Recording, mixing: Birthday

Studio Two, EMI Studios, Abbey Road
Producer: Chris Thomas
Engineer: Ken Scott

While the sessions for the White Album often found The Beatles labouring for days on individual songs, at other times they worked quickly. One example of this was Birthday, written and recorded on this day.

Paul McCartney arrived earlier to the studio than the other Beatles, and began playing around with the song’s guitar riff. As the rest of the group arrived they began jamming, and the song developed into Birthday.

We thought, ‘Why not make something up?’ So we got a riff going and arranged it around this riff. We said, ‘We’ll go to there for a few bars, then we’ll do this for a few bars.’ We added some lyrics, then we got the friends who were there to join in on the chorus. So that is 50-50 John and me, made up on the spot and recorded all on the same evening. I don’t recall it being anybody’s birthday in particular but it might have been, but the other reason for doing it is that, if you have a song that refers to Christmas or a birthday, it adds to the life of the song, if it’s a good song, because people will pull it out on birthday shows, so I think there was a little bit of that at the back of our minds.
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

The Beatles recorded 20 takes of the song, after which they decamped to McCartney’s house to watch the 1956 film The Girl Can’t Help It. This was the first UK television screening of the rock ‘n’ roll classic, starring Jayne Mansfield and featuring guest appearances from Little Richard, Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent, and was shown on BBC 2 from 9.05-10.40pm.

Take 19 of Birthday was chosen as the best version, and the four-track tape was copied onto an eight-track machine – the copies were numbered takes 21 and 22. Meanwhile, McCartney and John Lennon wrote the lyrics, which they then overdubbed.

Guests at the session were Yoko Ono and Pattie Harrison, who joined in with backing vocals and handclaps. The recording was completed with tambourine and piano, the latter fed through a Vox amplifier and treated with distortion.

At around 4.30am Birthday was mixed in mono. John Lennon used the studio control room microphone to announce: “This is Ken MacIntosh and the roving remixers. Take farty-one”.

Also on this day...

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