This Boy

Past Masters album artworkWritten by: Lennon-McCartney
Recorded: 17 October 1963
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Norman Smith

Released: 29 November 1963 (UK), 20 January 1964 (US)

John Lennon: vocals, acoustic guitar
Paul McCartney: vocals, bass
George Harrison: vocals, lead guitar
Ringo Starr: drums, handclaps

Available on:
Past Masters
Anthology 1
On Air – Live At The BBC Volume 2

First released as the b-side to I Want To Hold Your Hand, This Boy was written by Lennon and McCartney as an exercise in three-part harmony.

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Just my attempt at writing one of those three-part harmony Smokey Robinson songs. Nothing in the lyrics; just a sound and harmony.

There was a period when I thought I didn’t write melodies, that Paul wrote those and I just wrote straight, shouting rock ‘n’ roll. But of course, when I think of some of my own songs – In My Life, or some of the early stuff, This Boy – I was writing melody with the best of them.

John Lennon, 1980
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

The song was composed while The Beatles were on tour in 1963.

This Boy was another hotel-bedroom song, twin beds, one afternoon somewhere; we had arrived around one o’clock. We had a couple of hours to kill, so we thought, Well, let’s write one. Rather like the hotel where we wrote She Loves You. It’s funny, I remember the room and the position of the beds: John and I sitting on twin beds, the G-Plan furniture, the British hotel with olive green and orange everywhere, that marvellous combination, the colours of vomit.
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

Based on the circular chord sequences that were a staple of American doo-wop recordings, This Boy showcased the group’s skill at singing in close harmony, along with a blistering middle eight sung by John Lennon.

It was very co-written. We wanted to do a close-harmony thing, we liked harmonies and we were quite good at them. We used to do a close-harmony version of the Teddy Bears’ To Know Her Is To Love Her, which was good for the versatility in the band. We weren’t all rock ‘n’ roll, we could change the pace, which was always nice after you’d played for three hours. We wrote it in two-part harmony and then put the third part in for George to sing; we’d never actually tried to write something like that. Nice middle, John sang that great, then we’d go back into the close-harmony thing.
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

The song drew notable attention from The Times newspaper’s music critic William Mann. In a famously florid article on Lennon and McCartney’s songwriting, published on 27 December 1963, he wrote:

The slow, sad song about ‘This Boy’, which features prominently in Beatle programmes, is expressively unusual for its lugubrious music, but harmonically it is one of their most intriguing, with its chains of pandiatonic clusters, and the sentiment is acceptable because voiced cleanly and crisply.

An orchestral version of This Boy, scored by George Martin, was included in the A Hard Day’s Night film. It later appeared on his 1964 album Off The Beatle Track, and on the film’s US soundtrack release.

I had scored an instrumental version of This Boy as part of the background music, and I used it for the sequence where Ringo is wandering by the river. We called it ‘Ringo’s Theme’, and it got into the charts in America as an orchestral record – that pleased me somewhat.
George Martin
Anthology

The incomplete takes 12 and 13 of the song were released on the Free As A Bird single in 1995. A live version from the Morecambe And Wise Show, recorded on 2 December 1963, was included on Anthology 1.

In the studio

This Boy was recorded on 17 October 1963, after the group had completed I Want To Hold Your Hand. It took them 15 takes to complete the basic track, after which two overdubs later added.

The arrangement was largely in place before they began. One difference, however, was the inclusion of a guitar solo in the middle eight, which was later dropped. The song also had a full ending, although it was given a fade-out during the mixing stage.

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22 Responses to “This Boy”

  1. grace

    The vocal harmonies in this song are great. It sounds like 4 part sometimes cause the way its written, when its really only three. Just overall great harmonies. John had a tough time with a high note in this song. You can hear his voice crack multiple times during a session on anthology dvd and then if you watch them perform this live you see john raise his eyebrows in approval after he nails the high note. Wooohoooo john

    Reply
  2. CaroleTucson

    I never thought the Beatles ever got enough credit for their harmony singing, but they were wonderful. This song is a great example.

    Reply
    • Joseph Brush

      I always thought that This Boy had some similarities with Ritchie Valen’s We Belong Together with the exception of the middle section.

      Reply
  3. robert

    Should anyone care to get just a glimpse at the enormous talent these “lads” had, one need only watch a live performance of This Boy (Ed Sullivan is a great one).

    Not only are the harmonies as spot on as if in the studio, plus they are playing their instruments whilst singing AND – watch how relaxed they are – watch their eye contact – smiles and inside jokes all while singing incredible harmonies that people today can’t imitate or replicate.

    All this live, no in ear monitors, no fold back monitors, Ringo keeping solid time when he can barely hear the guitars. Heck they could barely hear their own guitars. Oh – not to mention “self-mixing” by gauging their distance from a single shared mic!!

    Singing and playing an incredibly intricate song (listen to the guitar triplets played while singing) under conditions today’s “super stars” would never tolerate.

    Go on, youtube a live performance of This Boy and be amazed!

    Reply
    • jay

      The “inside joke” they are smiling at the beginning of the track for is not an inside joke at all, it’s a pretty funny fumble – in the first line, as paul and george sing “That boy”, john mistakenly sings “This boy” – after which he exchanges a look with paul, trying not to laugh. On the anthology DVD you can hear them make the same mistake in the studio, this time during the fade-out part of the song, when one sings “this” and two sing “that”, after which they all break out laughing. :)

      Reply
  4. Rocky0912

    do you guys know who sang the low, mid and high parts of the vocals? They blend a little, so im having a hard time determining who sang which part.

    Reply
    • GniknuS

      Well I think it’s obvious who sang high…Ringo of course. But I think John sang low, you can definitevely hear his voice on some of the tooooooooo’s. So that would leave George for the middle, although those could definitely be the other way around.

      Reply
  5. Rocky0912

    does anybody think that there is an edit after the bridge? it sounds like there is a cut right as they go back into the verses.

    Reply
    • Vonbontee

      I’ve never noticed that, but I see no reason to believe that’s not the case. As early as “I Saw Her Standing There” they’d already discovered the benefits of splicing together different takes to create a master. If I think of it, I’ll give it a close listen tonight.

      Reply
  6. Erik

    I remember reading somewhere the speculation that this was one of John’s first songs about Julia – that it expressed some version of his little-boy feelings when men would take his mom out. It definitely has an incredible tragic ache in the lead vocals.

    Reply
  7. Granath

    More proof that the Beatles were first and foremost a vocal combo. Who else could sell this song? Who else would? have attempted it?

    Reply
  8. AlbertCunning

    “But of course, when I think of some of my own songs – In My Life, or some of the early stuff, This Boy – I was writing melody with the best of them.”

    As someone who’s always preferred Paul over John — although the ‘who-wrote-what debate’ is beginning to bore me — I must admit I love the ambiguity of John’s statement.

    Reply
    • Charlie

      What’s ambiguous? John said that he wrote “This Boy,” and “In My Life.” Paul disagrees, and claims to have written all the songs that he sang, and that he co-wrote everything (at least the hits) that John sang, too. That’s not ambiguous either.

      Reply

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