I Want To Hold Your Hand

I Want To Hold Your Hand single - United KingdomWritten by: Lennon-McCartney
Recorded: 17 October 1963
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Norman Smith

Released: 29 November 1963 (UK), 26 December 1963 (US)

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

Available on:
Past Masters
Anthology 1
On Air - Live At The BBC Volume 2

Released on 29 November 1963, I Want To Hold Your Hand sold more than a million copies on advanced orders alone. It became the group's first US number one, and kick-started the British Invasion of America.

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The song was written by Lennon and McCartney in the basement of Jane Asher's parents' house in Wimpole Street, London.

We wrote a lot of stuff together, one-on-one, eyeball to eyeball. Like in I Want To Hold Your Hand, I remember when we got the chord that made the song. We were in Jane Asher's house, downstairs in the cellar playing on the piano at the same time. And we had, 'Oh you-u-u... got that something...' And Paul hits this chord and I turn to him and say, 'That's it!' I said, 'Do that again!' In those days, we really used to absolutely write like that - both playing into each other's nose.
John Lennon, 1980
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

At the behest of Brian Epstein, I Want To Hold Your Hand was composed with the American market in mind.

From Me To You was released - a flop in America. She Loves You - a big hit in England, big number one in England - a flop in the USA. Nothing until I Want To Hold Your Hand.
Paul McCartney

I Want To Hold Your Hand is, along with She Loves You, the epitome of 1963 Beatles pop. It was recorded four days after the band's defining 13 October performance on Sunday Night At The London Palladium.

In the UK the song was a standalone single; it didn't feature on the group's second album, With The Beatles, which was released a week before the single.

A version of I Want To Hold Your Hand was included on the 2006 album Love. A shorter edit from the original studio recording was combined with a performance and crowd noise from the Hollywood Bowl, and the famous introduction from The Ed Sullivan Show: "Here they are... The Beatles!"

In the studio

I Want To Hold Your Hand was recorded on 17 October 1963, at Abbey Road's studio two. It was the first song The Beatles recorded using four-track technology; their previous releases had been completed using just two tracks.

I heard tapes recently of me counting in I Wanna [sic] Hold Your Hand, which was our first number one in the States, and I'm being pretty bossy: 'Sssh, Sssh! Clean beginning, c'mon, everyone. One, two. No, c'mon, get it right!' and I can see how that could get on your nerves.
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

The recording was completed in 17 takes. The Beatles spent some time rehearsing the song before the tapes began rolling, and according to Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn, take one was largely the same as the final version.

One early idea - take two - was to hush the vocal line "And when I touch you". Another - take four - saw Paul introduce the not uncommon 1963 Beatle 'h' into words ("Shay that shomething").
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions
Mark Lewisohn

The Beatles also recorded the single's b-side, This Boy, on 17 October. Prior to both songs, however, they taped the first of seven Christmas recordings, to be given away to members of the group's fan club.

The vocals were later re-recorded for the German market, as Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand, for Electrola Gesellschaft, the German wing of EMI. This took place on 29 January 1964 at EMI's Pathe Marconi Studios in Paris, along with Sie Liebt Dich (She Loves You) and Can't Buy Me Love.

UK chart success

I Want To Hold Your Hand/This Boy was released in the UK on 29 November 1963. Demand had been building since the success of She Loves You and the first flushes of Beatlemania. One million advance orders had been placed for the new single.

On 14 December it knocked She Loves You off the number one spot - the first time the same act had replaced itself at the top of the chart.

It remained at number one for five weeks, becoming The Beatles' 1963 Christmas hit, and stayed in the charts for a further 15 weeks. On 16 May 1964, during the peak of Beatlemania, it returned for a one-week return to the top.

41 responses on “I Want To Hold Your Hand

  1. Andrew

    The 2006 Love version actually has the studio recording playing in one speaker and the live Hollywood Bowl performance in the other, which is a little cooler than just sampling the crowd noise imo

    1. Joe Post author

      Good question. I think they were trying to establish a little motif or gimmick or their own, perhaps similarly to Buddy Holly’s trademark vocal hiccups. They abandoned it pretty quickly though – I don’t think it occurs after 1963.

