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George Harrison in Paris, January 1964

"I'M HAPPY JUST TO DANCE WITH YOU"

(John Lennon - Paul McCartney)

John Lennon and Paul McCartney were especially 'on top of their game' when it came to writing songs for their upcoming first motion picture.  As it turned out, this third album was entirely filled with original songs written by the Lennon/McCartney team.  No cover songs filled in the gaps where they failed to come up with original ideas.  And these original ideas were all top-notch; even the ones they considered "hack" songs.

The second of the two songs that Lennon and McCartney ever gave to George Harrison to sing appeared on this album, which was the innocent sounding "I'm Happy Just To Dance With You."  While the lyrics may be a throwback to the shallow teenage romanticism heard in "All My Loving" and "I Want To Hold Your Hand," the musicianship was anything but simple.  In fact, this fast-paced roller-coaster-ride of a song skids its' way through turn after turn with an incredible amount of chord changes and melody lines until it finally leaves us breathless at the final resolving chord.  And all this in just under two minutes!

 

Songwriting History

"That was written for George to give him a piece of the action."  This quote from John Lennon confirms the true intention of the song, which was to allow George Harrison to have a vocal piece in their first film "A Hard Day's Night."  George was just developing as a songwriter, having recorded his first piece, "Don't Bother Me," for The Beatles second British album "With The Beatles." 

He was in the process of writing another song entitled "You Know What To Do" but since it was slow in coming, John and Paul wrote one for him.  In a 1965 interview George confessed this about his songwriting:  "It will probably take me about three months before I finish one song.  I'm so lazy it's ridiculous."  As for "You Know What To Do," that only got as far as the demo stage, which you can hear on the "Anthology 1" album.

As for the song for the film, Paul McCartney elaborates further.  "We wrote 'I'm Happy Just To Dance With You' for George in the film.  It was a bit of a formula song.  We knew that in (the key of) E if you went to an A-flat minor, you could always make a song with those chords: that change pretty much always excited you.  This was one of these...This one anyway was a straight co-written song for George."

Neither John nor Paul had any intention of singing it themselves.  "I couldn'ta sung it," stated Lennon.  McCartney explains why:  "We wouldn't have actually wanted to sing it because it was a bit...The ones that pandered to the fans in truth were our least favorite songs but they were good.  They were good for the time."  Both Lennon and McCartney were progressing passed lyric writing specifically designed for teenage girl fans as they were before, such as "From Me To You," "Thank You Girl" and "P.S. I Love You."  But for the sake of cranking out another song needed for the movie, and to give George one to sing, they reverted back to this practice sometime in February of 1964 for one of the last times in their career. 

As for their opinion of the song, McCartney states:  "The nice thing about it was to actually pull a song off on a slim little premise like that.  A simple little idea.  It was songwriting practice."

 

The Beatles with director Richard Lester while filming "A Hard Day's Night," 1964

Recording History

"I'm Happy Just To Dance With You" turned out to be the last movie soundtrack song The Beatles recorded before shooting of the movie began on March 2nd, 1964.  The day before, on March 1st, the group met in EMI Studio Two for a three-and-a-half hour recording session to finish up the full requisite of songs for potential inclusion in their first film. 

This session, which ran from 10 am to 1:30 pm, saw three songs through from start to finish; although the second two songs recorded on this day ("Long Tall Sally" and "I Call Your Name") ended up not making it in the movie but were held over to be released as a British EP on June 19th, 1964.

Another unique aspect to this recording session was that it was on a Sunday.  This was the first Sunday recording session ever scheduled for The Beatles, no doubt because this was the very last day they had to record songs for the movie.  The habit of Sunday recording sessions became much more commonplace from this point forward.

