Come Together

In the studio

Abbey Road - The Beatles



The Beatles began recording Come Together on 21 July 1969, recording eight takes in Abbey Road’s studio three. John Lennon sang without his guitar, and clapped while singing the line “Shoot me”.

The words allegedly referred not to a desire for martyrdom, but to a fix of heroin. They were adapted from the unreleased Watching Rainbows, a song The Beatles rehearsed in January 1969 during the Get Back/Let It Be sessions.

On the finished record you can really only hear the word ‘shoot’. The bass guitar note falls where the ‘me’ is.
Geoff Emerick
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn

Although Come Together was conceived as a Chuck Berry-style rocker, The Beatles slowed it down at Paul McCartney‘s suggestion.

He originally brought it over as a very perky little song, and I pointed out to him that it was very similar to Chuck Berry’s You Can’t Catch Me. John acknowledged it was rather close to it so I said, ‘Well, anything you can do to get away from that.’ I suggested that we tried it swampy – ‘swampy’ was the word I used – so we did, we took it right down. I laid that bass line down which very much makes the mood. It’s actually a bass line that people now use very often in rap records. If it’s not a sample, they use that riff. But that was my contribution to that.
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

The original track had Lennon on vocals and tambourine, McCartney on bass, George Harrison on guitar and Ringo Starr on drums. Take one, with slightly different lyrics and a raw vocal from Lennon, can be heard on the Anthology 3 album.

Come Together changed at a session. We said, ‘Let’s slow it down. Let’s do this to it, let’s do that to it,’ and it ends up however it comes out. I just said, ‘Look, I’ve got no arrangement for you, but you know how I want it.’ I think that’s partly because we’ve played together a long time. So I said, ‘Give me something funky,’ and set up a beat, maybe, and they all just join in.
John Lennon, 1969
Anthology

Over the next two days the group overdubbed another lead vocal take, along with electric piano, rhythm guitar and maracas, onto take eight. On 25 July harmony vocals were added, and on 29 and 30 July the song was completed with some final guitar overdubs.

Initially, Paul played the electric piano part, but John kind of looked over his shoulder and studied what he was playing. When it came time to record it, John played the electric piano instead of Paul. Paul might have been miffed, but I think he was more upset about not singing on the choruses – John did his own backing vocals.
Geoff Emerick
Music Radar

Paul McCartney later expressed regret that he hadn’t sung alongside Lennon on Come Together. His harmony vocals were instead added as an overdub.

Even on Abbey Road we don’t do harmonies like we used to. I think it’s sad. On Come Together I would have liked to sing harmony with John and I think he would have liked me to but I was too embarrassed to ask him and I don’t work to the best of my abilities in that situation.
Paul McCartney
Evening Standard newspaper, 1970

Chart success

Released as a single on 6 October 1969, Come Together reached number one in the US. It entered the top 40 on 18 October, and remained in the charts for 16 weeks.

As a double a-side with George Harrison’s Something, Come Together only released number four in the UK. It was released on 31 October. Its poor chart performance may have been affected by a ban from the BBC, who decreed that the line “He shoot Coca-Cola” was unacceptable product placement.

This was the first single released by The Beatles which contained songs already available on an album; the move was one of Allen Klein‘s attempts to put The Beatles’ struggling finances back on an even keel.

92 responses on “Come Together

  1. David

    Paul did not sing on this track, as he himself complains about on the next page. Also, according to Emerick, while Paul composed the electric piano bit, John learned it and performed it on the record.

    1. Joe Post author

      The harmony vocals certainly sound a lot like McCartney. I took the quote to mean that he wasn’t singing a duet with Lennon – ie at the same time, as they did on The Ballad Of John And Yoko. The version of Come Together on Anthology 3 shows how it was recorded at first with just Lennon on vocals.

      However, it may be that Lennon double-tracked his vocals. Can anyone shed any light on this?

        1. Elsewhere Man

          Wow, I always always thought it was Paul doing the low harmony backup vocals on “Come Together.” But Paul himself says he didn’t sing on it.

          That puts the song in a whole new light for me now…

          1. Jon

            Anyone with a decent ear for music can tell that Paul is singing the lower backing vocal during the verses. The Beatles used to always record harmony vocals together in the booth live and Paul’a was an overdub… meaning it was added at a different time since he and Lennon were rarely in the studio together during the recording of Abbey Road.

