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(John Lennon – Paul McCartney)
The Beatles are the most commercially successful band in the history of popular music. Of course, if you are reading this right now, you probably already know this. They have sold an estimate of 600 million records worldwide. And while they've prided themselves on tackling many other genres of music, they are categorized as a "rock/pop" band...the most popular "rock/pop" band of all time.
Let's all imagine for a moment a scenario where there was a person living somewhere on this planet who had never heard of The Beatles. And let's suppose that this person, upon entering an elevator in his office building one afternoon, heard the wonderfully lush lullaby entitled “Good Night” and was so taken by it's beauty that he sought to identify the artist of this piece of music. Upon his inquiry he found that the orchestra responsible for this masterpiece called itself The Beatles and went to his local record store and purchased the album that contained the song. What do you think his reaction would be when the needle on his turntable landed on the first track, “Back In The U.S.S.R.”? Or when he heard “Happiness Is A Warm Gun,” “Helter Skelter” and then “Revolution 9”?
Similarly, what would your first impression of The Beatles be if “Good Night” was the first song you every heard by The Beatles? While it is true that this song has probably never made the top ten list of any Beatles fan, one has to admit that “Good Night” is indeed a beautiful piece of music. So, for those who are used to lifting the phonograph needle, or ejecting your compact disc, as the final track of the “White Album” begins coming through your speakers, I urge you to give it a good listen and appreciate what its author, John Lennon, wanted you to experience. It won't hurt you, I promise!
In John's 1980 Playboy magazine interview, he stated the following: "'Good Night' was written for Julian, the way 'Beautiful Boy' was written for Sean. I gave it to Ringo."
Since this song was not included among the various demos that John recorded on May 28th and 29th, 1968 at George's home in Esher, Surrey, it can easily be assumed that “Good Night” wasn't written until sometime in June of that year. It appears appropriate that John would write a song for his then five-year-old son Julian since proceedings were then under way to dissolve his marriage to his first wife Cynthia, thus breaking up his family. It appears that, since John gave the song to Ringo to sing instead of himself, Julian did not know as a child that his father wrote the song especially for him. Julian came to know this in the early 1990's when being interviewed for Steve Turner's book “A Hard Day's Write,” he being around 30 years old at the time.
For years many have just assumed that “Good Night” was written by Paul since that's the kind of song that he would normally write. “Everybody thinks that Paul wrote 'Good Night' for me to sing,” Ringo explained in 1968, “but it was John who wrote it for me (to sing). He's got a lot of soul, John has!”
In his book “Many Years From Now,” Paul expounds on this. “You could almost be forgiven for thinking 'Good Night' was mine, because it's so soft and melodic and so un-John. I believe John wrote this as a lullaby for Julian, and it was a very beautiful song that Ringo ended up singing to the accompaniment of a big string orchestra. I think John felt it might not be good for his image for him to sing it but it was fabulous to hear him do it, he sang it great. We heard him sing it in order to teach it to Ringo and he sang it very tenderly.”
Paul continues, “John rarely showed his tender side, but my key memories of John are when he was tender, that's what has remained with me; those moments where he showed himself to be a very generous, loving person. I always cite that song as an example of the John beneath the surface that we only saw occasionally. I think that was what made us love John, otherwise he could be unbearable and he could be quite cruel. Now that I'm older, I realize that his hostility was a cover-up for the vulnerability that he felt, and if you look at his family history it's easy to see why. But this is an example of that tender side. I don't think John's version was ever recorded.”
In 1968, when Paul was asked about “Good Night,” he replied, “John wrote it mainly, it's his tune, which is surprising for John, who doesn't usually write this kind of tune. It's a very sweet tune, and Ringo sings it great, I think. The arrangement was done by George Martin, because he's very good at that kind of arrangement, you know, a very lush, sweet arrangement. It's very sweet.” Some may feel that Paul's response above hints that he had some involvement in writing "Good Night," saying that “John wrote it mainly,” but all other evidence, as stated above, indicates that John was its sole composer. Paul probably was still trying to keep the “Lennon / McCartney” songwriting team intact by intimating that it was more John's than his, when in fact it was all John's. And as for George Martin's arrangement, John is supposed to have asked him to make the strings sound "real cheesy," only to say retrospectively in 1980 that “it was possibly overlush.”
