Mr Moonlight

Beatles For Sale album artworkWritten by: Johnson
Recorded: 14 August; 18 October 1964
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Norman Smith

Released: 4 December 1964 (UK), 15 December 1964 (US)

John Lennon: vocals, acoustic rhythm guitar
Paul McCartney: harmony vocals, bass, Hammond organ
George Harrison: harmony vocals, lead guitar, African drum
Ringo Starr: percussion

Available on:
Beatles For Sale
Anthology 1

A staple of The Beatles' live act for some years, Mr Moonlight was recorded by the group during sessions for their fourth LP, Beatles For Sale.

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The song was written by Roy Lee Johnson. The first known recording was by blues pianist Piano Red, recording as Dr Feelgood and the Interns. It was released as the b-side of Dr Feelgood, a minor R&B hit in 1962.

In the studio

The Beatles attempted the song twice in the studio in 1964. The first time was on 14 August, when they recorded four takes - the last of these was for a time considered the best.

Anthology 1 contains takes one and four. The first broke down almost immediately; take four was complete, and featured a frantic slide guitar solo by George Harrison.

The Beatles re-made the song on 18 October. Again they recorded four takes, the last two of which featured McCartney's somewhat gaudy Hammond organ solo.

Despite a blistering vocal from John Lennon, Mr Moonlight is held by many Beatles fans as one of the least successful songs in their catalogue.

44 responses on “Mr Moonlight

  1. Arizona Joe

    I loved this song because of its pop atypicality, the aforementioned Lennon vocals, and the organ solo.

    One of the great Beatles song? No, but a fine way to add more texture to “Beatles ’65.”

  2. Burnin'

    Good word choice on “blistering” to describe John’s vocal! While some might say this was a not great song, I say not so! Each time John sings “And the night you don’t come my way…”, possibly totaling 10-15 seconds worth of Beatles history, is emblazoned in my mind as perhaps the best 15 seconds in musical history! His raw energy and total commitment there (and in so many other songs) is fantastic! Whenever I think of the particular vocal quality that John had that I loved the most, I think of this song and that line as its quintessential expression. That energy is what made John John. That makes Mr. Moonlight a top-10 greatest Beatle song in my book!

    1. Dudley Woods

      If The Beatles were Burgers on this one:
      John would be flame broiled
      Paul would be with cheese
      It is a true talent to keep a song that simple – yet perfect.

    2. andrethegiantpart2

      Thoroughly agree with you. And thoroughly disagree with the assessment above that it can in any way be described as “least successful”. If anything it is the most energised vocal performance John has left us. A five star recording.

  3. Joseph Brush

    The above comment is the best one that I have read in this particular Beatle website as of this date.
    Hopefully more comments like this will appear relating to the Beatles and their songs.

  4. Ragin'

    Burnin’ and J. Brush have got it right. John never thought his voice was all that good, but music lovers know that John’s voice was one of the most recognizable sounds of the 20th century. Paul’s too !

  5. Vonbontee

    Yeah, I never thought this one was so bad either, and I agree that it made for a nice little diversion on Beatles ’65/For Sale. Nicely weird instrumentation and a great vocal. And how appropriate that it immediately follows “I’ll Follow the Sun”!

  6. thomas

    So, just lurking and reading comments, I was curious to see what people said about Mr. Moonlight. The reason is IMO if there was ever Beatle “filler” song material, this has to be it. While I can understand the song having fans who like it, to me it just hardly seems worthy of the solid, original rockers and hits they were capable of writing by that time, especially coming off A Hard Days Night, their first album with all original songs. Of course this is only one more opine to throw into the mix since there are only a few Beatle songs I really don’t like. This just happens to be one.

