Home / Single Review: The Beatles – “Cry Baby Cry”

Single Review: The Beatles – “Cry Baby Cry”

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This song is compelling as hell, but it is a little difficult to get a handle on, and it gets lost in the overall brilliance of the White Album. The lyrics do make literal sense, but the point is not obvious. They give details of the day to day personal lives of a king and queen. There is no punchline, or obvious significance to the story.

The lack of meaning, I think, is the point. The melody is quiet and melancholy. With the royal talk, the little bit of phase shifting in the acoustic guitar, and the accordian, there is a sense of being suspended in dream time. Something’s wrong in dreamland; there is a sense of emptiness, and foolishness. “Cry, baby, cry. Make your mother sigh. She’s old enough to know better.” I suspect this is all some heroin induced hallucinatory reflection of his take on the Beatles themselves: foolish pampered rich people.

The Beatles were known for being bonus babies; they frequently threw in a hot melodic idea at the beginning or end of a song which was not repeated. This one is particularly good, and really completes the song. All the fancy production tricks drop away as Paul pleads forlornly “Can you take me back where I came from, brother can you take me…baaack.” That lonesome high note on the last “back” is just the saddest thing. This makes perfect sense, and needs no further explanation.


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  • A single review? Is this the new trend? I must get on it:)

    This is so much more insightful than the norm – thanks

  • You want insightful, Aaman? Wait till I start reviewing my Kraft singles.

  • godoggo

    Didn’t I read this before?

  • You might have read it on my MoreThings site. It’s been there awhile, but I don’t think I’ve published it here. I did a site search.

  • You’re welcome, Aaman. I often prefer writing about individual songs for several reasons. Whole albums at a time, things tend to get glossed over. Particularly with Beatles records, there’s a lot to parse out. Think what you’d get writing even this modest length in one White Album review- for every single song.

  • I am currently gaining new insight into the songs of the Grateful Dead, thanks to an annotated edition of their lyrics, unfortunately the book itself gives me far less insights than my own readings

  • Vern Halen

    Cry Baby Cry is one of the great lost Lennon tunes, much better than Imagine, which got beat up pretty good on Blogcritics a couple of weeks ago.

  • For a better, more cohesive “White Album,” take out the following flyover filler:
    “Wild Honey Pie”
    “Don’t Pass Me By” (sorry, Ringo)
    “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road”
    “Revolution 1″(pointless alternative to superior
    “Revolution 9” (just plain pointless, too-long

  • And “Long, Long, Long”

  • I say, don’t change a thing. Even the throwaways are great. And I think of “Revolution 9” as an audio Godard film; a work of inspired cut-up spontaneity that seems to follow some strange structure, like free jazz.

  • good enough–I’m the the kind who thinks Sgt Pepper seems dated and overrated in parts (I always skip “Within You, Without You” and “She’s Leaving Home,” for example)and think Rubber Soul is wildly inconsistent (Revolver, though, is perfect).

  • IgnatiusReilly

    gee, just imagine what heights The Beatles could have reached if only you had been there to advise them, GH.

  • well, Ignatius, in my deepest delusions of grandeur, I am the Voice Of My Generation. Now about this Dylan feller . . .

  • Voice Of All Generations, reborn, literally

    Uh, oh–the delusions are back…

  • I wouldn’t want to lose anything from the album. Even the lesser songs are interesting texture and serve a purpose. “Wild Honey Pie” isn’t one of their best tracks, the weakest thing on the album, but it’s catchy at that, and adds a unique bit to the flavor of the whole. Plus it’s pretty short. It’s only 61 seconds. You might consider it more of an extended segue between “Ob La Di” and “Bungalow Bill” rather than really a full fledged song.

    “Don’t Pass Me By” is a really unique Ringo expression, and a totally cool song. That’s one of the top couple of expressions of pure Ringonicity in the whole Beatles catalogue.

    “Revolution #1” is great too. It’s a very different arrangement and effect. It’s halfway to being another song entirely.

    And don’t EVER disrespect “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road.” That’s a totally righteous rock and roll JAM. That’s got to be the best song Little Richard never wrote.

    “Revolution 9” is just nonsense as any kind of MUSIC. If we were going to lose something, this would be it. But at that, the track is cool freaky texture. I usually skip over it. 8:13 is WAY too much texture without musical substance. Still, it’s pretty cool.

    I also have a soft spot for the track personally, having fond memories of discovering it circa 1988 on an early CD jukebox. I innocently played this in a Chi Chi’s bar during Friday night happy hour one psychedelic evening. Those rising waves of discomfort across the bar were GREAT. It was like a little live “react to art” project, with the live random bar chaos building out of the record. It was COOL.