"I'm Happy Just To Dance With You" was the first to be tackled at 10 am with the first three takes concentrating solely on the rhythm track.  The intention may have been to add vocals as overdubs later, which is something that became common practice for the group in 1965.  As it came to be, though, after two full instrumental takes and one false start (take three), vocals were introduced for the first time on take four.  This apparently was the take used to put overdubs on, which consisted of George double-tracking his vocals, John and Paul contributing harmonized background vocals, and Ringo thumping on a loose-skinned Arabian drum during the verses.  By approximately 11 am the song was complete.

Mono mixing for the song occurred two days later on March 3rd in the control room of EMI Studio One with producer George Martin and engineers Norman Smith and A.B. Lincoln in attendance.  All of the songs being considered for the film were mixed on this day and given to United Artists to choose from.  Take four of the song was used for this mix which also appeared as the mono version made available worldwide.

On June 9th, 1964, mono tape copies were prepared of all the movie songs to be distributed to both American record labels that were releasing the song, namely United Artists Records for the soundtrack album and Capitol Records for single release and their album "Something New."  This tape copying took place in the control room of EMI Studio Three with only George Martin, Norman Smith and 2nd engineer Ken Scott in attendance.

The stereo mix was prepared during a rushed full-day at EMI studios on June 22nd, 1964 by George Martin, Norman Smith and 2nd engineer Geoff Emerick.  The rushed atmosphere on this marathon eleven-hour session resulted in a stereo mix of "I'm Happy Just To Dance With You" with an overly emphasized Arabian drum overdub from Ringo, which unfortunately comes across unnaturally loud.  However, this is the stereo mix made available around the world in 1964.

 

Song Structure and Style

Although Lennon and McCartney used it sparingly, they were becoming more adept at using a songwriting formula that includes a refrain.  Taking the lead from songs like "A Taste Of Honey," they worked with a refrain as early as 1963 in "All My Loving" and "All I've Got To Do."  Now they resurrect this formula again but complicate it somewhat using a 'refrain/ verse/ verse/ refrain/ verse/ refrain/ verse/ alternate refrain' pattern.  This would therefore become an abbababc pattern.

It was probably George Martin's suggestion to begin with the eight measure refrain, which in this instance dispenses with all vocals until the fifth measure where we hear only the lead vocal appear.  Each refrain (even this altered one) features an accent on the 'two-and' off beat of the second and fourth measure which act as 'pushes' throughout the song.  Ringo introduces each of these 'pushes' with a small drum roll, or at least he does when he remembers to.

The first verse introduces a fast-paced rhythm guitar pattern reminiscent of Bo Diddley while George handles vocals entirely by himself.  The melody lines of each verse consist primarily of eighth notes, which propel the song rather quickly into the lyrical hook-line of the songs' title at the end of each verse.  The 'pushes' that are accentuated in the refrain is previewed by Ringo's overdubbed Arabian drum accents on the 'one' and 'one-and' beat of each measure of the verses.

After the second verse is heard, we're taken directly into the first proper refrain, which premiers John and Paul's background vocals for the first time.  Their "oh-oh" backing vocals are almost too intrusive on George's lead vocals, but end up working nicely as a compliment to them.

The 'verse/ refrain/ verse' pattern continues until we reach what we would expect to be another refrain.  This becomes an 'alternate refrain' that is used for the songs' conclusion.  The last line of the last verse changes from the songs' title to "I've discovered I'm in love with you."  The word "you," which is usually where the eighth measure of the verse begins becomes the beginning of the seven-measure 'alternate refrain."  After the title of the song finally appears, we hear a doubly repeated set of "oh-oh" background vocals before the climax resolution in the home key.  And now we can finally breathe.

George Harrison did quite well in maintaining good pitch despite the fast-paced melody lines.  George Martin opted to maintain double-tracking on his voice throughout the song in both the mono and stereo mix of the song, which is different from many of the other tracks on the soundtrack where he faded in the double-tracking sparingly for needed effect (see "Tell Me Why," "And I Love Her" and "If I Fell").