    Even crediting Lennon’s effort on the vocal, I find it a horrible song (lyrically and musically.) As the B-side of a minor R and B single it says something that the most remembered version is a cover used as filler on Beatles For Sale: one, that the Beatles could take a second rate R&B tune and improve it shows how good they were, but two that Mr. Moonlight was really a forgettable song. Almost anything original by Lennon between ’63 and ’64 is 1000 times better: “I’m A Loser,” “You Can’t Do That,” “It Won’t Be Long,” “All I’ve Got To Do,” etc.

    1. J.Garcia

      I was like you and felt this was probably a filler. It probably was, but this is Lennon at his best. I always wandered why they picked this tune. They obviously saw some value in it.

      The melodic content of the song is actually quite good and every single syllable by Lennon is simply fantastic.

      I suspect that liking of not liking the song has to do with the age of the listener. When I 1st heard this tune I was 14 and it clearly made an imprint. I am not sure I would have loved the song if I 1st heard it at age 40.

    2. Kelvin

      Wouldn’t all covers be worse than Lennon’s songs of ’64?
      The song isn’t great but it has a charm I can’t resist.

      Having said that, is it on my top 50 Beatles songs? no

  7. Dave Bueche

    If you read Geof Emerick’s “Here there and everywhere” he paints a pretty negative picture of George on this one. Apparently they tried multiple times to record a fairly straight ahead melodic solo and Geroge kept flubbing it. Although Paul – at this point probably George’s equal or better on the guitar – could have played it, for the sake of face saving he laid down the organ solo instead. Obviously, by the end of the their career George was a gifted muscian, but Emerick really seemed disappointed/contemptuous in his description of this studio work.

    1. J.Garcia

      GE was also quite negative about GH solo in I’ll Follow The Sun. IMHO, the solo for this tune is perfect (including the guitar tone).

      Regarding Mr M: A guitar solo as not right for the song and that is why GH had trouble. Some songs do not need a guitar solo.

    2. appmanga

      George was a gifted musician then, but the biggest commitment The Beatles had was not to do the same thing twice, or at least over and over. That puts a serious demand on a lead guitarist who hadn’t any formal training. It’s easy to notice George’s acumen as a musician and soloist found new heights after he began to study sitar, which, it’s my guess, lead him to a better understanding of musical theory, which in turn made it easier for him to then come up with innovative solos much quicker than in the early days.

  8. GnikNus

    I think this is one of the few Beatle songs where despite the fact that the actual song is not too fantastic, Lennon’s vocals make up for it and make the song at least pretty decent…I would also look at It’s Only Love, You’re Gonna Lose That Girl, Yes It Is, Run For Your Life, etc, as other songs that he is just such a presence which makes up for the song quality.

  9. TheOneBeatleManiac

    I tie it with If You’ve Got Troubles, as the less good song of them. Because, for me, there’s no bad song or worst, only weird.
    This song inspires me for a girl, Lennon vocals are great, chorus great, instrumentation may lack, but it’s a great attempt though many people reject this cover.
    Maybe it’s true that it’s the less good cover/song of the Fab Four, but one thinks is truth. Even that, it’s great!

  10. mr. Sun king coming together

    This song would have done better on With The Beatles because then the previous album wouldn’t have been all original and there wouldn’t Be that ” This is what followed AHDN”

  11. daytripped5577

    These are some of the best comments I’ve seen on Mr.Moonlight. From the first time I’ve heard the song, I thought John’s vocals were really good and Paul’s bass was fantastic. This is in my top 20 Beatles songs.

  12. JoeD

    I always thought this tune was on the album as a gag. There are so many campy, cheesy elements to it. The warbling harmonies, especially at the end. The skating rink organ solo. The floor tom “bomb” on the second beat at the end of the verses. I think they were laughing their balls off while doing this tune.

    1. Art

      Agreed. They put their all into it nevertheless. I think they did not think everything was so intense and heavy as their legacy sometimes seems to many from a distance in time now. They cut up quite a bit, they “mach schau” on many songs/performances. Lennon readily admitted he didn’t think too much of several of his compositions – some because they were “craftwork”/filler, others because they weren’t message-laden – particularly from the early years. It’s quite natural that the same feelings would extend to cover tunes. Obviously they liked the tune. That did not stop them from taking off/flaking out on a particular rendition.