  • Al–Rev#9 was on a jukebox? I can see the appeal of playing that in mixed company. I played Lou Reed’s abrasive “Metal Machine Music” a couple times at closing time at the record store I worked at to gently remind people we were closing. Did the trick.

  • It was the first CD jukebox I’d ever seen, and it had both discs of the White Album. On one hand, these things dramatically expand the number of selections. On the other hand, they expand they expand MY choices for mischief. Yee-haw!

  • Vern Halen

    How did you manage Metal Machine Music a couple of times? Once all the way through was enough for me.

    White album – take out Rev9 & Rev1 & replace with Hey Jude & Revolution (the single) respectively – then it’s a go.

  • I first heard the White Album at twelve and now that you bring it up, it is still one of the most amazing and innovative pop albums of ALL time.

    In addition to the coda you mention, the fact that it segues into Revolution 9 is burned into my hard-wired Beatle-fan synapses.

    I also can never listen to or think of the White Album without imagining Charles Manson and his followers using it as fodder for paranoic-fueled plotting out in the California desert.

    Cry Baby Cry is one of the most poignant of all the extraordinary songs on this masterpiece of an album. I wouldn’t change a thing about it.

  • zingzing

    re: the bashing of revolution #9.

    ok… revolution #9 is a brilliant song. as pure sound, tape manipulation, and for the furthering (is that a word?) of classical and experimental music, it doesn’t come much better.

    ever heard of stockhausen? riley? reich? maybe you have, maybe you haven’t. those are just the some of the more common names in early electronic music (not so much riley), or musique concrete (not so much reich), or minimalism (not so much stockhausen), or just mid-20th century classical music. the brilliance of revolution #9 is that it was a) heard by a gazillion people, and b) actually just as good, or maybe even better, than anything those other names did.

    the beatles were pop. they knew pop, they almost invented it as we know it. they also had better music taste than you (except george). lennon made this (paul had nothing to do with it, although he had been the first beatle into experimental music, and is also responsible for most of the good ideas on “tomorrow never knows…”) because he was fascinated by this type of music. he was also one of the great tune-smiths of his day. he couldn’t help but make a “pop” version of this experimental music.

    if you’d just listen to the damn thing, you might enjoy it. ever listened to it the whole way!? more than once? got a brain? got some adventure in your heart? god damn it. listen.

    btw-was cry baby cry ever released as a single? don’t think so… could be wrong… but i doubt it… i thought that hey jude/revolution was the single released around this time… and lady madonna/inner light…

  • Zingzing, I thank you for reading my column, and for taking the time to think out a response.

    However, “Revolution #9” is just not a good piece of music. Indeed, it’s questionable to even call it “music.” Music is about PATTERNS of information, generally melody, rhythm and/or harmony. “Revolution #9” has none of that.

    A lot of people have heard that little wank off session- because it’s sandwiched in amongst REAL songs like “Helter Skelter” and “Rocky Raccoon” and- special personal fave- “Piggies.” Absolutely NO ONE would have given a rat’s ass about that silly recording of the mating calls of the avant garde if it wasn’t coming out of the guy who wrote “Strawberry Fields Forever.”

    And DUDE, you SO don’t know who you’re talking to if you don’t think I’ve ever given that album a good listen. I obsess on Beatle records like some folks fixate on their King James Bibles.

    On a technical note, I don’t think “Cry, Baby, Cry” was ever released as a single. That’s more a technical point of our review framework here, reflecting that I’m writing about this one song rather than a whole album

  • zingzing

    i wasn’t talking to you so much al. rev #9 is music. no doubt about that. it has patterns, rhythm and momentary melodies. it’s just more abstract than the “REAL” songs around it. who knows if people would have cared about rev #9 if it hadn’t been on a beatles record. it was a little late in the game (reich, riley and stockhausen were doing this stuff earlier), but it certainly was good. classical critics snub it, pop critics snub it, but whatever, it’s fucking perfect as what it is.
    i’m sure you have listened to this album a lot. probably more than i have. you actually have some decent things to say about rev #9 in some of your earlier comments (i think that was you)… i’m just saying it’s better than you think, and everyone else should give it a fair listen (you should give it another shot…)

  • zingzing

    opinions are opinions. where’s michael j. west!?

  • Did somebody call my name?

    I actually thought “Revolution 9” was compelling and ingenious when I was 12. (I’m pretty sure nobody has uttered the previous sentence in the history of the universe.) Al, I don’t doubt you’ve combed through the White Album thoroughly, but I wonder if you’ve spent as much time on “Revolution 9” as you have on the other tracks. The patterns are there in abundance; in particular, the rhythmic patterns are essential to the track (Lennon framed the whole sound collage atop the rhythm track from “Revolution 1,” then erased said rhythm track from the final mix).

