Cry Baby Cry

The Beatles (White Album) artworkWritten by: Lennon-McCartney
Recorded: 15, 16, 18 July 1968
Producer: George Martin
Engineers: Geoff Emerick, Ken Scott

Released: 22 November 1968 (UK), 25 November 1968 (US)

John Lennon: vocals, acoustic guitar, piano, organ
Paul McCartney: bass
George Harrison: lead guitar
Ringo Starr: drums, tambourine
George Martin: harmonium

Available on:
The Beatles (White Album)
Anthology 3

Written by John Lennon while in India, Cry Baby Cry recalled the nursery rhymes of his childhood.

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According to Hunter Davies' authorised 1968 book on The Beatles, the song was, like Good Morning Good Morning, partly inspired by an television commercial.

I've got another one here, a few words, I think I got them from an advert - 'Cry baby cry, make your mother buy'. I've been playing it over on the piano. I've let it go now. It'll come back if I really want it. I do get up from the piano as if I have been in a trance. Sometimes I know I've let a few things slip away, which I could have caught if I'd been wanting something.
John Lennon
The Beatles, Hunter Davies

The song was completed in India, and the group recorded a demo at George Harrison's Esher house in May 1968.

Lennon was later dismissive of Cry Baby Cry, describing it in 1980 as "a piece of rubbish". The song's most obvious debt was to the nursery rhyme Sing A Song Of Sixpence, with which it shares a number of lyrical themes:

Sing a song of sixpence a pocket full of rye,
Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie.
When the pie was opened the birds began to sing,
Oh wasn't that a dainty dish to set before the king?

The king was in his counting house counting out his money,
The queen was in the parlour eating bread and honey
The maid was in the garden hanging out the clothes,
When down came a blackbird and pecked off her nose!

The ominous descending chords take Lennon's song somewhere darker than the rhyme, as does the final verse's mention of seances, voices and midnight pranks.

On the White Album, Cry Baby Cry was followed by Paul McCartney's Can You Take Me Back, an ad-libbed song recorded during the 16 September session for I Will. Although unrelated to Cry Baby Cry, the songs are often classed as one.

2006's Love album featured Can You Take Me Back as a transitory piece. It was billed as Cry Baby Cry, although none of Lennon's song was included.

In the studio

The Beatles began recording Cry Baby Cry on 15 July 1968. They filled four 30-minute tapes with unnumbered rehearsal takes, which were later wiped during the following two sessions.

Because John had divorced Cynthia and gone off with Yoko, it meant that I'd hear some of the songs for the first time when he came to the studio, whereas in the past we checked them with each other.
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

On 16 July the group recorded 10 takes. The rehearsals evidently paid off: although it lacked overdubs, take one - released in 1996 on Anthology 3 - wasn't significantly different from the final version.

The tenth take was the one selected for further work. The basic track - vocals, acoustic guitar, bass, organ and drums - received harmonium and piano overdubs later in the session.

Abbey Road's long-serving balance engineer Geoff Emerick, who had made invaluable contributions to The Beatles' music since Revolver, stopped working with the group during the 16 July session as a result of the ongoing tensions.

I lost interest in the White Album because they were really arguing among themselves and swearing at each other. The expletives were really flying... I said to George [Martin], 'Look, I've had enough. I want to leave. I don't want to know any more.' George said, 'Well, leave at the end of the week' - I think it was a Monday or Tuesday - but I said, 'No, I want to leave now, this very minute.' And that was it.
Geoff Emerick
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn

With Ken Scott taking Emerick's place, Cry Baby Cry was completed on 18 July. John Lennon recorded new lead vocals, along with backing vocals, more harmonium, tambourine and further percussion.

The song was mixed for mono and stereo on 15 October, during which the acoustic guitar beginning was given its distinctive flanging effect.

45 responses on “Cry Baby Cry

  1. Raymond

    ‘The king was in his counting house counting out his money,
    The queen was in the parlour eating bread and honey’

    Lennon again uses the same nursery rhyme in 1980. The lyrics of Clean Up Time, the third song of the Double Fantasy album (1980),go:

    The Queen is in the counting house,
    counting out the money.
    The King is in the kitchen
    Making bread and honey…

    A slight altering. In Lennons version, the male person is the housekeeper, while the wife is doing big business.
    I wonder, are these lines (in both songs) about Lennons hidden desire to be ‘only’ a houseman and a father and a husband?
    Fact is, he was making bread and honey, and doing nothing much more, in the mid-Seventees, wasn’t he, and it was (quote:) “the happiest time of my life”…

    Before I forget: Great songs, both!


