Recording Christmas messages and "When I'm Sixty Four"

Tuesday, December 6, 1966 • For The Beatles

Part of


Recording "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band"

Nov 24, 1966 - Apr 20, 1967 • Songs recorded during this session appear on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Mono)

Album Songs recorded during this session officially appear on the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Mono) LP.
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

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About

On November 24, 1966, The Beatles were back at EMI Studios, Abbey Road, to start recording their next single and album. After three days spent on John Lennon’s “Strawberry Fields Forever“ (November 24, 28 and 29), they thought the work on this track was over, and decided to start recording another track, Paul McCartney’s “When I’m Sixty-Four“.


Before doing so, though, they recorded some Christmas messages for pirate radio stations Radio London and Radio Caroline.

The Beatles were supportive of those pirate radio stations, which offered an alternative to the BBC. For instance, The Beatles got interviewed by Radio Caroline disc jockey Tom Lodge, for Disc And Music Echo’s “Sounds Of The Stars” disc in May 1966. Also, during their recent US tour, they were joined by a number of British journalists, including Jerry Leighton from Radio Caroline, and Kenny Everett on behalf of Radio London.

[The messages] were logged on the tape box and recording sheets as two takes for each station but several dozen short messages were actually recorded.

The greetings were initially spoken unaccompanied but later ones were said above station identification tunes and, later still, some featured the other three Beatles tinkering on studio instruments — any note, any key — behind the Beatle doing the speaking. All of the messages were recorded live although at one point in the proceedings Paul asked George Martin to feed playback tape echo into the studio as they spoke. George replied, with heavy sarcasm, “Do you want to make a production out of it?” George Harrison then chipped in with “Yeah, let’s double-track everything!” and John offered his suggestion, “He can double-splange them! That’d be great!”

From The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions by Mark Lewisohn, 2004

In 1995, four of those messages, one from each Beatle, were incorporated into the outtake “Christmas Time Is Here Again“, which was released on the single “Free As A Bird“.

From 1963 to 1969 the Beatles gave members of their official fan club a special gift at Christmas: a record unavailable elsewhere. The 1967 disc was titled Christmas Time (Is Here Again) and extracts from a song of that name were scattered among the sketches. Issued here for the first time is an uninterrupted recording of the number. Superimposed near the end are some spoken-word seasonal greetings, taped in 1966, followed by a John Lennon pastiche.

From the liner notes of the “Free As Bird” single
From Founder of Radio Caroline Ronan O’Rahilly dies aged 79 – BBC News – Getty Images – Radio Caroline was the first pirate radio station off the UK and seen as the precursor to commercial radio in the country

Once those radio messages were recorded, work switched to “When I’m Sixty-Four“. Paul wrote the song when he was about 14, probably in April or May 1956, and it was one of the first songs he ever wrote. It was in the Beatles’ setlist in their early days as a song to perform when their amplifiers broke down or the electricity went off. Paul completed the lyrics in 1966, with the help of John Lennon. It is speculated he brought the song to those “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” sessions because his father, Jim McCartney, turned 64 earlier that year.

Because the group was already so familiar with the song — they used to busk it onstage back when they were still playing clubs in Hamburg — the backing track was laid down in just a couple of hours. As was usual for a McCartney song, there were extensive discussions with George Martin about arrangement. […]

Geoff Emerick – From “Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of The Beatles“, 2006

On this day, after a series of rehearsals, two takes of the backing track were recorded, with Paul on bass, John on electric guitar and Ringo Starr on drums. Take 2 was deemed the best and received some overdubs. Paul added a piano part and Ringo some snare drums. Paul finally added some lead vocals, recorded at a slower-than-normal speed to make his voice sound younger.

We began the recording on 6 December 1966, with Paul singing a guide vocal and accompanying himself on bass guitar, while Ringo played brushes on snare drum. All that went on to Track 1. (You would never dream of putting a vocal on the same track as the drums today, because you can never separate them afterwards. These days, with multi-track recording, you keep every element isolated, so you can fiddle about with it all at will.)

On Track 2 we overdubbed a piano line from Paul, and on Track 3 we had Ringo’s brushes and snare again, allowing me to get rid of the original drum take, the one with the voice on it. That was all we did that day. Two days later, Paul sang a ‘proper’ vocal on to that basic track of “When I’m Sixty-Four’.

George Martin – From “With A Little Help From My Friends: The Making of Sgt. Pepper“, 1995

While George Harrison was present on this day, evidenced by his voice being heard in the Christmas messages, he didn’t participate in the recording of “When I’m Sixty-Four” at this point.

The session, which had started at 6:45 pm, ended at 1:50 am. The work on “When I’m Sixty-Four” continued on December 8, 1966.

Last updated on January 25, 2023

Songs recorded


1.

Christmas Messages for Radio London

Recording • Take 1


2.

Christmas Messages for Radio London

Recording • Take 2


3.

Christmas Messages for Radio Caroline

Recording • Take 1


4.

Christmas Messages for Radio Caroline

Recording • Take 2


5.

When I'm Sixty-Four

Written by Lennon - McCartney

Recording • Take 1


6.

When I'm Sixty-Four

Written by Lennon - McCartney

Recording • Take 2


7.

When I'm Sixty-Four

Written by Lennon - McCartney

Recording • SI onto Take 2

Staff

Musicians on "When I'm Sixty-Four"

Paul McCartney:
Lead vocals, Piano, Bass
Ringo Starr:
Drums
John Lennon:
Electric guitar

Production staff

George Martin:
Producer
Geoff Emerick:
Engineer
Phil McDonald:
Second Engineer

Going further


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!

Shop on Amazon


The Beatles Recording Reference Manual - Volume 2 - Help! through Revolver (1965-1966)

The second book of the Association for Recorded Sound Collections (ARSC)-nominated series, "The Beatles Recording Reference Manual: Volume 2: Help! through Revolver (1965-1966)" follows the evolution of the band from the end of Beatlemania with "Help!" through the introspection of "Rubber Soul" up to the sonic revolution of "Revolver". 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.

Shop on Amazon


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.

Read more on The Beatles Bible

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