    All that said, I LOVE “Cry Baby Cry” even more than “Revolution 9.” And I see your acoustic guitar and accordion (or is it a harmonium?), and raise you the piano vamp for loveliness.

  • Rev#9?–doesn’t have a good beat, can’t dance to it (um, that’s Dick Clark-referenced humor, for all you Stockhausenmaniacs), even after the first couple dozen real-old-real-fast listens. But then I don’t have a brain, nor adventure in my heart. I do have an opinion, though–and that’s all it is, fer chrissakes, a fuckin’ opinion.

    Thanks–Voice of All Generations reborn literally

  • Vern Halen

    Alrighty….. there are certain sonic frameworks that qualify as music. I don’t need to go into a lot of detail, but as I’m sure you can all figure out for yourselves, they depend from person to person. For instance, some would say that rap isn’t music because they talk & don’t sing; others would say it’s rhythmic sounds, so it’s a type of music. Is some avant garde composer’s three minutes of silence music, or how about The Stooges LA Blues noise collage?

    Unimportant right now. The question is simply, within what frameworks did the Beatles themselves work? The vast majority of their recorded output used the traditional elements of popular music – melody, harmony, rhythm. The occasional studio effect (i.e., the jet whoosh in Back in the USSR, the noises in Tomorrow Never Knows) didn’t interfere with the basic elements of the song – the melody, harmony & rhythm could still be recognised.

    Revolution 9 – an attempt to to break out of traditional patterns, a put on, a slap in the face, an acid induced prank? Whatever – it just doesn’t fit with the rest of their material, with the possible exception of You Know My Name (Look Up the Number). That’s the reason I’d leave it off the White Album & replace it with Hey Jude. Personally, I would’ve pulled the whole thing down to about a dozen songs running 45 minutes.

    Yeah, I know, too bad I wasn’t there to fix it for them. I do admire them for throwing the whole thing at the wall, knowing it wouldn’t stick for some people. As a commitment to art, the White Album is great as it is. But as a collection of music, I don’t have to listen to it like that.

  • VernHalen#18–btw, I never did listen to Metal Machine Music all the way through, either (it was a two-record set, too!). I do remember, though, when we got it into the store after having heard virtually nothing about it, seen no promotions (understandedly so, in retrospect). Still, it was Lou Reed, after all, and we opened it immediately for store play. Imagine our alarm (and the customers’) after what we thought was just an off-putting intro never segued into anything else, in fact kept getting more abrasive as we sampled the other three sides. Never played it again, except to play a couple minutes worth to chase off lingering customers after closing time.

  • Vern Halen

    Yeah, MMM – a looooooooooooooong joke with one punchline, over and over and over and over…….

  • OK, I don’t think anyone has mentioned this yet about Revolution #9, but back in the day when albums were still the norm and you could spin your vinyl backwards, the voice saying “Number Nine” morphed into “turn me on, dead man” when played in reverse. (I shit you not–I’m old enough to have been around for the vinyl-only age AND Beatlemania, so respect your elders!) All part of the “Paul is dead” hoax, no doubt–for those unfamiliar with this phenom, there were all sorts of “clues” on various Beatle album covers and lyrics referring semi-cryptically to Paul’s demise. I won’t go into them all now, though, I guess….

  • Elvira: I almost forgot about that “turn me on dead man” aspect–I was well versed in all those “Paul is Dead” clues on both album covers and recordings. On the White Album, there’s another clue when you play the end-gibberesh on “Piggies” backwards. My favorite is the clear “I bury Paul” on the fade-out to “Strawberry Fields” (even though the Beatles tried, unconvincingly, to say it was “cranberry sauce”).

  • Shark

    Wow. Al, I’m shocked. I thought you were gonna turn yer rusty chain saw on a great Beatles tune — tryin’ too hard to be yer grumpy ol’ “BOY AM I PROVOCATIVE!” self.

    Y’know, kinda like kickin’ “IMAGINE”s ass on the anniversary of Christ’s… um, sorry, Lennon’s death?

    Man, that was nasty — but not a surprise — coming from the guy who bashed Rosa Parks and has such bad taste to worship Prince AND fucking Ayn Rand.

    But as I say, this was a pleasant surprise — although as an analysis/critique, it contains about 600 words and not ONE original and/or creative thought.

    But that’s okay. After the “Imagine” post, I was expecting to see streaming videos of you torturing puppies or sumthin’.


