Old Brown Shoe

Written by George Harrison

Album This song officially appears on the The Ballad Of John And Yoko / Old Brown Shoe (UK - 1969) 7" Single.
Timeline This song has been officially released in 1969

Spread the love! If you like what you are seeing, share it on social networks and let others know about The Paul McCartney Project.

Song facts

From Wikipedia:

“Old Brown Shoe” is a song by the English rock band the Beatles. Written by George Harrison, the group’s lead guitarist, it was released on a non-album single in May 1969, as the B-side to “The Ballad of John and Yoko“. The song was subsequently included on the band’s compilation albums Hey Jude, 1967–1970 and Past Masters, Volume Two. Although “Old Brown Shoe” remains a relatively obscure song in the band’s catalogue, several music critics view it as one of Harrison’s best compositions from the Beatles era and especially admire his guitar solo on the track.

The lyrics to “Old Brown Shoe” address the concept of duality while its rhythm is partly in the ska style. The Beatles rehearsed the song during the sessions for their Let It Be album in January 1969. Harrison subsequently taped a solo demo of the song, along with two other compositions that the band had overlooked: “Something” and “All Things Must Pass“. The group formally recorded “Old Brown Shoe” in April, during the early sessions for Abbey Road.

The 1969 demo was released on the Beatles’ Anthology 3 compilation in 1996. A concert version by Harrison was included on his 1992 album Live in Japan. Gary Brooker performed the song at the Concert for George tribute in November 2002, held at London’s Royal Albert Hall a year after Harrison’s death.

Background and inspiration

George Harrison began writing “Old Brown Shoe” in late 1968 on a piano rather than guitar, his main instrument. The song’s rhythm suggests the influence of ska. In his 1980 autobiography, I, Me, Mine, Harrison says that the lyrical content started as a study in opposites and addresses “the duality of things”. This idea was also prevalent in the Beatles’ 1967 single “Hello, Goodbye”, which Paul McCartney had written as an exercise in word association. For Harrison, the concept of duality also appealed on a philosophical level, consistent with his interest in Eastern religion. Neil Aspinall, the Beatles’ assistant, later recalled Harrison employing the metaphysical theme of opposites to disperse some Hells Angels who had taken up residence in the Beatles’ Apple headquarters over Christmas 1968 and refused to leave. According to theologian Dale Allison, “Old Brown Shoe” is a further reflection of Harrison’s interest in “dualities and contradictions”, but stated in terms that avoid the religiosity evident in much of his songwriting.

Before returning to England for Christmas, Harrison spent time with Bob Dylan and the Band in upstate New York. The visit allowed Harrison to experience a musical camaraderie that had been absent in the Beatles over much of 1968, and inspired him as he emerged as a prolific songwriter. Author and critic Ian MacDonald identifies the “hood-eyed spirit” of Dylan in the song’s “dusty shuffle-beat” and ironic lyrics, while recognising the “surprising and graphic” chord progression as typical of Harrison’s work. Author Alan Clayson also detects a Dylan influence in the rhythm, which he calls a “‘Highway 61 Revisited’ chug”.

Composition

“Old Brown Shoe” is in the key of C major, although its chords also suggest the latter’s relative minor key, A minor. The time signature is 4/4 throughout. Following a four-bar introduction, the song’s structure comprises two verses, a bridge, an instrumental verse, followed by a second bridge, a final verse and the outro.

The verse employs blues-inflected C7 and D7 chords (or I7 and II7 chords in Roman numeral analysis) before an increase in harmonic movement is marked by changes to F, A♭, F, E augmented and A minor. The verses avoid the expected plagal cadence by resolving with the relative minor chord rather than I7. In achieving this via the augmented chord, a C note resonates through the final changes, a device that musicologist Dominic Pedler cites among the Beatles’ most effective uses of augmented chords. The bridge is structured in familiar 1960s rock fashion with its reliance on V and IV (G and F) chords. The section again resolves unusually, however; rather than using the expected D7 chord before exiting with a return to G, a disguised imperfect cadence is achieved through a dissonant iv♯ diminished chord (F♯dim7) before the final V chord. Among other musicologists’ assessments, Walter Everett considers that the composition’s “A/C duality” fits well with Harrison’s lyrical theme, while Alan Pollack highlights the flat VI (A♭) chord in the verse and the frequent bluesy flat 3rd and 7th notes alongside the I7 chords.

