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, piano
Paul McCartney: harmony vocals, bass
George Harrison: lead guitar
Ringo Starr: drums, tambourine, maraca
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.

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

Lennon played early versions of Sun King during the Get Back/Let It Be sessions at Twickenham, on 2, 3, and 10 January 1969. He often segued the song into Don’t Let Me Down, as heard on the ‘Fly On The Wall’ bonus disc with early copies of 2003’s Let It Be… Naked.

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, although take seven was a version of Ain’t She Sweet later released on Anthology 3. Take 20 of Sun King/Mean Mr Mustard, meanwhile, can be heard on some formats of the 50th anniversary reissue of Abbey Road.

Paul McCartney’s bass guitar was recorded on track one of the eight-track tape; Ringo Starr’s drums were on track two; Lennon’s guitar was on three; Harrison’s guitar was on four; and Lennon’s guide vocal was on six. The final take, 35, was considered the best.

The next day the group overdubbed vocals, piano and organ, the latter played by George Martin. They finished the two songs on 29 July, with the addition of more vocals, piano, organ and percussion.