August 12, 2015

“How does it feel to be one of the beautiful people?”

The phrase “beautiful people” had been used prior to the 1960s.

For example, in Oscar Wilde’s play An Ideal Husband, a social comedy first performed in 1895, one of the characters says at a gathering of high society partygoers: “I like looking at geniuses, and listening to beautiful people.”

And, in 1941, William Saroyan titled one of his plays The Beautiful People.

But it wasn’t until the 1960s that “beautiful people” became an expression that had a generally recognized social meaning. In fact, there were two different Sixties terms about “beautiful people.”

One version was the beautiful people,” a name applied to glamorous celebrities, wealthy “jet setters” and other fashion trendsetters.

That version is generally credited to Diana Vreeland, the influential editor of Vogue magazine. Vogue started using the term “the beautiful people” in 1962 in articles about celebrities, at Vreeland’s suggestion, and it quickly caught on.

Another version, without the word the, was popularized in the mid-1960s by the young people commonly known as “the Hippies.” In Hippie parlance, “beautiful people” were people who were cool and spiritually “enlightened.” (As in: “They’re really beautiful people, man.”)

Being one of those “beautiful people” didn’t require wealth or fame. You could become one by taking a psychedelic drug like LSD, or by getting your enlightenment from some hip form of religion, such as transcendental meditation.

In 1967, the Beatles made a sly reference to the Hippie version of the term and subtly mocked the Vogue-style “beautiful people” in their song “Baby You’re a Rich Man.” It starts with the famous line:

      “How does it feel to be one of the beautiful people?”

As noted by many websites and books about the Beatles, “Baby You’re a Rich Man” was actually made from two songs originally written separately by John Lennon and his fellow Beatle Paul McCartney.

The opening verses were from a song Lennon wrote and initially called “One of the Beautiful People.” Around the same time, McCartney wrote a song that repeated the words “Baby you’re a rich man” in the chorus.

At some point, Lennon and McCartney decided to combine their two songs into one, something they had done before in other famous Beatle songs, such as “A Day in the Life.”

Lennon and McCartney recorded their combo composition with the other two Beatles, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, on May 11, 1967. John sang lead and played the clavioline, an early electronic instrument that gave the song a distinctive aural character.

The finished song was released with the title “Baby You’re A Rich Man” on July 7, 1967, on the B-side of the 45rpm record that featured “All You Need Is Love” on the A-side.

But it wasn’t until August 12, 1967 that “Baby You’re A Rich Man” entered Billboard's Hot 100 chart. Unlike “All You Need Is Love,” which zoomed to #1 on August 19, 1967, “Baby You’re A Rich Man” was not a huge hit in itself. It peaked at #34.

Both songs were included on the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour album, which was released that November. Magical Mystery Tour hit #1 on Billboard’s Top LPs chart on January 6, 1968 and remained the number one selling album in the US for eight weeks.

In the years since then, John Lennon’s in-joke question “How does it feel to be one of the beautiful people?” has become a famous quote cited by many books and websites.

And, most old Beatles fans (like me), and any younger Beatles fans worth their salt, are familiar with the rest of the lyrics to “Baby You’re A Rich Man.”

“How does it feel to be one of the beautiful people?”
For a refresher, or just for the pleasure of it, click the link to the video at right and follow along...

“How does it feel to be one of the beautiful people?
Now that you know who you are,
What do you want to be?
And have you traveled very far?
Far as the eye can see.

How does it feel to be one of the beautiful people?
How often have you been there?
Often enough to know.
What did you see when you were there?
Nothing that doesn’t show.

Baby you’re a rich man,
Baby you’re a rich man,
Baby you’re a rich man, too.
You keep all your money in a big brown bag, inside a zoo.
What a thing to do!
Baby you’re a rich man,
Baby you’re a rich man,
Baby you’re a rich man, too

How does it feel to be one of the beautiful people?
Tuned to a natural E,
Happy to be that way.
Now that you’ve found another key,
What are you going to play?

[Chorus repeats]

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