Golden Slumbers

Abbey Road album artworkWritten by: Lennon-McCartney
Recorded: 2, 3, 30, 31 July; 15 August 1969
Producer: George Martin
Engineers: Geoff Emerick, Phil McDonald

Released: 26 September 1969 (UK), 1 October 1969 (US)

Paul McCartney: vocals, piano
George Harrison: bass
Ringo Starr: drums
Unknown: 12 violins, 4 violas, 4 cellos, double bass, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, trombone, bass trombone

Available on:
Abbey Road

The beginning of the closing sequence in Abbey Road's long medley, Golden Slumbers was recorded as one with Carry That Weight and based on a poem written nearly 400 years previously.

Abbey Road - The Beatles
That's Paul, apparently from a poem he found in a book, some eighteenth-century book where he just changed the words here and there.
John Lennon
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

The song's lyrics were taken from a ballad by the Elizabethan poet and dramatist Thomas Dekker (1570-1632). Paul McCartney saw the sheet music on the piano at his father's home in Heswall on the Wirral.

I was playing the piano in Liverpool in my dad's house, and my stepsister Ruth's piano book was up on the stand. I was flicking through it and I came to Golden Slumbers. I can't read music and I couldn't remember the old tune, so I just started playing my own tune to it. I liked the words so I kept them, and it fitted with another bit of song I had.
Paul McCartney
Anthology

This suggests that he had written Carry That Weight already, and is therefore likely that he wrote the music for Golden Slumbers to reflect it.

Dekker's original text was amended slightly by McCartney. The original verse, first published in 1603 in Patient Grissil, went as follows:

Golden slumbers kiss your eyes,
Smiles awake you when you rise;
Sleep, pretty wantons, do not cry,
And I will sing a lullaby,
Rock them, rock them, lullaby.

Care is heavy, therefore sleep you,
You are care, and care must keep you;
Sleep, pretty wantons, do not cry,
And I will sing a lullaby,
Rock them, rock them, lullaby.

In the studio

Recording for Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight began while John Lennon was in hospital recovering from a road accident in Scotland. George Harrison played bass and Ringo Starr was on drums.

I remember trying to get a very strong vocal on it, because it was such a gentle theme, so I worked on the strength of the vocal on it, and ended up quite pleased with it.
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

On Wednesday 2 July 1969 the three Beatles recorded 15 takes of the songs. The best of these were 13 and 15, which were edited together the following day.

On 30 and 31 July McCartney recorded his lead vocals, and the orchestral arrangement was added on 15 August. More overdubs were added to Carry That Weight on other days, but the Golden Slumbers part was a relatively straightforward recording.

27 responses on “Golden Slumbers

  1. Ammar

    One of the great songs ever in history…

    although the lovely poem was already there, the melody is amazingly marvelous, while Paul’s voice is so strong and beautiful…, the result is a great love song..

  2. charlie

    I don’t interpret this as a love song. I think it is one of the saddest (and most beautiful) songs I know.

    The key is the the opening phrase “once there was a way to get back homeward / home”.
    Going back homeward being a shift in both location and to the time associated with home. “Sing little darling do not cry and I will sing a lullaby” being the words you would have heard at home from your mother.
    The smile that awakes you when you rise would have been your mother’s or other loved ones.
    “Once” there was a way back to all this now implies that now there is no way back, time has moved on. His mother had died. The band was breaking up. His old friends were no longer his friends.
    Its a very profound and moving invocation of the longing to immerse oneself in a lovingly remembered and less complicated past.

    1. Erik

      I find it interesting how you see this song. I see it as a good friend/wife/daughter has died. This seems more like a funeral song type. It’s what I want played at my funeral. Think about it… Once there was a way, to get back home, implying that now there isn’t. Sleep pretty darling do not cry… smiles await you when you rise, implies that she just needs to go to sleep and the pain will go away and family/friends will be there to greet. Maybe I just have a morbid way of looking at it, but its always been a sad/somber song to me. Besides, when it moves to Carry That Weight, he sings about carrying a weight for a “long time” to me there is no longer time you spend on this earth than after you die. Also he makes mention of things he never did, to me sounds regretful during this lyric. In The End he says he’s going to dream about them and the love you take is equal to the love you make, referring to the memories you made with the now deceased, are what you take with you and carry on till the end. I hope I’ve explained it well. This is one of the most interesting convos I’ve seen in a while for a great song.

  3. dole

    My mom was/is a big Beatles fan. Listening to this song as a young child, probably only a few years old at the time and thinking about how sad it was back then… kind of losing the song as my music tastes changed with age, not hearing it for years except in passing glances, makes it almost traumatic for me to listen to 30+ years later. Really triggers those childhood feelings of realizing sadness.

  4. aak

    Bloody brilliant. In my opinion, this is one of Paul’s strongest vocal performances. The bass, done by George on this, is surprisingly fitting and really hits nicely.

  5. Mean_Mr_Mustard

    Aak – why would George’s bass be ‘surprisingly fitting’? Not a surprise. He was a top-notch musician at this point, working as a session man for no less than Cream, Billy Preston and many others. And Golden Slumbers is a very simple song.

    1. aak

      By surprisingly fitting, I mean that it sounds very McCartney-ilke. I agree; Harrison was a great musician at this point and I’d expect nothing less than excellent on this performance.
      Regardless, it’s a beautiful song and a lovely bass line.

  6. Jammy_jim

    There’s a funny bit on the last Anthology disc where Paul, George, and Ringo are sitting at the mixing board listening to this song. They’re wondering who played bass and Paul says something along the lines of “I think I may have played the bass.” George, looks into the camera and, with tongue-in-cheek, says (with just a bit o’ sarcasm) “he was king!”