As for the song's inspiration, Ian MacDonald, in his book “Revolution In The Head,” suggests Cole Porter's “True Love,” which The Beatles included in their stage act in 1960 in imitation of the rendition Elvis released in 1957. Upon examination, the similarity in structure of both songs suggest John may very well have used “True Love” as a blueprint for "Good Night.," if only subliminally.
History shows that this wasn't the only song written in dedication to Julian because of this traumatic time in his life. Paul's thoughts were also on him at this time, his song "Hey Jude" being inspired by John's son. Also of note, as stated above, John took to writing a lullaby to his second son as well, Beautiful Boy (Darling Sean)," as heard on his 1980 release "Double Fantasy."
The first time the song was brought into the recording studio was on June 28th, 1968. The Beatles entered EMI Studio Two at approximately 7 pm for what became a very cooperative nine-and-a-half hour recording session devoted entirely to working on John's newly written "Good Night," although the song's title wasn't decided upon just yet. Documentation lists the song as "Untitled" at this stage.
Geoff Emerick was the engineer at this session and he relates his remembrances of this day in his book “Here, There And Everywhere.” “At the very next session John surprised us all with the unveiling of his lush ballad 'Good Night.' Like 'Across The Universe,' the song showed his softer side, a stark contrast to the screamer he had belted out just the night before (“Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey”)...There was another surprise: John had decided to have Ringo sing the lead vocal. We were all totally caught off guard by that because we'd already recorded what we presumed was going to be the sole Ringo song on the album (“Don't Pass Me By”). It's hard to imagine that John actually thought Ringo could do a better job on it than he could – he knew as well as anyone that Ringo was no singer. Perhaps it was that he was embarrassed at singing such a gentle lullaby – maybe it wasn't macho enough for him – or perhaps he made the decision just to keep Ringo happy because he sensed some disquiet in the usually placid drummer.”
Emerick then explains what became the first task of the day. “John had made a demo for Ringo to take home and practice to, and it was played back a couple of times that night...It's a shame that this particular tape has been lost to the world, and that nobody will ever hear the gorgeous way John sang his tender little song.” As mentioned above, Paul remembered this demonstration by John as occurring there in the studio on this day, saying how “he sang it great” and assumed it wasn't recorded. This confirms that it was indeed recorded and undoubtedly went home with Ringo for him to practice with.
The second order of business was rehearsing and then recording five takes of the song with just John on acoustic guitar and Ringo on vocals. Interestingly, each of the five recorded takes began with an unscripted spoken word introduction by Ringo. Mark Lewisohn's book “The Beatles Recording Sessions” records what three of these introductions were. One was “Come on children! It's time to toddle off to bed. We've had a lovely day at the park and now it's time for sleep.” Another was “Put all those toys away. Yes, Daddy will sing a song for you!” And yet another was “Cover yourself up, Charlie. Pull those covers up and off you go to dreamland!”
Some of the rehearsals, as it turned out, featured George Martin on piano instead of John on acoustic guitar. Geoff Emerick continues: “During the rehearsal run-throughs, John and Yoko stayed up in the control room while the other three Beatles remained down in the studio with George Martin, who played piano while Paul and George Harrison coached their drummer on phrasing and pitching. That created a unity that had rarely been present in these sessions. Just getting Yoko out of the studio seemed to lighten the atmosphere tremendously.”