    PS: #9 makes tons of sense if yer on LSD… which is how we used to listen to it.

  • uao

    I kind of dig the artwork Al has been including in his Beatles/Lennon series.

    I’m tempted to steal that White Album advert and use it on my blog…

  • Shark


    Jees, this it THE INTERNET, ferchrissakes!

  • However, “Revolution #9” is just not a good piece of music. Indeed, it’s questionable to even call it “music.” Music is about PATTERNS of information, generally melody, rhythm and/or harmony. “Revolution #9” has none of that.

    what, we’ve got to have that crazy “what is music?” argument every six months or so?

    you always lose the argument.

    or you ignore what others have to say.

    imagine that.

  • zingzing

    ugh, this is stupid. some people like revolution #9, some people don’t. arguing about whether or not it’s music is really fucking dumb though. it’s sound on a record. with relatively few vocals. that’s music. i think it’s great. the more other people despise it, the more i like it. i’ve never even heard metal machine music and i fucking love it… what does that say?
    revolution #9 doesn’t require drugs (comment #31) to make sense, but i’m not discounting the idea. i like drugs. a lot. too much. too often. too many, too goddamn quickly. i don’t know if i’ve ever listened to it on drugs… i wouldn’t remember. i think i might have snorted a bit once and listened… but i think i do a lot of things that i don’t do when i’m on coke. blar.
    oh, and more on comment #31… i don’t like ayn rand… but, i’ve never read her either… but i’m not sure if you are bashing prince or not… bad taste and prince have no business in the same sentence. hell, “taste” and “prince” have no business together. the man transcends taste. he is far beyond it. and he gets better women than you. but not me. i get good women. yeah.

  • Prince rules, Ayn Rand is boring, and “Revolution 9” is good even when you’re sober.

    And that takes care of that.

  • zingzing

    bam. mike ends the conversation. we should all fuck off. well…

  • actually I’m a little ashamed of my uncharacteristic and chronic kneejerkitis–it’s been years since I’ve listened to Revolution#9, and I’m convinced now that I need to give it another go. I still may be put-off, but I need to find out again…

  • zingzing

    damn straight gohah. then listen to “happiness is a warm gun” four or five times. mmm. best 20 minutes you could have!
    oh, i’m not fucking off successfully. damn it.

  • never had a problem with “Happiness,” one of my faves. then maybe i’ll try to submerge my senses into the Reich-ian rhythmic patterns of “Wild Honey Pie.” Play the 67-second ditty backwards and you can actually hear the full eight-minute Revolution #9 in all its pretentious glory.

  • Shark

    Zingzing: “…i like drugs. a lot. too much. too often. too many, too goddamn quickly…” etc etc etc etc etc.


    ~we can tell.

  • zingzing

    sorry. hungover. i like drinking too. it makes me not work and just blather junk all over this site. actually, today i’m trying to get on the top commenters list. it’s just an attempt. do something you’ve never done every day!

  • Zingzing, I must respectfully disagree totally with this statement re: “Revolution 9” “arguing about whether or not it’s music is really fucking dumb though.”

    Not that we’re going to come to some kind of consensus agreement or anything, but the best value of this track is in fact its usefulness as a point of departure for discussing the basic idea of what “music” is.

    Now, anyone is welcome to listen to whatever they like and use the term “music” to describe it, but in what meaningful sense of the word is “Revolution #9” actually music?

    Mostly, this is just random noise cobbled together. Theoretically, there are some bits of crude patterns that might be shoehorned in to qualify under the VERY most minimal definition of “music.”

    “Revolution #9” might in the abstract be considered to be some form of “music”- but not any kind of GOOD music. There’s a sound collage, but there’s not enough actual pattern and organization to even begin to be anything actually GOOD.

    Again, absolutely no one would give a rat’s ass about this track any more than they do about the Two Virgins nonsense if it weren’t planted in amongst “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” and “Blackbird” and other complete classics.

  • UAO and everyone else, re: comment 32- Of course, please grab any of those cool Beatles pictures. For starters, I certainly claim no copyright in them. I WANT people to share the love. Indeed, dig through my whole preliminary working site of Beatle photos, destined to be the best Beatles gallery on the net by spring. I would appreciate a link of any kind, of course, but do please help yourselves.

  • uao

    I actually linked you long ago, Al. I don’t have a link list on the front page, but you’re on my links page.

    I’ll be glad to link your Beatles page though, it’s quite germaine to the theme. Plus, it’ll be easier to swipe ’em, then.

    Great collection!

  • Thanks man, but that Beatles gallery is but an inkling of what’s coming. And thanks for linkage.