Music critic Tim Riley says the lyrics represent “a witty and oblique look at love, delivered with sardonic flair”, as typified by the opening verse: “I want a love that’s right / Right is only half of what’s wrong / I want a short-haired girl / Who sometimes wears it twice as long”. He views the reference to “wear[ing] rings on every finger” as a nod to Ringo Starr. The song’s title is referred to only as an item that the singer declares he is “stepping out” of. According to music journalist Graham Reid, “Old Brown Shoe” reflects Harrison’s growing confidence as a songwriter. He interprets the message as the guitarist “straining against the constraints of the Beatles (‘the zoo’?)” during a period when, as the lyrics state, he himself was “changing faster than the weather”.

Recording – Let It Be rehearsals and Harrison demo

The Beatles rehearsed “Old Brown Shoe” several times over three days, beginning on 27 January 1969, during the Let It Be sessions at Apple Studio in London. Harrison still played piano on the song and the lyrics were complete. The run-throughs on 28 January included contributions from guest keyboardist Billy Preston, who supplied fills on Hammond organ. The tapes from that day show John Lennon struggling with the guitar part; in Everett’s description, his playing suggests he was “stymied or disinterested”. At this point, Starr had devised a drum pattern on the off-beat. The band gave considerable time to the song but chose not to record it for the album.

Harrison made a solo demo of the song at EMI Studios (subsequently Abbey Road Studios), featuring piano and vocal, and two overdubbed electric guitar parts. The session took place on 25 February, his 26th birthday, and also included solo recordings of “Something” and “All Things Must Pass“, which were similarly overlooked for inclusion on Let It Be. Harrison played these versions of “Old Brown Shoe” and “Something” to Joe Cocker, who accepted Harrison’s offer to record the latter song. Author Simon Leng describes “Old Brown Shoe” as “the most complete in conception” of the three demos, with an arrangement that contains several of the main elements present in the Beatles’ subsequent recording. The demos were released on the band’s 1996 outtakes compilation Anthology 3.

Recording – Official band version

The Beatles revisited “Old Brown Shoe” when they were in need of a B-side for their next single, “The Ballad of John and Yoko“, Lennon’s account of his and Yoko Ono’s recent wedding and honeymoon. The song’s recording took place on 16 and 18 April 1969, during the early sessions for the band’s Abbey Road album. The 16 April session was the first at EMI Studios for the full group since October the previous year, when they completed recording for their self-titled double album (also known as the “White Album”), and was given over entirely to songs written by Harrison. The line-up on the basic track was Harrison on lead guitar, Lennon on rhythm guitar, McCartney on tack piano, and Starr on drums. Four takes were needed to achieve a satisfactory performance. Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn comments on the band’s tight ensemble playing, evident from the studio tapes, and how focused each musician sounds in his contribution.

Clayson recognises the “undercurrent of bottleneck” in Harrison’s main guitar riff as anticipating his slide guitar style, a technique he first embraced in December 1969 while on tour with Delaney & Bonnie and Friends. The unusual bass sound over the song’s bridges was achieved by tracking the bass with the lead guitar, replicating the bass line that Harrison had played on his demo. Everett states that it was McCartney’s Fender Jazz Bass doubled with Harrison’s Telecaster, both playing chromatically moving arpeggiations in a similar manner to the bridge guitars in “And Your Bird Can Sing“. In a 1987 interview for Creem magazine, however, Harrison recalled that he was the bass guitarist on the track, rather than McCartney. When the interviewer, J. Kordosh, suggested that the bass part “sounds like McCartney was going nuts again”, Harrison replied: “That was me going nuts. I’m doing [on the bass] exactly what I do on the guitar.”

Harrison recorded his lead vocal in a corner of the studio, to capture a natural reverberation from the room. The backing vocals were sung by Lennon and McCartney. Also present during the vocal overdubs were the Aerovons, an American band who had based their sound and image on the Beatles, and had come to London to record at EMI. Tom Hartman, the Aerovons’ singer and guitarist, recalled that the Beatles attempted the line “Who knows, baby, you may comfort me” countless times, trying to perfect their performance. According to author Elliot Huntley, after Lennon had made derogatory remarks about Harrison’s songwriting in January, he now sounded “audibly excited” by “Old Brown Shoe” in his “enthusiastic and energetic backing vocals” on the song. The Beatles devoted the rest of the session to taping a basic track for “Something”, although it was later discarded as the band chose to record a new version the following month.

