I had never heard this anecdote before. It's from Jonathan Gould's luminescent book on the Beatles, Can't Buy Me Love:
"And Your Bird Can Sing" sounds like the second act of "She Said, She Said" -- another song about personal pretention, sung by John to the accompaniment of George's crazed, cacophonous guitar. [N.B., it should be both John and George's crazed, cacophonous guitars, but perfection eludes even this splendid book.] "Tell me that you've got everything you want, and your bird can sing, but you don't get me," John taunts his anonymous adversary in the opening verse. Listeners tended to assume that the "bird" in question was British slang for "girl," and the song works well on that assumption. But Lennon was stalking bigger game in "And Your Bird Can Sing." The song was inspired by a profile of Frank Sinatra by Gay Talese that appeared in the April 1966 issue of Esquire. "Bird," Talese wrote, " is a favorite Sinatra word. He often inquires of his cronies, 'How's your bird?'; and when he nearly drowned in Hawaii, he later explained, 'Just got a little water on my bird'; and under a large photograph of him holding a whiskey bottle that hangs in the home of an actor friend named Dick Bakalyan, the inscription reads, 'Drink, Dickie! It's good for your bird.'" What brought the article to Lennon's attention in the first place was not its revelations about Sinatra's private vocabulary, but rather his attitude toward an upcoming network television special with which he hoped to reassert himself as a force in contemporary pop:So what we've learned here, class, is that "And Your Bird Can Sing" is about Frank Sinatra's dick.Sinatra had been very excited about this show; he saw here an opportunity to appeal not only to those nostalgic, but also to communicate his talent to some rock-and-rollers -- in a sense, he was battling the Beatles. The press releases being prepared by Mahoney's office stressed this, read: "If you happen to be tired of kid singers wearing mops of hair thick enough to hide a crate of melons...."After the crack about mops and melons, John Lennon could take some satisfaction in reading about "an inconspicuous little gray-haired lady" on Sinatra's staff whose sole responsibility was to care for the singer's collection of sixty "remarkably convincing" toupees. But Talese's fawning description of Sinatra's charisma ("the embodiment of the fully emancipated male, perhaps the only one in America , the man who can have anything he wants") and Sinatra's wealth ("his film company, his record company, his private airline, his missile-parts firm, his real-estate holdings across the nation, his personal staff of seventy-five") was more than enough to inflame John's sense of professional jealousy. Insult had been added to injury around the time the article appeared with the announcement of the Grammy Awards for 1965. In the year of Highway 61 and Rubber Soul, the American record industry turned its back on the youthful trends in pop by honoring Sinatra in the categories of best male vocalist and best album for a world-weary collection called September of My Years. "Tell me that you've heard every sound there is," crooned the world's greatest kid singer in his enigmatic reply, "and your bird can swing. But you can't hear me. You can't hear me."
I'm sure your lives are greatly enriched by this knowledge.
One of the more charming tracks on the Anthology is an outtake of the Fabs trying to track the vocal on this song, and absolutely pissing themselves laughing. I'd assumed it was the effect of an herbal jazz cigarette; now I believe we have another data-point in explaining the howling laughter.
(Damned shame that books about pop music aren't carefully footnoted; I'd love to know precisely where this information came from. Gould's bibliography is 12 very closely set pages, and I don't have a lifetime to devote to tracking it down.)
Slightly later update: With this information in mind, the bridge takes on whole universes of new meaning:
When your prized possessions
Start to weigh you down
Look in my direction
I'll be round
I'll be round
Without this knowledge, it's an offer for help, a friendly "you've got a shoulder to cry on." But with it, ooof! Burn!
Slightly later, later update: How much you wanna bet that "possessions/direction" rhyme started with "erection"? Knowing John....
Commenter Jim from the "WTF?" post -- I haven't forgotten about you. I'm still thinking.