            In terms of what Emerick was saying, Lennon’s chorus vocals were double-tracked and both were his. Perhaps McCartney wanted in on the songs biggest hook

              1. Tweeze

                I have to agree. This is my favorite song of all time and I was amazed when it was bandied about that Paul hadn’t contributed vocals at all. I thought I had a good ear for differentiating their voices and it does sound very much like Paul singing very much like he did on ‘Hey Bulldog’. Then there are places where it is only John double-tracked. But the verses sound like Paul. It is true that Paul did not sing in tandem with John. As Paul tells it, and was even well-known back in the ’70s when I first learned it, their relationship was at a point where they couldn’t even relate to each other. Pins and needles. Thus, Paul was really not confident to approach John and ask, ‘Can I sing with you?’ Very sad.

      1. Alimony Slim

        Paul did not sing on Come Together. he was quoted as saying that he was in the studio while John was doing the vocals but their relationship had deteriorated to the point even though he wanted to sing the harmony, he didn’t offer and John didn’t ask.

  2. Ammar

    it sounded like Paul…but I read many times that the relation between them was so tense at that time that Paul was embarrassed to add harmonny…

    even though, Paul piano and specially great Bass line makes a distinctive mark in the track

    1. Alimony Slim

      Paul and John both claimed that cool electric piano solo. I’m sure it was Paul. If you listen carefully, there are actually 2 electric pianos going. I think John played the basic chords and Paul did the fancy stuff. As he demonstrated on the Plastic Ono Band album, John was not much of keyboardist.

      1. Joseph Brush

        Well John was good enough of a piano player to write and play songs such as Imagine, Instant Karma, Mother, Real Love, and Grow Old With Me. What have you done in comparison?

        1. stan Ploar

          He’s not saying that John couldn’t make a nice piano piece, just saying he was no virtuoso pianist, which isn’t hard to see. Paul was technically a better “technician” on instruments but that doesn’t take away from what John contributed to the Beatles which no amount of instrumental virtuosity could replace.

  3. Arthur

    Again a display of the genius John Lennon.
    To me, those four verses are basically a description of the four Beatles, with a John-twist.
    First verse: George (Holy roller, his Indian influence, hair down to his knees..)
    Second verse: Paul (No shoeshine, Abby Road-cover, toe-jam football, rugby, monkey finger, how you hold your hand when you play bass)
    Third verse John himself (Ono sideboard)
    Last verse, Ringo (Got to be goodlookin’ cause he’s so hard to see(awesome line) as Ringo was standing behind the three Beatles)

    1. Jocky McSporran

      Naah. “Monkey finger” is something entirely different from the way somebody might hold their hand when they play the bass.
      After you put your finger somewhere, the way it is, is called “monkey finger”.
      It’s the place you can do on your own, male or female. The person probably needed to pull his finger out. Enough said.

    2. Tweeze

      It’s more likely it is unintentional. No doubt John was influenced by those around him but I doubt this song was intended to define the four in verses. When you flesh out the lyrics entirely it quits holding up to scrutiny. For the first verse the actual line is ‘hair down to his knee’ (singular) – which I’ve always found to be peculiar, then the last part about being a joker and doing what he please doesn’t sound necessarily like George. The Abbey Road cover doesn’t support the ‘no shoeshine’ argument as numer9 notes. However, Paul did have a habit of being barefoot in the studio during those sessions. The rest of the second verse bears little resemblance to Paul IMO. The third going to John? Sure! In fact, they are probably all John in some fashion along with his usual flair for insane nonsense (read his books). The same with the last verse. John and George’s hair were both longer than Ringo’s and, in fact, John was practically unrecognizable frequently with his wild beard.
      In final summation, John had this unique way with the English language to start with and this song is simply an extension of this gift. It’s actually hilarious if one doesn’t get too serious about it. Like many song writers John would try to search for words to put in a song and would frequently not have any particular worthwhile subject – thus gobbledygook.

  4. Jonny Music

    I think John does a bit of a disservice to the contributions of the other Beatles when he says “Lennon song” … Paul’s bass in particular really makes the song. And George’s guitar leads are great too.

    1. Tobias Talock

      Totally agree!. Paul was the ultimate Beatle giving it 100% to all songs whether his or not. I don’t believe there was a Beatle song he didn’t play on. With the possible exception of the rubbishy Revolution 9.

          1. Rorschach

            .. turns out that She Said She Said was the end of the Revolver sessions…. Paul had a big argument with the other three and went home. you’ll never listen to the song the same way again… as you’ll notice that the bass is rather leadfooted. It’s George playing bass and singing backup for John.