      Put me in the camp of, other than the novelty factor, this one is not that interesting/compelling. John’s vocal is nice but it’s not something you can’t hear on a least a few other tracks – Bad Boy someone already mentioned. I think the arrangement is set to highlight that dynamic vocal breakout, but what precedes it “Mr. Moonlight, come back to me,” etc. is just kind of monotonous. This may be by design, to then showcase the vocal, but it doesn’t relieve it of the monotonous quality.

  13. Daniel Celano

    Did you know there are three versions of Mr. Moonlight? Why don’t I show you the list?

    Mono 2:33
    Stereo 2:36 (Longer)
    US Stereo 2:40 (Longest of All)

    So what do you think? I think the US stereo mix of Mr. Moonlight which is the longest of all might be the October 27th mix so do you have any answers on this mix?

  14. Don

    Would “Mr. Moonlight” be a good choice for Flo Rida in the winter of 2012? No. How about including it in your live set in England in 1963-4? It depends on how the audience responds. Imagine yourself 17 years old with John delivering that performance right in front of you, with that special someone right beside you. If it comes right before “Till There Was You” and right after “The Honeymoon Song,” I think your date has a good chance of turning out alright. Give it a go, lads.

  15. cleaner100

    I always liked this song and performance, despite the negative criticism. The Beatles did surprising “curveballs” every so often (A Taste of Honey, ‘Till There was You, etc.), to show that they weren’t just any typical 60’s rock/pop band. This is perhaps the most zany of their cover versions. The song is quite unique, actually. It surprised me immensely to find it had been the flip of an R&B single. Lennon’s searing vocal is alone worth the price of admission. It’s not very nuanced, but it’s Lennon at his most exaggerated and intense. The intro is almost kind of intimidating, “Mistaaaaaaaaaaaaaah Moonlight.”

  16. metzgermeister77

    I’m not really getting a lot of the criticism of the actual song here. It’s a perfectly acceptable R&B number with nice opportunity for the singer to show off his range, and the sentiment reminds me in a way of “Mr. Sandman.”

    That said, I hate hate hated the Beatles’ recording of it for ages. It sounded lousy. None of the instruments gelled, and the only standout thing about it was John’s excellent vocals. Then I listened to the mono mix for the first time and nearly every problem I had with it resolved. It still isn’t a perfect recording and they clearly weren’t taking it entirely seriously — it’ll never make a top ten list of Beatles covers — but it’s a fun rock arrangement of a doo-woppy song, something you’d expect George or Paul to sing on Please Please Me or With The Beatles. The amazing vocals elevate the song, not to greatness, but to a rip-roaring kitschy classic.

  17. MF

    Despite the song’s cheesiness factor, undoubtedly, it is Lennon at his best on vocals. I love his tone and delivery throughout the song. McCartney is also a great vocalist, but this song shows Lennon’s edge.

  18. Lennon fan

    I agree that this would be a difficult song for any guitarist to make a good solo out of. The tempo is very slow, it doesn’t have very many chords, and the chords that there are are pretty predictable. So what the @#$% are you going to do except stay pretty close to the stupid melody, the way Paul does on the organ?

    Ive always thought of it as the worst Beatles cover of all time, with the possible exception of “Bad Boy”.

    The fact that Lennon was able put so much heart and soul into such inferior material is the only thing that salvages it… but to me it also reveals another facet of his extraordinary personality, in all its glorious mixture of arrogance and humility: it’s almost like he’s secretly smirking “Get a load of this shite— I could sing the fucking phone book and make these mugs think it’s great!”

