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The Beatles in Paris with co-star Sylvie Vartan

“BABY IT’S YOU”

 (Mack David – Burt Bacharach – Barney Williams)

The Beatles had a special love for the music of ‘girl groups’ of the early sixties.  When in a pinch for time in the final three of hours of recording their first album, they hurriedly chose some cover tunes which they particularly loved and enjoyed playing.  Out of the six cover songs they recorded for their first album, three were ‘girl group’ songs, two of which were originally performed by The Shirelles.  This time around they chose to record, not a B-side like “Boys”, but a well known top ten hit that they had been performing for about a year in their ‘stage act.’ 

Burt Bacharach

Songwriting History

The statement that The Beatles recorded music by Burt Bacharach would most likely be greeted with a response that includes laughter.  Avid Beatle fans, on the other hand, would know otherwise.  No, The Beatles did not record a rendition of “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head,” but the same composer happened to co-write the classic Shirelles’ hit “Baby It’s You,” which reached number 8 on the Billboard charts in February of 1962.

In actuality, Burt Bacharach has had, and continues to have, an impressive and long-standing career as an award winning pianist, arranger, conductor, producer and composer.  He is most known for his co-writing partnership with lyricist Hal David with whom he had written an impressive amount of hits throughout the sixties, many of which were recorded by Dionne Warwick.  As a songwriter, he has racked up an impressive total of 70 top 40 hits in the US.  

After studying music at McGill University, the Mannes School of Music and the Music Academy of the West, Bacharach became the bandleader, pianist and arranger for Marlene Dietrich throughout the 50’s and early 60’s.  Like Gerry Goffin and Carole King, he joined the Brill Building team of songwriters in 1957 and was teamed up with lyricist Hal David.  Success came quickly with their first US hit, “The Story Of My Life,” which was the first hit by country star Marty Robbins.  This song reached number 15 on the Billboard pop chart as well as number 1 on the Country and Western charts in the US.

His hit-writing fortunes became quite abundant throughout the late 50’s and early 60’s, co-writing hits for Perry Como, Johnny Mathis, Etta James and many others.  In late 1961, Bacharach had co-written and arranged the song “Baby It’s You” for the popular girl group The Shirelles, which was one of only four songs he ever worked with them on (and two of those songs went unreleased).  

His attention was turned quickly to writing many other hits for other artists throughout the next few years, but especially focused his attention on a demo singer and sometime replacement singer for The Shirelles named Dionne Warwick.  When she was used by Bacharach to sing a demo version of the song “Make It Easy On Yourself,” she was discouraged to find that the song was intended for Jerry Butler and not herself.  She exclaimed, “Don’t make me over, man,” which inspired Bacharach and Hal David to write the song “Don’t Make Me Over,” which in turn became Warwick’s first top 40 hit.  This began a string of 22 top 40 hits for Warwick on the Billboard pop charts from 1962 to 1972, mostly written by Bacharach and David (including “Make It Easy On Yourself”).

After continuing to write for the likes of Gene Pitney, Bobby Vee, Brook Benton, The Drifters and many others, he also began to concentrate on a solo career in 1965 as well as movie scores.  His movie soundtracks included “What’s New Pussycat,” “After The Fox,” “Casino Royale” and “Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid.”  Broadway scores also came his way, such as the Broadway hit “Promises, Promises,” the title track of which also became another Dionne Warwick hit.

After working with many other artists (Herb Alpert, B.J. Thomas, The Fifth Dimention and The Carpenters to name a few) as well as more movie soundtracks (such as “Arthur,” “Night Shift” and “Arthur 2: On The Rocks”) Bacharach continued his accent to icon status throughout the 70’s and 80’s.  The 90’s saw him collaborate with London born Elvis Costello (also a McCartney collaborator in the late 80’s) on a successful and Grammy award winning album “Painted From Memory.”  The Bacharach name continues to be known to younger generations through his references and appearances in the Austin Powers movies as well as comedic television commercials.  Add to this his continued recording career and world touring schedule, Burt Bacharach has proved to be one of the most respected names in the music business.

Lyricist Hal David also boasts quite an impressive career, although it is not Hal that we are concerned with here (as many Beatles books would have you believe).  Hal’s older brother Mack David is the actual co-lyricist of the song “Baby It’s You.”

After Mack seriously contemplated becoming an attorney (attending both Cornell University and St. John’s University Law School), he abandoned that goal to follow his dream of songwriting and took up that profession at New York’s Tin Pan Alley in the 40’s.  He previously had advised his brother Hal not to pursue a songwriting career, but luckily for history’s sake, both brothers gave in to their songwriting passion.  