  2. Will Houston

    How about being a Beatles engineer who quits over ‘tensions’ and ‘foul language’? wow. I imagine Geoff Emerick didn’t like horror films or rainy days for that matter.

      1. Preston

        You weren’t there. I’m sure those sessions were traumatic for him. Give him some slack, he held out as long as he could. Poor guy. I’m just glad he didn’t have to sit through the Get Back sessions.

      2. Deadman

        Have you read Geoff Emerick’s book. He makes it quite clear that very few people enjoyed working with the Beatles at the time when, regretfully, he felt obliged to quit. Thankfully, they were able to persuade him to return for Abbey Road.

      3. Deadpan69

        Maybe it was heartbreaking to see the wonderful Beatles falling out with each other. It almost broke my little sixteen year old heart when they did break up and started fighting in public.

    1. Hotdogsforbrains

      It was probably a real drag to have been there. Like if your parents or your friends are fighting and just want to avoid the drama. Just guessing. Oddly, The White Album is my favorite!

        1. Art

          Hardly. The book is subtitled “My Life Recording the Beatles.” So it’s about Emerick recording the Beatles. I would expect him to dwell on his contribution to the sound. It was not insignificant.
          Significantly he does not engage in idol worship (yeah, he does write fondly of Paul) and if you consider what are accepted facts of the recording habits and latter-stage group dynamic it would test most peoples’ limits (George Martin too, in addition to Ringo and George as mentioned). By mid-’68 I’m sure Emerick felt confident enough in his abilities and his position to take a hike despite the marquee nature of the job. Interestingly the Beatles themselves apparently did not share your opinion as they were eager he stay on, and went on to record successfully with him again. No hard feelings there.

          1. robert

            I listened to Emerick’s book on CD – at first I did not like it and felt he was taking a lot of credit for things – but having had about a month to think about it, I think the unfairness is that Emerick – like George Martin and like the Beatles themselves – they have been pigeon-holed into a Beatles box by us, the fans.

            I think Emerick’s main attitude is that he contributed what he contributed, observed what he observed and was involved as a critical part of the Beatles Team at least in the way he sees it.

            He has gone on to do other great work – he hasn’t worked greater artists – but his work was great – you can tell by the sound quality of the White Album that Geoff didn’t work on that album – his comment about Abbey Road’s sound being heavily impacted because the equipment used transistors vs tubes is absolutely dead on.

            Guys like him have seen the Beatles without their pants on (so to speak) and thus see them as fully human and thus they can also see themselves as one of them.

            (Sorry Joe I know this is way off the topic of the song- I won’t do it again!)

    1. Shane

      You are right Jay! That’s a great point! It’s hard for us to imagine anyone walking away from “The Beatles”!!!! From everything I’ve read over the years, things got really crazy and someone else brought up the point of George and Ringo leaving at different times. Hard to know how Geoff felt unless we were Geoff.

  3. Jacob

    Couldn’t believe it when I read it: “Lennon was later dismissive of Cry Baby Cry, describing it in 1980 as a piece of rubbish”

    I think that for all his bravado, John was always his own toughest critic, and most of the time it was completely unwarranted. This song is easily my favorite song of the second WA set, it is such a groovy tune, with that syncopated drum groove and funky piano-bass interchange. I truly believe it to be one of his best.

    1. Wayne

      Lennon was his own worst critic as you said. He was a very insecure man with an inferiority complex that he attempted to hide behind bravado and clownery (hey – I just invented a new word – clownery). He also hated the sound of his own voice, which was very distinctive and among the best in rock music before or since. It’s really a shame that he felt that way. I consider Cry Baby Cry to be one of the best songs on the White Album.

  4. Dartos

    John liked to hearken back to the Beethoven style of always criticizing his own work, always believing he could do so much better.

    It must have been stressful, but it brought him the the heights of fame.

  5. 2much4mymirror

    I always grin when it gets to

    The Duchess of Cicaldy always smiling
    And arriving late for tea
    The Duke was having problems with a message at the local Bird and Bee

    especially those twin guitar licks right after “tea” and “bee”. Pretty witty guitar work from George.

