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(John Lennon – Paul McCartney)
The songwriting team of "Lennon / McCartney" has arguably become the most prolific compositional partnership in the history of popular music. Therefore, although many early compositions were written entirely by either John (such as "One After 909") or Paul (such as "Like Dreamers Do"), it was agreed that these songs would be credited as written by both of them when published and then released.
"Crediting the songs jointly to Lennon and McCartney was a decision we made very early on,” Paul relates in the “Beatles Anthology” book, “because we aspired to be Rodgers and Hammerstein. The only thing we knew about songwriting was that it was done by people like them, and Lerner of Loewe. We'd heard these names and associated songwriting with them, so the two-name combination sounded interesting.”
While they did indeed jointly write a good portion of the 179 songs credited under the blanket term “Lennon / McCartney,” they later lapsed back into writing separately and crediting them as a team. As late as 1969, this was the case even when these songs weren't within the confines of The Beatles, such as the Plastic Ono Band's “Give Peace A Chance” and Mary Hopkin's McCartney penned hit “Goodbye.”
This brings us to the very last entry into the “Lennon / McCartney” catalog. During the recording of their final album “Abbey Road,” John brought in one last contribution for inclusion on the album, the beautiful “Because.” Shortly thereafter, in September of 1969, he announced that he wanted “a divorce” from The Beatles, thereby officially severing the “Lennon / McCartney” partnership. Even though the band's breakup was kept hidden from the public eye until April 10th, 1970, the songwriting partnership was dissolved. Subsequent compositions by either songwriters that were released after September of 1969, such as Badfinger's “Come And Get It” and The Plastic Ono Band's “Cold Turkey,” were credited solely to either “McCartney” or “Lennon.”
And so ended an amazing era in music.
"Did you know that Yoko's trained as a classical musician?" asked Lennon during an interview. "In college she majored in classical composition. Yoko was playing some classical music one day, I don't know whether it was Beethoven or something, and I said, 'Give me those chords. Play that backwards,' and I wrote 'Because' on top of it. It was 'Moonlight Sonata' backwards."
In Paul McCartney's biography “Many Years From Now,” Barry Miles explains that “Yoko was a classically trained pianist but had stopped playing because her insensitive father had made fun of her small fingers and told her that her playing would never amount to anything. She went into musical composition but then focused on avant-garde art. Sometimes, however, she would play something for John.”
In 1980, John explained the events of the day the song "Because" was conceived, presumably in July of 1969 while they were enjoying some alone time at The Inn At The Park Hotel in Hamilton Place, London. This is where they temporarily stayed while waiting for renovations to be done on their recently purchased Tittenhurst Park home in Sunningdale, Ascot. “I was lying on the sofa in our house, listening to Yoko play Beethoven's 'Moonlight Sonata' on the piano. Suddenly I said, 'Can you play those chords backward?' She did, and I wrote 'Because' around them. The song sounds like 'Moonlight Sonata,' too.”
The piece that Yoko was playing actually turns out to be the Adagio sostenuto of Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 14, Op. 27 No. 2 (Moonlight). Steve Turner, in his book “A Hard Day's Write,” explains that “the similarity between the opening of the 'Moonlight Sonata' and 'Because' is striking, although close scrutiny reveals it to be a straightforward lift rather than the reversal of notes John suggested.” Lennon's recent fascination with sounds being recorded backward, as well as his avant-garde leanings through Yoko's influence, led undoubtedly to his desire to attempt reversing these chords to continue his experiments in songwriting. “We'll probably write a lot more in the future,” he promised in 1969 when referring to this type of experimentation.
As for its words, John explained: “The lyrics are clear, no bullsh*t, no imagery, no obscure references.” Gone were the days of “tangerine trees and marmalade skies” and “semilina pichard climbing up the Eiffel Tower.” His determination was to write from his heart from this point forward, either poetically or in tribute to his love for Yoko.
However, Paul suggests that his inspiration goes a little deeper than that on “Because.” In “Many Years From Now” he suggests: “I wouldn't mind betting Yoko was in on the writing of that, it's rather her kind of writing: wind, sky and earth are recurring. It's straight out of (Yoko's book) 'Grapefruit' and John was heavily influenced by her at the time.” Interestingly, while the scandalous phrase “I'd love to turn you on” caused such controversy in 1967's “A Day In The Life,” the similarly phrased “Because the world is round it turns me on” never raised an eyebrow when it appeared in “Because” two years later. The times the were a changin'.