  5. Joseph Brush

    When making these comments neither John, Paul, or George were given the time necessary for an elobarate explanation.
    John made contributions to songs that are described as a”McCartney Song” or a “Harrisong Song”.
    To suggest that his opinion is a disservice to the other Beatles is a disservice to Lennon.
    It was the task of everyone in the group to flesh out the vision of the author’s song with their contribution. Without the vision, all of the bass parts and guitar parts don’t mean a thing.

  6. Dan

    In reply to Arthur, I agree the 4 verses are about each Beatle but you mixed up Paul and Ringo. The second verse is Ringo(monkey fingers being drum sticks) and verse 4 being Paul who John called a mojo filter, roller-coaster(helter-skelter) and hard to see (understand) because he is good looking – which Paul is and Ringo is not in most opinions. Also, the positioning of the first 3 verses prior to the instrumental break was deliberate by John because it showed Paul that the others were with John(on Allen Klein) and that Paul was separate. That is why in the last verse John sings “One and one and one is 3″ meaning Paul you can count that it is 3 against one so “come together over me”.Paul eventually responds on Ram with the song 3 legs. Pretty interesting play between them as they fought for control of the Beatles.

      1. Wing Dairu

        It’s most definitely “Shoot me”, according to the lyric track in The Beatles Rock Band. But I agree with Mark; it’s very hard to notice if you don’t know it’s there.

        Most covers I’ve heard, including Michael Jackson’s and Aerosmith’s, replace the “shoot me” with a generic “shoop” sound.

  7. Jacob

    It’s Paul playing the electric piano bit, and it’s defenitly him doing harmony vocals (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nr5nDAZ0p3E) and the verses are like this:

    1. George (Holy roller = indian influence, Hair down to his knees)

    2. Paul (No shoeshine = Abbey road cover, Toe-jam football = Rugby, Monkey finger = Bass finger positioning)

    3. John (Ono-sideboard = Do I need to explain this one?)

    4. Ringo (Got to be goodlookin’ cause he’s so hard to see = People focusing mor on the other 3)

    1. Joe Post author

      Who’s narrating that YouTube clip? Because unless it’s someone who was actually there, or who knows definitively that it was Paul on electric piano, it may just be supposition. The same with the vocals – they were recorded on different tracks, so it could still have been Lennon doing both. It’s hard to tell. Great clip though – thanks for sharing.

      EDIT: I’ve found out it’s from this: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00mc0cc
      The hosts were Richard Allinson and Steve Levine.

  8. Jacob

    I’m pretty sure Paul plays the EP part too. In Beatles Rock Band it shows him playing it, and I know it isn’t a reliable source, but if Lennon played it don’t you think they would show him playing it?

  9. Scott

    I remember reading in a Beatles biography years ago that the song was about the Maharishi. It’s not hard to construe that from some of the lyrics, but apparently it was a false assumption.

  10. teddoyle

    Another interesting thing about this song: when John brought it in it was an uptempo 12-bar piece. Paul suggested slowing it down and making it “swampy.” All the difference, and a great example of how their polar differences created musical alchemy.

    1. RR

      Because Geoff Emerick is full of shite, that’s why.

      On paper, the idea of an insider penning a memoir describing how the Beatles made their magic would be irresistible. But Here, There, and Everywhere is not that book: it is a gossipy, self-serving, spiteful tome, filled with egregious errors of fact throughout – sort of a companion volume to Peter Brown’s The Love You Make.

      It has been reported extensively that once Emerick secured a publishing deal, he frantically called up his colleagues, seeking anecdotes as his own memory was faulty and he really couldn’t remember much. It’s hard to doubt this because the book is filled with fanciful nonsense throughout. I leave it to engineer Ken Scott, who has openly called bullshit on this book, to give the particulars:

      http://www.komosproductions.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=19&Itemid=37

      Then there’s the “Come Together” gem, since debunked.

      It seems the more this man talks, the more senile he gets.

      Ultimately as a fan, I think most Beatle fans would prefer the truth over an interesting new lie.

    1. Tweeze

      Geoff is neither correct nor incorrect. John did do his own — at first. Paul overdubbed his later. Geoff does seem to be trying to give himself more of a role in the Beatles process as the years move forward. After all, it sells books, doesn’t it?

  11. EltonJohnLennon

    I wouldn’t say that Paul “composed” the piano part of the song. Maybe he had something to do with it but he just played the notes from the beginning of the song. And these were composed by Lennon.

  12. Gustavo Solórzano Alfaro

    It’s very clear to me: John double tracked his vocals in the refrain (choruses): “Come together, / right now, over me.” Paul didn’t sing harmony on those lines, is John himself. But Paul indeed overdub his harmony parts for the verses.

