Good Night

The Beatles (White Album) artworkWritten by: Lennon-McCartney
Recorded: 28 June; 2, 22 July 1968
Producer: George Martin
Engineers: Geoff Emerick, Peter Bown, Ken Scott

Released: 22 November 1968 (UK), 25 November 1968 (US)

Ringo Starr: vocals
George Martin: celesta
Ingrid Thomas, Pat Whitmore, Val Stockwell, Irene King, Ross Gilmour, Mike Redway, Ken Barrie, Fred Lucas: backing vocals
Uncredited: 12 violins, three violas, three cellos, three flutes, clarinet, horn, vibraphone, double bass, harp

Available on:
The Beatles (White Album)
Anthology 3

The tender closing song on the White Album was written by John Lennon as a lullaby for his son Julian, and sung by Ringo Starr.

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After ending their previous two albums with the monumental Tomorrow Never Knows and A Day In The Life, the White Album too was brought to a close by another Lennon song. Good Night, however, couldn’t have been more different. With its almost-schmaltzy arrangement, it served as a necessary antidote to Revolution 9.

Everybody thinks Paul wrote Good Night for me to sing, but it was John who wrote it for me. He’s got a lot of soul, John has.
Ringo Starr, 1968

No members of The Beatles other than Starr appear on the recording. Instead, a lavish orchestral arrangement was scored by George Martin, transporting listeners back to the golden age of Hollywood.

Good Night was written for Julian the way Beautiful Boy was written for Sean, but given to Ringo and possibly overlush.
John Lennon
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

Good Night featured twice on the 2006 album Love, firstly as a transition between Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds and Octopus’s Garden. The song reappears at the end of the album, after All You Need Is Love, accompanied by a snippet of dialogue from The Beatles’ 1965 Christmas fan club recording.

In the studio

The group began work on Good Night on the night of 28 June 1968. Five takes were recorded, with Starr on vocals and Lennon playing guitar.

I think John felt it might not be good for his image for him to sing it but it was fabulous to hear him do it, he sang it great. We heard him sing it in order to teach it to Ringo and he sang it very tenderly. John rarely showed his tender side, but my key memories of John are when he was tender, that’s what has remained with me; those moments where he showed himself to be a very generous, loving person. I always cite that song as an example of the John beneath the surface that we only saw occasionally… I don’t think John’s version was ever recorded.
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

According to Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn, each of these early takes opened with a spontaneous spoken preamble from Starr, “along the lines of ‘Come on children! It’s time to toddle off to bed. We’ve had a lovely day at the park and now it’s time for sleep.’ Or, ‘Put all those toys away. Yes, Daddy will sing a song for you!’ Or, ‘Cover yourself up, Charlie. Pull those covers up and off you go to dreamland!’”

A rehearsal of Good Night with Lennon on piano was also recorded during the 28 June session. It was later released on Anthology 3, augmented with part of George Martin’s score.

Ringo Starr re-recorded his vocals on 2 July, and harmony backing vocals were also added. Following this George Martin made a copy of the tape and began work on his orchestral score.

All previous recordings for Good Night were discarded on 22 July, and recording began afresh. First to be taped was the orchestra, which took 12 takes to perfect.

Following this, the choir – four men and four women from the Mike Sammes Singers – added their parts. The last element to be taped was Ringo’s lead vocals, which were recorded between 11.50pm and 1.40am.

I sang John’s song Good Night. I’ve just heard it for the first time in years and it’s not bad at all, although I think I sound very nervous. It was something for me to do.
Ringo Starr
Anthology

18 responses on “Good Night

  1. Rafael

    I don’t think the Anthology version features John at the piano. The piano playing is quite good, in a way that even Paul couldn’t play. I bet it’s George Martin.

    1. thomas

      Hmmm…. if you could please cite the factual source for your comments, where it says John’s piano skills weren’t good enough so it had to be George Martin? In the same breath you also claim Paul couldn’t have played it well enough. (Hint: the only instrument George Martin played was CELESTA on the final version.)

      Listen to the anthology version (link below.) Good piano but also quite simple and distinct. To my ear the style sounds similar to John’s piano on Imagine. Or would you claim John didn’t really play piano on Imagine, either? Then also listen to Martha My Dear or Lady Madonna. Complex piano work quite distinctive to Paul. So, regardless of style either John or Paul could easily have played Good Night. These guys were experienced, if self taught, musicians. Disrepecting them is uncalled for.

      Good Night
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rM40IzExGG8

      Imagine
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=okd3hLlvvLw

      Martha

  2. Rafael

    Jesus, Thomas, I’m sorry if I offended you!
    Firstly, I’m a huge Beatles fan and I know all of their songs.
    If you pay attention, you will see that Paul was a better pianist than John. Martha My Dear is really the best example. So, I guess he could play that part in Good Night.
    Actually, playing that part is something that even George (Harrison) could do. Just not that well.
    John’s style is more rude, he would hit all the notes, but it wouldn’t sound as delicate as this recording.
    He was a great musician, no doubt about that, and he was also a great guitarrist, but his piano was really basic, just that right left right left pattern and simple chords (like Imagine).
    In Good Night, the pianist plays a very simple accompaniment, but he adds some dissonances, does some octave leaps and has a beautifull sound.
    If it really is John (wich is not impossible) it would be a happy surprise for me.
    If it is Paul, he was really inspired.
    But the most natural choice is still George Martin.