At least one of these run-throughs was captured on tape, this eventually featured on the compilation album “Anthology 3.” Upon listening, we here George Martin, Paul and George Harrison giving suggestions to Ringo as well as for the arrangement of the song. It was decided at this point to begin the song with the refrain (“dream sweet dreams for me...”), John giving his approval from the control room with the words “It sounds nice starting like that, anyway.” George Harrison then suggests starting the vocals directly on the downbeat after the song is counted off, George Martin then asking George to count it off for them, which he then does. We then are treated to a beautiful performance of George Martin on piano, Ringo on vocals, and someone on light maracas (possibly George Harrison). Paul then quietly joins in on vocals to guide Ringo when he sings the song's title.
By the end of the session, 'take five' was determined to be the keeper, presumably with John on acoustic guitar. The session was over at 4:30 am the following morning. Although nothing recorded on this day made it to the finished recording, what was accomplished on this day was a good brainstorming effort between all four Beatles and George Martin to be built upon on a later date.
July 2nd, 1968, was the next day devoted to working on what was now referred to as “Good Night.” They arrived at EMI Studio Two at around 6 pm with the sole intention of adding vocal overdubs to the previously recorded 'take five.' Ringo undoubtedly worked at perfecting his vocals for the song and thereby rerecorded them on this day, Paul and George then adding harmony vocals as well. All the vocal overdub attempts took the song from 'take 5' to 'take 15.' At the end of the session, George Martin made two tape copies of the song as it was so far so that he could compose a score for an orchestra and choir. By 12:15 am the following morning, the session was complete.
Nearly three weeks later, July 22nd, 1968, George Martin had the score for “Good Night” complete and ready to go. The Beatles (or at least Ringo) arrived at the usual 7 pm on this day, this time in the larger EMI Studio One to accommodate the 26 classically trained musicians that would be performing George Martin's score for the song. The documentation for this day show that a celeste and piano would be made available in the studio for use by George Martin, but since neither instrument can be heard in the finished product, these may only have been used by him for instructional purposes, if that.
The first quick order of business, however, was the recording of some tinkling piano (undoubtedly from Paul) to be tacked onto the beginning of Ringo's previously recorded song “Don't Pass Me By.” This was accomplished at approximately 8 pm, which allowed time for the orchestra to arrive and be situated with sheet music in front of them, they now being ready for the real work at hand for the day.
A decision was made, undoubtedly by George Martin, to scrap all previous attempts at recording the song in favor of starting again fresh as a complete orchestral performance onto which Ringo would overdub his lead vocals afterward. Therefore, the previous 'take 15,' with background harmonies from Paul and George and (presumably) acoustic guitar from John, is locked away somewhere on the EMI shelves.
Starting again, at a curious 'take 23,' the orchestra ran through various attempts at performing George Martin's score for “Good Night.” Seasoned studio musicians as they were, they nailed the perfect performance rather quickly, which ended the orchestral portion of the session at 10 pm.
The next half hour was used to usher out the musicians and bring in eight members of The Mike Sammes Singers (“4 girls, 4 boys,” according to the EMI sheet) to record the sound of a choir. Four of these singers (Fred Lucas, Pat Whitmore, Irene King and Mike Redway) had previously been used on the track “I Am The Walrus,” so they were already well acquainted with working on a Beatles recording. However, I'm sure they were relieved to be singing a more conventional performance this time around, instead of vocal swoops and “ho, ho, ho, he, he, he, ha, ha, ha” vocalizations as on the previous track! By 11:50 pm, these singers completed their duties to George Martin's satisfaction and they were then free to leave for the evening. All in all, between the orchestra and the singers, it took twelve takes to get the performance that was used on the finished recording, 'take 34' being the keeper.
Then it was time to record Ringo's lead vocal part. His impromptu introductions to the song, as toyed around with at the June 28th session, was dropped entirely, although he does conclude the song with a whispered, fatherly “Good night, good night everybody, everybody everywhere, good night.” Author Mark Lewisohn was treated to a listening of the master tapes from this session in preparation for his book “The Beatles Recording Sessions” and describes this vocal session as “clearly a lot of fun,” Lewisohn hearing “Ringo in fits of laughter between takes and telling jokes aplenty.” Some of this was kept for posterity on a reel of tape entitled “Beatles Chat,” which “also contains a few seconds of Ringo chatting with George Martin and Ken Scott.”
