A retro-style rocker written by Paul McCartney, ‘Oh! Darling’ was originally attempted by The Beatles during the Get Back/Let It Be sessions, but was eventually released as an album track on Abbey Road.
Having been some years since he deployed the larynx-shredding rock ‘n’ roll stylings of ‘I’m Down’ and ‘Long Tall Sally’ (1968’s ‘Helter Skelter’ being a notable exception), McCartney broke his voice back in carefully.
Living in Cavendish Avenue, just two streets away from Abbey Road, McCartney got in the habit of arriving before the other Beatles to record his vocals for the song.
Paul came in several days running to do the lead vocal on ‘Oh! Darling’. He’d come in, sing it and say, ‘No, that’s not it, I’ll try it again tomorrow.’ He only tried it once per day, I suppose he wanted to capture a certain rawness which could only be done once before the voice changed. I remember him saying, ‘Five years ago I could have done this in a flash,’ referring, I suppose, to the days of ‘Long Tall Sally’ and ‘Kansas City’.
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn
In 1969 McCartney thought his voice was too clear to do the song justice, and claimed he “wanted it to sound as though I’d been performing it on stage all week”.
I mainly remember wanting to get the vocal right, wanting to get it good, and I ended up trying each morning as I came into the recording session. I tried it with a hand mike, and I tried it with a standing mike, I tried it every which way, and finally got the vocal I was reasonably happy with. It’s a bit of a belter, and if it comes off a little bit lukewarm, then you’ve missed the whole point. It was unusual for me, I would normally try all the goes at a vocal in one day.
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles
John Lennon rated the song highly, though he was characteristically guarded in his praise.
‘Oh! Darling’ was a great one of Paul’s that he didn’t sing too well. I always thought that I could’ve done it better – it was more my style than his. He wrote it, so what the hell, he’s going to sing it. If he’d had any sense, he should have let me sing it. [Laughs.]
All We Are Saying, David Sheff
In the studio
The Beatles first rehearsed ‘Oh! Darling’ on 27 January 1969, during a session at the Apple Studio in London’s Savile Row. With Billy Preston on keyboards, the somewhat ragged recording turns into an improvised jam, ending with John Lennon’s announcement that “I’ve just heard that Yoko’s divorce [from Tony Cox] has just gone through. Free at last!”
As preserved on Anthology 3, Lennon then sang, to the tune of ‘Oh! Darling’:
Baby told the lawyer it’s OK
Believe me when I tell you
I’ll never do you no harm
The Beatles began recording the song properly at Abbey Road on 20 April 1969, under the working title ‘Oh Darling (I’ll Never Do You No Harm)’.
They recorded 26 takes of the rhythm track, the last of which was chosen as the basis for the album version.
The eight-track tape had George Harrison’s bass guitar on track one; Ringo Starr’s drums on two; Billy Preston’s organ on three; Paul McCartney’s piano on four; John Lennon’s guitar on five; and McCartney’s guide vocals on six.
Preston only played on some of the takes. One such attempt, take four, appears on some editions of the 50th anniversary reissue of Abbey Road. Furthermore, take seven from this date was in fact a cover version of ‘The Games People Play’ by Joe South, a contemporary hit.
On 26 April McCartney made his first attempt at a lead vocal, though this was unused, as were two takes of backing vocals.
The three-part doo-wop vocal harmonies were taped by McCartney, Lennon and Harrison on 11 August, after which ‘Oh! Darling’ was complete. 11 August, incidentally, was John Lennon’s final Beatles recording session.