    The electric piano part es interesting. Every source has stated it was Paul, and that John was very proud of Paul’s playing. And now we find this Emerick’s quote saying it was lennon instead.

  13. John McCartney

    I’ve been listening to the Beatles for 40 + years. I have never doubted it was Paul’s voice doing backup. When Emerick alleged in his book Lennon did ALL the vocals on “Come Together” I thought he was surely mistaken (daft). The aforementioned YouTube video confirms what I’ve known (heard) all along.

    With regard to the electric piano part…it’s hard to say. It most certainly could have been Paul (the YouTube video states it’s Paul) however, the 2 to 3 (maybe 4) note chords are more indicative of John’s simplified piano playing style.

  14. vonbontee

    I’ve encountered that “Each verse describes one Beatle” premise before, and it’s never made any sense to me at all. If a guy is introduced in the first line, and every subsequent lyric begins with the pronoun “He…”, it’s pretty hard not to conclude that the song’s about ONE individual, and nobody else: “Old Flat-Top”, whoever THAT is.

  15. mike50

    In this video you can hear the isolated vocal track. Even though the harmony sounds like McCartney due to the low register, John could also reach those low registers, for example in the song “(just like) starting over” or when he says “shoot me” in CT.

    Also, in the chorus, the “come together” is in the low register but the “right now” emulates the lead vocal, clearly sounding like lennon.

  16. 2much4mymirror

    Paul in “Many Years From Now” said he noticed a resemblance to “You Can’t Catch Me” when he first heard it and suggested slowing it down to obscure it a bit. But I agree with John that there’s very little similarity. Granted if you speed up “Come Together” to the same tempo, the first few bars sound a bit similar. But the key sections of each songs diverge after that. Hell, Chuck used the same musical formula for a lot of his songs, but despite the similarity, each song is a distinct classic. The same with this song, or Lennon’s “Ballad of John and Yoko” or “New York City” for that matter.

  17. Schminking of gin

    Any legs to the theory that “Come Together” is a sexual reference? Thought I read that somewhere, thought maybe even John himself alluded to that

    1. Julio Sanchez

      I think you should change the performance credits to include John on electric piano and harmony vocal due the fact that there is a lot of evidence to support it (I also firmly believe that the vocals are all lennon). When in doubt put both. Paul actaully says he did not sing harmony on this.

  18. Tweeze

    Well, you know, it sounds like Paul using the same kind of harmonic approach that he used on ‘Hey Bulldog’, but the session notes really do not indicate Paul singing on this song. Meanwhile, let us consider the oddity of the song. No one had that certain quirk like John. ‘Come Together’ has this very strange percussion from clear out of left field. Very original – but what is it? After decades of reverence pondering this song I have determined that it is a ‘rotary telephone’. Only John could take something so mundane and turn it into a total head trip. Genius, man!!

    1. Julian

      I think this percussion you’re talking about is simply John clapping his hands. As he clapped them and sang at the same time, voice was echoed, so it was natural for a microphone to make the claps echoed, too. Simple as that.

      1. Tweeze

        I’m not isolated on the hand clap alone. The whole ‘shoot –’ followed by the hand clap echo and then Ringo’s rolling drum comes out sounding like an old rotary phone. Then John’s voice has this tinny compression which even resembles a voice over a phone. Perhaps unintentional – but I remain amazed that anyone would walk into a studio and intentionally manifest this. When this first came out I was instantly captured by the sound – it was like, what’s all this then? The Beatles always took the concept of what could be accepted as music and pushed it over the edge.

  19. Wendy Roy

    I wrote a play for the Marion County Library, Ocala, Florida competition based on “Come Together” by The Beatles. And I won! The winning play was to be a “red carpet” event, with the performance being at the library. But sadly they were not able to follow through due to lack of auditions. The play featured Paul McCartney meeting Johnn Lennon at the library.

  20. DaveF

    Well, that’ll teach me to take the title literally, as I’m pretty sure it was the Roy Thomas Carr book that stated it was a celebration of the simultaneous orgasm…

    1. Jack Fitzgerald Turner

      Yes… what BASS did Paul use for this Riff of all Riffs??? I’ve recently discovered photos of him playing a left-handed Fender Jazz at these sessions; I always thought it was the Höfner violin bass but now I think it’s probably the Jazz bass… does anybody really know???