After the perfect Ringo vocal was locked down, and all the tomfoolery was over, the session finally wound to a close at 1:40 am the following morning, the recording of “Good Night” being complete.
The next day (actually later that same day), July 23rd, 1968, six attempts at a mono mix of “Good Night” were made in control room of EMI Studio Two by George Martin and engineers Ken Scott and Richard Lush. There were deemed unusable, though, and were improved upon months later.
October 11th, 1968, was the date that the releasable mono and stereo mixes were created. George Martin, Ken Scott and engineer John Smith assembled once again in the control room of EMI Studio Two for two attempts at the mono mix, the second one being best. They only needed one try at getting a stereo mix, this time deciding to fade in the introduction unlike the mono which just comes in at full volume.
Sometime in 1996, George Martin and Geoff Emerick returned to the original master tapes of “Good Night” made on its first session, June 28th, 1968, and found a very interesting rehearsal with George Martin on piano and Ringo on vocals. They decided to include it on the compilation album “Anthology 3” after mixing in the orchestral conclusion to the song as recorded on July 22nd of that year. The results easily show the beauty of this tender John Lennon composition.
Also, between 2004 and 2006, George Martin and his son Giles returned to these same master tapes to include segments of “Good Night” into tracks used for the album “Love,” which accommodated the Cirque du Soleil show of the same name. George Martin was proud enough of his orchestral score for the song that he included segments of it on two tracks of this new album, “Octopus's Garden” and “All You Need Is Love.”
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Song Structure and Style
The structure for "Good Night" is quite simple, as a good lullaby should be, namely 'verse/ refrain/ verse/ refrain/ instrumental/ verse/ refrain' (or ababcab) with an appropriate introduction and conclusion thrown in.
When George Martin wrote the score for the song, he apparently still thought that his original idea of introducing the song with the refrain was a good one. However, he decided that Ringo shouldn't sing it as he was instructed to back on June 28th, nor should the melody line be played instrumentally. Instead, the first four measures of the introduction would comprise the chords of the refrain with simple embellishments followed by two measures that feature an identifiable riff reminiscent of the melody line of the first two measures of the verse. This makes for a lush six measure introduction that works beautifully with Lennon's gorgeous melody.
Next comes the first verse which is eight measures in length. Ringo's vocals come in directly on the downbeat of the first measure while the arrangement highlights the string instruments predominantly and swells gently in volume as the measures continue. A somewhat hushed change in atmosphere appears in the four measure refrain that follows, emphasis on harp and plucked strings allowing for Ringo's simplistic but effective melody line to ring out. The backing vocalists appear here for the first time as well, repeating “dream sweet dream” in the gap left by Ringo in measure two while also adding choir-like padding in the last two measures.
Then follows the second verse and refrain which are identical to the first in length of measures and overall arrangement. The backing vocalists, however, sing the entire verse with Ringo this time around as the instrumentalists weave differently and more dramatically than before, the results sounding eerily like something from an animated Walt Disney movie.
What then follows is a four measure instrumental section composed by George Martin that include ascending stair-step melody lines that differentiate this section with anything else heard in the song. George Martin must have felt the need to break up the simple sequence of 'verse/ refrain' pairings with something that would change the overall feel and then become a nice segue back into a third 'verse/ refrain' set. Also interesting is Ringo's simple humming of a George Martin-written melody line to offset the startling progressions played by the instrumentalists in the foreground.
Upon careful listening, the next verse is actually a repeat lyrically of the first verse. Ringo, however, inadvertantly sings the first line of the second verse here instead of the first verse, resulting in him singing “Close your eyes and I'll close mine” on top of the background singers line “Now it's time to say goodnight.” Ringo then apparently catches himself and sings the correct lyrics for the remainder of this verse, which features a brief reprise of the ascending stair-step melody line from the instrumental section in measures three and four.
