- Album Songs recorded during this session officially appear on the The Beatles (Mono) LP.
- Timeline More from year 1968
- EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road
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On this day, The Beatles wrote, recorded and completed “Birthday“. From Wikipedia:
The song was largely written during a recording session at EMI Studios on 18 September 1968 by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. McCartney: “We thought, ‘Why not make something up?’ So we got a riff going and arranged it around this riff. So that is 50–50 John and me, made up on the spot and recorded all in the same evening.” During the session, the Beatles and the recording crew made a short trip around the corner to McCartney’s house to watch the 1956 rock & roll movie The Girl Can’t Help It which was being shown for the first time on British television. After the movie they returned to record “Birthday”.
George Martin was away so his assistant Chris Thomas produced the session. His memory is that the song was mostly McCartney’s: “Paul was the first one in, and he was playing the ‘Birthday’ riff. Eventually the others arrived, by which time Paul had literally written the song, right there in the studio.” Everyone in the studio sang in the chorus and it was 5 am by the time the final mono mix was completed.
Lennon said in his Playboy interview in 1980: “‘Birthday’ was written in the studio. Just made up on the spot. I think Paul wanted to write a song like ‘Happy Birthday Baby’, the old fifties hit. But it was sort of made up in the studio. It was a piece of garbage.”
“Birthday” begins with an intro drum fill, then moves directly into a blues progression in A (in the form of a guitar riff doubled by the bass) with McCartney singing at the top of his chest voice with Lennon on a lower harmony. After this section, a drum break lasting eight measures brings the song into the middle section, which rests entirely on the dominant. A repeat of the blues progression/guitar riff instrumental section, augmented by piano brings the song into a bridge before returning to a repeat of the first vocal section, this time with the piano accompaniment. […]
Paul McCartney in "Many Years From Now", by Barry Miles:
We thought, ‘Why not make something up?’ So we got a riff going and arranged it around this riff. We said, ‘We’ll go to there for a few bars, then we’ll do this for a few bars.’ We added some lyrics, then we got the friends who were there to join in on the chorus. So that is 50-50 John and me, made up on the spot and recorded all on the same evening. I don’t recall it being anybody’s birthday in particular but it might have been, but the other reason for doing it is that, if you have a song that refers to Christmas or a birthday, it adds to the life of the song, if it’s a good song, because people will pull it out on birthday shows, so I think there was a little bit of that at the back of our minds.
There’s a story about that. What happened was ‘The Girl Can’t Help It’ was on television. That’s an old rock film with Little Richard and Fats Domino and Eddie Cochran and a few others… Gene Vincent. And we wanted to see it, so we started recording at five o’clock. And we said, ‘We’ll do something, just do a backing track. We’ll make up a backing track.’ So we kept it very simple– twelve-bar blues kind of thing. And we stuck in a few bits here and there in it, with no idea what the song was or what was gonna go on top of it. We just said, ‘Okay. Twelve bars in A, and we’ll change to D, and I’m gonna do a few beats in C.’ And we really just did it like that… random thing. We didn’t have time for anything else, and so we just recorded this backing. And we came back here to my house and watched ‘The Girl Can’t Help It.’ Then we went back to the studio again and made up some words to go with it all. So this song was just made up in an evening. Umm, you know. We hadn’t ever thought of it before then. And it’s one of my favorites because of that. I think it works, you know, ‘cuz it’s just… It’s a good one to dance to. Like the big long drum break, just ‘cuz, instead of… well, normally we might have four bars of drums, but with this we just keep it going, you know. We all like to hear drums plodding on.Paul McCartney – from interview with Radio Luxembourg, 1968
A real rock-a-boogie thing, a gay party piece which will be requested for many a birthday on Radio 1! This was written in the recording studio with all four fellows working on it as a joint effort even if Paul seemed to contribute the most ideas. That night’s session started a couple of hours early so that everyone – about 20 including the studio engineers and so forth – could nip round the corner and down the road to Paul’s place at nine to watch The Hollywood Musical in colour on his telly. The movie was “The Girl Can’t Help It”. Back at the studio the new song began to happen after the fellows had done a bit of musical limbering up on old rock and skiffle numbers. This is 12-bar blues stuff with Paul and John sharing the vocal, George playing tambourine with a gloved hand to avoid getting more blisters and me joining in with Ringo on the handclapping. When you listen to the word “Birthday” repeated at the end of the chorus lines you will hear (amongst other famous voices!) the singing of Yoko Ono and Pattie Harrison. Curious sound which someone suggested was like an electric harpsichord is, in fact, a carefully prepared upright piano played by Paul – “prepared” to give it a very special sound with reverberation, wow-wow and technical thinks like that.Mal Evans – From the Beatles Monthly Book, N°64, November 1968
As George Martin was on holidays for most of September 1968, Chris Thomas produced this session.
The stereo mix of “Birthday” would be made on October 14.
Last updated on May 28, 2021
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions • Mark Lewisohn
The definitive guide for every Beatles recording sessions from 1962 to 1970.
We owe a lot to Mark Lewisohn for the creation of those session pages, but you really have to buy this book to get all the details - the number of takes for each song, who contributed what, a description of the context and how each session went, various photographies... And an introductory interview with Paul McCartney!
The Beatles Bible
If we like to think, in all modesty, that the Paul McCartney Project is the best online ressource for everything Paul McCartney, The Beatles Bible is for sure the definitive online site focused on the Beatles. There are obviously some overlap in terms of content between the two sites, but also some major differences in terms of approach.
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