Harrison completed the “Old Brown Shoe” recording alone on 18 April. He first overdubbed a guitar solo that Everett describes as “stinging” and “highly Claptonesque”, played on a Telecaster with the sound coloured through a Leslie speaker and given automatic double tracking (ADT) treatment and “sent wild to both channels”. Harrison then added a Hammond organ part, replacing Lennon’s rhythm guitar contribution from the previous session. Although Chris Thomas supervised the 18 April overdubbing session, George Martin was credited as the song’s sole producer.

Release

In a 1980 interview, Lennon said that he was responsible for the choice of “Old Brown Shoe” as the B-side of “The Ballad of John and Yoko”. The single was released in the United Kingdom (as Apple R 5786) on 30 May 1969 and in the United States (as Apple 2531) on 4 June. It marked the second time that a Harrison composition had been included on a Beatles single in the UK or the US, following “The Inner Light” in March 1968, although his song “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” had also been the B-side of “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da“, a single culled from the White Album and issued in most countries other than the UK and the US. In the UK, the song increased the public’s recognition of Harrison as a songwriter, after “Badge”, which he co-wrote with Eric Clapton, had been a hit single for Cream that spring and established him as a composer outside the Beatles.

In the US, Apple Records issued the record in a picture sleeve featuring shots of the four Beatles and Ono in the garden of McCartney’s London home. On the reverse side of the sleeve, the photo included a dark brown shoe placed in a bush in front of the five figures. In the opinion of author Bruce Spizer, this shot, taken by Linda McCartney, shows Harrison, McCartney and Starr in better humour than in the shot used on the front of the sleeve, where the three bandmates appear uncomfortable with having to pose behind Ono and Lennon.

While the A-side’s chart performance in the US was hindered by a radio ban, due to the song’s allegedly blasphemous lyrics, “Old Brown Shoe” failed to place on any of the three charts there. It was listed with “The Ballad of John and Yoko”, as a double A-side, when the single topped Australia’s Go-Set National Top 40. The song’s first appearance on an album was in February 1970 when it was included on the North American release Hey Jude. It subsequently appeared on the 1973 compilation 1967–1970 and, following the standardisation of the Beatles’ catalogue for compact disc in 1987, Past Masters, Volume Two.

Critical reception and legacy

Ian MacDonald admires “Old Brown Shoe” as one of its author’s “most forceful pieces” and “an archetypal B-side from an era when B-sides were worth flipping a single for”. Walter Everett says the voice leading and harmony on “Old Brown Shoe” are “far more subtle and interesting” than such qualities in “The Ballad of John and Yoko”, and views its dualistic theme as “more interesting” than McCartney’s lyrics in “Hello, Goodbye”. Tim Riley deems the song “at least as good a rocker as ‘Savoy Truffle‘” and, like “The Inner Light”, an example of the Beatles continuing their tradition of offering high-quality and musically diverse B-sides. He describes Harrison’s guitar solo as “daring” and a performance that “rises and falls with astonishing fluidity and control”.

Despite its inclusion on some of their compilation albums, “Old Brown Shoe” has remained a comparative rarity in the band’s catalogue. Writing for Rolling Stone in 2002, Greg Kot described it as “dark, droll, rollicking” and arguably Harrison’s “most underrated Beatles composition”. In his overview of Harrison’s career for Goldmine that same year, Dave Thompson said that “Old Brown Shoe” was one of five Harrison-written songs that “rank among the finest Beatles compositions of the group’s final years”. Conversely, Richie Unterberger of AllMusic deems it “one of the less memorable late-’60s Beatles outings”, citing its obscure lyrics and lack of a catchy riff in the usual Beatles style, although he finds this last quality partly redeemed in the bass playing and guitar solo.

