Lovely Rita

Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album artworkWritten by: Lennon-McCartney
Recorded: 23, 24 February; 7, 21 March 1967
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Geoff Emerick

Released: 1 June 1967 (UK), 2 June 1967 (US)

Paul McCartney: vocals, piano, bass, comb and paper
John Lennon: backing vocals, acoustic rhythm guitar, comb and paper
George Harrison: backing vocals, acoustic rhythm guitar, comb and paper
Ringo Starr: drums, comb and paper
George Martin: piano

Available on:
Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

Paul McCartney’s affectionate tale of a female traffic warden was originally written as an anti-authority satire. As McCartney later explained, “I was thinking it should be a hate song… but then I thought it would be better to love her.”

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Traffic wardens were a relatively new feature of British life in 1967. In America they were colloquially known as meter maids, a term which caught the imagination of McCartney via a newspaper story.

There was a story in the paper about ‘Lovely Rita’, the meter maid. She’s just retired as a traffic warden. The phrase ‘meter maid’ was so American that it appealed, and to me a ‘maid’ was always a little sexy thing: ‘Meter maid. Hey, come and check my meter, baby.’ I saw a bit of that, and then I saw that she looked like a ‘military man’.
Paul McCartney
Anthology

Some time later, a traffic warden called Meta Davies claimed she had given McCartney a parking ticket in St John’s Wood, London.

His car was parked on a meter where the time had expired. I had to make out a ticket which, at the time, carried a 10 shilling fine. I’d just put it on the windscreen when Paul came along and took it off. He looked at it and read my signature which was in full, because there was another M Davies on the same unit. As he was walking away, he turned to me and said, ‘Oh, is your name really Meta?’ I told him that it was. We chatted for a few minutes and he said, ‘That would be a good name for a song. Would you mind if I use it?’ And that was that. Off he went.
Meta Davies
A Hard Day’s Write, Steve Turner

Paul McCartney wrote the words for Lovely Rita in the Wirral near Liverpool, while walking near his brother Michael’s house in Gayton.

I remember one night just going for a walk and working on the words as I walked… It wasn’t based on a real person but, as often happened, it was claimed by a girl called Rita [sic] who was a traffic warden who apparently did give me a ticket, so that made the newspapers. I think it was more a question of coincidence: anyone called Rita who gave me a ticket would naturally think, ‘It’s me!’ I didn’t think, Wow, that woman gave me a ticket, I’ll write a song about her – never happened like that.
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

In the studio

Recording began on 23 February 1967 in Abbey Road’s studio two. Eight takes of the rhythm track were recorded, with George Harrison and John Lennon on acoustic guitars, Ringo playing the drums and Paul on piano. Take eight was the best, and onto this McCartney added his bass part.

The next day his lead vocals were taped, following which Lovely Rita was left until 7 March. On that day the song’s distinctive backing vocals and sound effects were recorded. Led by John Lennon, The Beatles made various groaning, sighing and screaming noises, played paper and combs, and added some cha-cha-chas for good measure.

The paper and combs can best be heard immediately before the line “When it gets dark I tow your heart away”. The Beatles’ assistant Mal Evans was sent to collect paper from Abbey Road’s lavatory. Stamped with the words, “Property of EMI”, the paper was threaded into hair combs and blown, giving a kazoo-like effect.

On 21 March George Martin recorded the song’s piano solo. It was recorded with the tape machine running at 41¼ cycles per second, and was mixed at 48¾ cycles. This made the solo much faster and higher pitched than it had been during the recording.

As with the backing vocals, the piano was plastered in tape echo, and also varispeeded to give a honky-tonk effect.