Presumably sometime in July of 1969, John recorded an acoustic guitar demo of his newly written song "Because," presumably on a portable tape recorder due to his no longer owning his Kenwood home that had been equipped with a home recording studio. He subsequently lost this house due to his divorce with first wife Cynthia earlier that same year. On this demo, interestingly, John strums his guitar instead of picking out the individual notes, and he sings "because the wind is low" instead of "high" as on the finished recording.
August 1st, 1969 was the day that Lennon first introduced the song to everyone in EMI Studio Two, the session beginning at 2:30 pm. Engineer Geoff Emerick, in his book "Here, There And Everywhere," remembers: "John had written the song on guitar, gently picking individual notes rather than playing chords, but he felt that something more was needed. 'Why don't I double your line exactly on harpsichord?' George (Martin) suggested, and Lennon quickly agreed. 'Yeah, great, that will help make it a little more classical-like too."
In an interview with Richard Buskin, George Martin explains that the backing track recorded on this day consisted of “John playing a riff on guitar, me duplicating every note on an electronic harpsichord, and Paul playing bass. Each note between the guitar and harpsichord had to be exactly together, and I'm not the world's greatest player in terms of timing; I would make more mistakes than John did. So we had Ringo playing a regular beat on hi-hat to us through our headphones.” An interesting note here is that, according to Paul's book “Many Years From Now,” when EMI were reducing their instrument collection, “Paul was able to buy the electric spinet which gives much of the characteristic sound to the track. He still has it in his recording studio” as of 1997, when Paul's book was published.
Geoff Emerick continues: “Ringo's job was to act as a timekeeper, a human click track; he was merely to tap out a steady tempo on hi-hat, for reference purposes only. Hunched over their instruments, deep in concentration, they labored for a long time on that backing track. It wasn't really their fault: Paul, who was acting as surrogate producer, was pushing them too hard that night, having them do take after take, playing way past their peak. When the exhausted trio finally came up to the control room to have a listen, they realized that they had laid down a perfectly good take an hour before. John didn't say anything, but he shot an embarrassed Paul a dirty look. Fortunately, they seemed too tired to make an issue out of it.” They recorded 23 takes of this backing track, 'take 16' being determined to be the 'keeper.' By 7:30 pm, the backing track was complete.
Two points of interest needs to be clarified here. The first is that Ringo's time-keeping hi-hat beats were not recorded on tape and are not detected on the finished recording, not even from bleed-through from the live microphones in the studio. They were simply piped into the headphones of the other musicians. The second point is that Paul recorded his bass live along with John and George Martin's instruments. Geoff Emerick recalls Paul being up in the control room with George Harrison and the engineering staff, although George Martin's recollections, as detailed above, as well as EMI documentation, as explained in Mark Lewisohn's book “The Beatles Recording Sessions,” show that Paul was indeed on the studio floor with the other musicians recording his part live and not as a later overdub.
For the next two hours, attention was given to working out and recording vocals for the song. "Everyone agreed that the song was begging for big, lush harmonies,” Emerick recalls, “just the kind of thing that was George Martin's forte. Delighted to be contributing at last, he spent (considerable time) with John, Paul and George Harrison gathered around the piano while he worked out their complex parts note by note.” John explains: “As for the harmonies, I just asked George Martin, or whoever was 'round, 'What's the alternative to thirds and fifths?' as they're the only ones I know, and he would play them on a piano, and we'd say, 'Oh, we'll have that one.' So, I couldn't tell you what they are, I just know it's harmony.”
“The only problem was,” Emerick continues, “that George Martin had worked out nine harmony parts for The Beatles to sing, but we only had five tracks to record them on. That was resolved easily enough when it was decided to have John, Paul and George Harrison sing their three-part harmony together live, instead of overdubbing each part one at a time, and then have them do two additional passes in order to add on the remaining six parts. It was as much an aesthetic as it was a technical decision, because their voices had always meshed so well naturally.” George Harrison recalls, “The harmony was pretty difficult to sing in, you know, we really had to learn it.” George Martin relates: “John, Paul and George sang the song in harmony...I was literally telling them what notes to sing.”
At 10:30 pm, they had recorded the first set of their three-part harmony onto one track, leaving the other two sets of three-part harmony to be recorded after the weekend was over. With four open tracks still left on the master eight-track tape, they called it for the night.
