And Your Bird Can Sing

Revolver album artworkWritten by: Lennon-McCartney
Recorded: 20, 26 April 1966
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Geoff Emerick

Released: 5 August 1966 (UK), 20 June 1966 (US)

John Lennon: vocals, rhythm guitar, handclaps
Paul McCartney: backing vocals, lead guitar, bass, handclaps
George Harrison: backing vocals, lead guitar, handclaps
Ringo Starr: drums, tambourine, handclaps

Available on:
Revolver
Anthology 2

Written primarily by John Lennon, And Your Bird Can Sing is notable mainly for its cryptic lyrics and the twin guitar riffs – played by Paul McCartney and George Harrison – that drive the song.

Download on iTunes

While Lennon never revealed the inspiration behind the song, it is believed to refer to the rivalry between The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Although the two groups were friends, Lennon saw the Stones as Beatles copyists, and the titular ‘bird’ may have been Marianne Faithfull.

Like Rain, And Your Bird Can Sing hinted at knowledge unbeknown to all but the enlightened, showing the influence of LSD. It is also likely that the oblique lyrics were an attempt at writing something akin to the wordplay of Bob Dylan, whose songs Lennon greatly admired.

Lennon was later dismissive of And Your Bird Can Sing, describing it as “a horror” and “throwaway”. Paul McCartney claims to have helped Lennon write the song.

And Your Bird Can Sing was John’s song. I suspect that I helped with the verses because the songs were nearly always written without second and third verses. I seem to remember working on that middle eight with him but it’s John’s song, 80-20 to John.
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

And Your Bird Can Sing was the theme song for The Beatles’ US cartoon series during its third season.

In the studio

On 20 April 1966 The Beatles recorded two takes of And Your Bird Can Sing, beginning with a rhythm track of guitars and drums. They then overdubbed three lead vocal tracks from John Lennon, harmonies from Paul and George, and tambourine and bass.

This version of the song was rejected, but was eventually released – complete with hysterical laughter from John and Paul – on Anthology 2.

On 26 April they recorded takes 3-13, with take 10 being the best. To this they overdubbed vocals and further instrumentation, and the song was complete.

67 responses on “And Your Bird Can Sing

    1. Joe Post author

      Was it definitely McCartney with Harrison? Ian MacDonald suggested it may possibly have been Lennon. As I couldn’t confirm it either way I didn’t put in the info. I admit it’s more likely to have been McCartney and Harrison, though it could have been Harrison double-tracked. Confirmation from a reliable source would be helpful if anyone has it.

      1. Michael

        It is absolutely Harrison and McCartney. Paul has said so, as well as Ringo. George at first might not have recalled who played the harmony solo with him (he never said it was John and Paul), but later commented that he believed it was Paul. John was very talented, but not for such an intricate solo as this.

        1. Tweeze

          This song is really not that difficult to play. It’s pretty straight forward actually. I am certain John could play this, but if he did not it would have been for the sake of economy on studio time usage and not throught lack of ability.

      1. panos

        you guys have never heard of the ‘seven wonders of the ancient world’? this is almost definitely what he is referring to.

        to my personal (and admittedly not confirmed with anyone, anywhere) interpretation of the song, it just seems like he is singing about people who brag in general about material things like gathering material possessions (which i assumed the ‘bird’ symbolised), going on expensive holidays, etc, to which he retorts ‘but you don’t have understanding, or spiritual depth’.

        i could be completely off but sometimes the simplest interpretation turns out to be the right one..

        1. Von Bontee

          Yeah, the “spirituality vs. material possessions” theme seems to be the most likely interpretation to me too. As for the “seven wonders”, he’s not referring to the literal (ancient) Seven Wonders, of course – you’d have to have lived thousands of years ago to have seen them! But from time to time, mankind has compiled lists of the seven wonders of the modern world, and the engineering world, etc., and “seven wonders” just became kind of a standard catch-all term. I don’t think there’s any way John had Paul’s “seven levels” theory in mind.