Simon Leng cites the track’s appearance as a B-side to the Lennon–McCartney composition as indicative of Harrison’s predicament during the last year of the Beatles’ career, since:

In any other band, this upbeat boogie that matched lyrical sophistication with another outstanding guitar break would have taken precedence over the rough, self-serving travelogue that was “The Ballad of John and Yoko”. Harrison’s song works on any level, in any context, while the Lennon piece could only have relevance within the Beatles’ self-referential sphere … This kind of glaring anomaly forced George Harrison out of the Beatles.

Writing for Rough Guides, Chris Ingham recognises “Old Brown Shoe” as “perhaps the densest, sharpest Harrison song to make it onto a Beatles record”. In his review of Anthology 3 for Mojo in 1996, Ingham admired Harrison’s “focussed demo work”, adding: “Fighting harder for album space consideration [than Lennon and McCartney], the spirit on his demos throughout this period is wonderful, the songs shining vividly through. The stripped-down, beautifully sung ‘Old Brown Shoe’, ‘Something’ and ‘All Things Must Pass’ … nearly steal the show with their simplicity and confidence. The sound of a man quietly getting into his stride.”

Joe Bosso of MusicRadar includes “Old Brown Shoe” among Harrison’s “10 Greatest Beatles Songs”, describing it as “An infectious, lively track that tumbles out of the gate (check out Ringo’s raucous drumming) and gallops off.” He also highlights Harrison’s “blazing guitar solo” and says that, with his guitar, bass and organ contributions, the recording is “practically all-George”. The editors of Guitar World rank “Old Brown Shoe” at number 28 in their list of “The Beatles’ 50 Greatest Guitar Moments”. They describe the solo as “stinging” in the style of Clapton and rate the track among Harrison’s best songs, yet one that was “dishonorably relegated” to the B-side of “The Ballad of John and Yoko”.

Live version and posthumous tributes

Harrison performed “Old Brown Shoe” throughout his 1991 Japanese tour with Eric Clapton, Harrison’s only tour as a solo artist other than his 1974 North American tour. Typically of his approach during the Japanese concerts, the song’s arrangement was little changed from the Beatles’ recording. A live version was included on Harrison’s 1992 album Live in Japan. He also played the song at his only full-length concert in the UK – a benefit for the Natural Law Party held at the Royal Albert Hall in London on 6 April 1992.

Gary Brooker performed “Old Brown Shoe” at the Concert for George, backed by a large band that included Clapton and Preston. The concert took place at the Royal Albert Hall in November 2002, a year after Harrison’s death. Brooker, whose former band the Paramounts supported the Beatles on their December 1965 UK tour, recalled having difficulty mastering the vocal line. Despite being known as a powerful singer, Brooker said: “It’s a very difficult song to sing; it’s totally George Harrison, and you have to become a different person to be able to sing it. It took me a long, long time to learn it and I still couldn’t sing it like George.”

Leslie West contributed a recording to the 2003 album Songs from the Material World: A Tribute to George Harrison. At the George Fest tribute concert in 2014, the song was performed by Conan O’Brien. […]

From The Usenet Guide to Beatles Recording Variations:

[a] stereo 18 Apr 1969.
UK: Apple R5786 single 1969, Apple PCSP 718 The Beatles 1967-1970 1973.
US: Apple 2531 single 1969, Apple SW 385 Hey Jude 1970, Apple SKBO-3404 The Beatles 1967-1970 1973.
CD: EMI CDP 7 90044 2 Past Masters 2 1988, EMI single 1989, EMI CDP 7 97039 2 The Beatles 1967-1970 1993.

The dynamic range was greater on the single than the albums– the solo is louder than the rest.

Last updated on November 27, 2021

Lyrics

I want a love that's right, right is only half of what's wrong
I want a short-haired girl who sometimes wears it twice as long
Now I'm stepping out this old brown shoe, baby, I'm in love with you
I'm so glad you came here it won't be the same now, I'm telling you

You know you pick me up from where some try to drag me down
When I see your smile replacing every thoughtless frown
Got me escaping from this zoo, baby, I'm in love with you
I'm so glad you came here it won't be the same now when I'm with you

If I grow up I'll be a singer
Wearing rings on every finger
Not worrying what they'll or you'll say
I'll live and love and maybe someday
Who knows, baby, you may comfort me, hey!