I used to try out funny things in odd moments and I discovered that by putting sticky tape over the capstan of a tape machine you could wobble the tape on the echo machine, because we used to delay the feed into the echo chamber by tape. So I suggested we did this using a piano sound. The Beatles themselves couldn’t think what should go into the song’s middle eight and they didn’t really like my idea at first, but it turned out fine in the end because of the effect. It gave the piano a sort of honky-tonk feel. In fact, Paul asked me to play the solo when I made the suggestion but I was too embarrassed.
Geoff Emerick
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn

28 Responses to “Lovely Rita”

  1. Dan Bryan

    I love the backing vocals and noises by John Lennon. Seriously, I realize how much Lennon improved so many of Paul’s songs …

    Reply
    • Emilio Zonszein

      Hello. I agree 100% with you. That’s exactly what I always thought when listening to this song. BTW, I suspect some informations here are wrong. I think that Paul plays the lead guitar of the opening . Once I read Mr Harrison saying that he did almost nothing in this album

      Reply
  2. Kent Bettenhausen

    I always thought it was John Lennon’s musical/vocal input that made this song wonderful … Lennon and McCartney were amazing.

    Reply
  3. EltonJohnLennon

    The piano solo is great. The best part of the whole song. Along with the strange sounds at the end.

    Reply
  4. Manfred the Bejewled Paisley Eggplant

    Varispeed was also used on Eric Clapton’s solo sound “wiggly” on While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”

    Reply
  5. BOYER

    What makes you think the solo was taped at half-speed? I slowed the tune at 50% (with audacity). The piano part seems so slooooooow, and an octave lower, which is obvious, but two things are not : the appogiature on the A chord (the little c note before the c# an e), and, particularly, the ending glissando : if you are a pianist (I am a poor one, but I can do appogiatures and glissandos), you know that they are never played this slow.
    More, if it was half-speed recorded, it would finally sound like a kind of clavichord at normal speed (as in “in my life”), but it actually sounds like a normal piano.
    That is why I think that this part was simply recorded at a normal speed.
    (several videos on you tube show it’s possible…)
    Sorry for my bad english, I’m French…

    Reply
    • Joe

      What a lot of effort for nothing. I don’t know where you got the idea that it was taped at half speed – that’s not what the article says.

      “[The solo] was taped at a slower speed than normal, to sound much faster on playback.”

      Reply
        • Joe

          I have made a little effort, over 700,000 words on this site, all of it free to access. If you think I haven’t made any effort and should say nothing I’ll respectfully ask you to go elsewhere.

          Because I’m feeling charitable, however, I’ve added some more information about this song. Maybe you could make a little effort with your politeness… Or say nothing.

          Reply
          • Michael

            Well said Joe!

            It’s perfectly clear that the piano was recorded at slower speed, especially at the very end with the fast arpeggio, but who cares about the excact rate?!

            There are many songs especially on “Pepper’s” where they recorded a lot of parts at various speeds, especially the vocals (When I’m 64, Lucy, Lovely Rita).

            He should rather complain about his own reading-comprehension than about you not mentioning if they slowed it down a half note more or less.

            Ridiculous!

            Reply
            • Michael

              Btw, looks as if this Alan POLACK is wrong in BOTH cases.
              The solo in “In my life” doesn’t sound double-speed either.

              Reply
            • BOYER

              “who cares about the exact rate?” well, I do, because I am a Beatles fan, and when I try to play this solo, it’s important to know if it was originally played in D or in E flat. I suppose some other people might be interested, especially on a site about how Beatles songs were recorded…
              Sorry for my bad english, I wish I could hear your french…

              Reply
              • Michael

                Why is that important to know?
                Try it in D and in Eflat and do what works better for you!
                That’s the way I, as a pianist, would do it.
                I’m totally satisfied with “slower speed”.
                And I’m German, btw. “Michelle” pretty much sums up my French vocabulary.

          • BOYER

            Ok let’s stop that stupid fuss…
            I made the first mistake by writing my comment in the same time I was writing an email to Alan POLLACK, about the same subject, and HE was talking about half-speed.
            The second mistake is that I did not realize that it was the webmaster replying my comment, otherwise I would not have answered that way. I am sorry, I apologize for that, and I have to congratulate you for the good and useful work you have made, especially the new info about the speed recording of “Lovely Rita”, which I did not have.
            But… I do not see what may have been rude in my first comment, and maybe you should realize how much your first comment was despising : “What a lot of effort for nothing”… At least, you could have recognized that I had pointed out something that needed to be clarified. (so you did, by addind the extra info, didn’t you?)
            Knowing now who I am talking to now, I also apologize for the “effort” I asked…
            Now I’ll make another “effort”, if you think that a comment about how a Beatles’ song was recorded is useful in this site, by explaining why I think that “Lovely Rita” was recorded in D, instead of E flat, unlike most people think. But it takes time and effort, and a little more info from you, so I’ll wait for your agreement (no charity, please) and answer :
            ” [the solo] was recorded with the tape machine running at 41¼ cycles per second, and was mixed at 48¾ cycles”
            Ok, but what was the speed of the song recording? 41¼ or 48¾ ?