          1. Fernando Lanzer

            The seven layers refer to “the seven veils of truth” in Hindu philosophy/religion. The concept is that “real truth” is covered by seven veils (or layers) which one must uncover one by one. Each time you think you have “found the truth” you conclude that there are still other veils/layers to uncover.

        2. Sara

          THANK YOU. That’s always what I got from it. And somebody not being able to see true and simple things behind all that (“but you can’t see me, you can’t see me.”). And thinking they know everything and having heard it all and all that. I really like that song…wonder why John disowned it later.

      1. AlbertCunning

        I think someone is mixing up Paul on weed with Paul on LSD, which, as you said, didn’t happen until late 1966; in the company of Tara Browne, who died in a car crash on 18th of December that year…which leads me to believe that Paul’s first LSD experience must have been before that…and certainly not in 1967.
        But still — according to George — about 18 months after the other three had first tripped.
        [Spring/summer of 1965...yes, that adds up!]

        Regarding the original question, I think Joe pretty much summed it up.

        1. Joe Post author

          I’ve read conflicting quotes from McCartney about his first time on LSD. He’s said he first took it with Tara Browne, but also that his first trip was when he took Lennon home after the infamous accidental experience in the studio. Given that the latter was during the Sgt Pepper sessions, it’s likely that he first took the drug in late 1966. Memory can do funny things.

  1. Luke

    Harrison said himself (i cant find where i read it) that him and mccartney did the harmonized lead guitars, although im not sure who did what key…but it was definitly mccartney. Lennon did the chords in the background.

  2. grace

    Just watched anthology again last night. You’re right. He was with mal and wrote it down on a piece of paper while smoking marijuana. I said lsd. My bad! I wish paul went into more detail about the “layer” thing

    Also, I wish I knew why paul and john are laughing so hard on the anthology 2 track. I want to laugh too…but I don’t know what’s funny.

    You know my name (look up the number) is the greatest anthology track. With a JAZZ jam session at the end, I mean there’s nothing better than that!

    1. David

      Hi Grace, I thought I remembered someone asking what they were laughing at – I’m not saying this is some kind of revelation or anything, but I noticed when listening to the Anthology version of the track today that you can just about hear John (I guess accidentally) “smack” his lips just as he goes to sing the opening line – he does it again several times shortly after, and I suspect this is what cracked him up – being from Liverpool myself, I can attest that this is just the sort of silly thing that appeals to my sense of humour, so I’m going to assume it would to John’s as well.

      I love the anthology version of this track – it’s a great song anyway, but I always have a huge smile on my face when I hear them cracking up – I hope you enjoy it a little bit more armed with this “new” info.

  3. William

    I think it’s just a matter of them getting the giggles. Not inappropriate if cannabis was a part of the inspiration for this!

    For me, the best thing to come from the Anthology is its version of Across the Universe. I don’t think any of the released versions of this song are the best this song could be (and it says something that there are so many), but the Anthology version must come close.

  4. Frederique

    I’d like to offer up what I’ve learned regarding Lennon’s inspiration for writing what is one of my favorite Beatle songs, And Your Bird Can Sing. This explanation, which I’ve heard through the years, was finally confirmed in Jonathan Gould’s illuminating Beatle book, Can’t Buy Me Love. I urge anyone who hasn’t, to read this book.

    The song’s cryptic lyrics weren’t induced through the ether of Lennon’s drug use, nor a dig at The Rolling Stones. Rather it was a sharp but concealed rebuke of none other than…Frank Sinatra! Yeah, Sinatra, strange but true.

    First, at the time the Beatles were writing songs for Revolver, they were harboring low-level resentment towards Sinatra because his album, September Of My Years, was a big Grammy winner for the 1965 awards and Rubber Soul wasn’t even nominated. But what really inspired John’s acid lyrics was what he read in March/April 1966. That month Esquire Magazine published a Sintra profile by the author, Gay Talese.

