Lady Madonna single artwork - NetherlandsWritten by: Lennon-McCartney
Recorded: 3, 6 February 1968
Producer: George Martin
Engineers: Ken Scott, Geoff Emerick

Released: 15 March 1968 (UK), 18 March 1968 (US)

Available on:
Past Masters
1
Anthology 2
Love

Personnel

Paul McCartney: vocals, piano, bass, handclaps
John Lennon: backing vocals, lead guitar, handclaps
George Harrison: backing vocals, lead guitar, handclaps
Ringo Starr: drums, handclaps
Ronnie Scott, Bill Povey: tenor saxophones
Harry Klein, Bill Jackman: baritone saxophones

‘Lady Madonna’, The Beatles’ first release of 1968, was a bluesy number written by Paul McCartney, and recorded just prior to the group’s trip to India to study meditation with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

It was also their final release on Parlophone/Capitol. From ‘Hey Jude’ onwards, The Beatles released all their subsequent singles and albums on their own Apple Records label.

The original concept was the Virgin Mary but it quickly became symbolic of every woman; the Madonna image but as applied to ordinary working class woman. It’s really a tribute to the mother figure, it’s a tribute to women. ‘Your Mother Should Know’ is another. I think women are very strong, they put up with a lot of shit, they put up with the pain of having a child, of raising it, cooking for it, they are basically skivvies a lot of their lives, so I always want to pay a tribute to them.
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

Although the gritty subject matter was a departure from the LSD-based fantasies that dominated much of The Beatles’ 1967 output, the lyrics in the middle eight of ‘Lady Madonna’ contain the words “See how they run,” an echo of Lennon’s ‘I Am The Walrus’.

I was writing the words out to learn it for an American TV show and I realised I missed out Saturday; I did every other day of the week, but I missed out Saturday. So I figured it must have been a real night out.
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

In November 2017 McCartney revealed that ‘Lady Madonna’ was partly inspired by a photograph of a Malayo-Polynesian woman surrounded by three small children. It was taken by photographer Howard Sochurek, and appeared in an article titled American Special Forces in Action in Viet Nam, in National Geographic’s January 1965 issue.

One particular issue I saw in the Sixties had a woman, and she looked very proud and she had a baby. And I saw that as a kind of Madonna thing, mother and child, and I just… You know, sometimes you see pictures of mothers and you go, ‘She’s a good mother.’ You could just tell there’s a bond and it just affected me, that photo. And so I was inspired to write ‘Lady Madonna’, my song, from that photo.
Paul McCartney
National Geographic
Inspiration for Lady Madonna, photo by Howard Sochurek, from National Geographic

Photo: Howard Sochurek

The music of ‘Lady Madonna’ was notably a throwback from the mind-expanding psychedelia of Sgt Pepper. The intro bears a resemblance to that of Humphrey Lyttelton’s 1956 hit ‘Bad Penny Blues’ (released on Parlophone, whose head of A&R was George Martin), and McCartney’s left handed, bass-led piano playing was inspired by blues pianist Fats Domino, who covered ‘Lady Madonna’ in 1968.

‘Lady Madonna’ was me sitting down at the piano trying to write a bluesy boogie-woogie thing. I got my left hand doing an arpeggio thing with the chord, an ascending boogie-woogie left hand, then a descending right hand. I always liked that, the juxtaposition of a line going down meeting a line going up. That was basically what it was. It reminded me of Fats Domino for some reason, so I started singing a Fats Domino impression. It took my voice to a very odd place.
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

Chart success

‘Lady Madonna’ was released in the UK on 15 March 1968, with Harrison’s ‘The Inner Light’ as the b-side. It entered the charts at number five on 20 March, and a week later climbed to the top. It remained there for a second week, and spent eight weeks altogether in the chart.

In the US it was released on 18 March 1968. It fared less well, peaking at number four on 23 March.