An even collaboration between John Lennon and Paul McCartney, ‘Baby’s In Black’ was written in a hotel room while The Beatles were on tour in the summer of 1964.

I better explain what John and I meant by this title hadn’t I? The story is about a girl who’s wearing black because the bloke she loves has gone away forever. The feller singing the song fancies her, too, but he’s getting nowhere. We wrote it originally in a waltz style, but it finished as a mixture of waltz and beat.
Paul McCartney
Disc, 14 November 1964

It has been speculated that the song is about Astrid Kirchherr, the German photographer and artist whom The Beatles befriended in Hamburg. She was engaged to The Beatles’ first bass guitarist, Stuart Sutcliffe, who died of a brain haemorrhage in April 1962.

‘Baby’s In Black’ we did because we like waltz time – we used to do ‘If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody’, a cool 3/4 blues thing. And other bands would notice that and say, ‘S**t man, you’re doing something in 3/4.’ So we’d got known for that. And I think also John and I wanted to do something bluesy, a bit darker, more grown-up, rather than just straight pop. It was more ‘baby’s in black’ as in mourning. Our favourite colour was black, as well.
Paul McCartney

By 1964 Lennon and McCartney had began to write alone, although they continued to help each other complete songs when the need arose. ‘Baby’s In Black’, however, was a joint effort written, as Lennon remembered in 1980, “together, in the same room”.

It was very much co-written and we both sang it. Sometimes the harmony that I was writing in sympathy to John’s melody would take over and become a stronger melody. Suddenly a piebald rabbit came out of the hat! When people wrote out the music score they would ask, ‘Which one is the melody?’ because it was so co-written that you could actually take either. We rather liked this one. It was not so much a work job, there was a bit more cred about this one. It’s got a good middle.
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

John Lennon's handwritten lyrics for Baby's In Black

‘Baby’s In Black’ became a key part of The Beatles’ live shows, right up until their final concert on 29 August 1966, at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park. They also performed it at Shea Stadium and at the Hollywood Bowl.

A version from their Hollywood Bowl show on 30 August 1965 was included on the ‘Real Love’ single in 1996. It was included as a bonus track on the 2016 album Live At The Hollywood Bowl.

In the studio

The first song to be recorded for Beatles For Sale, ‘Baby’s In Black’ was completed in a single session on 11 August 1964.

It took 14 takes to perfect, although only five of those were complete. John Lennon and Paul McCartney sang their parts simultaneously into the same microphone, to give a feeling of closeness.

The opening guitar note caused particular problems during the session. After the track was completed, George Harrison taped a number of edit pieces consisting of variations of the note, although none were used.

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