John Lennon: vocals, 12-string acoustic guitar
Paul McCartney: bass guitar, maracas
George Harrison: acoustic guitar, 12-string acoustic guitar
Ringo Starr: drums, tambourine
Johnnie Scott: tenor flute, alto flute
One of the highlights of The Beatles’ Help! album, ‘You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away’ was also the first of their songs since 1962 to feature a session musician.
The song also demonstrates the increasing influence of Bob Dylan upon John Lennon’s songwriting in 1965. Interestingly, The Beatles were beginning to record with acoustic instruments at the same time that Dylan was picking up an electric guitar.
That’s me in my Dylan period again. I am like a chameleon, influenced by whatever is going on. If Elvis can do it, I can do it. If the Everly Brothers can do it, me and Paul can. Same with Dylan.
All We Are Saying, David Sheff
Like the title track of the Help! album, ‘You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away’ was a chance for Lennon to lay bare his emotions in song.
‘You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away’ is my Dylan period. It’s one of those that you sing a bit sadly to yourself, ‘Here I stand, head in hand…’ I’d started thinking about my own emotions. I don’t know when exactly it started, like ‘I’m A Loser’ or ‘Hide Your Love Away’, those kind of things. Instead of projecting myself into a situation, I would try to express what I felt about myself, which I’d done in my books. I think it was Dylan who helped me realise that – not by any discussion or anything, but by hearing his work.
The opening lines of The Beatles’ song bear a resemblance to ‘I Don’t Believe You (She Acts Like We Have Never Met)’, which appeared on Dylan’s 1964 album Another Side Of Bob Dylan.
Here I stand, head in hands
Turn my face to the wall
If she’s gone I can’t go on
Feeling two foot small
I can’t understand, she let go of my hand
And left me here facing the wall
I’d sure like to know why she did go
But I can’t get close to her at all
During the recording Lennon mistakenly sang ‘two foot small’ instead of ‘two foot tall’. “Let’s leave that in, actually,” he told his childhood friend Pete Shotton. “All those pseuds will really love it.”
It has been suggested that the song was written for The Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein, who was a homosexual. Lennon and Epstein went on holiday to Barcelona, Spain together in April 1963; upon their return rumours began to spread in Liverpool that the pair had shared a sexual experience.
Although this was always denied by the pair, The Beatles’ biographer Hunter Davies later claimed that Lennon did admit to him, off the record, that an encounter took place in Spain. “John wasn’t a homosexual but he was daft enough to try anything once,” Davies wrote in The Beatles, Football And Me, his 2006 autobiography.
Whether the song relates to the incident, or even to Epstein, is debatable. It has also been claimed that ‘You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away’ was about an affair with a woman that Lennon was having at the time.
In the studio
‘You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away’ was recorded in the afternoon of 18 February 1965. The Beatles taped nine takes, only two of which were complete.
Anthology 2 featured take five, the only other full version recorded. It also incorporated a count-in from the aborted take one, and John Lennon saying that Paul McCartney had broken a glass in the studio.
Take nine was the Help! album version. Track one contained Lennon on 12-string acoustic guitar, George Harrison on a Spanish acoustic guitar, Paul McCartney on bass guitar, and Ringo Starr playing drums with brushes.
Track two was an overdub of Lennon’s vocals. The third track had more 12-string acoustic guitar, this time played by Harrison, maracas played by McCartney, and tambourine by Starr.
‘You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away’ was the first Beatles song since ‘Love Me Do’ to feature an outside musician. Johnnie Scott, a flautist and musical arranger, first recorded a tenor flute as The Beatles taped their parts. He then overdubbed an alto flute part to complete the song.
They told me roughly what they wanted, ¾ time, and the best way of fulfilling their needs was to play both tenor flute and alto flute, the second as an overdub. As I recall, all four of them were there and Ringo was full of marital joys; he’d just come back from his honeymoon.
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn
According to George Martin’s session notes, the alto flute was overdubbed on track four. It is unclear on which track the tenor flute was recorded.