Released: 30 May 1969 (UK), 4 June 1969 (US)
Written by George Harrison, Old Brown Shoe was originally released as the b-side of The Ballad Of John And Yoko. It remains a largely overlooked gem from The Beatles’ back catalogue.
I started the chord sequences on the piano, which I don’t really play, and then began writing ideas for the words from various opposites… Again, it’s the duality of things – yes no, up down, left right, right wrong, etcetera.
I Me Mine, 1980
In the studio
The Beatles performed two versions Old Brown Shoe on 27 January 1969, during the Let It Be sessions at Apple Studios. The first was sung by Harrison with just a piano accompaniment, followed by an attempt by the whole group with Billy Preston.
The next day they returned to the song, playing through it eight times, and once more on 29 January. These versions have all been bootlegged from the hours of rehearsals and jams taped by The Beatles for the Let It Be album.
On 25 February, his 26th birthday, Harrison recorded two takes of a solo demo of Old Brown Shoe. He also recorded versions of All Things Must Pass and Something, possibly so the other Beatles could learn their parts. Why he needed to do this for Old Brown Shoe is unknown – possibly he was dissatisfied with the previous group attempts, and wanted them to reconsider the song.
Each of the demos can be heard on Anthology 3. Of the three, Old Brown Shoe was the most elaborate. Harrison began with vocals and piano, before adding a number of guitar overdubs.
The Beatles eventually began work on the song on 16 April 1969. In the morning Harrison recorded a second demo version, and that evening the group taped four takes.
Track one contained Ringo Starr’s drums, while the second and third featured Harrison’s guide vocals and lead guitar. Paul McCartney’s piano was recorded onto track four, and John Lennon added rhythm guitar onto track eight.
Lennon and McCartney then overdubbed backing vocals onto track five. Electric guitar and bass parts were added by McCartney and Harrison on six, both instruments doubling up the same riffs. Harrison’s lead vocals were the last to be added, onto track eight, for which he positioned himself in a corner of the studio to give an intimate sound.
Two days later Lennon’s rhythm guitar was wiped in favour of a Hammond organ part. Another lead guitar track was also recorded, both of which were played by Harrison.