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“GOOD DAY SUNSHINE”

(John Lennon – Paul McCartney)

The Beatles’ 1966 masterpiece album “Revolver” is known for its darker subject matter and feel.  In comparison to the mostly happy-go-lucky atmosphere of their previous three years, primary tracks on this album tell of the death of a lonely spinster (“Eleanor Rigby”), the evil greed of the government (“Taxman”) and the contemplation of “what it’s like to be dead” (“She Said She Said”), as well as other less than cheery subjects.  Nearly half of the songs contained on the album, in fact, include a form of the word “die” or “dead” in the lyrics.  (See if you can spot these six songs – maybe you can include this question at your next Beatles trivia party!)

This is not to say that the group was all ‘doom and gloom’ at this point in their career.  Their experimentation with drugs, their disillusionment with touring, and their early experience with Eastern music and culture have all been pointed to as explanations to this change in lyrical tone, but this is not to say that they were finding no natural joy in life.  The most vivid case in point here is a song that John Robertson describes in his book “The Complete Guide To The Music Of The Beatles” as “perfect summer pop for the era…the ideal complement to the darker ‘Revolver’ songs.”

This song, “Good Day Sunshine,” was chosen to begin the second side of the album undoubtedly to pick up the level of positivity and create an artistic contrast within the framework contained therein.  While it was true that Paul was the last holdout of the group to experiencing the “higher awareness” of acid at this point, he apparently still chose to get his high from taking an innocent walk in the park with his girl on a “sunny day.”  Sounds pretty good to me.    

 

"Good Day Sunshine" lyric sheet

Songwriting History

“’Good Day Sunshine’ is Paul’s.  Maybe I threw in a line or something, I don’t know”  This quote from John Lennon from his 1980 Playboy interview is essentially the same as his quote about the song in his 1972 interview with Hit Parader magazine.

“Wrote that out at John’s one day…the sun was shining,” Paul remembered in 1984, adding:  “influenced by The Lovin’ Spoonful.”  He elaborates further in his book “Many Years From Now”:  “It was really very much a nod to The Lovin’ Spoonful’s ‘Daydream,’ the same traditional, almost trad-jazz feel.  That was our favorite record of theirs.  ‘Good Day Sunshine’ was me trying to write something similar to ‘Daydream.’  John and I wrote it together at Kenwood, but it was basically mine, and he helped me with it.”

The “trad-jazz feel” that Paul mentions above was actually inspired by another major influence to The Beatles, namely the “Motown Sound.”  Paul, however, was not aware this influence crept into “Good Day Sunshine.”  Lovin’ Spoonful songwriter John Sebastian explains:  “I said, we gotta have a tune like ‘Baby Love’ (by Motown act “The Supremes”).  I wrote the song while trying to approximate the ‘Baby Love’ feel on one guitar.  Sometimes you attempt to cop something and what you come up with is something very much your own.”

With “Daydream” peaking on the British charts in May of 1966, it can be estimated that Paul and John wrote the song at Lennon’s Kenwood home (undoubtedly outside) in late May or early June of that year.  As quoted in Steve Turner’s book “A Hard Day’s Write,” John Sebastian had no idea his song inspired this Beatles track.  “One of the wonderful things The Beatles had going for them is that they were so original that when they did cop an idea from somebody else it never occurred to you,” Sebastian explained.  “I thought there were one or two of their songs which were Spoonfuloid but it wasn’t until Paul mentioned it in a Playboy interview that I specifically realized we’d inspired ‘Good Day Sunshine.’”

           

Recording History

With the vast majority of the “Revolver” album complete, the group entered EMI Studio Two on June 8th, 1966 at 2:30 pm for what became a full twelve-hour session for recording “Good Day Sunshine” (or “A Good Day’s Sunshine” as it was mistakenly titled on the tape box).  This song was the third from last song recorded for the album.

