Baby’s In Black

Beatles For Sale album artworkWritten by: Lennon-McCartney
Recorded: 11 August 1964
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Norman Smith

Released: 4 December 1964 (UK), 15 December 1964 (US)

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

Available on:
Beatles For Sale

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

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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 group's first bass player, 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, 'Shit 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

The song 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 one of their Hollywood Bowl shows was included on the Real Love single in 1996, and is unavailable elsewhere.

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. Lennon and 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.

21 responses on “Baby’s In Black

  1. Elsewhere Man

    The Hollywood Bowl live version is positively surreal. They’re playing one of the most “grown up” sounding songs they had written to date and the music is being completely ignored for all the screaming. They could have been playing “Chopsticks” up there and it wouldn’t have mattered.

    They actually sounded quite good considering they couldn’t hear themselves very well.

    1. Rigby's quartet

      For sure. The live performances at the Bowl and also in the Munich video are electrifying. Makes the studio version almost tame by comparison. What a great song! Love Paul’s twirling in the middle, and George’s casual chord strums right before the end. He was singing along the whole way through without mike. Poor guy wanted in!

      1. Julian

        What the hell are you talking about?
        That kind of “one-man band” thing wouldn’t have happened until the White Album at least.
        It certainly sounds ridiculous for 1964.

    1. kirbygene

      George was like Ringo, a sympathetic musician. And like Ringo, his arrangement ideas always fit the song, like the Japanese-influenced trills on “Don’t Let Me Down”. I also like how George (and John?) treat the last verse. It has an almost bagpipes-like sound. This was one of my favorite non-hits from their early period.

  2. metzgermeister77

    I love this one, but the recording has always sounded a bit sloppy to me. Maybe needed another couple of takes to get down, but the vocals on the final one are basically perfect so I suppose you can sacrifice a bit of integrity in the backing.

  3. jameshazley

    R Moore….any real Beatles fan knows Ringo’s style well. Thats damn Ringo on this track. Julian is correct, although his timeline is a bit off. (Paul was starting to do tracks on his own, basically, by 1966.)

  4. dewman

    I heard that one day George arrived dressed in all black. One of the others said “Baby’s in Black.” Since he was the youngest, they sometimes called him baby. That is where the idea for the song came from.

  5. Kenny Miles

    Could be about Astrid.
    Could also be John singing about Cynthia, wanting John to be the man he wasn’t anymore.
    Tho written face to face, John wrote many 3/4 waltz type songs (This Boy, Yes It Is, Dig A Pony etc) while I don’t think Paul wrote any 3/4 waltz songs.

  6. Johan cavalli

    When analysing the songs musically, we have to differ melody from harmony. The melody in Baby´s in Black is very typical Lennon: Long and falling notes. Even the competitive McCartney said in later years about this song “…sometimes the harmony I was writing in sympathy for John´s melody…”. But everybody, has a tendency to say that before Yesterday they composed everything “together”.

  7. Jonas Svensson, Sweden

    Re: “Baby’s In Black was typically the third song in the group’s set, often following Rock And Roll Music and Long Tall Sally. “We used to put that in there, and think, ‘Well, they won’t know quite what to make of this but it’s cool’,” McCartney later recalled.”
    As far as I can tell ‘Baby´s in black’ was not used in that position at any known time from the 64-65 Christmas show, Europe & USA 65 and up to the last show in 66. ‘Rock and roll music’ and ‘Long tall Sally’ were the last two songs of the Christmas Show, and and the first and last during the 1966 set, in Europe 65 they had ‘I feel fine’ and ‘Ticket to ride’ between them. ‘Baby´s in black’ was used in different positions in the set for each tour.

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