    PS. I can’t cite a factual source for this. Actually I read somewhere that it was Ringo, who admittedly could play only three chords by then.

    1. thomas

      No need to swear, I can hear you :-) Of course what I heard implied was neither john nor paul could have played this (and so maybe I jumped to conclusions on why you thought this.)

      While I now see the reasoning behind your doubt, maybe John just practiced and worked at Good Night? Certainly John was a better guitar player than on piano, but even Paul admitted Martha was difficult for him and that he really worked hard on it, but he nevertheless played it.

      Anyway I’m not offended.

      1. norman therun

        I’m not a piano player nor a musician, but piano in “Imagine” (by Lennon) and “Sexy Sadie” (by McCartney) are very amazingly magical to me. I’ve never heard any other musicians done that regardless how skillful or complicated the piano part they have.

  3. EltonJohnLennon

    I don’t understand this discussion. There is no doubt that John played the piano. It’s a very simple piano accompaniment. I’m really sure that John played it. He is the composer. It’s his song. There is no reason why Paul should have played it.

    And: John was a good pianist. He composed most of his songs on the piano. Listen to “Jealous Guy”. Very complex piano introduction. I don’t believe Paul was a better pianist. He just played the piano so often because he wanted to.

    1. aak

      It’s very possible that he played on this track. If it was him, this was his best piano playing as a Beatle. It’s not THAT complex, but from him, it’s certainly a bit more than what he usually played.

      Anyway, Lennon didn’t play that piano part on “Jealous Guy”. That was Nicky Hopkins.

  4. Julian

    I’m sure that on 28 June session Lennon played electric, rather than acoustic guitar. The photos from this day can clearly show John with his Epiphone Casino. Also on the Anthology DVD in the ,,White Album” medley of outtakes, when Ringo is saying his preamble, the guitar sound in the background is more electric.

  5. ignacio

    If you listen the song “Oh My Love” from Imagine you can hear two pianos, one electric played by Nicky Hopkins and one acoustic played by John Lennon, The one played by John Lennon is very delicate and very similar to the Goodnight piano.

    The piano from Jealous Guy is played by Nicky Hopkins.

  6. Riffking

    Been listening to this version on the Anthology 3 CD. Know what I love about it? You can hear all the Fabs at work on this track…despite it only being John and Ringo on the final version. In the Anthology version you can hear John, Paul, Ringo commenting on the arrangement and George saying “The beginning’s different now,” and then doing the count-in to the intro. Lewinson said it best: “There were no passengers in this band.” Lovely to hear them working so closely, during this very problematic period in their relationship.

  7. Tuomas

    I am the biggest John Lennon fan, but it is most obvious that John did not play piano on the Anthology version. Paul is possible, George Martin most probable. Just like Rafael already said.

    The piano playing is simple, but the style and technique is refined and sophisticated. The pianist most likely is classically trained (Martin). The style in Imagine or Oh My Love is nothing like this.

    1. appmanga

      That is John playing. John also played piano on things like “Obladi- Oblada”, “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”, “Oh Darling”, and “Cry Baby Cry”. He was a competent piano player, and got better as he got older.

  8. James Ferrell

    A very nice, tender song, but I agree with John’s assessment–the White Album arrangement is overly lush. The orchestra and the Mike Sammes singers detract from the earnestness and intimacy if the song, IMHO.

  9. hotdogsforbrains

    Wow! So many piano detectives on here today. I am a musician who plays the piano and I have no idea who is playing the piano on this song! Ha ha. I just love the song. I used to play the White album every night while I was falling asleep and this was always the last song I would hear. Good night everybody, everybody everywhere.

  10. swozz

    This might top the list of Beatle songs I’d like to have heard in rehearsal, John on guitar singing “Goodnight.” I can only imagine (bad pun.) Seriously, I actually like the lush arrangement and Ringo singing it, but I bet if John alone did it with an acoustic, it would have been like “Julia” and maybe as beautiful – understated, less-is-more, simple, direct, hypnotizing, kiddie-go-to-sleep music. Come to think of it, they wrote a few songs about sleep….

  11. asterion9

    In Lewisohn book (“Recording”) there´s a photo of the sessions, with John on piano. The part is not difficult at all. Around this time, other example that Lennon is a capable rock-pop pianist is “Hey Bulldog”. In his solo career John play piano very often (always simple) but quite good and effective.

  12. Paul J

    IMHO this is a pretty bizarre song. I suppose it’s another example of the Beatles’ versatility, but I don’t listen to it much because it’s..well…odd, really. Yes, it’s lovely that John wrote it for Julian, but I just don’t find it very compelling or interesting at all. It’s very one-dimensional and doesn’t have any hidden depth.

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