I may appear to be imperfect
My love is something you can't reject
I'm changing faster than the weather
If you and me should get together
Who knows, baby, you may comfort me

Variations




A2019 2019 remaster • From "The Singles Collection"

B Demo (George Harrison only) • From "Anthology 3"

B2016 Demo (George Harrison only). 2016 remaster • From "Anthology 3 (2016 remaster)"

Officially appears on


The Ballad Of John And Yoko / Old Brown Shoe (UK - 1969)

7" Single • Released in 1969

3:18 • Studio versionA • Stereo

Paul McCartney :
Backing vocals, Bass, Drums (?), Piano (?)
Ringo Starr :
Drums (?)
John Lennon :
Backing vocals, Piano (?)
George Harrison :
Guitars, Lead vocal, Organ
George Martin :
Producer
Chris Thomas :
Producer
Jeff Jarratt :
Recording engineer

Session Recording & Overdubs:
Apr 16, 1969
Studio :
EMI Studios, Studio Three, Abbey Road

Session Overdubs & Mixing:
Apr 18, 1969
Studio :
EMI Studios, Abbey Road


The Ballad Of John And Yoko / Old Brown Shoe (US - 1969)

7" Single • Released in 1969

3:18 • Studio versionA • Stereo

Paul McCartney :
Backing vocals, Bass, Drums (?), Piano (?)
Ringo Starr :
Drums (?)
John Lennon :
Backing vocals, Piano (?)
George Harrison :
Guitars, Lead vocal, Organ
George Martin :
Producer
Chris Thomas :
Producer
Jeff Jarratt :
Recording engineer

Session Recording & Overdubs:
Apr 16, 1969
Studio :
EMI Studios, Studio Three, Abbey Road

Session Overdubs & Mixing:
Apr 18, 1969
Studio :
EMI Studios, Abbey Road


Hey Jude

LP • Released in 1970

3:18 • Studio versionA • Stereo

Paul McCartney :
Backing vocals, Bass, Drums (?), Piano (?)
Ringo Starr :
Drums (?)
John Lennon :
Backing vocals, Piano (?)
George Harrison :
Guitars, Lead vocal, Organ
George Martin :
Producer
Chris Thomas :
Producer
Jeff Jarratt :
Recording engineer

Session Recording & Overdubs:
Apr 16, 1969
Studio :
EMI Studios, Studio Three, Abbey Road

Session Overdubs & Mixing:
Apr 18, 1969
Studio :
EMI Studios, Abbey Road


1967-1970 (UK version, 1973)

Official album • Released in 1973

3:18 • Studio versionA • Stereo

Paul McCartney :
Backing vocals, Bass, Drums (?), Piano (?)
Ringo Starr :
Drums (?)
John Lennon :
Backing vocals, Piano (?)
George Harrison :
Guitars, Lead vocal, Organ
George Martin :
Producer
Chris Thomas :
Producer
Jeff Jarratt :
Recording engineer

Session Recording & Overdubs:
Apr 16, 1969
Studio :
EMI Studios, Studio Three, Abbey Road

Session Overdubs & Mixing:
Apr 18, 1969
Studio :
EMI Studios, Abbey Road


Past Masters Volume 2

Official album • Released in 1988

3:18 • Studio versionA • Stereo

Paul McCartney :
Backing vocals, Bass, Drums (?), Piano (?)
Ringo Starr :
Drums (?)
John Lennon :
Backing vocals, Piano (?)
George Harrison :
Guitars, Lead vocal, Organ
George Martin :
Producer
Chris Thomas :
Producer
Jeff Jarratt :
Recording engineer

Session Recording & Overdubs:
Apr 16, 1969
Studio :
EMI Studios, Studio Three, Abbey Road

Session Overdubs & Mixing:
Apr 18, 1969
Studio :
EMI Studios, Abbey Road


The Ballad Of John And Yoko / Old Brown Shoe (UK - 1989)

7" Single • Released in 1989

3:18 • Studio versionA • Stereo

Paul McCartney :
Backing vocals, Bass, Drums (?), Piano (?)
Ringo Starr :
Drums (?)
John Lennon :
Backing vocals, Piano (?)
George Harrison :
Guitars, Lead vocal, Organ
George Martin :
Producer
Chris Thomas :
Producer
Jeff Jarratt :
Recording engineer