After the weekend, The Beatles filed back into EMI Studio Two on August 4th, 1969, specifically to add the remaining vocals onto “Because.” They once again arrived around 2:30 pm and set out to reprise their stunning three-part harmony abilities as they had done with 1963's “This Boy” and 1965's “Yes It Is.”
“It was mid-afternoon,” Geoff Emerick recalls, “but the lights in Studio Two were dimmed way down low for atmosphere. The four Beatles – Ringo was there, too, providing moral support – were gathered in a semicircle, the sparse backing track playing softly in their headphones. To start with, everyone was standing up, but it quickly became apparent that this was going to be a time-consuming process, so they were soon sitting on regulation EMI hard-back chairs, not stools. To get the phrasing spot-on, Paul was making hand gestures, conducting the others. It would take more than five hours to get those vocals done, and though John's patience was sorely tried that afternoon, no one gave up. Perfection was the goal, and nobody was prepared to accept anything less.”
"George Martin took his place next to me in the control room, listening intently. Yoko was up there with us too, but she never said a word the entire afternoon. John, Paul and George Harrison each had his own mic, but they were all being recorded on a single track, so I was focused on doing the balance. To keep the purity of the sound, I had decided to use no signal processing whatsoever – no compressors or limiters. That meant that I had to manually 'pot' the sound to smooth out the peaks and valleys – moving the faders up and down as it was being recorded – carefully following the dynamics of each word, each syllable. Fortunately, I'd had plenty of time to learn those moves during the long hours of vocal rehearsals."
“The three Beatles sang 'Because' over and over and over again that afternoon; they probably did each pass twenty or thirty times. Pitching was not a problem – they rarely sang out of tune, and they were good at remembering their parts – but it wasn't easy to get the phrasing precise, starting and ending each word at exactly the same time. Even John was unusually patient that day, though he rebuked Paul once or twice, at one point snapping, 'Jesus Christ, give me a break already...I wish I hadn't written the bloody thing!'”
“But John kept at it, as did George Harrison who, to my surprise, never uttered a word of complaint. They knew they were doing something special and they were determined to get it right. There was no clowning around that day, no joking; everyone was very serious, very focused. Their goal was to be able to sing each pass all the way through from start to finish – it was almost a matter of pride – but everyone was starting to get so weary, we ended up having to do a few drop-ins. Actually, we couldn't do too many even if we wanted to, because the breaths between phrases would make any drop-ins apparent.”
“That day I saw the four Beatles at their finest: there was one hundred percent concentration from all of them – even Ringo, sitting quietly with his eyes closed, silently urging his bandmates on to their best performance – all working in tandem to get that vocal nailed, spot on. It was a stark example of the kind of teamwork that had been so sorely lacking for years. It's tempting to imagine what The Beatles might have been able to accomplish if they could only have captured and sustained that spirit just a little longer.”
One set of three-part harmonies filled one track while another set filled another, six tracks of the eight-track tape being filled at this point. No stereo mix was made on this day, possibly being an indication that they they hadn't decided as of yet whether they wanted to fill the remaining two tracks with more overdubs or not. These vocal overdubs were complete as of 7:15 pm, which allowed George Harrison to bring a couple engineers over to the control room of Studio Three to create stereo mixes of his “Abbey Road” tracks, “Something” and “Here Comes The Sun,” for him to analyze in determining if more overdubs were needed for these songs as well. Nonetheless, the remaining Beatles apparently stuck around in Studio Two until 9 pm, undoubtedly listening to the lush nine-part harmonies that they had just worked so hard to create.
A decision was made to fill the remaining two open tracks of the eight-track tape of “Because” with an unusual new instrument that George Harrison had recently acquired. In November of 1968, while George was producing the Jackie Lomax album “Is This What You Want?” in Los Angeles, California, he purchased a Moog synthesizer, model IIIp. Undoubtedly because of the “no overdubs” policy that permeated the “Get Back / Let It Be” sessions of January 1969, it was not used at all during those sessions. But now, in early August of that year, according to the book “The Beatles Recording Sessions,” “George had his Moog transported into EMI for the 'Abbey Road' sessions and with Mike Vickers...recruited as expert consultant/programmer, The Beatles began to make constructive use of the instrument in the closing weeks of the 'Abbey Road' sessions.”
