Recording "Lady Madonna"

Saturday, February 3, 1968 • For The Beatles

Part of


February 1968 sessions

Feb 03-15, 1968 • Songs recorded during this session appear on Lady Madonna / The Inner Light (UK - 1968)

Album Songs recorded during this session officially appear on the Lady Madonna / The Inner Light (UK - 1968) 7" Single.
Timeline More from year 1968
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Three, Abbey Road

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About

From mid-February to late April, The Beatles had planned a trip to India to continue their studies of Transcendental Meditation with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. They scheduled some studio time just before their departure to record a new single to be released in their absence. As it happened, those five days at EMI Studios produced four new songs, all mixed and ready for issue.


On this day, from 2:30 pm to 6 pm, they began the recording of Paul McCartney’s “Lady Madonna“. The basic track was only Paul on piano and Ringo Starr on drums (using brushes instead of sticks).

Paul plays piano on it. We said to George Martin, ‘How did they do it on “Bad Penny Blues”? And he said, ‘They used brushes.’ So, we put an off-beat on it.

Ringo Starr – (“Bad Penny Blues” as a minor hit for the Humphrey Lyttleton Band in 1956, produced by George Martin)

By Saturday February 3 all four Beatles were ready to go ahead with recordings for a single, First new number to be tackled was “Lady Madonna”, Paul having done most of the words and music for this item. At the first session George and John put their two guitars through one amplifier while Ringo played drums. Then Paul added bass guitar and his own voice.

Mal Evans and Neil Aspinall – From the Beatles Monthly Book, N°57, April 1968

After some rehearsals, three formal takes were recorded. Take 1 was incomplete. Take 2 was completed and was released on the White Album’s 50th anniversary re-release in 2018. Take 3 was the master.

The piano… It’s still there at Abbey Road actually, but we used to call it Mrs. Mills piano because there was a pianist who used to do all this, sort of…stride. But Mrs. Mills piano inspired that. I wrote it at home but it was like, ‘I’ve got to do this on that funky little piano.’

Paul McCartney – From “McCartney 3,2,1” documentary
Steinway Vertegrand upright piano  One of the most long-lived instruments at Abbey Road Studios is this Steinway piano from around 1905. Brought in during the late 1950s to create the sound of boogie-woogie piano (the instrument famous for ragtime and blues music), at the time it was most well-known for being the pianio of Russ Conway. It was also affectionately dubbed ‘Mrs Mills’ piano’ by Abbey Road staff, as a musician called Gladys Mills featured it on her many albums. The Instrument was used on several Beatles tracks as it had a harder, old-time sound which grand pianos did not give. The felt hammers inside were purposely hardened to make the strings louder when struck, and the strings were always kept slightly de-tuned to give the piano an antiquated sound.  Recordings it has been used in include Lady Madonna, Penny Land and Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.

The overdubbing process started in the second session of the day, from 7 pm to 1:30 am. Ringo added more drums. John Lennon and George Harrison played fuzzed guitars, played through the same amplifier. Paul played bass.

Paul then recorded the first of his lead vocal tracks, deliberately overloaded to create an edgy quality. John added some mouth noises in imitation of a tuba. And Paul, John and George sang backing vocals.

MORE THAN A FEW BEATLE PEOPLE ARE SURPRISED TO KNOW THAT PAUL IS THE SOLO SINGER ON “LADY MADONNA”. ALTHOUGH THIS IS AN OUT AND OUT ROCKER, THE SOUND OF PAUL’S SINGING IS VERY DIFFERENT FROM EARLIER THINGS HE DID LIKE “LONG TALL SALLY” OR “I’M DOWN”, THE REAL OLD SCREAMIN’ RAVERS! IN FACT SOME PEOPLE HAVE BEEN CONVINCED THE SINGER IS RINGO, IT ISN’T!

Mal Evans and Neil Aspinall – From the Beatles Monthly Book, N°57, April 1968

There’s a lovely sound on ‘Lady Madonna,’ that’s like sort of muted trumpets, or a kazoo, or something. But, in actual fact, it’s just John and Paul (and George as the recording suggests) sort of humming through their hands into a mike. It was purely by accident that we discovered that sound. We had just finished taping a bit of the record, and John and Paul started to hum into the mike with their hands cupped round their mouths. When we played back the piece of tape with this bit tagged on the end, it sounded great, so we decided to use it.

Ringo Starr

The four Beatles also contributed some backing vocals, gathering together round a microphone to contribute some mock brass. Also Paul added some mellotron lines. This track with backing vocals and mellotron was released on the White Album’s 50th anniversary re-release in 2018.

Work on “Lady Madonna” would continue on February 6, 1968.

Last updated on September 19, 2021

Songs recorded


1.

Lady Madonna

Written by Lennon - McCartney

Recording • Take 1


2.

Lady Madonna

Written by Lennon - McCartney

Recording • Take 2

Album Officially released on The Beatles (50th anniversary boxset)


3.

Lady Madonna

Written by Lennon - McCartney

Recording • Take 3


4.

Lady Madonna

Written by Lennon - McCartney

Recording • SI onto take 3

Staff

Musicians on Lady Madonna

Paul McCartney:
Handclaps, Vocals, Mellotron, Bass, Piano
Ringo Starr:
Handclaps, Drums
John Lennon:
Handclaps, Lead guitar, Backing vocals
George Harrison:
Handclaps, Lead guitar, Backing vocals

Production staff

George Martin:
Producer
Ken Scott:
Engineer
Richard Lush:
Second Engineer

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.

Have a look at https://www.beatlesbible.com/1968/02/03/recording-lady-madonna-across-the-universe/

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