John Lennon famously hated the sound of his voice, and often insisted that producer George Martin lather it with effects or otherwise manipulate it. This was complete and utter malarkey of course. Listen to vocal tour de forces such as “Happiness is a Warm Gun” and solo gems like “Oh My Love” and “Isolation,” and it’s obvious that John possessed one of the greatest voices in rock history.
That said, his falsetto ironically failed to reach his usual highs. The greatest evidence of this is the song “One Day (at a Time)” from his 1973 LP Mind Games. For some bizarre reason, he chose to release that track with a practically helium-induced pitch, completely ruining what would have otherwise been a highlight of the album. Compare it to the casual guide vocal version included on the posthumous Anthology box set and there’s no question which recording is better. (Incidentally, the four-CD Anthology is by far my favorite solo Lennon release. So much of his post-Beatles work suffers from overproduction, and these raw takes allow his vocals, the instrumentation, and the songwriting to shine. You can pick up a secondhand copy pretty cheaply. I highly recommend it.)
This is all a lengthy buildup to my assertion that “Baby You’re a Rich Man” is a fantastic, intriguing song in so many ways, but suffers from those less-than-terrific falsetto vocals in the verses. Previous Beatles policy was to let Paul handle the high notes, but here John harmonizes with himself, and the results aren’t all that great.
Even so, I like the song itself a lot. The melody is great, and it’s the only Beatles recording to feature a clavioline, which was sped up to give it a psychedelic, Indian feel. Plus, how can you not love a chorus with the line, “You keep all your money in a big brown bag inside a zoo”?