Paul McCartney's bass work is next to be commended because of its' intricate counter-melody skillfully weaved in-between the fast-moving multiple chord changes throughout the song.  His high background harmonies are also 'spot on' as usual which, paired with Lennon's lower harmonies, create a suitable counter-melody in itself.  Adding a touch of reverb to these vocals sets it off quite nicely against the otherwise dry recording.

John Lennon's Bo Diddley-esque rhythm guitar work, although a little heavy-handed and behind the beat at times, adds a sophisticated feel to the song as well as propels the track to a rocket's pace.  It's quite apparent that, for a song that was viewed as such a 'throwaway,' a lot of thought and rehearsal went into it.

It seems that Ringo is the only one going along for the ride on this song.  He follows instructions by performing his accented 'pushes' in the song's introductions, but fails to remember to include them later, such as during the second refrain.  He even seems to be fumbling for where these accents go in the conclusion of the song; at first performing it in the fourth measure instead of the fifth, then just stopping in the fifth where he should have put the accent, then finally getting it right by the sixth measure.  Usually Ringo is on top of his game but, obviously on this occasion, he wasn't familiar enough with the song.  And, because this was the last day available to record the song before filming started, it was deemed 'good enough'.

As stated earlier, the lyrical subject of the song was a throwback to the teenage romanticism heard in earlier songs like "I Want To Hold Your Hand."  (Interestingly, the first line of the first verse of this song states "I don't want to...hold your hand.")  Being that Lennon was delving into more realism in his lyric writing at this time, we can see why he wouldn't have wanted to sing this one.  His extra-marital escapades of these early years are very well documented; therefore he wasn't at all happy just to dance with someone he was interested in.

Harrison's doleful vocal performance convey the lyrics convincingly for the most part, showing an innocent desire to dance with someone, that being 'everything he needs' and nothing more.  Even the girl questions his sincerity, which suggests the lyric "There is really nothing else I'd rather do."  The only lines that make your eyes roll are the ones that unrealistically state that "before this dance is through I guess I'll love you too."  They even take that idea further by making the pay-off line of the song "I've discovered I'm in love with you 'cause I'm happy just to dance with you."  Only heart-sick teenyboppers in the sixties would find this feasible.

However, when these lyrics are sung as a ballad, as in the case of Anne Murray's 1980 Adult Contemporary version, the sentiment takes on a much more convincing tone.  In fact, the beauty of the melody comes to the fore, making us realize all the more so what great songwriters Lennon and McCartney were (even when they weren't trying so hard).

 

United Artists Records' Soundtrack Album

American Releases

June 26th, 1964, was the date that United Artists Records rush-released their soundtrack album for "A Hard Day's Night."  This fast-selling platinum album was America's first glimpse of "I'm Happy Just To Dance With You," although Capitol Records were quick on their heels to make sure we all knew the song.  The American sountrack album, however, got its' compact disc release on January 21st., 2014, both the mono and stereo versions of the album being contained on a single CD.

Less than a month later, on July 20th, Capitol released their third Beatles album "Something New," which featured the song as well.  This album was also released on an individual compact disc on January 21st., 2014, both the mono and stereo versions being contained on one CD.  Also on the same date, they released the single "I'll Cry Instead" with "I'm Happy Just To Dance With You" as its' B-side, which briefly charted on its' own for one week at number 95 on the Billboard pop charts.

A segment of the song was included on the track "Beatle Medley" on the double-documentary album "The Beatles' Story," which was released on Capitol Records on November 23rd., 1964.  Surprisingly, this album was also released on compact disc on January 21st., 2014, but only as contained in the 13 album box set "The U.S. Albums." 

The song continued its' B-side role in 1982 as the flip-side to the successful hit single "The Beatles Movie Medley," which reached #12 on the Billboard pop charts.  The A-side featured snippets of songs from all five Beatles movies (including "Magical Mystery Tour") edited cohesively together.  The B-side originally was an interview with The Beatles about the making of "A Hard Day's Night" but, because they couldn't get the proper clearance, they replaced it with "I'm Happy Just To Dance With You."  Original copies with the interview B-side are quite the find today.