Engineer John Kurlander, as interviewed for the above mentioned book, explains that “the Moog was set up in Room 43 and the sound was fed from there by a mono cable to whichever control room we were in. All four Beatles – but especially George – expressed great interest in it, trying out different things.” Engineer Nick Webb recalls: “I think The Beatles used the Moog with great subtlety. Others in a similar situation would probably have gone completely over the top with it. It's there, on the record, but not obtrusively. Perhaps they weren't sure it was going to catch on.” Examples of other artists around that time using the instrument in a more flamboyant way was Emerson, Lake And Palmer and The Monkees, the latter group being the first contemporary artist to use the instrument on a pop record, this being their 1967 classic album “Pieces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd.”
At any rate, the song “Because” was the first Beatles track that featured this ground-breaking instrument. George Harrison filled both of the two open tracks with Moog synthesizer overdubs on the session that occurred the following day, August 5th, 1969 in EMI Studio Two. At a session that began at 6:30 pm on that day, George played the synthesizer that was set up in Room 43, this performance being fed into Studio Two, overdubbing a melody line that mimicked the vocal line of the song and then following suit once again, thus filling all eight-tracks of the eight-track tape. This took approximately three hours to perfect, following which was a vocal overdub onto the song “The End,” this ending the session at 10:45 pm. With this complete, the recording of “Because” was done.
All that was left was to create the stereo mix of the song. This occurred on August 12th, 1969 in the control room of EMI Studio Two starting at 7 pm, the mix being made by producer George Martin and engineers Geoff Emerick, Phil McDonald and John Kurlander. Geoff Emerick recalls: “I was so enarmored of the sonic results of not using compressors or limiters that I even decided to mix the entire track without them. That was a first for any record I'd ever made; in fact, it was quite probably a first for any major pop recording done since the cumbersome devices were introduced in the early fifties. Yet every word, every syllable is crystal clear on the final mix, due to the time and effort we all expended on getting the song recorded right in the first place.” Two stereo mixes were attempted, the second undoubtedly being the better of the two. With two other “Abbey Road” tracks being mixed also on this day, these being “Oh! Darling” and “Maxwell's Silver Hammer,” this mixing session was complete as of 2 am the following morning.
George Martin was so proud of the vocal work done on this song that, sometime in 1996 in preparation for the release of the “Anthology 3” album, he and Geoff Emerick returned to the master tape of “Because” to mix and then officially release an a cappella version of the song, something that had been available in bootleg releases for many years. Omitting a bit of the open space between vocal lines, and with added reverb, this version was a definite highlight of this successful compilation album.
A similar a cappella mix was made by George Martin and his son Giles Martin sometime between 2004 and 2006 for inclusion as the opening track on the 2006 compilation album “Love,” bird sounds from various sources being added in for effect. These sources include the “World Wildlife Fund” version of the song “Across The Universe,” the recording of the 1995 Beatles song “Free As A Bird,” and a wood pigeon “to make it sound more British,” according to George Martin.
Song Structure and Style
The structure of "Because" consists of 'verse (introduction)/ verse/ verse/ bridge/ verse/ verse (conclusion)' (or aaabaa). Each verse is ten measures in length and the bridge is four measure in length, all measures being in 4/4 time.
The first instrumental verse comprises the first four measures being played exclusively by George Martin on harpsichord and then joined by John on electric guitar for the next four measures. After a pause at the end of measure eight, measures nine and ten add in Paul on bass and the nine voices of harmony singing “aah,” which pauses once again midway through the tenth measure.
The second verse, which is the first vocal verse, continues the ten measure pattern exactly as in the first instrumental verse but with bass and vocal harmonies throughout. Paul sings the highest harmony which allows him to have some leeway in expressiveness in measures three and seven. The third verse then follows, which follows the exact instrumentation throughout, Paul subduing his high-toned vocalizing in the seventh measure this time around. At the end of this third verse, the phrase “love is old, love is...” precedes the bridge that follows.
The four measure bridge brings the song into a major key and introduces George Harrison's Moog synthesizer overdub which precisely mimics the harpsichord / guitar pattern that is played. The fourth measure concludes with another pause that is filled with the beginnings of the first vocal line of the fourth verse.
The fifth verse is a virtual repeat of the second verse, complete with Paul's high-toned expressiveness in the seventh measure. One difference here is that there is no pause in the tenth measure this time around, the vocalists extending the “aah” from the tenth measure into the first measure of the sixth verse that follows.
The sixth concluding verse then follows, which is entirely instrumental except for the nine-part harmonies singing “aah” in measures three through five, seven through eight, and then nine and ten. George Harrison comes in once again in measures one through three, five through seven, and then nine and ten with a melody line that mimics the vocal lines of the previous verses. Measure ten then hangs in the air in anticipation of the song that follows with all instruments fading away appropriately.
