Can’t Buy Me Love

Can't Buy Me Love single - United KingdomWritten by: Lennon-McCartney
Recorded: 29 January; 25 February; 10 March 1964
Producer: George Martin
Engineers: Norman Smith, Geoff Emerick

Released: 20 March 1964 (UK), 16 March 1964 (US)

Paul McCartney: vocals, bass
John Lennon: acoustic rhythm guitar
George Harrison: lead guitar, rhythm guitar
Ringo Starr: drums
Norman Smith: hi-hat

Available on:
A Hard Day's Night
Anthology 1
Live At The BBC

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.

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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.
Paul McCartney, 1966

The song is believed to have been written at the Hotel George V. 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.
Paul McCartney
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.
John Lennon, 1980
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.
George Martin

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'.
George Martin

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.
George Harrison

The second solo was recorded on 25 February 1964 - George Harrison's 21st birthday - the same day that McCartney taped his final lead vocals.

The stereo mix also included a hi-hat overdub recorded by studio engineer Norman Smith. This was done on 10 March 1964, while The Beatles were filming A Hard Day's Night.

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.

Geoff Emerick
Here, There and Everywhere

Chart success

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.

29 responses on “Can’t Buy Me Love

  1. Deadman

    Norman Smith also added some hi-hat, according to Geoff Emerick:
    “[T]here was a technical problem to be overcome …. the tape had a ripple … resulting in the intermittent loss of treble on Ringo’s hi-hat cymbal. There was tremendous pressure to to get the track mixed and … the Beatles themselves were unavailable, so George [Martin] and Norman [Smith] 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 [Abbey Road] 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 (2007), p. 81

    1. Joe Post author

      That’s really interesting. Thanks for the info. I might have to get hold of Geoff’s book, although the accuracy of much of what he’s written has been disputed by various people (see fellow engineer Ken Scott’s blog entry here).

      1. Deadman

        Why should having a four-track recorder preclude a two-track to two-track dub?
        See the above quote from George Harrison: “Obviously they’d tried to overdub it, but in those days they only had two tracks”.
        (When The Beatles recorded Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand, the original four-track tape of I Want To Hold Your Hand was mixed down to two tracks, leaving two tracks whereon they recorded their vocals in German, and dubbed hand-claps. George might have forgotten that they had been recording in four-track since This Boy, or he might have been thinking of their similarly having only two tracks out of four left for all later dubbing.)
        The point is, all four tracks were full–hence the ‘pentimento’ of George’s original lead break behind the dubbed lead break–, so superadding some hi-hat would have required another machine and a two-track dub (i.e., using two tracks out of four, not nece using a two-track machine) to retain the correct stereo picture; accordingly, Emerick’s mention of the two-track dubbing, for me, gives more validity to the story, not less.
        It was well known, before his book, that there had been a session whereat an unknown drummer seemingly worked on CBML, and Emerick’s account identifies that previously mysterious figure.

        1. mr. Sun king coming together

          That’s all fine. A two track to Two track overdub only works on twin track machines like used on PPM and WTB. He would have simply dropped into the track with the drums (1, I’m presuming) and played the little hi-hat needed.

          1. Deadman

            I think you missed the point: Emerick’s account explains that the tape was damaged, necessitating a tape-to-tape dub simultaneously with Smith’s overdub. Not only would dropping in a hi-hat part be almost impossible onto a complete drum track (supposing that only drums were on the track, even if the track were in perfect condition) but the track was damaged and included drums already mixed with other instruments.

      2. Danny Maris

        I remember listening to this track a lot in a pub I used to frequent with friends. It was a few years – maybe 6 or 7 – after the track came out, so the record was probably very worn. I was struck at the time by how much cymbal/hi-hat sound there was on it. So I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there was an overdub.

  2. Elsewhere Man

    I always wondered about that “other” guitar solo. It gives it a bit of a rockabilly feel.

    Well, since it’s the song of the day, I shall give it a spin…er click…

  3. harley621

    I just found a 45 labeled can’t buy me love by the Beagles. (Lennon-McCartney)
    it is on a HIT RECORDS 45 it also says Northern Songs Music, Ltd.
    Anybody ever hear of this record? Is it just a missprint?

    1. Duggan21122012

      I don’t know where the Beagles part came from. The Beagles were a Cartoon that used a Jan and Dean motif. They would write songs and go through hell trying to get them published because of their manager’s goofs.

