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“HOLD ME TIGHT”
(John Lennon / Paul McCartney)
Nine times during The Beatles studio career they recorded what they thought were finished songs, only to completely remake them at a later date, which in effect created two complete versions of the same songs. This, of course, is not to be confused with multiple takes of songs as they were recording them, or songs that were changing shape or style during the recording process. These nine times were unique in that when they went home at the end of the day, they thought they had a finished song, but later decided to scrap the whole recording and "start from scratch" later.
In almost all of these instances, we are now able to hear both versions, such as with “Norwegian Wood,” “Love Me Do,” “Revolution,” “I’m Looking Through You” and “Strawberry Fields Forever.” This situation, made possible mostly by the Anthology series of albums, provides an interesting insight into their recording process, as well as into The Beatles' mindset in the studio.
There is only one instance in the history of The Beatles' recording career that we can’t hear both versions of a song that The Beatles recorded. “Hold Me Tight,” an original Lennon and McCartney "beat" song, was recorded and completed for their first British album “Please Please Me” on February 11th, 1963 along with the rest of the album. Every intention was to release this song on that album. However, all evidence to date verifies that the tape containing this recording has been lost, recorded over or destroyed. For whatever reason, this version no longer exists.
Fortunately, the song was completely remade on September 12th, 1963 for their second British album “With The Beatles” and debuted in America on the Capitol album “Meet The Beatles!” We will probably never know how that first version of the song really sounded, although lost master tapes have been known to mysteriously reappear at a later time, but an analysis of the released version will prove invaluable for the Beatle audiophile of today.
Paul McCartney's Forthlin Road home
Number 20, Forthlin Road, Allerton, was the home of the McCartney family from 1955 to 1964. Paul McCartney and John Lennon would frequently skip school and meet back at Paul’s Forthlin Road home to write songs while the rest of the family were away. It was here, shortly after their September 11th, 1962 recording session that produced "Love Me Do" and "P.S. I Love You," that they collaborated on “Hold Me Tight” as a possible future ‘hit’ single. Described as “a McCartney number” by most sources, Paul insists that it was a collaborative effort, although he did compose the bulk of the song.
“When we first started it was all singles and we were always trying to write singles,” McCartney stated, continuing “’Hold Me Tight’ was a failed attempt at a single which then became an acceptable album filler.” On another occasion, Paul referred to it as another "work" song, which indicated his not thinking much of it in retrospect. Lennon concurred, one time saying that he “was never really interested in it either way.”
Regardless of their dismissal of the song in later interviews, they obviously put a lot of work into it during the writing process. Paul described the song as "a bit Shirelles," indicating that it was influenced by the work of one of their favorite female groups of the time, The Shirelles. The Beatles had a particular fondness for the "girl groups" of the early sixties, The Shirelles being the first all-girl group to make the number one spot on the American Billboard charts. Among The Shirelles songs that The Beatles performed in the early sixties, both “Baby It’s You” and “Boys” were recorded for their first British album. “P.S. I Love You” was said to be inspired primarily by The Shirelles huge hit “Soldier Boy.”
Another seemingly obvious inspiration for “Hold Me Tight” is the Carl Perkins classic “Sure To Fall,” which The Beatles performed regularly, even including it in their BBC radio shows. This song contains the line “so hold me tight, let tonight be the night, darling, don’t ever let me go.” Since Perkins had such an unmistakable influence on The Beatles as a whole, it is not out of line to suggest this song’s lyrics being an inspiration for “Hold Me Tight.”
The Beatles at EMI studio 2, 1963
As stated earlier, “Hold Me Tight” was one of five original Lennon / McCartney compositions recorded during their marathon recording session on February 11th, 1963 to complete their first British album “Please Please Me.” Since they were determined to achieve success by recording their own compositions, like their musical heroes Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry and Carl Perkins, they set out to record as many of their original songs as possible. Six other songs were started and completed during this full day at EMI studio two, making a total of eleven songs in one day.
The evening session, which ran from 7:30 to 10:45 pm, started off with this song. Since 13 takes were performed, it can be estimated that a full hour was devoted to it, from 7:30 to 8:30 pm. Of those 13 takes, only two were complete versions. Five of the attempts were false starts, one is described as a “breakdown” because of an unexplained “error,” and four were takes of an edit piece. The intention was to edit take nine (one of the complete live versions) with take 13 (the best attempt at the edit piece) in order to create a master version of the song. Other songs recorded on this day received similar treatment, such as the edit of “I Saw Her Standing There.”
