25, 29 July 1969
Producer: George Martin
Engineers: Geoff Emerick, Phil McDonald

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

Available on:
Abbey Road
Love

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.

Abbey Road - The Beatles

That’s a piece of garbage I had around.
John Lennon
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.
John Lennon
Anthology

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.
George Harrison

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.

25 Responses to “Sun King”

  1. Michael

    Ha!
    I thought at once when hearing it for the first time: “That sounds like “Albatross!”
    Nice to see I got their intention right.
    Again: Great site!

    Reply
  2. Beatleluver

    i read that it roughly translates into this “When for much my love of happy heart, world paparazzi my love green for warm sun, hill as much much that small carousel.”

    Reply
  3. Roger

    As many great songs on this classic album that there is, Sun King is by far my favorite song. I like everything about it from beginning to end. Yeah, it’s a “throw-away” song by Lennon…but it’s a beautiful piece of work. Well-thought-out opening guitar part (Harrison’s genius) as well as beautiful harmonies.

    Reply
    • Bryce

      The opening guitar part is actually played by Lennon. He plays it on the bonus disk of Let It Be…Naked’s Bonus Disk Fly On The Wall

      Reply
  4. Ben

    One of my favourites off Abbey Road, peaceful and relaxing. Although, as DoBotherMe says, I’m pretty sure George sings a harmony vocal.

    Reply
  5. TheOneBeatleManiac

    This is one of the curious Beatles songs, with an almost non-sense ad-libbed 5 idioms random ending.
    Also, with guitar panning, i love panning, the beatles didn’t use it too much but in many songs, like A Day In The Life, Little Child, Tommorow Never Knows, Back In The U.S.S.R., Revolution 9, maybe because stereo was only beginning and panning also was starting.
    But it’s great.

    Reply
  6. Gustavo

    The loops are from “You never…” transition. The piano atributed to Paul is for “Mean Mr. Mustard”, because the songs were recorded as one. Lewishon said there were piano, but Everett said it was John who played it.

    One more time, “…Pam” and “Bathroom” were recorded as one, and Lewishon said electric and acosutic pianos as well as assorted percussion were overdub, but didnĀ“t mention who played what.

    Reply
  7. GeorgeTSimpson

    I’ve just listened to the Fly on the wall disc of Let It Be… naked and then I asked myself, is it possible that Don’t Let Me Down and Sun King because there is the melody of Sun King and then John sings Don’t Let Down, and he goes on with Don’t Let Me Down, and then it sounds like a mix of both song, and in the booklet is “CONVERSATION then Sun King (0.17) and then Don’t Let Me Down (0.35).

    Reply
  8. GeorgeTSimpson

    Sorry, I didn’t look what I had written, I mean that teh two were originally one single song written by lennon and then he decided to split the two songs

    Reply
  9. GeorgeTSimpson

    I think john’s guitar, although mainly a rythm guitar in this song, also plays a lead guitar line, because in the beginning I hear two guitars, at first the opening riff which goes through the whole inteo with long breaks between it, the the fuzz bass and finally a second guitar possibly played through a leslie amplifier which at first plays a line and then chords comes in. Then the vocals come in and I think the second lead guitars which played chords in the end of the intro becomes a rythm guitar. Is the third instrumental line in the intro really a second guitar or is it the organ?

    Reply
  10. cdesim

    Has anybody noticed that the crashing chord that accompanies the vocals (the first “ah…”) is the same Gsus4 that launches “A Hard Day’s Night”?

    Reply
  11. brian

    I love this one. Everybody is so into the George songs on this album… and I understand that. They do hit hard and are sort of a celebration of his skills as a writer coming into competitive ranks with the others.
    But yeah, props to George and well deserved, but my favorite tracks are the Lennon ones. Because, and This One. I get that he might not think much of it. Maybe because he favored the songs where he had something to say with the words and concept. Where they could stand alone. So this song may be lacking some meat in that department. But I really love the relaxed mood and tones of the thing.

    Reply
  12. GIAN FELICE

    So very relaxed and relaxing though John didn’t love it. The final “scherzo”(joke) means nothing but they were having fun together still in 1969 and while working hard on an important release like “Abbey Road”. Gian Felice Italian fan.

    Reply
  13. James Ferrell

    I love this song, even if John dismissed it. It has that same ecstatic stillness and beautiful 3 part harmony that Because has. John’s Leslie-treated, finger-picked guitar part is great–same fingerpicking pattern he learned from Donovan and used on Julia, Dear Prudence, Happiness is a Warm Gun, Look at Me, Steel and Glass… The lead fills and organ fills are beautiful. Great bass part. And the ersatz Italian/Spanish is a kick.

    The whole the sounds like a great band having a good time. Nothing too fancy or baroque. Just a nice song arranged and performed beautifully.

    Oh and I think it’s a G9 chord in this one, not the famous AHDN chord. IMHO.

    Reply
    • Mush

      I’m glad you mentioned the fingerpicking on this song. I never see Sun King listed as a song in which John used that technique, and in every cover I’ve seen people just arpeggiate the chord with a pick. The alternating bass notes(especially clear in the isolated track from the Rockband multi-tracks) make it clear that this is how the rhythm was played.

      He also used it for the rhythm on Octopus’s Garden, but I’m sure you knew that.

      Reply
  14. Billy Shears

    The “Sun King” is the French king Louie XIV. He is the king in the story “The Man in the Iron Mask” in which he is imprisoned and replaced with his impostor brother. The Paul is Dead reference is clear. Faul (fake Paul) is the impostor king and all is happy and right with the world. Curious that the Beatles would choose this king to sing about with all the kings in history to pick from…

    Reply
  15. JustinR

    I’m surprised no one has mentioned this yet but isn’t this supposed to be a weed song? I’d read that the “Sun King” is referring to a joint being passed around, and “everybody’s laughing, everybody’s happy”. Am I wrong?

    Reply

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