I Want To Hold Your Hand

The Beatles and America

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As with many of their other early singles, the US proved more resistant to the charms of the moptops. However, the UK success of She Loves You had enabled Brian Epstein to convince Capitol Records to issue the song.

Capitol had intended to issue I Want To Hold Your Hand in early 1964, to coincide with The Beatles' first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. However, the release date was brought forward due to ecstatic reactions from radio listeners.

Alexander Kendrick, the London bureau chief for CBS News, had put together a news story and interview about The Beatles' success in Britain, to be shown in the United States. A short version was broadcast on 22 November on the CBS Morning News show, but a longer version due to be broadcast that evening was postponed due to the Kennedy assassination.

The full five-minute item was eventually shown on 10 December. Among those watching was Marsha Albert, a 15-year-old from Silver Spring, Maryland. Albert wrote to Carroll James, a DJ for WWDC-AM, a station based in Washington, DC, begging him to play The Beatles on his show.

It wasn't so much what I had seen, it's what I had heard. They had a scene where they played a clip of She Loves You and I thought it was a great song... I wrote that I thought The Beatles would be really popular here, and if he [James] could get one of their records, that would really be great.
Marsha Albert
The Washington Post, 16 January 2004

Carroll arranged for a copy of the new single to be shipped over from Britain, and Albert was invited to introduce the very first play. This she did on 17 December, with the words: "Ladies and gentlemen, for the first time on the air in the United States, here are The Beatles singing I Want To Hold Your Hand."

The song was a huge hit with listeners, and was picked up by DJs in Chicago and St Louis. Although Capitol at first threatened to seek a court order banning its airplay, they eventually decided to rush-release the already-prepared single two weeks ahead of schedule.

I Want To Hold Your Hand was released in the US on 26 December 1963, with I Saw Her Standing There on the b-side. The response was instant: 750,000 copies were sold in the first three days, and 10,000 copies were sold each hour in New York City. Capitol were overwhelmed by the demand, and enlisted Columbia Records and RCA to press extra copies.

The single began its 15-week chart run on 18 January 1964, and reached the number one spot on 1 February. It remained there for seven weeks, before being replaced by She Loves You. I Want To Hold Your Hand was also included on Meet The Beatles!, the group's debut album in the US.

One night we arrived back at the hotel from the Olympia when a telegram came through to Brian from Capitol Records of America. He came running in to the room saying, 'Hey, look. You are number one in America! I Want To Hold Your Hand had gone to number one.

Well, I can't describe our response. We all tried to climb onto Big Mal's back to go round the hotel suite: 'Wey-hey!' And that was it, we didn't come down for a week.

Paul McCartney

The Beatles capitalised on their American chart success with a triumphant series of appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, the first of which took place on 9 February 1964.

We were booked to go to America directly after the Paris trip, so it was handy to have a number one. We'd already been hired by Ed Sullivan, so if it had been a number two or number 10 we'd have gone anyway; but it was nice to have a number one.

We did have three records out in America before this one. The others were on two different labels. It was only after all the publicity and the Beatlemania in Europe that Capitol Records decided, 'Oh, we will have them.' They put out I Want To Hold Your Hand as our first single, but in fact it was our fourth.

George Harrison

The appearance consolidated Beatlemania in America, and a series of singles topped the charts throughout much of 1964. By April the group held the top five positions, and their back catalogue was plundered by labels keen to satisfy public demand.

I Want To Hold Your Hand began the British Invasion of America; following The Beatles' success, groups including The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Hollies and Herman's Hermits all found chart success during 1964 and beyond.

Among The Beatles' admirers was Bob Dylan, who said of them: "They were doing things nobody was doing. Their chords were outrageous, just outrageous, and their harmonies made it all valid." Famously, Dylan thought the middle sections of I Want To Hold Your Hand contained the words "I get high" instead of "I can't hide".

The misunderstanding came to light when Bob Dylan introduced The Beatles to marijuana on 28 August 1964.

Brian and the Beatles looked at each other apprehensively. "We've never smoked marijuana before," Brian finally admitted. Dylan looked disbelievingly from face to face. "But what about your song?" he asked. The one about getting high?"

The Beatles were stupefied. "Which song?" John managed to ask.

Dylan said, "You know..." and then he sang, "and when I touch you I get high, I get high..."

John flushed with embarrassment. "Those aren't the words," he admitted. "The words are, 'I can't hide, I can't hide, I can't hide...'"

The Love You Make, Peter Brown

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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