This was about a dream girl. When Paul and I wrote lyrics in the old days we used to laugh about it like the Tin Pan Alley people would. And it was only later on that we tried to match the lyrics to the tune. I like this one. It was one of my best.
Of the Rubber Soul songs, musically it is most closely related to McCartney’s ‘Michelle’, with its acoustic instrumentation, minor chord changes and skillful vocal harmonies. Part of the music for ‘Girl’ was actually written by McCartney while on a Greek holiday in September 1963.
In the song ‘Girl’ that John wrote, there’s a Zorba-like thing at the end that I wrote which came from that holiday. I was very impressed with another culture’s approach because it was slightly different from what we did. We just did it on acoustic guitars instead of bouzoukis.
Lyrically, meanwhile, it presented a femme fatale figure, ‘the kind of girl you want so much it makes you sorry’, whom the song’s protagonist finds himself helplessly drawn towards.
‘Girl’ is real. There is no such thing as the girl; she was a dream, but the words are all right. It wasn’t just a song, and it was about that girl – that turned out to be Yoko, in the end – the one that a lot of us were looking for.
The sharp intake of breath during the chorus was either an approximation of lascivious heavy breathing, or a none-too-subtle reference to marijuana smoking. Much of Rubber Soul was recorded during The Beatles’ heaviest pot-smoking phase, and by late 1965 they had become adept at inserting drug references into their songs.
My main memory is that John wanted to hear the breathing, wanted it to be very intimate, so George Martin put a special compressor on the voice, then John dubbed it.
The group’s fondness for innuendo extended to the middle section’s backing vocals, in which Lennon and McCartney repeatedly sang the word ‘tit’.
It was always amusing to see if we could get a naughty word on the record: ‘fish and finger pie’, ‘prick teaser’, ‘tit tit tit tit’. The Beach Boys had a song out where they’d done ‘la la la la’ and we loved the innocence of that and wanted to copy it, but not use the same phrase. So we were looking around for another phrase, so it was ‘dit dit dit dit’, which we decided to change in our waggishness to ‘tit tit tit tit’, which is virtually indistinguishable from ‘dit dit dit dit’. And it gave us a laugh.
It was to get some light relief in the middle of this real big career that we were forging. If we could put in something that was a little bit subversive then we would. George Martin might say, ‘Was that “dit dit” or “tit tit” you were singing?’ ‘Oh, “dit dit”, George, but it does sound a bit like that, doesn’t it?’ Then we’d get in the car and break down laughing.
After The Beatles split up Lennon claimed that ‘Girl’ was inspired in part by his feelings towards Christianity. In March 1966 the journalist Maureen Cleave conducted an interview in which Lennon asserted that the group were “more popular than Jesus now”, a remark which jeopardised The Beatles’ career in many countries.
While considerably more subtle, ‘Girl’ nonetheless betrays Lennon’s fascination with religion. He later told Rolling Stone that his opposition to the church was due to his upbringing.
I was just talking about Christianity in that – a thing like you have to be tortured to attain heaven. I’m only saying that I was talking about ‘pain will lead to pleasure’ in ‘Girl’ and that was sort of the Catholic Christian concept – be tortured and then it’ll be all right, which seems to be a bit true but not in their concept of it. But I didn’t believe in that, that you have to be tortured to attain anything, it just so happens that you were.
Rolling Stone, 1970
In the studio
The rhythm track was completed in just two takes, with a number of overdubs then added. These included a fuzz guitar part played by George Harrison, which was left off during the mixing stage.