  21. william

    I am not a copyright lawyer, but I play one on television. The differences between this song and You Can’t Catch Me by Chuck Berry, in the legal sense, defined by copyright law, are negligible. Listen to Rock and Roll Songs by Lennon and you will see that this was already a great song without any creative input by the Beatles.

    What elevates this version is the vocal and guitar, but it is difficult to give Lennon much credit for the basic song. This was a great, great cover, probably Lennon’s second greatest cover ever, after Twist and Shout.

    1. vonbontee

      Yeah, I’ve always doubted that Lennon would’ve actually lost the case, had he actually taken the trouble to defend it in court – it was only 1 1/2 lines he borrowed, more of an obvious “homage” than anything sinister. (Same deal with “Run For Your Life”‘s opening line.)

    2. Joseph Brush

      Lennon wrote some great lyrics for this song. Chuck Berry surely got the tune from some old blues song from the long ago. Get over it.

    3. Joseph Brush

      Someone who plays a copyright lawyer on TV who now thinks he is a copyright lawyer and a musicologist.
      But it is difficult for me to give you any credit for this priveleged information. That is, in the legal sense.

  22. william

    I think people sue too much, but listen to the version on Lennon’s Rock and Roll. It is fantastic in its own way, but it is no less dissimilar to the Berry song than is My Sweet Lord to He’s So Fine. I actually think that it is more similar, and Paul apparently warned John of this at the time they recorded it. Some changes were made but not enough to avoid a legal dispute. Obviously Come Together and My Sweet Lord are miles above their so-called inspiration but the music copyright lobby scrapes for every single penny of anything that remotely resembles anything else, or even where innocent mistakes are made. Ask the Verve about their experiences with Klein.

    Both John and George largely came out ahead in these disputes, however, with John blocking a pirated copy by his former partners, and George winning a lawsuit against Klein and ending up owning He’s So Fine himself.

    So there.

    1. Joseph Brush

      The main reason that Lennon got sued was because Chuck Berry didn’t own the publishing rights to You Can’t Catch Me.
      Morris Levy owned the rights and went after Lennon.

  23. william

    That doesn’t really get to the point of the similarities of the songs, but I don’t disagree, from what I have read, that Morris Levy was an ornery sort, as was Klein, who actually violated a fundamental precept of lawyers by appearing on the other side of Harrison’s My Sweet Lord case, which was influential in Harrison’s ending up with the rights to both songs, if I remember correctly.

    All that being said, the Beatles should have simply hired a lawyer and gotten the rights to publish Come Together as a similar song with a similar structure to the Berry song.

    I don’t think that Lennon wanted to do that because at this point in their careers, the Beatles had done a shift and all of sudden thought it was demeaning to do covers.

    It isn’t demeaning to do covers, and Come Together was as close to a cover as the Beatles would ever do after Beatles For Sale.

  24. Rob

    So is it “percussive echo” that makes that rattling sort of sound when Lennon sings “Shoot me”? Love the sound, never understood exactly how it was made.

    1. Julian

      Ywp. Just like I said in the earlier comment, John sang and clapped his hands at the same time, so it’s the clapping with echo making this sound. Very interesting, indeed!

  25. GeorgeTSimpson

    When was the solo added, there is no solo on the anthology version (although there is maybe one on the basic track of the anthology version). The guitar in the anthology versionis very different from the guitars in the abbey road, was a similar guitar also in the abbey road version basic track and later edited out or did harrison on later takes play a different solo?

  26. cdesim

    It is often reported that this song was inspired by Chuck Berry’s “You Can’t Catch Me”, and indeed it borrows a line from that song, but I believe it has more in common with “Drive My Car” and fittingly opens the album. Years later when Harrison recorded “This Song” in response to the “My Sweet Lord” fiasco he also recorded Cole Porter’s “True Love” which features a chord progression that also appears in “I Want To Hold Your Hand” (for you and I have a guardian angel = and when I touch you I feel happy…).

  27. Sergio A. Genzon

    Just a general comment that applies to any other comments or opinions of many people posting on this forum. Making instrumental contributions or arrangements to a song does not constitute contributing in the songwriting or composing process. Composing and arranging and soloing are not the same thing. If Paul played a great bass part or George used a certain sound characteristic of his style. Well, it’s just that. Great contributions but not part of the songwriting process. I make this comment because many people in this forum seem to get confused with that.

    1. asterion9

      I couldn´t agree more. Songwriting, especially in pop music, is just about melody and lyrics. That´s a song, originally, a poem composed to be sing. Everything else, the drums, de guitars, etcetera, come later, as the arrangements.

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