- Album Songs recorded during this session officially appear on the The Beatles (Mono) LP.
- EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road
- EMI Studios, Studio Three, Abbey Road
More from year 1968
Some songs from this session appear on:
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From June 7 to June 18, 1968, George Harrison and Ringo Starr were both in the USA. The sessions for the White Album continued with John Lennon and Paul McCartney.
The Beatles – who clearly didn’t like being in one another’s company anymore – were able to split up into small groups, working simultaneously in two or even all three of the studios in the Abbey Road complex. This soon became standard operating procedure for much of the rest of the ‘White Album.’ It was as if the four band members were so much in separate spaces personally, they wanted to make their record in separate spaces physically. On those evenings, I would normally work with Paul, because I had the best rapport with him. Another engineer would accompany John or George Harrison, with the taciturn (and rarely consulted) Ringo shuttling between studios as he was needed. That was the situation on the night that we worked on Paul’s first contribution to the album, the poignant ballad ‘Blackbird.’
Neither Ringo nor George was present on that particular evening, and John wanted to begin compiling sound effects for what would ultimately become ‘Revolution 9,’ so as soon as he learned that another studio was available (at 7 pm), he decided to head off with (producer) Chris Thomas and Phil (McDonald) – accompanied, as usual, by Yoko. That left George Martin and me alone with Paul, which came as a blessed relief to me after all the stress of the preceding sessions; it always was a lot easier to deal with one Beatle.Geoff Emerick – From “Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of The Beatles“, 2006 – Quoted in beatlesebooks.com
On this day, John Lennon continued working on sound effects to be used on “Revolution 9“. Meanwhile, Paul McCartney started and finished the recording of “Blackbird“. It is a solo performance with McCartney playing a Martin D 28 acoustic guitar. Only three sounds were recorded: McCartney’s voice, his Martin D-28 acoustic guitar, and a tapping that keeps time on the left channel. This tapping “has been incorrectly identified as a metronome in the past”, according to engineer Geoff Emerick, who says it is actually the sound of Paul tapping his foot. McCartney also said the same in The Beatles’ Anthology documentary. Emerick recalls as being mic’d up separately. Footage included in the bonus content on disc two of the 2009 remaster of the album shows McCartney tapping both his feet alternately while performing the song.
Playing his left-handed acoustic guitar, Paul began running the song down, and I loved it immediately. Perfectionist that he was, he performed it over and over again, trying to get the complicated guitar part right all the way through. At one point a cameraman appeared to do a little filming for an Apple promo, and that interrupted the flow a little bit, but Paul just carried on, with his new lady friend [Francie Schwartz] sitting cross-legged at his feet. Paul had recently broken up with Jane Asher, and that might have been another reason why he was so subdued during the ‘White Album’ sessions…I suppose it’s possible that Paul invited the girl along as an answer to John bringing in Yoko. But in contrast to Yoko, she didn’t stay long, and George Martin had to leave early, too.Geoff Emerick – From “Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of The Beatles“, 2006 – Quoted in beatlesebooks.com
At some point during the recording of “Blackbird“, John, Paul and George Martin were together. John joined Paul on acoustic guitar and also piano, and the three discussed the idea of adding an arrangement to the song:
You see, the only thing is that immediately I start to arrange it, I imagine a string quartet after the second verse.Paul McCartney – from “The Beatles” super deluxe book, 2018
There should be an arranged sound coming from a distance – a fairly complicated one like a bit of decoration that you’ve got on the back of a painting… it suddenly comes up and as it comes up close, you start again.George Martin – from “The Beatles” super deluxe book, 2018
John Lennon then suggested that a “very nice little bit of brass band” could be added, to which Paul agreed saying “yes, that would be lovely“. He then played a version of “Mother Nature’s Son” on acoustic guitar, remarking “that would be nice with a brass band…like four…cornet, euphonium…little“. In the end, no embellishment was added on “Blackbird“, but some would be added on “Mother Nature’s Son” on August 20.
In total, 32 takes of “Blackbird” were recorded, just 11 of which were complete. Take 32 was considered the best, and six mono mixes were made. The final mono and stereo mixes would be done on October 13.
After [the film crew – see below had] gone, Paul remarked to me that he wanted the track to sound as if he was singing it outdoors. ‘Fine,’ I said, ‘then let’s do it outdoors.’ He looked surprised, but there was a little spot outside of the echo chamber with just enough room for him to sit on a stool. I ran a long mic lead out there and that’s where we recorded ‘Blackbird.’ Most of the bird noises were dubbed on later, from a sound effects record, but a couple of them were live, sparrows and finches singing outside the Abbey Road studio on a soft summer eve along with Paul McCartney.Geoff Emerick – From “Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of The Beatles“, 2006 – Quoted in beatlesebooks.com
Recorded by Paul alone – as indeed was the White Album master version – this is Take 4 of Blackbird, an unadorned acoustic guitar and vocal performance that captured well the essence of his new song, and may even have been usable at the time were it not for unwanted background noises. The completed “best” recording of Blackbird was Take 32, with the verse/chorus order revised and a second acoustic guitar track and bird song effects added before the end of this session.
During the session, a film crew, directed by Tony Bramwell, was in the studio to film an Apple Records promotional film. Several sequences were filmed on that day. In one of those sequences, we can see some rehearsals of Paul McCartney playing “Blackbird“. In another one, Paul is with Mary Hopkin, a newly signed artist by Apple, and the two of them listen to a playback of her recent recordings.
The film would be shown to executives at EMI and Capitol Records, when Paul McCartney travelled to the USA in June 20-25, 1968.
The film we came up with was a little bit arty and airy-fairy. There was a sequence of James Taylor and Mary Hopkin and Paul doing ‘Blackbird’, which I had filmed in early June; unshown footage that the BBC had banned of The Beatles doing ‘A Day In The Life’ from Sgt Pepper; a bit about the new Apple shop; some footage on the wildly experimental Indica Art Gallery and finally, The Beatles having a business meeting with ‘Uncle’ Dick James in the new Apple offices in Wigmore Street. John Lennon insisted on including footage of Magic Alex in his habitual white coat, fiddling with a pile of junk. Overall, it was a pretty little film when it was finished and everyone said how well they thought it would go down. Ron Kass said it would be a very useful tool to show the record executives at the Capitol convention in LA what Apple was all about.Tony Bramwell – from “Magical Mystery Tours: My Life with the Beatles” book, by Tony Bramwell and Rosemary Kingsland, 2006
Last updated on September 11, 2021
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 fourth book of this critically acclaimed series, "The Beatles Recording Reference Manual: Volume 4: The Beatles through Yellow Submarine (1968 - early 1969)" captures The Beatles as they take the lessons of Sgt. Pepper forward with an ambitious double-album that is equally innovative and progressive. From the first take to the final remix, discover the making of the greatest recordings of all time. Through extensive, fully-documented research, these books fill an important gap left by all other Beatles books published to date and provide a unique view into the recordings of the world's most successful pop music act.
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.