  19. Graeme

    Interesting comments. I’ve always heard people saying how Mr Moonlight is the nadir of The Beatles recorded output but it’s never occurred to me…I could come up with a few others that I would consider worse.
    I was interested to read the comment about Paul being a better guitarist at this stage…suggesting that he could have nailed the solo but instead opted to play the wonky organ solo. Not saying you’re wrong but it’s always been my impression that George had the edge at this time…dating back to the late 50s.

  20. S. B. Fields

    One of my many theme based playlists is built with songs that have “Mister” or “Mr.” in the title.

    I only have one version of each title, sometimes a difficult choice, due to lots of great covers out there, but I wrote my rules, and I try to make my playlists ‘album length’ …10-12 cuts. Since they had to be songs I like, I waivered with Mr. Moonlight because I have always disliked Lennon’s opening “scream”. Even though I understand his need to scream (later revealed when he publicized the details of his psychotherapy with Dr. Arthur Janov), I STILL DON’T LIKE HEARING IT — fortunately, because of digital magic, I could, and did, amputate the offending noise. My 49 year old vinyl version of Beatles ’65 has scratches and pock marks right after I’ll Follow the Sun where I had yanked the needle arm away, a hundred times, sometimes at mid-scream, just to avoid hearing Mr. Moonlight. Without that yelp, it is a fine specimen

    The list has 4 Beatles songs and the others are culled from my collection. The order doesn’t matter, because I always listen on “shuffle”. Here they are in alphabetical order:

    Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite (Beatles)
    Dear Mr. Fantasy (Traffic)
    Mean Mr. Mustard (Beatles)
    Mr. and Mrs. (Incredible String Band)
    Mr. Bojangles (Jerry Jeff Walker)
    Mr. Dieingly Sad (Critters)
    Mr. Moonlight (Beatles)
    Mr. Spaceman (Byrds)
    Mr. Tambourine Man (live Dylan version UK 1966)
    Please Mister Postman (Beatles)

    I would probably add the oldie Mr. Bassman, but hadn’t thought of it until now.

  21. Jay

    As stated above, this song was a staple of the Beatles’ live act for some years & it’s included on their repertoire on their Star Club, Hamburg stint in 1962. It is a regular or one of their favorite cover song on their live lineup that time so when 1964 came, they included it in the Beatles For Sale album not just an album filler.
    Just my opinion.

    I like this song because of John’s voice/rendition & Paul & George’s voice harmony.

  22. kenlacouture

    The stereo mix of this tune is especially weak in comparison to the mono. One wonders whether this track would have a less despised reputation had the stereo version not become the more common listening experience in the the roughly two decade period between the stereo LP takeover and the release of the first official BfS CD release in mono.

  23. Sam

    I don’t get the hate. Sure the lyrics are corny but so what? The Beatles could’ve made The ABC Song sound good. Putting the lyrics aside, this song is ear candy at a purely pleasure level. Both the vocals and the gorgeous, gorgeous guitar playing during the vocals. (Okay, the organ solo could’ve been better, but maybe that part was meant as a joke.) So it’s not dripping with symbolism or double-meaning or drugs references, big whopping deal. The Beatles weren’t singing for a bunch of hardcore academic analysts in 2015, they were singing for a 1960s audience consisting largely of teenagers. If “Mr. Moonlight” had never been covered by the Beatles, and instead Lennon stuck something about a “Mr. Moonlight” into the lyrics for ‘I am the Walrus’, you over-critical types would be overflowing with nonsense about how meaningful and deep it was.

    1. Max

      That’s a pretty interesting point, actually. It’s a weird song, before they were really known for doing weird songs. Like, who exactly is Mr. Moonlight?

      Anyways, it’s a really bizarre song, mainly due to organ solo and stranger lyrics, but I rather enjoy it for those reasons.

  24. jon poole

    Mr Moonlight is pretty shite, but its fun…..I dunno why John liked it so much, coz its a pretty dreadful song anyway. What makes it even worse is that it is on the same album as Eight days a week and Rock n roll music!

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