Mack’s success started as early as 1939 with the Glenn Miller hit “Moon Love” and continued throughout the 40’s with songs performed by Duke Ellington, such as “I’m Just A Lucky So-And-So.”  In 1950 he moved to Hollywood and became active in songwriting for television and movies.  He boasts a good number of songwriting credits for Disney animated movies, such as “A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes” and the Acadamy Award winning “Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo,” both from Cinderella, as well as “The Unbirthday Song” from Alice In Wonderland.

He continued to be nominated for Academy Awards (eight total) for his work with feature movies, which include “The Hanging Tree,”  “Bachelor In Paradise,” “It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World” and “Cat Ballou.”  And with songwriting partner Jerry Livingston, Mack wrote a number of successful theme songs for television shows such as “Casper The Friendly Ghost,” “77 Sunset Strip,” “Hawaiian Eye,” as well as the song “This Is It” which was used in the 60’s Saturday morning show “The Bugs Bunny Hour.”

Mack was privileged to have one of his songs recorded by both of the biggest recording artists in music history.  In addition to the Beatles rendition of his “Baby It’s You,” Elvis Presley did a rockabilly cover of his song “I Don’t Care If The Sun Don’t Shine” in 1954 on one of his legendary Sun Records releases, which was originally released by Patti Page in 1950.

Mack David’s career was honored by his being inducted into the Songwriters Hall Of Fame in 1975, which followed his brother Hal’s being inducted in 1972.  Mack died on December 30th, 1993 at his home in Rancho Mirage, California.

Barney Williams was the brother of Luther Dixon, a successful songwriter (co-composer of “Boys” which is also contained on this album) and the manager of artist development at Scepter Records, which was the label that released the original version of “Baby It’s You” by the Shirelles.  Barney was hired as a promo man for Scepter Records and was responsible for re-writing the original lyrics for the Bacharach-David song “I’ll Cherish You.”  Barney was therefore the man who transformed the song into the title “Baby It’s You,” as well as re-writing some of the other lyrics.  As an interesting footnote, there exists a version of the song recorded by Tommy Hunt with the original lyrics, although this has never been officially released.

The Shirelles original version of the song was their sixth American top 40 pop hit on the Billboard charts, as well as their fourth top ten (peaking at #8 on the pop chart and #3 on the R&B chart).  The Shirelles lead vocalist, Shirley Owens, overdubbed her vocals over the backing track of the original demo that was recorded under the supervision of Burt Bacharach.  Owens was the only member of the Shirelles to appear on the song, which consists of Bacharach himself on background vocals.

The Beatles with George Martin in EMI studio 2, February 11th, 1963

Recording History

As for The Beatles version, this was the next to last song recorded during the landmark one day recording session held on February 11th, 1963.  Three takes were recorded live with no overdubs, one of which was a false start, approximately between 9:30 and 10:00 p.m. during their evening session.  Take three was the complete version that was used for the album.  As with the other ten songs recorded this day, no mixes were done of the song at the end of the session, but there was an additional reason why this wasn’t done on this day.  Something additional needed to be done for the solo portion of the song. 

George Martin rose to the task on an overdub session held nine days later on February 20th, 1963 while The Beatles were on their national tour with Helen Shapiro.  After overdubbing himself playing piano edit pieces for the song “Misery,” Martin added two overdubs of himself playing celeste (or ‘celesta’) on top of George Harrisons’ guitar notes during the solo section of “Baby It’s You.”  The celeste is a piano-like instrument which is usually of four octaves that transposes the notes one octave higher when played.  It consists of a keyboard that triggers hammers to strike a graduated set of metal plates suspended over wooden resonators.  

After two celeste overdubs (one for each solo phrase), Martin also attempted a piano overdub during a one section of the song.  It is undetermined what section of the song the piano part was played in because he decided not to use this overdub in the song after all.  Take six of the song, which contains the piano overdub, has never been officially released to the public.  Take five became the approved complete version which contained both celeste overdubs.

Five days later, on February 25th, George Martin, along with engineers Norman Smith and A.B. Lincoln, performed both the mono and stereo mixes for the first album, which contained “Baby It’s You.”  Once again, The Beatles were not present as they were still on tour and did not participate in mixing sessions until much later in their career.  Take five of the master tape was used to create both the mono and stereo mixes.  

Song Structure and Style

The song structure differs from every other song on this album in that it actually only consists of three verses, each ending with the title of the song as the hook line.  The second half of each verse could be considered by some to be a chorus, although because of the overall chord structure of that second section (most noteworthy that the first chord of that section is not the key chord of the song), it appears that each whole musical phrase should be considered together as a whopping 21 measure verse. 