In this case, though, the 14 song requirement for a standard British album was filled without “Hold Me Tight” and, possibly to save the trouble of editing on a tight budget, this song became the 15th song that wasn’t needed. (The A- and B-sides of their first two singles filled the other tracks on the album.) At this point in the game, the budget allocated for an upcoming new group was minimal; hence the one day rushed schedule for recording an album. Whatever the reason may have been, “Hold Me Tight” was deemed the weakest track and didn’t make the album.
Fortunately, The Beatles were not going to let this one fall through the cracks. When pressed for new material for their second British album, they remembered that “Hold Me Tight” wasn’t yet released and proceeded to resurrect it. But, instead of bringing out the old tape, a decision was made to start it again fresh. The reason may have been that the original tape was recorded over or already scrapped. In any event, on September 12th, 1963, their fourth recording session for the album, the song was begun anew.
The first of two sessions on this day, spanning from 2:30 to 6:30 pm, started with recording four special messages for broadcast on Australian radio to promote their upcoming concert tour of that country. Afterwards, at approximately 4:00 pm, work began on the remake of “Hold Me Tight.” They started the takes at the round number of “take 20” to compensate for the original 13 takes and their probably not remembering how many takes they had made of the first version.
Ten takes were needed to complete the song on this day. After four false starts, take 24 was the first complete version and became the keeper. Onto it was added overdubs of handclaps and additional background vocals, which took the song to take 26, making the song almost complete. Take 29 has been stipulated as being edited onto the song to form the master version as we know it. Because a sudden change in volume can be slightly detected just before the ritardando in the closing seconds of the song, take 29 was no doubt an edit piece allowing The Beatles to perfect the song's conclusion. Since the handclaps are present in this section of the song as well, the actual edit piece may very well have been perfected in takes 27 and 28 while another quick handclapping overdub may have taken the song to its 29th take. In any event, take 29 was edited on to take 26 to form the completed song on September 30th, which was presided over by producer George Martin and engineers Norman Smith and Geoff Emerick. The first mono mix of the song was also made during this day.
A second mono mix of the song was made on October 23rd also by Martin and Smith. It is not known which of these two mono mixes made it onto the “Meet The Beatles!” album in the US. The stereo mix of the song, though, was definitely the one made on October 29th by Martin, Smith, Emerick and B.T.
Although official documents do not mention it, the song was speeded up from the original recording, which elevated the key signature from E major to F major. This is sometimes done to create a tighter performance and has been done to good effect at different times throughout The Beatles recording career, as well as slowing down the tape in the cases of “Rain” and “Strawberry Fields Forever” for a completely different effect. In the case of “Hold Me Tight,” it can be assumed that the song was speeded up during the mastering process or when tape copies were made since, according to Geoff Emerick, the process of "vari-speeding" wasn't available at EMI until much later, probably around 1966.
Song Structure and Style
Although some could argue that this song contains a “chorus,” which was a rare occurrence at this early stage in the Lennon / McCartney songwriting career, what we actually are hearing is the second half of the verse. Therefore, the structure of “Hold Me Tight” falls in the usual category of 'verse/ verse/ bridge/ verse' (or aaba). There are a good many nuances that occur within this structure, though, as we will examine. The bridge and last verse are repeated, as with many Beatles songs, but no solo is heard in the song.
We start off with a quick two-bar introduction, which sounds to many ears as if we’re entering into a song already in progress. This is not the case, as this and the other takes of the song begin at this point, so The Beatles intended the song to start this way. Already we feel the high energy intensity of the song, with Harrison’s ostinato guitar phrase and handclapping right from the get-go. Since we hear the lyrical introduction to the song with the words “it feels so right now,” we can deduce that this introduction is actually a reference to the end of the bridge, so we will hear this introductory lyric twice more in the song when both bridges are played.
Each verse is, for all intents and purposes, 16 bars long, but we will see a subtle trick being utilized in the second and third verses. The first verse, though, is a full 16 bars which are energetically performed highlighting McCartney’s lead vocal and proficient harmonies from Lennon and Harrison which were both performed live and overdubbed - the first half of every verse contains overdubbed harmony vocals, while the second half was sung live during the original performance. The second half of the verse, which drives home the title of the song, displays a “question and answer” vocal style which occurs often in The Beatles catalog. The “rising and falling” tension of the second half of the verse acts as the primary hook of the song, ending with the anticipated climax of the melodic high note, in the thirteenth bar on the word “you.”