            Reply
            • Joe

              OK, apology accepted. My comment about effort was that you’d taken the trouble to slow down the track in Audacity to prove a point I didn’t make. Had you not confused my words with Pollack’s it wouldn’t have been an issue.

              I don’t think the tape speed issue necessarily needed to be clarified. Although this is called the Beatles Bible it’s never going to contain absolutely every detail about the band, because it would be impossible. If I can find something out I try to add it, but I have to strike a balance between writing about things people might want to read and pursuing my own interests. As it happens I’m less bothered about actual tape speeds, but hopefully someone else can provide some more detail.

              The solo (not the whole song) was recorded at 41¼ cycles per second. When they mixed the song it was played back faster, at 48¾ cycles.

              I should probably make it clearer that I’m the site owner. Thanks for raising it – I presumed it was obvious, but I realise now that it may not be.

              Reply
  6. Tzveha

    Guys: When you play along, you realize Love Rita sounds like it’s “in the crack’ halfway between E and E flat. Honest, this is not heresay or theory. I play piano along with it and neither E nor E flat matches it because whatever tricks they used, the Beatles and George Martin et al got it to come out between two keys, E and E flat.

    Tzveha

    Reply
  7. FrankDialogue

    One of my favorite Paul songs, with nice contributions from John & George Martin.

    Irresistible melody with great lyrics.

    Reply
  8. Mister Hipster

    The members of Pink Floyd (in 1967) were Syd Barrett, Roger Waters, Richard Wright and Nick Mason, and they recorded at Abbey Road Studios, where they observed the Beatles recording this song. It’s said that the intricate layers of sound in the song inspired their song ‘Pow R. Toc H.’ from their 1967 album ‘The Piper at the Gates of Dawn’. I feel this should be included in the article.

    Reply
  9. adam

    The “lovely Rita meter maid” and “ahh” background harmonies were definitely sped up, giving it an unreal psychedelic feel, my favorite thing about this very good pop song.

    Reply
  10. adam

    I’ve been enjoying this era with all the sped up and slowed down vocals. Of course many of us know Lennon slowed down his voice on Strawberry Fields, but listen to Lucy In The Sky and you can hear he sped up his voice on that. They all sped up their voices on the group-singing in Magical Mystery Tour(“roll up”). Even When I’m 64-listen to the lead vocal-definitely sped up.
    Back to Rita; listening with headphones it seems as if the piano solo is outlined with a melatron in the right headphone, not loud, but it’s there…any opinions on that?

    Reply
  11. brian

    Forty years of listening to and enjoying this song and it wasn’t until last week I heard the subtle but distinct sound of a champagne cork popping just after Paul sings “had a laugh and over dinner”. Granted, I was wearing headphones at the time. The Beatles threw so many surprises into this album I’m still discovering them!

    Reply
  12. Robert Ziegler

    Concerning the “speed” of the song, it appears to me that the song was originally played in D major and sped up to E flat on Sgt Pepper. (Paul plays the song in D major in his performances today, which can be found on YouTube.) For a guitarist, the song is easy to play in D. One can use a capo on the first fret to play the song in E flat, but the snappy, ethereal quality of Lovely Rita on the Sgt Pepper recording, especially the vocals, suggests that Paul must have liked the accelerated sound. By the way, When I’m 64 was also sung and played originally a half step lower.

    Reply
  13. lillo78

    I also hear the pop sound after the word ‘dinner’… And also a kind of ‘hammond’ or another organ can be heard in the background while the piano solo thing is going on. Who did play that organ?

    Reply

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