The Beatles completely mimic the structure of the original Shirelles recording, not wanting to tamper with the ‘girl group’ classic that they so deeply admired.  After a six measure introduction, which includes the trademark “sha-la-la” harmonies by Paul and George and a dramatic break in the last measure, the first verse then begins amid the squeaking bass pedal of Ringo’s drum set.

Lennon delivers a very confident lead vocal which is accentuated in the fourth measure by the recurrence of the distinctive “sha-la-la” harmonies.  As the verse segues into the second dramatic half, the background harmonies become a hushed and subtle backdrop to create a suitable effect for the painful lyrics.  As the verse nears its’ conclusion, the emotive lead vocals are transposed against accentuated background vocals which create an irresistible climax leading to the ultimate break.  The title of the song is then revealed which is forever impressed on the mind as the ultimate hook line.  (Surprisingly, many have mistaken the song to be entitled “Sha-la-la-la-la” because of its’ repeated occurrence in the song, as explained on the track “Sha-la-la-la-la!” on their “Live At The BBC” album.)

A second verse then occurs having the identical structure but with an additional touch of background vocals (”cheat, cheat”) which is necessary with the lyrical content of that verse.  What seems to be a third verse is then played.  The first section of this verse actually consists of the solo portion of the song, performed simultaneously by George Harrison on guitar and George Martin on celeste.  The chord structure during this solo section is also slightly different than the other verses, being that it contains an added “D” chord between each “C” and “G” of the verse. 

This then leads us to the dramatic second half of the verse, which is a repetition of the second verse and is sung to a tee by Lennon.  The last two chords of the verse are then alternated repeatedly amidst the “sha-la-la” backing vocals and accentuated lead vocals from John as the song fades.  

As far as musicianship goes, The Beatles stay true to form in mimicking the original Shirelles recording, not adding as much as a guitar flourish or drum fill.  The band took such liberties with other cover songs done on this day (such as “Boys” also by The Shirelles), but they knew that anything added would have detracted from the effect of this well-crafted composition.  Other interpretations of the song would have to wait until 1969, with the excellent bluesy powerhouse rendition by the group Smith, which took the song into the top five in the US.

The vocal performance is quite commanding and confident, unlike the rather timid and unsure vocals Lennon performs on his own compositions recorded on this day.  It is also noteworthy that, having a bad cold on this day, his voice is finally starting to show some cracking in this song, especially noticeable in the climatic “don’t want nobody” lines.  The cracking only portrays character, however, and is especially prominent in the next and final song recorded on this day “Twist And Shout.”

The lyrics quite effectively portray the anguish felt at finding out about infidelity and are very well suited to the melody line and chord structure of the song.  Strategically, the first verse paints the picture of the singer recounting the reasons why he loves his “baby,” but then leaves a question mark in our minds as to why he cries at night about her (or ‘him’ in the case of The Shirelles).  Instead of the second verse just rehashing the first (as many Beatles compositions do), this song adds to the story with the second verse, revealing that the singer has heard about her ‘never being true,’ which answers the question from the first verse.  The story then is summed up as the singer resolves that it doesn’t matter; he’s going to continue the relationship “any old way.”  This impressive display of lyric writing (building upon the story with each verse) is an evidence of professionalism which continues to this day, especially in the field of country music.

Vee Jay's "Introducing The Beatles" album

American Releases

Although the song is considered by most as an obscure Beatles track, it actually appears on two different million selling albums.  The first appearance is on the Platinum Vee Jay album “Introducing…The Beatles” which was the first American album release for the band on January 6th, 1964.  It appears on both versions of the album, which means that no matter when you may have purchased it in 1964, all 1.3 million buyers received the song “Baby It’s You.”

The second and third releases of the song in the US were found on two attempts by Vee Jay records to capitalize on the groups’ success before their court ordered contract ran out on October 15th, 1964.  The first attempt was the double album The Beatles vs. The Four Seasons” coupling the “Introducing…The Beatles” album with “The Golden Hits of the Four Seasons”.  This was released on October 1st, 1964 and reached only to number 142 on the Billboard charts.  On October 12th, Vee Jay re-released the album again as “Songs, Pictures And Stories Of The Fabulous Beatles,” which managed to reach number 63 on the charts.  Between these two releases, another 420,000 record buyers now had a copy of the song “Baby It’s You,” unless, that is, they mistakenly purchased the same album twice (as many had).

Capitol Records now takes the ball as they release the album “The Early Beatles” on March 22nd, 1965.  The album, which features “Baby It’s You,” fails to reach the top 40 (peaking at number 43 on the Billboard album charts) but sells a respectable 500,000 copies.  Not bad for an album that, for all sakes and purposes, has been released three times before.  This album then appeared on an individual CD on January 21st, 2014, this CD containing both the mono and stereo mixes on one disc. 

