Released: 22 November 1968 (UK), 25 November 1968 (US)
Paul McCartney: vocals, bass guitar, piano, handclaps
John Lennon: vocals, tambourine, lead guitar, handclaps
George Harrison: lead guitar, handclaps
Ringo Starr: drums, handclaps
Pattie Harrison, Yoko Ono: backing vocals, handclaps
Mal Evans: handclaps
The Beatles (White Album)
The opening song in the second half of The Beatles’ White Album, Birthday emerged from a jam in Abbey Road’s studio two.
The Beatles had scheduled an earlier start for their 18 September 1968 session, in order to watch the classic rock ‘n’ roll film The Girl Can’t Help It. It was showing that night for the first time on British TV, on BBC Two between 9.05 and 10.40pm.
I had mentioned to Paul a couple of days earlier about The Girl Can’t Help It being on television during this evening. The idea was to start the session earlier than usual, about five o’clock in the afternoon, and then all nip around the corner to Paul’s house in Cavendish Avenue, watch the film and go back to work.
So on the day Paul was the first one in, and he was playing the Birthday riff. Eventually the others arrived, by which time Paul had literally written the song, right there in the studio. We had the backing track down by about 8.30, popped around to watch the film as arranged and then came back and actually finished the whole song. It was all done in a day!
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn
Chris Thomas was standing in for George Martin, who was away at the time. Paul McCartney’s memory is that the song was a joint effort with John Lennon.
We thought, ‘Why not make something up?’ So we got a riff going and arranged it around this riff. We said, ‘We’ll go to there for a few bars, then we’ll do this for a few bars.’ We added some lyrics, then we got the friends who were there to join in on the chorus. So that is 50-50 John and me, made up on the spot and recorded all on the same evening. I don’t recall it being anybody’s birthday in particular but it might have been, but the other reason for doing it is that, if you have a song that refers to Christmas or a birthday, it adds to the life of the song, if it’s a good song, because people will pull it out on birthday shows, so I think there was a little bit of that at the back of our minds.
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles
John Lennon, interestingly, later claimed that the song had been written in India. While this has been disputed by others, he did throw some light on the sound effects that can be heard towards the end of the song, particularly after the final chord.
Birthday was a straightforward song to record, and all four Beatles contributed. Backing vocals were added by Pattie Harrison and Yoko Ono, and all – including the group’s assistant Mal Evans – recorded handclaps.
The effects heard towards the song’s end, and in the ‘I would like you to dance’ section, were created by a piano microphone fed through a guitar amplifier with effects added.
Based around a standard blues structure, Birthday contains one of McCartney’s finest vocal performances on the White Album. Perhaps the soundtrack to The Girl Can’t Help It – which featured Little Richard, Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran, Fats Domino and others – played a part.
Birthday was written in the studio. Just made up on the spot. I think Paul wanted to write a song like Happy Birthday Baby, the old Fifties hit. But it was sort of made up in the studio. It was a piece of garbage.
All We Are Saying, David Sheff