February 26th, 1987 saw the original "A Hard Day's Night" album released in mono in the compact disc format.  It was released in stereo on the re-mastered version that came out on September 9th, 2009.

On November 15th, 2004, the box set “The Capitol Albums, Volume 1” was released which features both the original stereo and mono mixes as originally heard on the album “Something New.”

A striking re-mastered mono mix of “I’m Happy Just To Dance With You” appears on the box set “The Beatles In Mono,” which was released on September 9th, 2009.

 

The Beatles recording for BBC radio

Live Performances

The song did have a brief performance history in 1964.  Other than the mimed sequence for the song in the film, they recorded a version of the song for the BBC radio show "From Us To You" on July 17th.  This version of the song, which aired in Britain on August 3rd, showed The Beatles taking a little more time for BBC recordings, actually double-tracking George's vocals, even though he interchanges different lines in the lyrics here and there.

The brief British tour in the fall of 1964 also featured the song as the spotlight for George in the set list.  This tour, which comprised two performances per date, ran from October 9th (at Gaumont Cinema in Bradford) to November 10th (at Colston Hall in Bristol).  For the remainder of 1964, George's feature song switched to the recently released "Everybody's Trying To Be My Baby."

 

Conclusion

Since this was the last time that Lennon and McCartney had to supply a song for George Harrison to sing, they could now breathe a little easier.  George stepped up his songwriting game from 1965 on, submitting two songs for both albums released that year, so he never was at any loss for new material.  All that John and Paul had to worry about now was preparing songs for Ringo since he also had a legion of fans, especially in America.  Even though he tried his hand at being a composer as early as 1964, he wasn't ready to take the reins until 1968 with his self-penned "Don't Pass Me By."

The development of George Harrison as a songwriter was something that we all could witness as it progressed.  His lyrical negativity ("Don't Bother Me," "Think For Yourself") turned observably more positive with time ("Long, Long, Long," "Here Comes The Sun").  His downbeat chord structures and melody lines ("Taxman," "Love You To") became much more major and upbeat as well ("For You Blue," "Something").  And this is not even mentioning his foray into Indian influences ("Within You, Without You," "The Inner Light").

Only with hindsight can we see the personality George displayed through his songs.  Not being able to use this as foreknowledge, John and Paul wrote specifically for what they perceived at the time to be his taste.  Therefore they arrived at "I'm Happy Just To Dance With You" with its' limited vocal range and the adolescent quality of the lyrics.  As we all can now see, George Harrison possessed the inner capability of expressing himself with much more aplomb. 

Song Summary

 "I'm Happy Just To Dance With You"

Written by:  John Lennon / Paul McCartney

  • Song Written: February 1964
  • Song Recorded: March 1, 1964
  • First US Release Date: June 26, 1964
  • First US Album Release: United Artists #UAS 6366 "A Hard Day's Night"
  • US Single Release: Capitol #5234 (b-side to "I'll Cry Instead")
  • Highest Chart Position: #95
  • British Album Release: Parlophone #PCS 3058 "A Hard Day's Night"
  • Length: 1:59
  • Key: C major
  • Producer: George Martin
  • Engineers: Norman Smith, Richard Langham

Instrumentation:

  • George Harrison - Lead Vocals, Rhythm Guitar (1963 Rickenbacker 360-12 Fire-glo)
  • John Lennon - Rhythm Guitar (1964 Rickenbacker 325), backing vocals
  • Paul McCartney - Bass Guitar (1963 Hofner 500/1), backing vocals
  • Ringo Starr - Drums (1963 Ludwig Downbeat Black Oyster Pearl), Arabian drum

 Written and compiled by Dave Rybaczewski

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