In the studio
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Evening Standard newspaper, 1970
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.