Released: 20 March 1964 (UK), 16 March 1964 (US)
Can’t Buy Me Love was The Beatles’ sixth British single, released with the b-side You Can’t Do That. It was written while the group were in Paris for a 19-date residency at the city’s Olympia Theatre.
Personally, I think you can put any interpretation you want on anything, but when someone suggest that Can’t Buy Me Love is about a prostitute, I draw the line. That’s going too far.
The song is believed to have been written at the Hotel George V in Paris. The Beatles had an upright piano moved into the corner of their suite, to enable them to work on songs for their forthcoming début film.
Can’t Buy Me Love is my attempt to write a bluesy mode. The idea behind it was that all these material possessions are all very well but they won’t buy me what I really want. It was a very hooky song. Ella Fitzgerald later did a version of it which I was very honoured by.
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles
Written by Paul McCartney, Can’t Buy Me Love became the first of the group’s singles to feature just one singer. John Lennon may have felt his position as The Beatles’ leader was threatened by the move; following the release of the single, Lennon wrote the majority of songs on the A Hard Day’s Night album.
That’s Paul’s completely. Maybe I had something to do with the chorus, but I don’t know. I always considered it his song.
All We Are Saying, David Sheff
Can’t Buy Me Love featured twice in the A Hard Day’s Night film. The first was a scene in which they escape from the television studio to fool around in a field; the other involved the group running to and from a police station, with law officers in hot pursuit.
It was the first film for which I wrote the score, and I had the benefit of having a director who was a musician. We recorded the songs for the film just as we would ordinary recordings, and Dick [Lester] used a lot of songs we’d already recorded. Can’t Buy Me Love, for example, which was used twice in the picture.
In the studio
Can’t Buy Me Love was mostly recorded on 29 January 1964 at EMI’s Pathé Marconi Studios in Paris. It was completed in just four takes following the recording of Sie Liebt Dich and Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand, which finished ahead of schedule.
George Martin suggested during preliminary rehearsals that they begin the song with the chorus. The decision was later described by writer Ian MacDonald as a change “so obvious that they would have made it themselves had they tried the tune out earlier”.
I thought that we really needed a tag for the song’s ending, and a tag for the beginning; a kind of intro. So I took the first two lines of the chorus and changed the ending, and said ‘Let’s just have these lines, and by altering the second phrase we can get back into the verse pretty quickly’. And they said, ‘That’s not a bad idea, we’ll do it that way’.
The first two takes of Can’t Buy Me Love, the second of which can be heard on Anthology 1, were recorded in the bluesy style in which the song was originally conceived. Paul McCartney taped a guide vocal which was later replaced at Abbey Road.
John Lennon and George Harrison’s backing vocals, in which they sang “Ooh, satisfied”, “Ooh, just can’t buy” in response to McCartney’s lead lines, were swiftly discarded. As was Harrison’s original guitar solo, though it can still be heard underneath the version he later overdubbed, due to microphone ‘bleed’.
We took the tapes from that back to England to do some work on them. I once read something that tries to analyse Can’t Buy Me Love, talking about the double-track guitar – mine – and saying that it’s not very good because you can hear the original one. What happened was that we recorded first in Paris and re-recorded in England. Obviously they’d tried to overdub it, but in those days they only had two tracks, so you can hear the version we put on in London, and in the background you can hear a quieter one.
It had the same level of excitement as previous Beatles singles and was quickly slated to be an A-side, but first there was a technical problem to be overcome, discovered when the tape was brought back and played at our studios. Perhaps because it had been spooled incorrectly, the tape had a ripple in it, resulting in the intermittent loss of treble on Ringo’s hi-hat cymbal. There was tremendous time pressure to get the track mixed and delivered to the pressing plant, and due to touring commitments the Beatles themselves were unavailable, so George and Norman took it upon themselves to make a little adjustment.
As I eagerly headed into the engineer’s seat for the first time, Norman headed down into the studio to overdub a hastily set-up hi-hat onto a few bars of the song while I recorded him, simultaneously doing a two-track to two-track dub. Thanks to Norman’s considerable skills as a drummer, the repair was made quickly and seamlessly.
Here, There and Everywhere
By the time Can’t Buy Me Love was released, The Beatles were a bona fide worldwide phenomenon. The song topped the charts of almost every country in which it was released.
Issued in the USA slightly earlier than in Britain, it sold over two million copies in its first week, and was awarded a gold disc on the day of release, 16 March 1964.
It set four records on the Billboard Hot 100. The first was the biggest jump to the top spot, up from number 27. The Beatles also held the entire top five positions on the 4 April 1964 chart – Can’t Buy Me Love was accompanied by Twist And Shout, She Loves You, I Want To Hold Your Hand and Please Please Me. Such an achievement has never been equalled.
Can’t Buy Me Love gave The Beatles a record-breaking three consecutive number one singles, the previous ones being I Want To Hold Your Hand and She Loves You. Furthermore, during the song’s second week at the top, from 11 April, the group had 14 songs on the Hot 100 simultaneously.
In Britain it broke fewer records, but was still a phenomenal smash hit. Can’t Buy Me Love had advance orders of over one million, and became the group’s fourth UK number one single.