    The article, well-known and remembered by Sinatra aficionados, extensively portrayed Sinatra’s sybaritic life-style and his myriad possessions. Talese wrote, “Sinatra is the embodiment of the fully emancipated male, perhaps the only one in America. The man can have anything he wants.”

    Then Talese reports Frank’s dim view of contemporary music and throws a verbal swing at the Beatles, belittling their music, and their mop-top hair. (Sinatra may have been acting out some jealousy here, considering his reliance on toupees!)

    This is, without a doubt, what inflamed John to write the song that April. “You don’t get me,” should be viewed as Lennon telling Sinatra that you may think you’ve heard and seen it all, but you don’t understand me, the Beatles or the tremendous changes transpiring with rock ‘n’ roll or society at large.

    One more item which clarifies the lyrics: In the article, Talese mentions Sinatra’s frequent use of the term, “bird.” And no, Frankie didn’t use the term as slang for a young woman, as John had done recently in Norwegian Wood. Rather, Talese reports, through implication, that Sinatra uses the term to refer to the male sex organ, particularly his own. Now the convulsive laughter between Lennon and McCartney on the Anthology track is readily understood. When Lennon slyly changes the line mid-song from “And your bird can sing” to “and your bird can SWING,” that’s funny! (Sinatra was widely reputed to have a larger-than-average sized member.)

    Clearly, the reason for the Beatles’ subterfuge through the years regarding the meaning of this song was due to this sexual reference. It would have been tough to explain that the song used as the theme for the Beatles’ cartoon show was actually all about Sinatra’s…er…bird.

    1. Joe Post author

      That’s fascinating, Frederique. Many thanks. I’ve got a copy of the Can’t Buy Me Love book, but haven’t had a chance to read it properly yet – I have a lot of Beatles stuff to read at the moment! It looks like a very well-written and well-researched book though.

    2. Vonbontee

      Absent Gould’s naming any source, I’m extremely skeptical about that claim. In fact, I don’t believe it at all. Lennon was always an open book regarding the real-life origins and inspirations (if any) behind his songs. If AYBCS had anything to do with Sinatra (or Marianne Faithfull, for that matter), surely he’d have admitted as much long ago.

      1. Bruce

        Having just read the Talese article, I did not see any reference to Sinatra’s use of the term “Bird.” I will read it again. I like Gould’s book a lot, but would be disappointed if he got this wrong.

        1. Bungalowdebill

          Here’s the relevant part of the Sinatra article:
          Frank Sinatra was on the beach in the next situation, supposedly gazing up at the stars, and Virna Lisi was to approach him, toss one of her shoes near him to announce her presence, then sit near him and prepare for a passionate session. Just before beginning, Miss Lisi made a practice toss of her shoe toward the prone figure of Sinatra sprawled on the beach. As she tossed her shoe, Sinatra called out, “Hit me in my bird and I’m going home.”

          Virna Lisi, who understands little English and certainly none of Sinatra’s special vocabulary, looked confused, but everybody behind the camera laughed. She threw the shoe toward him. It twirled in the air, landed on his stomach.

          “Well, that’s about three inches too high,” he announced. She again was puzzled by the laughter behind the camera.

          Read more: http://www.esquire.com/features/ESQ1003-OCT_SINATRA_rev_#ixzz21fhVqmka

  5. Jean Erica Moniker

    Where would the 70s have been if George & Paul hadn’t come up with the harmony lead guitar parts on songs like this and Dear Prudence? Think Allman Bros, etc, etc. (assuming you want to)!

  6. mjb

    Everett’s take:

    We have drums, John’s rhythm guitar, and an unusually intricate Casino duet by George and Paul. Paul says “We wrote it at the session and learned it on the spot – but it was thought out. George learnt it and then I learnt the harmony to it, than we sat and played it”.

    Paul then dubbed a busy, octave-rich Rickenbacker bass part.