  6. Marc in Denver

    Interesting tidbit: This song is in the Mixolydian mode, meaning that there is no traditional V (dominant) chord. Instead of playing the usual G-D-G ending, John sticks to a G-F-G progression. This adds a strange, otherworldly quality, somthing I imagine John was seeking, without knowing or caring what the hell a mode is. Try strumming the chords and substitute a D everytime he plays F. Using D turns it into a mediocre ditty.

    1. James

      Interesting, thanks, I tried with the D replacement and certainly it would have been much too bright a chord for this ominous song. And I would absoultely shocked if John knew that he did this.

    2. Wayne

      Thanks for making that suggestion – you were spot on. I’m no musicologist, but I can certainly tell the difference between sublime and ordinary. I play guitar and my “style” is very similar to John’s. However I might just be the worst – the absolute worst – singer in the world. So much for my “career” in the music business.

  7. David

    Towards the end of the song you can hear Paul supply harmony. This always gets overlooked.The last part of the verse where it says “shes old enough to know better, so cry baby cry

  8. Billy Shears

    The more I listen to this tune, the more I like it. It’s placement on the White Album just before Revolution 9 is perfect. Another haunting Lennon tune. Love the piano. Very tongue-in-cheek and quite naughty little upper class references.

  9. Rockpile

    I love this song. Tell-tale Beatles descending chord progression. Paul and Ringo dueling and working magic, some fantastic George licks, John at the helm. Definitely not a single. Thank God for albums.

  10. drzulu

    Does anyone know anything about the speaking at the very end of the song? its muffled at the start but then someone (sounds like George Martin) says “I’m sorry George, can you forgive me?” someone replies “yes” and it finishes?

  11. ousetunes

    I have often wondered whether McCartney’s Can You Take Me Back, cleverly placed prior to Lennon’s Revolution 9 is intended as a message to listeners to go back to the start of the album, foregoing Revolution 9 (and Goodnight)? It’s rumoured Macca was irritated with Lennon’s avant-garde music and its inclusion on The Beatles (without his involvement).
    Just a thought.

    1. Chinghis

      I’ve thought the same thing, as well. Especially now that I read up on how much Paul (and George, I guess) didn’t want Revolution 9 on the album.

      And, yes, I’m one of those people who listens to it all the way through. It’s Good Night that I don’t really like.

      And, to stay on topic … I love “Cry, Baby, Cry.”

  12. Pablo Castro

    The curious thing in this careful arreangement is George´s guitar appeareance : only three notes on the entire song and even so it´s fundamental do the overall feel of the song !

    1. Sam P.

      Only three notes? Is that right? I think so. Funny, as I listen to the song it’s what I look forward to most. Good call there.

      A friend and I were talking about CBC years ago. The fact that each successive verse highlighted drums, bass, piano, guitar, is a testament to excellent direction.

  13. Kendo

    I freaking love this song! John’s voice sounds intencionally so calm n soft very different from his usual rawness,also the piano organ lines are great. He was a genius!and my favorite of them all.

  14. kirbygene

    This brilliant song has always had a chilling effect on me, I always imagined that everyone John describes in his dry narration are dead spirits that share the same haunted house (like in The Shining) and have taken on lofty titles for themselves. The whole arrangement has a medieval feel to it and the scattered voices are the ghosts’ presences poking through into our world, The “cry baby cry” seems to refer to a toddler-ghost searching for it’s mother. Even Paul’s equally chilling song snippet at the end seems to add to the macabre effect, as if we hear from one last ghost desperately wanting to return to his former life. Spooky, I know, but next time you play it think of it that way and you might get a chill.

  15. Graham Paterson

    Love this song. A beautiful John Lennon composition, even though he himself did not rate it. Gorgeous chorus/ melody. I love the way it sequences into McCartney’s “Can you take me Back” at the end. The “White Album” is a masterpiece. It’s eclectic nature between John, Paul and George’s, ( and Ringo’s one),compositions is extraordinary.

  16. Hank Smith

    The phonetics of the first two verses absolutely captivate me in this song. Lennon’s clever arrangement of words more than makes up for the lack of intense meaning that he felt the song might have been lacking. I imagine cartoonish material characters for the King/Queen and Duchess/Duke and it gives such a creepy feeling to the whole song that is perfectly matched by the odd chord structure.

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