The thrilling closer to the Please Please Me album, ‘Twist And Shout’ showcased The Beatles at their primal, glorious, rock ‘n’ roll best.
‘Twist And Shout’ was written by Phil Medley and Bert Russell. It was originally recorded by the Top Notes in 1961, although a version by The Isley Brothers released the following year became more popular.
It entered The Beatles’ live repertoire in 1962 – a live version from Hamburg’s Star-Club in December that year is available on bootleg recordings. The earliest known version, however, was recorded for the BBC’s Talent Spot radio show on 27 November 1962 at the corporation’s Paris Studio, London.
Unfortunately the recording has since been lost. The Beatles recorded ‘Twist And Shout’ ten times in total for BBC radio shows, none of which appeared on the Live At The BBC collection.
The best-known version, of course, was recorded for the Please Please Me album. The session took place on 11 February 1963, when it was the last of 10 songs recorded for the album that day.
‘Twist And Shout’ continued to be part of The Beatles’ live set following the album’s release. It was the final song at their Sunday Night at the London Palladium performance on 13 October 1963, widely held to signal the start of Beatlemania.
For our last number I’d like to ask your help. The people in the cheaper seats clap your hands. And the rest of you, if you’d just rattle your jewellery. We’d like to sing a song called ‘Twist And Shout’.
Royal Command Performance, 1963
The Beatles continued to perform ‘Twist And Shout’ until the end of their August 1965 US tour, which culminated in a performance at the Cow Palace, San Francisco, on 31 August. An incomplete recording of the song, taken from a radio report of the show, survives on bootleg.
In the studio
‘Twist And Shout’ was recorded on 11 February 1963 after 10pm, the time the Please Please Me album session was scheduled to have ended. Producer George Martin wanted a show-stopper with which to close the album, and he had just one song in mind.
I knew that ‘Twist And Shout’ was a real larynx-tearer and I said, ‘We’re not going to record that until the very end of the day, because if we record it early on, you’re not going to have any voice left.’ So that was the last thing we did that night. We did two takes, and after that John didn’t have any voice left at all. It was good enough for the record, and it needed that linen-ripping sound.
Over coffee, biscuits and warm milk, The Beatles and the production staff decided that the only option was the band’s biggest crowd-pleaser: their cover of ‘Twist And Shout’, a hit for The Isley Brothers from the previous year.
With time against them and John Lennon’s voice on the verge of giving up, they knew they had to get it right first time.
By this time all their throats were tired and sore – it was 12 hours since we had started working. John’s, in particular, was almost completely gone so we really had to get it right first time, The Beatles on the studio floor and us in the control room. John sucked on a couple more Zubes [throat sweets], had a bit of a gargle with milk and away we went.
The Beatles treated the control room staff as their audience, pretending they were in a live performance and hyping themselves up accordingly.
John was stripped to the waist to do this most amazingly raucous vocal. The next morning Norman Smith and I took a tape around all the studio copying rooms saying to everybody: ‘What the hell do you think of this!’
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn
John Lennon gave the throat-shredding performance of his career. Paul McCartney and George Harrison joined for the harmonies, and all the band – not least Ringo Starr, with his powerhouse drumming – played with an intensity that still sounds remarkable. Culminating in McCartney’s triumphant ‘Hey!’, the exhilarating recording was the closest The Beatles ever got to matching the intensity of their club shows of the time.
The last song nearly killed me. My voice wasn’t the same for a long time after; every time I swallowed it was like sandpaper. I was always bitterly ashamed of it, because I could sing it better than that; but now it doesn’t bother me. You can hear that I’m just a frantic guy doing his best.
Only two takes of ‘Twist And Shout’ were recorded. The first made it to the album; by the second Lennon’s voice had gone, and the session came to a halt.