      1. Deadman

        Saying “sh” instead of “s” avoids excessive sibilance, particularly when using a close microphone. These days, of course. you can just turn on a “de-esser” effect.

        ‘As I listened to the playbacks of “Misery” that afternoon, I was also struck by the way John and Paul sang the word “send” as “shend”…. Changing an “s” to an [sic] “sh” was an affectation on some American records, so it helped the Beatles sound more like their musical idols, plus it removed any potential “de-essing” problem, where, if there was too much top end (treble), the sound on vinyl would distort. That was a great little vocal trick, and they used it on a lot of their songs from then on, most notably on “I Want to Hold Your Hand”….’
        Geoff Emerick & Howard Massey, Here There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of the Beatles (London, 2007), p. 60.

      1. McLerristarr

        Interesting because on one of the Anthology videos I’m pretty sure he’s playing an acoustic guitar. I think it’s miming as well. Seems strange to mime with an instrument not even in the song. I guess he used it in the previous songs they were miming to and couldn’t be bothered changing instruments.

        1. Joe Post author

          In The Beatles as Musicians, Walter Everett claims there’s an overdubbed bass, played by Harrison. I’m not sure if it’s correct or not, but if so it’d be the first overdubbed bass on any Beatles song. According to Everett, it’s the five-note run after “…tell you something” etc in each verse, played fairly high on the fretboard so it’s within a guitar’s range.

    1. Joe Post author

      Lennon used a Rickenbacker 325 with very heavy compression applied. The result knocked out most of the guitar’s dynamic range, making it sound almost like an organ.

    2. Rick N. Backer

      In my opinion, for anything regarding John Lennon”s guitar technique and sound go to Youtube and check out the guitar videos of a guy called msjokes. He is a fountain of practical knowledge on the Beatles’s sound.

  2. carlos gutman

    The first overdubbed bass line in Beatles discography was “From me to you” (Listen to the solo: harmonica, guitar and bass playing the riff at the same time). In any case it must be Paul who overdubbed the bass in this song.

  3. Bob Harris

    When I first heard this song on Love I kept saying I do not remember the drums sounding this great. I think that is because they were not featured as prominently in the mix. I am not a musician but I love Ringo’s drumming on this song.

  4. Martin Mocha

    You people can NEVER get it right. Lennon’s guitar accomplished that incredible, unique sound because an RT-3 Hammond organ was fused on top of it, later added by George Martin using extreme compression and some distortion, paralleling Lennon’s 5th intervals with Chuck Berry style 6th tone where appropriate just as Martin integrated his piano with George’s 12 string on a Hard Days Night and many other tunes. I wrote Martin and he finally answered that “keyboards were probably used” on that recording although he admitted his memory was a bit spotty.
    There is not ONE singular example of John’s guitar, during live performances of the tune, sounding remotely close to the layered, textured sound waves emitted during the actual recording.
    At 8 seconds into the song, if one listens to an isolated backing track of just John’s guitar, bass and drums, you can hear the stealth organ come with low register keys to cleverly disguise itself as a guitar blending in perfectly with John’s Rickenbacker. The fact that most people either refuse to “hear” it or can’t hear it is pathetic because of the iconic image of the Fabs playing that song on Sullivan , etc., which optimized the image of their stage presentation, i.e., two guitars, bass and drums. Martin had just used the Hammond RT-3 just days before the recording of IWTHYH to superimpose it on another guitar for I Wanna Be Your Man except it was more overt with the glissando runs.
    For IWTHYH, he cleverly decided to mesh the organ more covertly with Lennon’s guitar to make it far more powerful considering they now had a 4 track Telefunken recorder and this was to be THE song that would break the US market, so he pulled every trick. He often “disguised” his keyboards when blending them with a guitar so here again, he worked his magic which is why it sounds so great and WHY Lennon NEVER duplicated that sound live on his guitar.
    Without those low key organ notes blending with Lennon’s guitar, it just would have sounded like a typical guitar as you hear on tunes like Roll Over Beethoven, Long Tall Sally (where he also does the first guitar solo and George does the second) or I Saw Her Standing There, Don’t Bother Me etc..where John hit a lot of low register root and 5th notes during chords, except for I Saw Her Standing There where he also strummed through the whole chords on E7, A7 etc..