    A third track has rich-laden three-part vocals and heavily compressed handclaps treated with ADT. A fourth track has tambourine and Ringo’s added cymbals. The added singles include the crash at the start and just before the bridge (0:33 – 0:51).

    A splice at 1:54 allows the nontonic ending – with Paul’s bass – to be chosen from an earlier take.

  7. brian

    Someone add this to the list of questions to ask Paul about Beatles songs. “Paul, do you have any idea what the song And Your Bird Can Sing is about? You were with John in the studio when he presented it to the band and you participated in creating the recording. Is there any truth to the story that John directed the lyrics at Frank Sinatra?”

    1. Von Bontee

      That’s the only way I’ll accept that interpretation: confirmation from a credible source. (Gould provided NO source at all in his book!)

      However, there’s no question that “Dear Prudence” WAS written about Sinatra! (Or, at least his then-sister-in-law.)

      1. Ignacio

        ‘Dear Prudence’ is about Prudence Farrow
        (Mia Farrow’s sister). She was at India with the Beatles but she was all the time at her bungalow, meditating……’come out to play’….

        1. Von Bontee

          Yep…and Mia Farrow was married to Sinatra at that time! (Or maybe he’d just recently divorced her by that time, I’m not certain. She was served with divorce papers while filming “Rosemary’s Baby”, which would’ve been around 1967-68.) So my point stands: “Dear Prudence” was written for Frank Sinatra’s ex(?)-sister-in-law.

      1. Celebrated_Mr_K

        Marianne Faithfull was a great singer and artist in her own right. Years later, she recorded an acclaimed album title “Broken English”, about her relationships with the Stones.
        “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” one of the greatest rock & roll songs ever recorded, was about her.

  8. Lou Minn

    About the amazing double lead guitar work…I always thought one of the two guitars sounded like George’s 12 string Rickenbacker. Was George still playing the electric 12 string when they cut And Your Bird Can Sing?

    1. vonbontee

      That’s definitely a 12-string Ricky on the “Anthology” version of the song (the one with John & Paul cracking up throughout), but I’m not sure about the Revolver version. There’s a LOT of guitars on that track, but none of them sound particularly Rickenbacker-like to my ears. Still, I could be wrong about that.

  9. almado

    Brilliant. Exhuberant. Ebullient. This song soars like no other. It takes flight. It lifts off. There’s just something about it. Everything’s perfect in it. The chiming guitars. The stunning vocal harmonies. The emotion in John’s voice. Yes, there’s emotion in everything he sings, but here, when he sings, “But you don’t get me,” and “You can’t see me,” and “You can’t hear me,” it’s like he’s grabbing you by the lapels, trying desperately to get you to understand. Only John could sing like this. (I won’t get into the whole John/Paul thing, but John was the more gifted singer, by light years.) I know John later called it a throwaway but on many days this is my favorite Beatles song (and in my defence, George said it was his favorite song on Revolver). Oh, and they invented power pop here, too, let’s not forget, four, five, six years before Big Star, et al.

    1. Greg

      In fairness, John was extremely flaky when it came to analyzing his work. Some days, he’d disparage a song, while in another interview a few years later, he would praise it.

      John was a weird guy, so I try not to take to heart his feelings on Beatles songs. He was too self-and-Paul-critical to take seriously, especially since he seemed to (admittedly) base his critiques on how he felt about a Beatle on a given day.

    2. Peter

      Yes.
      To me, AYBCS along with “Rain” are the most quintessentially “Beatles” songs (maybe along with “She Said, She Said.”) The band is firing on all cylinders, capturing both their youthful exuberance and their more mature, “experienced” selves. They’re just effusively musical and exuberant.

      John’s condemnation of the song really bothered me in high school. Now, I just scoff affectionately, “Oh, John. Please. Give me a break.”