Session Recording & Overdubs:
Apr 16, 1969
Studio :
EMI Studios, Studio Three, Abbey Road

Session Overdubs & Mixing:
Apr 18, 1969
Studio :
EMI Studios, Abbey Road


The Ballad Of John And Yoko / Old Brown Shoe (UK - Picture disc - 1989)

7" Single • Released in 1989

3:18 • Studio versionA • Stereo

Paul McCartney :
Backing vocals, Bass, Drums (?), Piano (?)
Ringo Starr :
Drums (?)
John Lennon :
Backing vocals, Piano (?)
George Harrison :
Guitars, Lead vocal, Organ
George Martin :
Producer
Chris Thomas :
Producer
Jeff Jarratt :
Recording engineer

Session Recording & Overdubs:
Apr 16, 1969
Studio :
EMI Studios, Studio Three, Abbey Road

Session Overdubs & Mixing:
Apr 18, 1969
Studio :
EMI Studios, Abbey Road


Anthology 3

Official album • Released in 1996

3:03 • OuttakeB • Stereo • Of the three demos created by George Harrison on 25 February 1969 this is the most elaborate: after a live vocal along with a piano track he then overdubbed electric guitar and, rolling the tape from the top for a third time, further guitar passages for the bridge and coda.

George Harrison :
Guitars, Piano, Vocal
Brian Gibson :
Engineer

Session Recording:
Feb 25, 1969
Studio :
EMI Studios, Abbey Road


Past Masters (Stereo - 2009 remaster)

Official album • Released in 2009

3:19 • Studio versionA2009 • Stereo • 2009 remaster

Paul McCartney :
Backing vocals, Bass, Drums (?), Piano (?)
Ringo Starr :
Drums (?)
John Lennon :
Backing vocals, Piano (?)
George Harrison :
Guitars, Lead vocal, Organ
George Martin :
Producer
Chris Thomas :
Producer
Jeff Jarratt :
Recording engineer
Paul Hicks :
Remastering
Guy Massey :
Remastering
Steve Rooke :
Remastering
Sean Magee :
Remastering
Allan Rouse :
Project co-ordinator

Session Recording & Overdubs:
Apr 16, 1969
Studio :
EMI Studios, Studio Three, Abbey Road

Session Overdubs & Mixing:
Apr 18, 1969
Studio :
EMI Studios, Abbey Road


1967-1970 (2010 remastered version)

Official album • Released in 2010

3:19 • Studio versionA2009 • Stereo

Paul McCartney :
Backing vocals, Bass, Drums (?), Piano (?)
Ringo Starr :
Drums (?)
John Lennon :
Backing vocals, Piano (?)
George Harrison :
Guitars, Lead vocal, Organ
George Martin :
Producer
Chris Thomas :
Producer
Jeff Jarratt :
Recording engineer
Paul Hicks :
Remastering
Guy Massey :
Remastering
Steve Rooke :
Remastering
Sean Magee :
Remastering
Allan Rouse :
Project co-ordinator

Session Recording & Overdubs:
Apr 16, 1969
Studio :
EMI Studios, Studio Three, Abbey Road

Session Overdubs & Mixing:
Apr 18, 1969
Studio :
EMI Studios, Abbey Road


Bootlegs


Abbey Road Sessions

Unofficial album

3:07 • Outtake • Take 2 V1 Stereo


Abbey Road Sessions

Unofficial album

3:02 • Outtake • Take 2 V2 Stereo


Abbey Road Sessions

Unofficial album

3:19 • Outtake • Take 4 Australia Single Mix Mono


Complete Acetate Collection 1961-1970

Unofficial album

3:06 • Studio version


A/B Road Complete Get Back Sessions - Jan 27th, 1969 - 1 & 2

Unofficial album • Released in 2004

14:23 • Rehearsal • Jan.27 - D1-06 - Old Brown Shoe 27.03

Session Recording:
Jan 27, 1969
Studio :
Apple Studios, 3 Savile Row, London


Live performances

Paul McCartney has never played this song in concert.

Contribute!

Have you spotted an error on the page? Do you want to suggest new content? Or do you simply want to leave a comment ? Please use the form below!

Your comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.