    In fact, the only released outtake of IWTHYH, which is only a partial segment, you can hear Lennon warming up his C to D opening chords and even though it has the same somewhat compressed, bassy tone, it sounds nothing like it does on the final recording and as I said, on the final, it is just John’s guitar playing the opening C to D chords but just as they start “Oh yeah I’ll”, you hear the tonality and power radically change and become far more powerful, deep and almost out of phase which is characteristic to TWO instruments. The biggest giveaways are on the B7 chords where the organ is pounding out the root and 7th tones adding a larger dimension to the just one guitar, the middle eight where John is actually playing soft open chords, Dm, G, C, Am while the organ and Pauls double stops are hitting on the 5th intervals then at the end, after John and George’s guitars stop on the G chord, its the ORGAN that slowly decays with a prominent D note ringing though on that final G chord.
    An isolated mix I was privy to, features John’s guitar, bass, drums and the stealth organ on track 1, meaning that after Martin added the organ on track three (or 4), he mixed it down with track one to make one fused track. Track two featured Georges lead guitar; track three featured and an additional guitar and bass overdub for the chromatic passage, an extra Lennon vocal for the middle eight, a clever dub of John & Paul singing an additional “Hand” during the crescendo of “Hand” on the refrain, and hand claps. Track four featured the final dual lead vocals of John and Paul.
    If IWTHYH had simply featured John’s guitar alone as the primary backing/rhythm instrument, the final recording would have been far weaker and it would have sounded exactly as it does when you hear any of the live versions. Take a listen to a few of the BBC studio recordings of IWTHYH and you’ll hear what Lennon’s guitar really would have sounded like without George Martin’s clever little organ inclusion. Case closed:-)

    1. Billy Shears

      This the first Beatle song I ever heard. I was 7 years old when my older brother bought the 45 new in ’64. Even as a little kid, I knew something was very different about them. I played the crap out of the 45. – and I still have it. By the way – I think that the 45 of “I want to hold your hand” and flip side ” I saw her standing there” are the best combo of songs ever released on a 45 record.

    2. Domino

      The version I like to hear is the first stereo mix from ’63 that is on the Singapore Greatest Hits album. That has singing out of one speaker & music from the other. Crazy? yes, but I just like hearing that for a change!

    3. Wabash Slim

      Martin Mocha has it right. I have some outtakes of this and John’s guitar is plainly heard without the organ layer. He’s playing the Capri’s bridge pickup with the tone control turned way down giving it that woolly muffled sound. Also read somewhere George Martin’s own account of how he overdubbed the organ after the others had gone home. For many years I had been burdened with not knowing how they got that sound – couldn’t sleep, bad stomach, bad mood swings – then I found Martin’s account and my life was right again.

  5. John Lennon fan

    The more I listen to this song, it sounds like a single tracked John singing in unison with a double tracked John in the verses and the first middle eight.
    Then on the refrain, the double tracked John reaches for the high notes while the single tracked John sticks to the low harmony ( Paul could not sing low vocals well, case in point “Love Me Do”) The only time I hear Paul clearly is on the second “I wanna hold your haAaAaAand” of each refrain, the second repeat of the middle eight and the final “I wanna hold your hand” in the last refrain

  6. John Lennon fan

    John of course, couldn’t sing both parts live, so to give the same effect, they had Paul sing with John instead. This gave people the impression that the recording must have been John and Paul as well.
    on the live versions though, Paul is almost singing a slight harmony on the verses, showing that he was unfamiliar with how to sing it. So unless he completely forgot how to sing in unison for every live performance, I’m convinced that Paul only does harmony on I want to hold your hand

  7. John Lennon fan

    George Martin made one of the biggest mistakes of his career by not including I Want To Hold Your Hand / This Boy and She Loves You / I’ll Get You on this album. It would be hailed as one of their greatest to this day

    1. malevans

      Beatles never put their singles on the early albums. They felt it wasn’t giving good value.
      The way Capitol butchered their albums until they couldn’t with Sgt. Pepper made quite a mess, putting out other albums to pick up the loose songs cut off the British versions.

