Little Child

With The Beatles album artworkWritten by: Lennon-McCartney
Recorded: 11, 12 September, 3 October 1963
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Norman Smith

Released: 22 November 1963 (UK), 20 January 1964 (US)

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

Available on:
With The Beatles

Little Child was another of Lennon and McCartney's original songs on their second album. Although written with Ringo Starr in mind, it was recorded with the writers sharing vocal duties.

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Little Child was another effort of Paul and I to write a song for somebody. It was probably Ringo.
John Lennon, 1980
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

The song, never part of The Beatles' live set, took some time to get right in the studio. They recorded it over three sessions at Abbey Road, initially laying down two takes on 11 September 1963, then returning to it the following day for a further 16 takes, including overdubs of harmonica and piano.

They had to be fairly simple. [Ringo] didn't have a large vocal range but he could handle things with good con brio and spirito if they were nice and simple. It had to be something he could get behind. If he couldn't picture it, you were in trouble. This one was co-written with John.
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

They were still dissatisfied with their progress, however, and recorded three more takes on 3 October. Despite spending a considerable amount of time on the song by 1963 standards, the performance sounds spontaneous and, at times, fairly slapdash.

Little Child was a work job. Certain songs were inspirational and you just followed that. Certain other songs were, 'Right, come on, two hours, song for Ringo for the album'.
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

According to McCartney, Little Child was inspired in part by 1950s folk singer Elton Hayes. He acknowledged the melody's debt to Whistle My Love, which featured in the 1952 Walt Disney song The Story Of Robin Hood.

'I'm so sad and lonely', that little bit came from a line: 'Whistle, my love, and I will come to thee, I'll always find you'. It's actually not the same tune, but in my mind it was a quote from Elton Hayes.
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

16 responses on “Little Child

  1. Daniel

    Since it’s the first song to show audio panning, I think the harmonica is panning to the right during the instrumental break and pans back to the left afterwards.

  2. 2much4mymirror

    Forgettable fluff though it is, I always enjoy this one. Paul’s piano chugs along nicely and John blows harmonica “con brio” to borrow Paul’s phrase describing Ringo’s singing.

    1. David

      It’s not Ringo singing, it’s John and Paul duetting! I wonder if Joe knows when it was switched from being a Ringo song.
      This has always been a favourite of mine from With The Beatles – it’s full of raw energy. To this day (I was 7 in 1963), I remember reading Tony Barrow’s sleeve notes, saying something like, “While Paul was adding the piano part, John was standing by another mike playing the harmonica,” and feeling privileged to have been given some information about how this wonderful music was created. And it’s a feeling I still get today, partly thanks to this brilliant website!

  3. Jay Lannen

    There were only two instances in the song where I was sure I could hear McCartney singing. They were during the “come on come on,” parts and the “oh yeahs” at the very end. Other than that it mostly sounded like Lennon double-tracked. Anybody have any further insight into this?

  4. Baggio

    This song and “Every Little Thing” often raise debates on their lead singer(s) – whether it was John alone double tracked or in duet with Paul.

    According to my ears, Paul is singing duet with John on “Every Little Thing”, but not on this song.
    I can’t hear Paul at all other than on the “oh yeah” at the end of the song.

    I love this song by the way – even if it’s more of a “work” song, it’s catchy, exciting and one of my favourites on With The Beatles.

    1. Musketeer Gripweed (kezron9)

      Not sure how your listening to it. I am just listening to it on youtube 2009 stereo remaster and definitely hear Paul taking the higher notes. I hear him best at the “I’m so sad and lonely” part.

      1. Julian

        I think it’s John harmonising with himself. It has that distinctive nasal timbre of his voice. The only time I clearly hear Paul is his “Oh Yeah!” at the end.

        1. Only a nowhere girl

          I agree with Julian. The “I” of “I’m so sad and lonely” sounds quite a bit like Paul, but the “lonely”, to me, makes it very clear that it’s Paul.

    2. Richard Boene

      I have to disagree. I couldn’t make McCartney’s voice out for a while either but after I listened intently to the vocals several times (particularly on the stereo mix) I came to the conclusion that they did indeed duet on this song. True Lennon’s voice is a little more prominent but I could here McCartney’s phrasing come through every once in a while.

  5. Sam

    Definitely an under-rated song. It’s hilarious if you interpret “I’m so sad and lonely” as being sarcastic. The singer is wooing a young woman on the dance-floor, saying “I’m so sad and lonely” with a big playful grin on his face.

    1. bobbytee

      Sam, I agree completely on the sarcasm! Sounds so much like John being silly. I recall a photo of young John which he sent back to his Aunt Mimi from Hamburg, and he wrote on it, “My ‘come hither’ look” or some such silliness. I feel like this line was sung in the same tone. I hear John doing that here and there on the early stuff. Like in She Loves You, when he sings “apologize to her-rer…” I feel like he’s being sarcastic on those lines. And I love it!

  6. Graham Paterson

    I love this song and John and Paul’s duet. Johns harmonica playing adds so much to this song. It is just such a catchy and infectious number.

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