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The Beatles Songs: The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill

The history of this classic Beatles song

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The Beatles Songs: The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill

"Bungalow Bill" with his mother and the tiger he killed

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The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill

Written by: John Lennon (100%)
(credited to Lennon-McCartney)
Recorded: October 8, 1968 (Studio 2, Abbey Road Studios, London, England)
Mixed: October 9 and 17, 1968
Length: 3:05
Takes: 3

Musicians:

John Lennon: lead and backing vocals, acoustic rhythm guitar (1963 Gibson "Super Jumbo" J-200), organ (Hammond RT-3)
Paul McCartney: backing vocals, bass guitar (1964 Rickenbacker 4001S)
George Harrison: backing vocals, acoustic rhythm guitar (1963 Gibson "Super Jumbo" J-200)
Ringo Starr: drums (Ludwig), tambourine
Chris Thomas: Mellotron (1964 Mark II)
Yoko Ono, Maureen Starkey: backing vocals

Available on: (CDs in bold)

The Beatles (a/k/a "The White Album"; UK: Apple PMC 7067-8; US: Apple SWBO 101; Parlophone CDP 7 46443 2; CDP 7 46444 2)

History:

  • The real person John based "Bungalow Bill" on was one Richard E. Cooke III, a rather wealthy and clean-cut American who'd gone to visit his mother, socialite and fashionista Nancy Cooke de Herrera, at the same ashram in Rishikesh, India that the Beatles were visiting in the spring of 1968. Nancy was there as the Maharishi's publicist, and invited her son, known as Rik, to go on what certain industrious natives billed as a "traditional" tiger hunt, one done on the backs of elephants. When an angry tiger came towards the tree stand containing the hunting party, Rik shot the tiger dead.
  • Back at the ashram, Nancy began to enthrall the other guests with the story, but the Maharishi himself became visibly disturbed by the death of the tiger. When Rik attempted to defend himself, Lennon incredulously interrupted: "But don't you consider that slightly life destructive?" Cooke replied that the tiger had charged the group, and it was either it or them. Rik then literally asked the Maharishi if to kill was a sin, and the guru agreed with John, saying "Life-destructive is life-destructive." John was so outraged and yet amused by the seeming contradiction between meditation and killing that he immediately wrote "Bungalow Bill," taking his cue from notorious American frontiersman "Buffalo" Bill Cody and adding "Bungalow" to reference the structures they lived in while in Rishikesh. The superhero "Captain Marvel" also makes an appearance, as if to confirm Lennon's view of American hero archetypes. The "continuing story" in the title is meant to reference this same type of pulp serial.
  • Recording "Bungalow Bill" was a simple affair, and since the song was essentially a parody of a folk-hero campfire song, it was recorded like one, with Yoko Ono, Ringo's wife Maureen, and possibly some other guests invited along to beef up the backing vocals. Recording was begun and completed in the same evening of October 9, 1968, after some work was done on George's "Long, Long, Long" and John had recorded another number entitled "I'm So Tired." The basic track was laid down in only three takes, mostly live with backing vocals: John on organ, George on guitar, and Paul and Ringo on bass and drums. Engineer Chris Thomas then added the mellotron effects that color the song, including mandolin sounds during the verses and the "trumpet solo" that ends the track (actually the same bassoon sound heard in "Flying"). During mixing on October 17, while the album's tracks were being linked together, Thomas pressed one of the "pre-set" tape sounds included in the mellotron and heard a flamenco guitar solo, which became the track's opening. This makes "Bungalow" arguably the first song to include a sampled performance!

Trivia:

  • Cooke and his mother have both given interviews and written books about the Rishikesh incident; Rik describes his relationship with the other three Beatles in India as a pleasant one. Mia Farrow's memoirs, however, do not paint a flattering portrait of his mother Nancy.
  • Yoko Ono, who was inseparable from John during the "White Album" sessions, was given a cameo lead vocal on this song, portraying Nancy allegedly saying "Not when he looked so fierce." Although the two "Apple Scruffs" girls on the original version of "Across The Universe" were recorded first, this remains the first released female vocal on any Beatles tune.
  • On some CD versions of the "White Album," the opening flamenco solo is erroneously treated as the outro of "Wild Honey Pie", rather than the intro to "Bill." It is performed by Australian Eric Cook, and can also be heard in the Arrested Development episode "Public Relations," as GOB prepares to perform his illusion "The Aztec Tomb." (The "eh-up" by John that closes the track is sometimes erroneously attached to the next song, "While My Guitar Gently Weeps.")
  • This song has drawn comparisons to "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds", another John song which welds together two disparate pieces in two different tempos by pausing for a three-count break on the bass drum. More intriguing still are the claims that Lennon, intentionally or not, borrowed the first half of the chorus's melody from Ray Noble's version of the pop standard "Stay as Sweet as You Are."
  • The line "If looks could kill it would have been us instead of him" is a mockery of Rik's defense in killing the tiger, while "The children asked him if to kill was not a sin" actually references Cooke's own words to the Maharishi. Cooke was so disturbed by the event that he never shot a gun again. He went on to become a photographer for National Geographic.

Covered by: Phish, Young Blood, Ron Sexsmith, Done Again, Les Fradkin, Klaus Peter Beyer, Will Taylor

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