    3. Tweeze

      I’ve always been keen to the idea that this was the first song to use 2 lead guitars to replace rhythm guitar. It is essentially a different sound altogether, but Les Paul had done similar things. It doesn’t detract from this track one iota. This is one of those ‘remember when’ moments. I recall exactly the first time I heard this. We were preparing to walk out the door on a trip. The TV was on and this song came on. My sister and I looked at each other and our eyes widened. WOW! Only a few measures into the track and we were already ‘rocking out’ (a term not really in use or defined at the time). All during the trip we kept trying to sing the song. Naturally we had the wrong lyrics, but that didn’t matter, we wanted to hear this song again. A fantastic listen.

  10. john

    Am I the only one who hears the similarity with the lead guitar (especially on the anthology version)on this song and the group “THE BYRDS” signature sound? I thought is was a tribute to Roger and the boys.

    1. Vonbontee

      You’re definitely not the only one to recognize that signature electric 12-string Rickenbacker sound, no. Somewhere in the Forum, I remember making a terrible pun along the lines of “And Our Byrds-Guitars Can Ring” or something equally awkward!)

      1. Julio

        I can’t believe Paul plays guitar on this! Is Paul the lead guitarist of the Beatles? He plays lead guitar on Ticket Ride, Another Girl, Drive My Car, Taxman, Paperback Writer, And Your Bird Can Sing, Strawberry Fields Forever,Sgt. Pepper, Good Morning, Helter Skelter etc. The list goes on and on.

        1. mr. Sun king coming together

          Maybe 20 occasions. However, George played about 180 LG pieces. Paul mostly did these things on his songs, where he felt he knew a great piece to use. So, George either played bass (Bathroom Window), rhythm, or didn’t play on the backing track.

        2. Travis

          To further answer your question with my own opinions, Julio, I’ve long thought that Paul, while not at all to be considered the Beatles lead guitarist, was the most talented guitar player of the bunch. If you think about the amazing things this guy could play on bass, it adds a lot of credence I believe to this line of thinking. Often his bass parts were much more complicated and difficult to play than the guitar parts in many, many Beatles songs. This coming from someone who has played both instruments for years. It’s simply harder to play a bass with the same speed and dexterity of a guitar bc of the thickness of the strings, amongst other things. Then you add in some of the amazing lead parts he did play(Taxman may be most impressive to me), makes a strong argument that he had the best lead chops in the band. Remember, they started w all three playing guitar in the very early days

          1. Wayne

            I agree Travis. Paul was certainly the best guitar player in The Beatles, and most talented overall musician in the band as well. And I’m a guy who relates to John (and George) far more than Paul. Quite simply, all of the Beatles were self-taught musicians. Natural talent seemed to reside in Paul from the very beginning – the other two had to really work to develop their skills. Arguably, Paul was also an even better drummer than Ringo, but that’s a whole other story! His musicial talent was simply a gift. His curse was that he all too often tended to lapse into “schlockiness” when writing lyrics, but he grew up in an era where everything you heard in popular music was written by the “Tin-Pan Alley” crowd (who McCartney himself, along with Lennon, put out of business). Working with Lennon as long as he did sharply curtailed his tendency toward sloppy lyric-writing and even after the Beatles broke up, Lennon’s snide attacks and criticisms kept him from straying too far into lyrical naivete or stupidity. He wanted to be more, much more, than “Engelbert Humperdink” furiously cranking out one piece of “Muzak” after the next. LOL. It all worked out pretty well in the end.

  11. Fanbeat

    The laughing in the middle of And your bird can sing is explained by George Martin as “boys having fun with play on words” John would sing “look at my erection, I’ll be around I’ll be around”
    Instead of “Look in my direction” This version only shows up on the Anthology takes. Apprently, according to Martin John was providing the theatrics to the naughty lyrics.

  12. baby

    http://www.mojo4music.com/blog/2011/09/paul_mccartney_on_george_harri.html

    “MOJO: There’s something I’ve been curious about for 45 years. On And Your Bird Can Sing, is that you or George playing the guitar riff?