February 26th, 1987 saw the first official Beatles compact disc released, which was the original British "Please Please Me" album containing "Baby It's You."  While this release was in mono only, the re-mastered stereo version of the CD was released on September 9th, 2009. 

Apple Records then releases the song on their December 6th, 1994 release “Live At The BBC.”  The Beatles recorded the song for the BBC on June 1st, 1963 at the BBC Paris Theatre in London.  A number 3 placement on the Billboard charts, as well as over 2 million copies sold, brought much needed exposure to a great rendition of a great song.  A re-mastered and re-packaged version of this album was released on November 11th, 2013. 

Great enough, in fact, that the ‘powers that be’ arranged for the song to be released as the focal point of an EP released in the US on March 23rd, 1995.  The EP was titled “Baby It’s You,” which contained the same version of the song that was on the “Live At The BBC” album.  The other three tracks were “I’ll Follow The Sun,” “Devil In Her Heart” and “Boys.”  These other tracks were also recorded by The Beatles for the BBC in the early 60’s but were not on the BBC album.  The EP actually made it onto the Billboard singles charts, peaking at number 67.  (In Britain, it actually made it into the top 10, peaking at number 7.)  

April 11th, 2006 brought another release of the song on the box set “The Capitol Albums, Vol. 2," which peaked at number 46 on the Billboard charts.  Just prior to this release, a promotional CD sampler was issued to radio stations that included both the stereo and mono mixes of "Baby It's You." 

On September 9th, 2009, the box set “The Beatles In Mono” also contained the song but in a re-vitalized, re-mastered state.

The Beatles at Winter Gardens in Margate, Kent (July 1963)

Live Performances

The Beatles’ recording of this song indicates that they were well acquainted with playing it in their stage act.  They certainly had it down to a tee, which is understandable since the song hit the top ten as far back as February 1962.  It can easily be estimated that they very well could have started performing the song live, with Pete Best on drums, as far back as March of 1962 during their steady gigs at the Cavern Club as well as the long hours of their three visits to Hamburg throughout the year. 

It continued to be performed throughout 1963 as well, as it was part of the set list during their week-long stint at the Winter Gardens at Margate, Kent during the week of July 8th through the 13th.  The last known performances of the song were at the Odeon Cinema in Southport during a six night residency between August 26th and 31st, 1963.  It was then officially dropped from their set list with the release of the British album “With The Beatles.”  That being the case, The Beatles were never to perform the song on American shores.

The Beatles performed the song three times for the BBC.  The first was on April 1st, 1963 for the show “Side By Side,” which aired on April 22nd.  The second was the version that appeared on the “Live At The BBC” album, which was recorded on June 1st, 1963 for the show “Pop Go The Beatles,” airing on June 11th.  A third performance for the BBC occurred on August 1st, 1963 for the show “Pop Go The Beatles” and, although that show aired on September 3rd, that newly recorded version of “Baby It’s You” did not get played on the radio. 

Conclusion

Only The Beatles could pull off an on-the-spot rendition of a classic American “girl group” hit with the odds against them.  It was late in the evening after a full day in the studio with little time left on the clock.  They were just in for the day as a break from an exhausting national tour.  Not to mention that the lead singer had a bad cold and his voice was beginning to give out.

With all this in the mix, The Beatles nailed it.  Confident lead vocals, effortless attention to detail, and spot-on harmonies led to a perfect execution of an excellently written song. 

Credit must be given to Burt Bacharach, Mack David and Barney Williams for writing a song that sounds great no matter who performs it, be it The Beatles, The Shirelles, Smith, Nick Lowe/Elvis Costello or The Carpenters.  Either way you slice it, a great song is a great song.

Song Summary

Baby It’s You

Written by:  Mack David / Burt Bacharach / Barney Williams

  • Song Written: November 1961
  • Song Recorded: February 11 and 20, 1963
  • First US Release Date: January 6, 1964
  • First US Album Release: Vee Jay #VJLP 1062 Introducing…The Beatles
  • US Single Release:  Apple #58348 “Baby It’s You” (EP)
  • Highest Chart Position: #67
  • British Album Release: Parlophone #PCS3042 Please Please Me
  • Length: 2:38
  • Key: G major
  • Producer: George Martin
  • Engineers: Norman Smith, Richard Langham

Instrumentation:

  • John Lennon - Lead Vocals, Rhythm Guitar (1958 Rickenbacker 325)
  • Paul McCartney - Bass Guitar (1961 Hofner 500/1), Background Vocals
  • George Harrison – Lead and Rhythm Guitar (1957 Gretsch Duo Jet), Background Vocals
  • Ringo Starr – Drums (1960 Premier 58/54 Mahogany)
  • George Martin - Celeste (Schiedmayer) 

Written and compiled by Dave Rybaczewski

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