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Monday, October 17, 2011

I Want to Hold Your Hand b/w This Boy

Manager Brain Epstein told the powers that be at Capitol Records that the new single by the Beatles had been specifically produced "with the American sound in mind."  This was pure fabrication on his part - a salesman making his pitch.  He had been trying to sell Capitol on his group for a year now, but they had been unwilling to listen.  Now, suddenly, with the boys slated to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show and signed to a three picture deal with United Artists, they were ready to do business.  The rest, as they say, is history.

Both sides of this single were recorded on October 17th, 1963.  At the time of this session, they still had a few finishing touches to put on the album With the Beatles, but the new single took precedence.  And a new tool awaited them in the studio - four-track recording.  All of the work that they had done to date had been done on only two tracks.  Now, overdubbing would be that much easier to achieve as multiple layers of sound were possible.  On this date, however, the work was fairly straightforward.

I Want to Hold Your Hand -The attack at the top of She Loves You was vocal.  This time, it is instrumental.  For the listener, anticipation builds quickly until the voices come in with "Oh yeah I'll..."  John and Paul wrote this number together and they sing it as a duet.  There is nothing here like the great conversational tone of She Loves You.  The lyrics are actually pretty standard teenybopper fare, although the first time he heard the song, Bob Dylan misread "I can't hide" as "I get high."  The ingenuity is in the music and the performance.  As Dylan later told Anthony Scaduto, "They were doing things nobody was doing.  Their chords were outrageous, just outrageous, and their harmonies made it all valid...I knew they were pointing the direction where music had to go."  This from Bob Dylan, a man idolized by the Beatles themselves.

As they have done before, they find variety by hushing the bridge to put it in contrast with the strident verses.  The first bridge is sung in unison, the second in harmony.  And despite all of the technical tricks that they now employ in their songwriting craft, the song is delivered from both the heart and the gut.  The sheer joy in their playing is contagious.

This Boy - The Beatles had already recorded a string of impressive B-sides, but now they came up with their first classic one.  Lennon wrote this three-part harmony number, a form he would return to throughout their career.  George Martin said that John, Paul and George had an innate sense of harmony.  He told Mark Lewisohn that "all I did was change the odd note."  This song reverses the form of the A-side - the verses are hushed and it's not until they get to the bridge that the song soars.  Paul and George shift to backing vocals and John's voice, suddenly double-tracked, takes off to incredible heights.  After he sings his heart out, they seamlessly shift back to three-part harmony for the third verse.  The instrumentation is subtle as opposed to the powerhouse playing on I Want to Hold Your Hand.  Using only their usual instruments, they display amazing versatility on the two sides of this record.

The single was released in the UK on November 29th, 1963, only a week after With the Beatles, thus completing Epstein and Martin's master plan of two albums and a handful of singles for the year.  It replaced the number one record She Loves You, which had recently returned to the top spot.

Although Capitol Records agreed to release I Want to Hold Your Hand in the US, they couldn't resist tinkering with the single.  They wanted more of a rocker for the B-side, and since they had the rights to the entire Beatles catalog, they chose I Saw Her Standing There from the first British album for the American B-side.  This Boy appeared instead as an album track on Meet the Beatles.  A few months later, George Martin recorded an instrumental version of This Boy for the soundtrack of A Hard Day's Night and renamed it Ringo's Theme for the sequence in the film when Ringo briefly quits the group and goes off on his own for a series of misadventures. 

The single was scheduled to be released on January 13th, 1964, but it was "leaked" to a few radio stations in advance and, thanks in part to a $50,000 promotional budget (huge at the time), demand was so great that it was rush released on December 26th, 1963.  Once it hit number one, there was no going back.  Though no British act had ever done it before, the Beatles had conquered America.

And the British Invasion had begun. 

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