    PAUL: I think it’s me and George playing in harmony. That was one of the things we used to do. It’s a harmony riff. I remember talking to Rusty [Anderson], my guitar player. He’d go, Ahhh, that’s how you do it! George and I would work out a melody line, then I would work out the harmony to it. So we’d do it as a piece. And Your Bird Can Sing – that’s what that is. That’s me and George both playing electric guitars. It’s just the two of us, live. It’s a lot easier to do with two people, believe me. It’s another one of our little tricks!

    1. Stan

      I think Baby’s comment shows why John’s claims and comments can be misleading. No doubt that the original idea behind AYBCS was his, probably nearly all the words and the melodic line. But the most memorable part of the track is the guitar duo; without it, it’s just not the same song. From what I’m reading here, Paul and George worked it out together, but I’d be inclined to think it’s Paul’s “composition” (there is a “baroque” element to this running countermelody which he may have picked up at the Asher’s house.) Similarly, for “Tomorrow Never Knows”, it’s definitely John’s song, but the tape loops were Paul’s idea. Ditto “A Day in the Life”, where (according to Geoff Emerick) Paul not only had the idea of the orchestra swell, but played the active part in getting it recorded. John’s contributions to Paul’s songs are easier to track down (middle 8s, as in “Michelle” for ex.) but I’m sure a lot of the harmony vocals (“Eleanor Rigby”, “Getting Better”, “Hello, Goodbye”) were his ideas.
      So I cringe when I see songs strictly divided as to authorship. After all, none of them wrote (or performed) this quality music after the divorce, so the evidence of real collaboration on “composing” is hard to dispute.

  13. Jammy_jim

    I agree that without the guitar part(s) AYBCS is not the same song but that can be said about A LOT of tunes, Beatles or otherwise. I perform this live, simply strumming the chords and it’s very well received, even amongst some of the younger peeps (under 30) in the audience who’ve never heard the song. It’s a great song with or without the guitar solo(s).

  14. Ron

    One of the greatest guitar riffs of the Beatles. Paul and George played the dual lead guitars for this song.

    The Beatles were known for their harmonies and this song has John singing lead with Paul and George singing backing vocals and switching to three part harmony vocals for the last verse. Although very brief, from 1:20-1:33, in my opinion, is the greatest three part harmony the Beatles ever put on record and this includes songs such as This Boy, Yes It Is, Nowhere Man, The Word(during the last verse), and Because.

    What if they sang three part harmony the entire song? One can only wish, but John vocals were superb.

  15. Joe_F

    I have tried various ways to play AYBCS on guitar, and for you guitarists out there, the lick can be played by one person, double-stopping, but you need to retune the D string to an E, which is unusual. I doubt very much the Beatles did this, of course. After listening to outtakes and early versions, I believe the Beatles played the song in D, where the lick make sense from a guitar-playing standpoint, and then the recording was sped up to the key of E, to be faster and higher. Any corroboration of my theory would make my day.

    1. Paul

      At least the rhythm guitar sounds very much like it is played in the D position. It may have ended up in the key of E the same way the “Nowhere Man” chord positions were transposed up D from to E, by using a capo.

  16. Bob

    I recall reading a Joe Walsh interview. When he was young, he loved the guitar solo from “And Your Bird Can Sing.” And at that time, he didn’t know that it had been played by two of the Beatles, or double-tracked. So he forced himself to learn to play the whole guitar solo with the harmony notes, all by himself with just one guitar. He said he finally conquered it, but it took a long time and nearly drove him crazy. Or crazi-ER.

  17. dennis

    I’ve read where John referred to “Run For Your Life” as a throwaway song, but I can’t imagine
    him not liking AYBCS ! Growing up listening to the U.S. Capitol version of “Yesterday And Today”, I always anticipated that first track with a smile on my face, knowing it was going to
    knock my socks off every time ! What an excellent rocker-feel-good song ! Great vocals, driving harmony guitars, inspired bass work, rock-solid Ringo. After all these years it still has
    the same effect, but I still can’t get used to it being on Revolver !

Leave a reply