Painstaking effort was contributed by all four instrumentalists and vocalists throughout, much time and effort being extended to achieve the desired results. John's final “Lennon / McCartney” contribution was given the deserved attention, given the fact that this was known by all to be the final touch to The Beatles' highly respected career.
On October 1st, 1969, the final recorded Beatles album was released in America, simply titled "Abbey Road." "Because," which was the last new song contributed for the album, found its place as the second song on side two. With its classical-sounding minor key introduction on harpsichord, this song provided a nice contrast after the satisfying acoustic guitar major key conclusion of "Here Comes The Sun" which precedes it. The "Abbey Road" album took only three weeks to jump into the top spot on the Billboard album chart, raking in a total of eleven weeks in the #1 position. The album first appeared on compact disc on October 10th, 1987, and then as a re-mastered release on September 9th, 2009.
Sometime in 1978, Capitol re-released the “Abbey Road” album as a picture disc. Side one had the iconic front cover while side two contained a close-up of the wall photo of the back cover minus the song title listings. This release quickly went out of print and has become a collector's item.
The above mentioned a cappella rendition of “Because” that was created by George Martin and Geoff Emerick was contained on the compilation set “Anthology 3,” which was released on October 28th, 1996. This album went 3x Platinum in the U.S. and hit #1 on the Billboard album chart. Also, this rendition of "Because" was one of five tracks chosen to grace the CD sampler that accompanied this compilation set, this radio station distributed release being quite difficult to acquire today.
November 20th, 2006 was the release date for the above mentioned George and Giles Martin mix of the song on the album “Love,” which was put together exclusively for the Cirque du Soleil show of the same name per arrangements made by the late George Harrison. This successful album peaked at #4 on the Billboard album chart.
After the song was recorded, the individual Beatles were barely speaking to each other let alone giving live performances anywhere together. Therefore, “Because” was never performed by the group live, nor did any individual group member ever think to include the song in any live set list.
The Beatles first American press conference, February 7th, 1964.
Concerning Beethoven being the primary inspiration behind the song "Because," some would say that The Beatles have had a peripheral connection to Classical music, and even to Beethoven in particular, as early as 1963. Apart from them recording "Roll Over Beethoven" in that year, the group was habitually asked in interviews and press conferences, "What do you think of Beethoven?" Ringo would answer this question with the statement, "I love him...especially his peoms!"
Comparisons have even been made between The Beatles music and other classical composers. Music critic William Mann wrote a notable article in the London Times comparing the John Lennon-penned song “Not A Second Time” to Gustav Mahler's “Song Of The Earth,” starting what John called “the whole intellectual bit about The Beatles.” Then in 1968, shortly after the “White Album” was released, critic Tony Palmer wrote in the London Observer that The Beatles were “the greatest songwriters since Schubert.”
Nonetheless, the presence of “Because” on the “Abbey Road” album, a release that most view as one of The Beatles finest achievements, adds a great deal of sophistication to their later catalog. While the majority of listeners and fans probably view this song as a pleasant segue between the pop classic “Here Comes The Sun” and the extravagant “Abbey Road Medley” that follows it, The Beatles themselves viewed it in even higher esteem. “I like John's 'Because' on the second side,” Paul remarked in 1969, while George exclaimed: “I think this is possibly my favorite one on the album, because it's so simple....This is the tune that really effects people. Straight people and all the music people will dig it. It's really good.”
Written by: John Lennon / Paul McCartney
- Song Written: July, 1969
- Song Recorded: August 1, 4 & 5, 1969
- First US Release Date: October 1, 1969
- First US Album Release: Apple #SO-383 “Abbey Road”
- British Album Release: Apple #PCS 7088 “Abbey Road”
- US Single Release: n/a
- Highest Chart Position: n/a
- Length: 2:45
- Key: C# minor
- Producer: George Martin
- Engineers: Geoff Emerick, Phil McDonald, John Kurlander
Instrumentation (most likely):
- John Lennon - Lead and Backing Vocals, Rhythm Guitar (1965 Epiphone ES- 230TD Casino)
- Paul McCartney - Bass (1964 Rickenbacker 4001 S ), backing vocals
- George Harrison - Synthesizer (1967 Moog IIIp), backing vocals
- George Martin - Electric Harpsichord (Baldwin Combo CW-8-S)
Written and compiled by Dave Rybaczewski
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