With the tapes rolling, The Beatles spent a long time rehearsing the song, getting the arrangement just so.  They recorded three takes of the rhythm track which, according to Mark Lewisohn’s book “The Beatles Recording Sessions,” consisted of “bass guitar, piano and drums.”  Upon examination of the finished product, the bass work is less extravagant than what Paul was prone to perform, especially for a tune written primarily by him.  It would also make sense that he, being the prime songwriter, would have been the pianist on the rhythm track.  This would suggest that George was putting his Burns Nu-Sonic bass guitar to good use here as he was to do two weeks later on “She Said She Said.”  It appears, therefore, that this is yet another “Revolver” track that John sat out on instrumentally.

After all three takes were recorded, the tapes were spooled back to reveal that their first attempt, take one, was the best after all.  So onto this take were overdubbed Paul’s lead vocals as well as John and George’s harmony vocals.  By 2:30 am the following morning, the session was complete.

Twelve hours later, at 2:30 pm on June 9th, 1966, they returned to EMI Studio Two to put the finishing touches on the song.  A number of overdubs and “drop-ins” commenced, one being a whole new drum track from Ringo which was to be played simultaneously with what he performed on the rhythm track the previous day.  This new performance consisted of cymbal crashes, syncopated drum accents, snare beats and stick-tapping.

Quite a few other overdubs were recorded as well.  George Martin was sequestered to perform the piano solo in the instrumental section of the second verse, this being taped at 56 cycles per second (a little slower than normal) to create an appropriate honky-tonk sound.  John, Paul and George also taped some more harmonies which were then dropped into the final nine seconds of the song.  An additional piano part was also played throughout the song, undoubtedly performed by Paul, which include the various runs and drops that are signature to the released recording.  (A rather obvious edit to this piano overdub can be heard toward the end of the final verse.)  All four Beatles added handclaps to the final verse and chorus and also a quiet tambourine sound can be detected throughout the song, which can easily be attributed to Ringo.

After all of the overdubs were complete, producer George Martin and engineers Geoff Emerick and Phil McDonald created six mono mixes, the first consisting of only the final harmony overdub they just completed.  The remaining five mixes were of the complete song; take six being deemed the best at that time.  This mix was to be improved upon at a later date, however.  The session then ended at a more reasonable time of 8 pm.

The final day of mixing for the album took place on June 22nd, 1966 in the control room of EMI Studio Three.  Both the mono and stereo mix of “Good Day Sunshine” (the correct title being indicated at this point) were performed on this day by Martin, Emerick and 2nd engineer Jerry Boys.  The stereo mix has the rhythm track panned to the left channel while the instrumental overdubs are in the right channel.  All vocals are centered in the mix except for the ending harmonies which bounce between the two channels for good effect.

Sometime between November 1982 and July 1983, Paul re-recorded a new studio version of the song for inclusion in the film and soundtrack album “Give My Regards To Broad Street.”  The arrangement was nearly identical to the original, right down to mimicking John’s quietly repeated line “she feels good” in the final verse.  One subtle difference lyrically is the line “burns my feel as I touch the ground” instead of “as they touch the ground” as sung in 1966.  Paul was privileged to have George Martin as producer of this version as well as the original.

Paul’s “World Tour” of 1989/1990 included the song as well, resulting in it being recorded and released as the b-side of the live version of “Birthday” to commemorate John Lennon’s 50th birthday.  Surprisingly, this live version of “Good Day Sunshine” did not appear on the resulting “Tripping The Live Fantastic” album of November, 1990.

 

Song Structure and Style

The structure used on this song stretches the boundaries in many ways to what we’re used to hearing in Beatles music.  One way is the use of a chorus at the beginning of the song, this being in a different key than the verse (the verse key being designated as the signature key of the song).  The complete song structure amounts to ‘chorus/ verse/ chorus/ 1/2 verse/ solo/ chorus/ verse/ chorus/ chorus’ (or abacdabaa).  A simple introduction and faded conclusion round out the proceedings.  Many other twists and turns are found within the boundaries of these two minutes and eight seconds.

The four-measure introduction is actually the simplest section of the song consisting of eighth-note E chords played on piano and bass guitar building in anticipation of what is to follow.  This seems to be establishing the footing for the listener for the complex chorus that follows.  The fourth measure of the intro brings triplet rolls of the snare drum along with an abrupt overdubbed cymbal swell to signal the emergence of that first chorus.