  • zingzing

    alright, al, we’ll play. revolution #9 isn’t really that random. there is a rhythm (you might say pulse) that runs throughout. that alone qualifies it as some sort of music. many sampled sections that john employs are purely musical: the strings, pianos, sung phrases… some of those sections are even repeated. sure, there is a collage element to it, but many bands of the time (can, faust and zappa spring to mind) used similar techniques… i don’t think any of those groups thought they were making a painting. it’s music as much as jazz is music, or classical, or britney spears… revolution #9 builds, falls back, repeats itself, builds again and fades. it’s structure is almost that of a pop song, only elongated and abstracted. sure, there was very little in the pop world of the time that sounded like this (zappa was already doing it–what is lumpy gravy? the last track on we’re only in it for the money?). there was plenty of precedent for this type of music in the classical MUSIC and experimental MUSIC fields. john cage, edgar varese, pierre henry, pierre schaeffer and many more were all doing this kind of work in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. in the late 70’s and early 80’s, there was plenty of this type of music as well: hafler trio, throbbing gristle and cabaret voltaire all worked in this field. this type of music has a long, convoluted history. revolution #9 is just an example of it.
    it’s not that revolution #9 falls outside of the definition of “music,” it’s just that your definition of “music” is too limited.

  • it’s not that revolution #9 falls outside of the definition of “music,” it’s just that your definition of “music” is too limited.


  • Again, absolutely no one would give a rat’s ass about this track any more than they do about the Two Virgins nonsense if it weren’t planted in amongst “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” and “Blackbird” and other complete classics.

    It’s a good time to mention that I have a copy of Two Virgins and love it, too! 😀

  • it’s not that revolution #9 falls outside of the definition of “music,” it’s just that your definition of “music” is too limited.

    Say, Al, this does raise a point: have you actually put forth your definition of what constitutes “music”?

  • Al,

    You write: “Music is about PATTERNS of information, generally melody, rhythm and/or harmony. `Revolution #9′ has none of that.”

    That’s why I said it was like free jazz — and free jazz, as Ornette Coleman attests, is a lot like abstract painting. In both, the artists seems to be asking, what would happen if, say, we knocked out one of the pillars? Or not just one, but two — or three? Would it still hold up? What if you take away melody, or rhythm, or harmony — and see where you can go from there, without those conventional crutches? What if you give the listener something else? What if you went into pure abstraction?

    Or, in the case of “Revolution No. 9” semi-pure abstraction — because there IS a pattern to it. The repetition of “Number Nine” throughout gives it a pattern, albeit one so slight it almost (but only almost) doesn’t matter. Instead of a musical idea, Lennon uses as a refrain two very functional words. It creates a mystery, and so the piece works — and I contend that it does work — like some kind of epic dream unspooling in the nocturnal subconscious. The piece, which has only fragments of images, always makes me think of real, even frightening images, like you see in a Chagall painting.

    Please note: I’m not saying it IS a Chagall painting. I’m saying it inspires the image of one, or of something similarly nightmarish, unusual, frightening. In this regard it can be said of Lennon what was said of John Cage: he put ideas in other peoples heads.

  • Some of y’all seem to get a LOT more out of “Revolution #9” than I do. You ought to write a whole new article on how cool this song is, and break it down.

    I’m getting more out of some of these comments than I am out of the track itself.

  • I’m writing an article on Revolutions 2 thru 8–nobody’s even mentioned those yet.

  • Instead of a musical idea, Lennon uses as a refrain two very functional words.

    But he DOES use musical ideas as a pattern. There are several samples (tape loops, really) of music and sound that recur in “Revolution 9” – a backwards piano, a completely different piano loop that plays forward, several bits of vocal choir, some orchestral pieces, and some shouting football fans.

    That’s just off the top of my head; there are probably more.

  • just a question: I it all John? Did George Martin have any considerable hands-on input (like he did in past works like “Tomorrow Never Knows”)–and if so, does he deserve more credit than he’s getting for Revolution 9?

  • Vern Halen

    Ach – leave this alone. The fact is, music or not, very few people listen to Rev 9 as music. If they listen to it at all, it’s to see what the fuss is about, and then they put it away again.

    I used to have an electric typewriter that could play something darn close to a drum roll – and if Rev 9 is music, so is that. But I don’t spend a lot of time listening to the old Olivetti either.

  • zingzing

    john and yoko (with a little bit of george) recorded revolution 9 in just a few days, if i remember correctly. both paul and george martin tried to keep it off the album. [Link to beathoven.com post on Rev9]

  • George and Ringo tried to keep it off the album too.