  8. Johan cavalli

    Lennon and McCartney said they did the song “together”. But my feeling have always been that it´s more of Lennon´s kind of music than McCartney´s. In the beginning where the notes are falling to “…you´ll understand…” the interval is similar to the beginning of From Me To You (Lennon composed the A-bit) and the beginning of Tomorrow Never Knows (Lennon composition). And when they come to “…I wanna hold your hand…” they are singing on the same note, and that is typical for Lennon. After that it comes to an octave running! the climax and the most important bit in the song! very typical Lennon, similar to the running in his Please Please Me: “…it´s so hard to listen to YOU…”.
    The melody in the middle part “…and when I touch you…” is almost the same as the B-bit in Lennon´s Don´t Let Me Down, and the middle part in Starting Over. Perhaps Lennon wanted to exaggerate McCartney´s contribution, because Lennon was so dominant at that time.
    George Martin had more understanding for McCartney´s music, a music more like the popular music in the 1930s. than for Lennon´s. George Martin often misunderstood Lennon. 1964 there was released an album Off The Beatle Track with instrumental versions of Beatles songs by George Martin. In I Want to Hold Your Hand, George Martin missed the octave running — the most important bit in the song! — instead it continued on the same note. There was no octave running just a continuing on the same note!!

  9. Tom Seiler

    There is one thing that no one ever notices about this song. Do you know what a beat note is? It is usually heard when tuning a guitar. Two almost identical notes are struck at the same time and they beat against each other until they are in tune. Then the beating stops. Let’s say you are playing an A 440 and you also play a slightly flat A 437. You will hear three beats per second. As you tune the flat note up to A 438 it will give you two beats per second and at A 439 you get one beat per second. Once they are in tune the beating stops. Now listen to Paul and John singing “I can’t hide” at 1:08 to 1:10 and you can hear their voices beating like crazy. It happens at 1:49 also. This is the only time I have ever heard singing beating. It helps to listen in headphones.

      1. Lex Lewis

        Hi Jack. A-440 is the A above middle C. If you strike a standard A tuning fork, it is an A-440 or 440 vibrations per second. An octave higher is A-880. A above middle C is used when an orchestra tunes up since all the string instruments have an open A string.

  10. kenneth

    John and Paul sang the song together as they did live. The myth keeps growing about Lennon being more dominant in the beginning. He wasn’t. Paul played guitar and piano. John learned, although never could play keyboard well. I’m a fan of both but listen to the outtakes of I want to hold your hand. You can hear who the boss was. Listen to the Quarryman talking about Paul. They would know. John say more than once Mccartney had quite a few songs before the Beatles.

  11. Mythographer

    Can anyone comment on the middle eight, where it stars on the V as a minor, which becomes the ii of a ii, V, I progression in C (Dm, G, C)? That move to the V- was repeated often by both John and Paul, for example in “Another Girl”. I can’t help but wonder if they learned how to do that from watching,listening to Roy Orbison. The move is identical to the middle section of “Pretty Woman” using the same Dm, G, C sequence, except that “Pretty Woman” is in the key of A while IWTHYH is in the key of G. As with any modulation to a different key, the trick is getting back to the original key. The two songs manage it in different ways. My question is, who copied who? Does anyone know when Orbison first broke out “Pretty Woman” on tour? Did the Beatles hear it before they wrote Hand or was it the other way around? Maybe Orbison nicked it from them! All’s fair…

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