Three part harmony from Paul, John and George begin on the downbeat of the chorus which is actually a straight six measures long.  Because of the slow syncopation of the melody line and the stagnation of the chord changes, it appears that the measures aren’t symmetrical but broken into different time signatures.  This is an illusion.  If you keep time to the beat as set in the introduction, keep tapping your foot in the same 4/4 pattern throughout the chorus and you’ll see that the time signature hasn’t really changed.  A further twist is that the key of the song appears to be in B major at this point.  However, the transitional chord E7 in the fifth and sixth measures shows that the key has yet to be determined.

The traditional use of a ‘Beatles break’ (first heard way back in 1962’s “Love Me Do”) appears at the end of the sixth measure of the chorus to highlight Paul’s lyric “I need to laugh.”  This segues into the first eight-measure verse and thus reveals the signature key of the song – A major.  The drums then switch from the march-like quarter-note snare beats to a regular-but-simplistic swing beat, the overdubbed piano from Paul playing a falling riff to fill the gap after the first lyric is sung.  Paul sings the verse solo to contrast from the gorgeous harmonies in the choruses.

The chorus is then repeated with the only difference being an overdubbed Ringo drum track with syncopated crashing cymbals accenting each sung syllable and a quaint snare drum cadence to fill in each gap.  After this chorus is complete, what appears to be a second verse then appears with the same arrangement as the first.  However, midway through, after the line “touch the ground,” the key pivots to D major for a George Martin piano solo.  The chord pattern may have changed, but the remaining four measures of this pseudo-verse are filled with this solo to equal a uniform eight measure length.

A third chorus then appears complete with the overdubbed drums of the second occurrence.  This is followed by a full vocal verse as was heard toward the beginning of the song only with new lyrics.  The only difference in arrangement is the appearance of handclaps on the two- and four-beats of each measure, not to mention John’s repeat of the line “she feels good” in the fifth measure.  The rather obvious edit to the overdubbed piano track in the eighth measure completes the final verse.

Two more choruses follow this verse, both adding the new feature of quarter-note hand claps by the group.  Both choruses are actually one beat short because of the absence of the ‘Beatles break,’ making the final measure 3/4 instead of 4/4.  The second of these two choruses reveals a slight deviation from the original melody line, Paul raising the notes for “sun-shine” the first two times the word is sung.  Then as the second chorus is complete, the key raises a half step to an F7 chord for a brief faded conclusion.  The overdubbed cymbal crash cuts off abruptly to allow space on the tape for more three-part harmonies which are sung in echo of the original line.  All instrumentation fades away to reveal a cappella Beatles harmonies from both channels of your speakers.  An impressive touch.

Paul, no doubt with the help of George Martin, is in full control of proceedings.  His vocal work is deliberate and focused, creating the desired atmosphere.  His dual piano tracks are also suitable for the occasion but not too flamboyant to distract from the harmonies.  Three cheers also go to George Martin for his always-appropriate piano solo and arrangement of harmonies.

George Harrison shows himself adept at bass guitar for the first of two tracks on the album (“She Said She Said” being the other) as well as with his spot-on harmony vocals.  John’s distinctive voice is also quite apparent on the track, his delivery flawless.  Ringo goes over and above with not one but two drum tracks superimposed on top of each other to good effect.

The happy-go-lucky lyrics are quite self-explanatory, the heaviness of the times leaving Paul with a “need to laugh,” a “sunny day” giving him just the fix he needs.  Of course, being “in love” also helps.  The Lovin’ Spoonful hit at the time of release, “Summer In The City,” may have expressed irritation because of the hot weather, but Paul doesn’t mind that the sun ‘burns his feet as they touch the ground.’   After all, he and his girl will find relief “beneath a shady tree” making love.  A touch of conceit is made apparent in the line “she knows she’s looking fine,” but that doesn’t spoil the mood one bit as he finishes off the lyric with “I’m so proud to know that she is mine.”  It’s summer in London and all is right with the world!