    1. SunSunSun

      I’d only just seen that part from Anthology where George Martin is telling the band that every take of Golden Slumbers has bass on it. George Harrison begins to say “We used to have this Fender six string bass..” and makes some high spirited wisecracks as George Martin is telling him about how all the takes of the basic track feature bass AND piano and it isn’t until this moment that there seems to be a consensus that George must have played the bass. Though it is interesting as the bass on Golden Slumbers is interesting.. it has a number of those McCartneyesque bends on it so in my mind that mystery is not solved. But still it would seem to be George.

    2. Robert Rosen

      I believe George said “He was keen”. Meaning George assumed Paul was probably impatient to lay the track down and so played both piano and bass parts himself. George Martin then concludes Paul could not have in fact have played bass on the track.

  7. aris

    The first stanza of Dekker’s poem has been made into a lullaby (Golden Slumbers). I think it is included in a Disney lullabies album. The melody is nursery-rhyme-like, very traditional, and very beautiful. But you guys are right, it won’t make you fall asleep, but I like Paul’s version better..

  8. Bill Shears

    One of my favourites…
    I have a 1 year old daughter and I sing Golden Slumbers to her everynight when putting her down to sleep.
    (Terribly difficult song to sing btw)

    1. Joseph Mendoza

      My daughter was born two nights ago. I played this song for her while I was holding her as she stared at me. I’ll play it for her or sing it to her each night going forward until she asks me to stop. It’s such a beautiful song, and it seems very appropriate to sing it to my baby girl.

  9. markburgle

    …”and it fitted with another bit of song I had” – Joe suggests he’s referring to Carry That Weight here, but I think he might be referring to the “Once there was a way to get back homeward” part, which is not in the original poem.

    I think its likely that Paul wrote Golden Slumbers as he would any other tune – i.e. thinking of it as a standalone piece, rather than as part of ‘the medley’. And the join between Golden Slumbers and Carry That Weight is definitely one that makes more sense as one song segueing into another – I don’t think Paul the craftsman would’ve made that join if he were crafting a single ‘song’ in the traditional sense.

  10. swozz

    I think it’s one of the most moving Beatles’s songs. God knows what it means, and I like the interp above of it being sad — yes, it’s so sad, cuz childhood comes and goes, and that door was once open, and there was a way to get back home, so to speak – to the beautiful innocence. But, like the Beatles, the past – our past – it goes who knows where. I really can’t think of one other Beatle song where Paul puts so much emotion into the “Golden Slumbers” refrain. It makes me want to weep. So beautiful! Thanks! I love this song.

  11. Nowhere Man

    When he chanced on ‘Golden Slumbers’ Paul was actually playing the family piano at the house he bought for his father in Heswall on the Wirral rather than in Liverpool itself, as Jim McCartney had moved from Forthlin Road and remarried in November 1964.

  12. saraspanda

    Await, not awake? From 1904 book Teachers Edition for Elementary Grades, Ginn and Co.: Golden slumbers kiss your eyes / smiles await you when you rise / sleep pretty loved one, do not cry, and I will sing your lullaby. / ‘neath the drowsy drooping lid / dreams from fairy land are hid / sleep pretty loved one…. etc.

  13. Drooper

    The instrument listing has George as the bassist. That may be problematic. Why? If you watch the Beatles Anthology, you can see Harrison, McCartney and producer George Martin listening to the original tapes on the mixing board. And Harrison assumed that Paul had played bass, whereupon Martin corrects him and says, “No, this was recorded live. Paul is on piano”. So if Harrison didn’t remember playing bass on it, it greatly implies John played it. (I’ve always been impressed by the bass playing on that track, too. It was so subtle and restrained. A delicate performance, sustaining the piano.)

  14. LMW28IF

    I’ll start by stating the obvious that the only person who really knows what the song means is Paul and I doubt he will ever say. The song is widely loved and allows each person to interpret it how best they see fit. This is just my two cents. I agree most closely with charlie. I think Golden Slumbers was a metaphor about Paul’s sadness that the Beatles were coming to an end, harkening back to when the band was fun and uncomplicated and pulling together rather than coming apart. Even though Paul technically broke up the group with the release of his solo LP, McCartney, he was the group member that most wanted the Beatles to go on. By the summer of 1969, when Abbey Road was being recorded, I think he had resigned himself to the reality that John was not going to let that happen. It’s interesting that the song is a lullaby, and a lullaby is a song to sooth or comfort a young child. But it seems like it’s McCartney really looking to be soothed or comforted. So it’s like he assumes both roles in singing the song going back and forth between comforter and the person needing comforting. In the first four lines he’s singing in a style of a lullaby as comforter, though the words reflect sadness. In the chorus he’s singing in pain, almost like his personal primal scream therapy (I know that wasn’t a thing until the next year when John used it before recording Plastic Ono Band). Then when Paul sings the repeat of the first four lines, it sounds like he is nearly in tears. I’ve always thought that Carry That Weight was directed by Paul toward John about breaking up the group, that the weight of the fan reaction would be John’s to bear. And though few knew it when the album came out, The End was intended as the swan song, beautifully done, and elegantly stated, as Ringo did his drum solo, and Paul, George, and John traded their guitar solos of two measures each in three rotations (impressively in one take). And in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make. And the band walks off the stage as a unit forever…though not before Paul peeks his head back out and winks with Her Majesty. Those old enough to remember the night John Lennon was killed probably remember many details about what they did and how they felt. I instinctively wanted to hear this medley of three songs, reflecting sadness, rage, and eventually reluctant acceptance of the reality.

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