An even more hushed refrain follows thereafter, with Ringo faltering slightly a couple of times. The first time is at the end of the second measure as his voice cracks slightly getting out the words “for me,” and then again as he doesn't quite hit the note right on his first “dream” in the third measure. The background singers are even more prominently displayed in this final refrain, the last they are to be heard in the song.
The five measure conclusion is heard next, the first four measures being a twice repeated reprise of the final two measures of the introduction, which contain the identifiable melody line that George Martin composed. The first two measures, however, play this melody line in a somewhat strident fashion, while the second set of measures repeat this melody line in an extremely quiet tone as if to put a child to sleep in his bassinet. During these hushed measures, Ringo gently whispers “Good night, everybody...everybody, everywhere, good night.” As if to practice his whispering, Ringo utters a “good night” in measure two of this conclusion as well just before the hushed measures come in. The fifth and final measure of this conclusion is actually a final ringing chord to finish off the song as well as allow the ninety-three minute “White Album” to fade away as the setting of the sun.
"Good Night" premiered for the world as the closing number to the highly anticipated and world renowned album "The Beatles," popularly known as the "White Album." The album was first released in the U.S. on November 25th, 1968. It was released on compact disc for the first time on August 24th, 1987, then was re-released as a 30th Anniversary limited edition on November 23rd, 1998, then as a remastered CD on September 9th, 2009. Its original vinyl release in 1968 was only in stereo since mono albums were practically phased out in the U.S. by that time. However, the vinyl album did finally get an individual mono vinyl album release in America on September 9th, 2014.
On October 28th, 1996, the compilation album “Anthology 3” was released which featured the gorgeous rehearsal of “Good Night” as mentioned above.
November 20th, 2006, was the release date for the album “Love,” which was a companion album to the Cirque du Soleil show of the same name. Orchestral segments of “Good Night” were featured on two tracks as mentioned above.
The entire mono Beatles catalog was first released on September 9th, 2009 in compact disc form in the box set entitled “The Beatles In Mono,” which included the first official U.S. release of the mono “White Album,” “Good Night” being included therein.
Neither The Beatles collectively nor as solo performers ever performed “Good Night” live on any concert stage.
Concluding the “White Album” with “Good Night” is, upon reflection, a masterstroke of genius. At over 93 minutes in length, this double-album was by far the longest L.P. The Beatles ever released, American audiences being very used to their albums being less than 30 minutes. As author Tim Riley states in his book “Tell Me Why,” ending this large work of art with “Revolution 9” would undoubtedly be a mistake. “If that track had closed all four sides, it would have a more ominous presence...'Good Night''s farewell is softer – calm, serene and incantatory. It has the classical feel of a standard that speaks through the ages.”
Written by: John Lennon / Paul McCartney
- Song Written: June, 1968
- Song Recorded: July 26, 1968
- First US Release Date: November 25, 1968
- First US Album Release: Apple #SWBO-101 “The Beatles”
- US Single Release: n/a
- Highest Chart Position: n/a
- British Album Release: Apple #PCS 7067-7068 “The Beatles”
- Length: 3:14
- Key: G major
- Producer: George Martin
- Engineers: Ken Scott, Richard Lush
Instrumentation (most likely):
- Ringo Starr - Vocals
- Unknown - violins (12)
- Unknown - violas (3)
- Unknown - cellos (3)
- Unknown - harp
- Unknown - flutes (3)
- Unknown - clarinet
- Unknown - horn
- Unknown - vibraphone
- Unknown - string bass
- Ingrid Thomas - vocals
- Pat Whitmore - vocals
- Val Stockwell - vocals
- Irene King - vocals
- Ross Gilmour - vocals
- Mike Redway - vocals
- Ken Barrie - vocals
- Fred Lucas - vocals
Written and compiled by Dave Rybaczewski
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