Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Beatles in the Studio -- Song 4 -- "Misery"

George Martin and John Lennon, 2/11/63

As with most of our "Beatles in the Studio" blog article series, feel free to listen to the song while you read -- a link is provided at the bottom of the page!

The Story:

"Misery" was a simple "McCartney/Lennon" composition (it wasn't until after "She Loves You" was released that the famous "Lennon/McCartney" tag began to be used).  The song was crafted initially as a song for British Pop Star Helen Shapiro to sing.  Helen Shapiro had a couple of charted hits at the time, and was part of their tour, so John and Paul thought that if they wrote a song for Helen to sing, then that would have been a coup (exposure!) for them as fledgling songwriters!

Important:  It's important to note that in addition to being musicians and rockers, the Beatles -- especially John and Paul -- considered themselves SONGWRITERS -- a very important distinction for them.  This is what they wanted to be - they began that way.

In the end, Helen's manager Norrie Paramor turned it down without telling Helen. Eventually, another tour mate, Kenny Lynch, ended up singing the song, making it the first Beatles song to ever be covered.

The significance of "Misery" is that it also represented a technical "first" in the studio, concerning the George Martin overdub, which involved the change of speed of recording to gain a specific sound quality, see below.

The "Please Please Me" album sessions were amazing.  The Beatles, fresh in from a UK tour the night before, were exhausted.  John Lennon was worse than exhausted, he was flat out sick, having a sore throat and fever - relying heavily on a box of cough lozenges next to his carton of cigarettes.  Despite all this, they began at 10:00 AM in Studio Two at Abbey Road, and by 10:45 PM had finished all 11 songs for the LP!


Simple crafted song originally written for British pop star Helen Shapiro, written backstage at King's Hall while on tour in Stroke-on-Trent, finished at Paul's Forthlin Road house together.  It was eventually covered by Kenny Lynch, becoming the first Beatles song to be performed by another artist!

Studio Date:  

February 11, 1963
Recording Session for LP "PLEASE PLEASE ME"

February 20, 1963
Overdub of piano to replace George Harrison's faulty guitar riff.


Abbey Road Studios, London, Studio Two (February 11, 1963)
Abbey Road Studios, London, Studio One (February 20, 1963)

Songwriting Credit:

Paul McCartney/John Lennon

Technical Personnel:

Producer:  George Martin
Sound Engineer:  Norman Smith
Assistant Engineers:  Richard Langham, A. B. Lincoln, Geoff Emerick*

*First appearance of 16 year old sound engineer Geoff Emerick (eventually he would take over. as the sound engineer at Rubber Soul, and be instrumental in their most effective innovations)


John Lennon -- Backing Vocals, Acoustic Rhythm Guitar, Hand Claps
George Harrison -- Lead Guitar, Hand Claps
Paul McCartney -- Vocals, Bass Guitar, Hand Claps
Ringo Starr -- Drum, Hand Claps
George Martin -- Piano


John Lennon -- 1958 Rickenbacker 325 Capri
George Harrison -- 1957 Gretsch 6128 Duo Jet
Paul McCartney -- Höfner model 500/1 "violin" bass
Ringo Starr -- Premier Mahogany Duroplastic drum set
George Martin -- Upright Piano

Recording Legacy/Recording Innovation:

Recorded on Twin Track BTR3 tape recorders (two-track). 

Modifying recording and playback speed to create an effect.  In  this case, the final take of the song was recorded at double speed, 30 ips (inches per second) -- so that on February 20 George Martin could replace George Harrison's faulty guitar solo and record a piano fill/overdub at half speed (15 ips), then speed up the playback at 30 ips to create a crystal sound that resembled a honky tonk or harpsichord.  He added reverb while playing, which further effected the playback at double speed.  Martin used this technique repeatedly, including the famous piano solo in  "In My Life" in 1965.

This was the first example of creative genius in the studio - and it was George Martin (and Norman and Geoff Emerick) who accomplished it.  But it had a profound effect on the Beatles...


No comments:

Post a Comment