      1. Duggan21122012

        Spar Records was affiliated with Hit, and Modern Sound Records, all known for recreating hits by current artists. There were a bunch of house musicians who played on these 45s using names like The Jalopy Five, and The Chellows, among others. Bobby Russell was one of the more prolific artists to record on these labels with The Beagles as the backup band. Bobby Russell and The Beagles (Roll Over Beethoven). There may have been some sort of business deal with this band and Northern Songs Music, Ltd.

  4. Michael Fontana

    It’s interesting that this is the first Beatles record released with only one singer, because the anthology version has a background chorus that was apparently dropped later on. I liked the version with the background singing better, in fact!

  5. Wayne Estes

    I also have a 45 record of Can’t Buy My Love on a HIT Records lable and it lists (Lennon-McCartney) under the title and under their names is the group name THE BEAGLES. I heard of this years ago and have had this 45 since new back in about 1964. What is its history?


  6. laconic1

    Did they record a special version of Can’t Buy Me Love for Around the Beatles? In the video, John is singing. It does sounds like there are two vocal tracks, but it could just be Paul doing it twice.

    1. Joe Post author

      Three times:

      From Us To You (recorded: 28 February 1964; broadcast: 30 March 1964)
      Saturday Club (r: 31 March 1964; b: 4 April 1964)
      From Us To You (r: 1 May 1964; b: 18 May 1964)

  7. Beatlemaniac

    I am a huge Beatles fanatic, but I’ve never cared for this song. It sounds generic compared to most of their other early singles. Obviously I’m in the minority on this one though…..

  8. walrusgumboot

    Beatlemaniac, I’m right there with you, never been a big fan of this…take Macca’s bassline from the Hollywood Bowl version & the backing vocals from take 2 & its a better record. My 2 cents….

  9. James Ferrell

    For me this song marks the start of the Beatles’ first “Get Back” to basics period. After putting out a string of pop song singles, with CBML and several others from 64-65 (e.g. I Feel Fine, She’s a Woman, You Can’t Do That, I’m Down) Paul and John wrote in more of an R&B feel.


    This tune captures and blends nicely in the tapestry that was Beatlemaina. It has the same high-energy sound as “I want to hold your hand”, “I saw her standing there” and “All my lovin”. Instantly recognizable as a snapshot in a special time – unlike any other sound. Interesting that the innocence of this song contrasts with the verse from “She’s leaving home” in which they sing “…fun is the only thing that money can’t buy”.

  11. Aaron Krerowicz

    I’m searching for a song that can serve as a predecessor for the blues-inspired vocals heard in the early takes of “Can’t Buy Me Love” – particularly the Harrison/Lennon responses (“Ooooooh, love me, too”, and “Ooooooh, give to you”, etc.). I’ve had a surprising amount of difficulty finding a good example. Might anybody out there know any good ones?

  12. John Lennon-George Harrison

    This is the where the other three began to lose control over Paul’s ego. For the first two albums, Paul had been mostly kept in line by John, who was regarded widely as the leader by both the band and the media, even if not in direct terms. However, after George was suddenly threatening his position as John’s wingman during With the Beatles, Paul was determined to start playing by his own rules. On Can’t Buy Me Love, the song was initially recorded with harmonies, as is the normal case with Beatles songs. However, Paul wasn’t satisfied, he needed ALL the attention, so he got rid of the harmonies and became the first beatle to perform vocals solo on a single. And unlike John, who encouraged his friends to get involved with harmonies on hit singles like I Feel Fine or Help!,
    Paul continued to sing his sides of singles solo, such as She’s A Woman, culminating in Yesterday, where Paul was the only Beatle even performing. This song truly planted the first seeds of the Beatles demise.

  13. James Ferrell

    John: “That’s Paul’s completely. Maybe I had something to do with the chorus, but I don’t know.”

    I thought that was an interesting comment. The chord changes going into the chorus (C-em-am or I-IIIm-VIm) show up repeatedly in various iconic John songs. E.g. A Day in the Life (G-bm-em in the verse), Instant Karma (G-bm-em in the chorus), Nobody Told Me (same). I wonder if John maybe suggested this chord progression.

  14. Graham Paterson

    A huge hit, written and sung by Paul McCartney.Great lead guitar by George Harrison.The B side John Lennon’s “You Can’t Do That” is fantastic. I love the two scenes in the “A Hard Days Night” film where “Can’t Buy Me Love” is played.

  15. Midori78

    On the Anthology 1 version of this song, Paul seems to skip a line at 1:40 – “Say you don’t want no diamond rings…”

    So it just kind of goes like “Tell me that you want the kind of things…Ahh-mah-mah-mah bah-bah doobie-doobie…” and then repeats it correctly, lol.

    Oops! ^^;; And I can relate, I get dyslexic like that with words and even numbers all the time.

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