 

American Releases

On August 8th, 1966, the eleven track “Revolver” album was released in the US.  Its happy irresistibility secured it much airplay on American radio stations at the time, this trend continuing on oldies stations to this day.  This American version of the "Revolver" album got a compact disc release on January 21st, 2014, with both the mono and stereo versions contained on a single CD.

Sometime in 1967, Capitol released Beatles music on a brand new but short-lived format called "Playtapes."  These tape cartidges did not have the capability to include entire albums, so two truncated four-song versions of "Revolver" were released in this portable format, "Good Day Sunshine" being on one of these.  These "Playtapes" are highly collectable today.

April 30th, 1987 was the date that US fans got to hear the full fourteen-track "Revolver" album as was originally intended on its first compact disc release.  The CD was then re-mastered and re-released on September 9th, 2009.

Although not originally released as a single, it did get released as such on January 24th, 1996 as the b-side to another “Revolver” track, “Here, There And Everywhere.”  This release was on Capitol’s Cema series “For Jukeboxes Only” and was printed on yellow vinyl.

The original mono mix also was made available on CD as part of the re-mastered “The Beatles In Mono” box set.  This was also released on September 9th, 2009.

As stated above, Paul re-recorded another studio version of the song for inclusion in the film and soundtrack album “Give My Regards To Broad Street.”  This album was released on October 22nd, 1984.

On October 29th, 1990, Paul released a live recording of “Good Day Sunshine” as the b-side of “Birthday,” which was featured on his live album “Tripping The Live Fantastic.”  The single, which was also made available as a CD-single with two bonus tracks, was released to coincide with what would have been John Lennon’s 50th birthday (near enough anyway).

 

Paul McCartney's concert film "The Space Within US"

Live Performances

The Beatles may not have touched the song on stage, but the popularity of the track gave Paul license to include it in his live set lists periodically.  His first solo “World Tour” of 1989/1990 included the song, this tour running from September 26th, 1989 to July 29th, 1990.  He gave it a rest until his “The ‘US’ Tour,” which ran from September 16th to November 30th, 2005.  This tour, featuring the live performance of “Good Day Sunshine,” was featured in the DVD release “The Space Within US."  He then worked it back into his set list during some of the 2015 dates of his "Out There" Tour.

           

The Beatles on a limo ride to the Vernon Manor hotel in Ohio, 1966

Conclusion

When all is said and done, no one can resist a ‘feel good’ song.  When the irresistibly folksy swing of The Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Daydream” hit the airwaves in mid 1966, it not only set the tone for a ‘groovy’ summer, but it inspired many songwriters and recording artists to catch that same vibe.  The Kinks immediately followed suit with “Sunny Afternoon,” Donovan captured the atmosphere with “Sunshine Superman,” and then The Beatles one-ups them all with “Good Day Sunshine.”  As Chris Ingham describes the song in “The Rough Guide To The Beatles,” it exemplifies that smiling essence “and still manages to pack in more time and key changes than most groups would bother with on an entire album.”  Three cheers to The Beatles for putting the exclamation mark on the happy-go-lucky summer of 1966!

 Good Day Sunshine

 Written by:  John Lennon / Paul McCartney 

  • Song Written:  May / June, 1966 
  • Song Recorded:  June 8 & 9, 1966
  • First US Release Date: August 8, 1966
  • First US Album Release: Capitol #ST-2576 “Revolver
  • US Single Release: Capitol Cema #S7-18897
  • Highest Chart Position: n/a
  • British Album Release: Parlophone #PCS 7009 “Revolver
  • Length:  2:08
  • Key: A major
  • Producer:  George Martin
  • Engineers: Geoff Emerick, Richard Lush, Phil McDonald

 Instrumentation (most likely): 

  • Paul McCartney --   Lead and Harmony Vocals, Piano (Hamburg Steinway Baby Grand),handclaps
  • George Harrison –  Bass Guitar (1965 Burns Nu-Sonic), Harmony Vocals, handclaps
  • Ringo Starr – Drums (1964 Ludwig Super Classic Black Oyster Pearl), tambourine, handclaps
  • John Lennon -  Harmony Vocals, handclaps
  • George Martin - Piano (Hamburg Steinway Baby Grand)

 Written and compiled by Dave Rybaczewski

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