This word “you” becomes a pivotal feature of the song as we see at the end of the second verse. This verse is nearly identical to the first verse with the exception of a couple lyric phrases, although its ending is somewhat tricky. What would be the 16th bar of the second verse actually becomes the first bar of the eight-bar bridge, the word “you” connecting the second verse with the bridge. The last lyrical phrase of the verse is “it’s you” while the first lyrical phrase of the bridge is “you don’t know what it means to hold you tight.” So, although the song is fully symmetrical, the second and third verses each share a measure with their bridge, as well as the word “you.”
To further show the complexity of the song, the bridge dips the song into a minor key while the rest of the song is major. Since the writing of this song pre-dates “P.S. I Love You,” which also combines major and minor chords, this shows the grasp that Lennon and McCartney had on songwriting structure even in their formative years. The end of the first verse ends in the transitional major C chord, while the second and third verses end by introducing the minor sounding A flat chord, which is heard in the shared bar connecting the second verse with the bridge.
The bridge is therefore eight bars long and features McCartney singing alone except for the final bar. This adds a nice variation to the structure which relieves the tension created in the first two verses. The final lyrical phrase of the bridge, “it feels so right,” was what we heard in the introduction of the song, which reveals to us the rightful location of that phrase; we now realize that it is actually a transitional part of the bridge that we received an early glimpse of in the introduction.
After a third verse, which is only slightly altered lyrically, we then enter into an identical repeat of the bridge and third verse. After this final verse, we hear what appears to be the beginning of another bridge, but what actually occurs is a ritardando which makes the song grind to a halt. This final section of the song, the “outro” if you will, is four bars long including the shared final bar of the last verse. So, with the shared bar between the verses and bridges and the ritardando at the close of the song, we see that The Beatles have some pretty nifty songwriting and performance tricks up their sleeves. Not bad for a song that most reference works dismiss as “disastrous” and “below par.”
The song has also taken a lot of flack throughout the years because of the lyrics, which are considered especially pedestrian and cliché heavy. While this is definitely true, it isn’t any less complex than many Beatles songs written up to that point, “I Want To Hold Your Hand” being a prime example. The lyrics are a simple plea from the singer to ‘hold him tight’ explaining what it would mean to him. No consideration is given to the feelings of the ‘girl’ in question, which is standard for McCartney lyrics at the time.
The song has been considered ‘explicit’ by many, simply by its inclusion of the phrase “making love,” which was risqué for 1964. It passed the censors probably because it wasn’t released as a single and didn’t receive much radio airplay. Van Morrison, for example, didn’t get past these censors in 1967 when he sang about “making love in the green grass” with his “Brown Eyed Girl.” This song had to be treated to the editing scissors to make it to American AM radio, just as “Hold Me Tight” probably would have been if presented for airplay.
Performance wise, the tip of the hat goes primarily to George Harrison for his ostinato guitar phrases that snake through the entire song, negotiating every chord change without hardly missing a beat. Knowing that his guitar part was recorded live while singing background vocals during the full band rhythm track shows the professionalism George brought to the table within The Beatles. Note also how he continues to perform these phrases through the ritardando at the end of the song, never losing the decreasing tempo. An excellent performance!
Paul is next to be commended for his bass work which mimics George’s guitar phrases, although it is so low in the mix as to be hardly discernable, as with many of the tracks on this album. That Paul performed this while belting out his lead vocals during the live rhythm track is truly an accomplishment. While many are quick to point out the stray off-key notes that appear at times in his lead vocals, what can be said is that the listener is getting a true taste of the live Beatles in this song, warts and all. The vocals are not double-tracked as many of the songs on this album are, so there is nothing manufactured about this cut.
Ringo does well in effectively displaying the effervescent ‘beat’ style of the early Cavern years, once again complimenting the end of each bridge with his uniquely awkward drum fills. Note also his switch to riding on his toms for the bridge to compliment the minor key change, adding a nice variation to the arrangement. Lennon’s rhythm guitar is faintly heard in the mix until the bridge, where we distinctly hear him strum each chord change on the one beat of each measure (although he does miss a couple here and there). This rhythm guitar arrangement for the bridge is heard periodically in The Beatles catalog, such as with “I Should Have Known Better.” John does quite well with his background harmonies although, as he’s personally admitted, they have never been his strong suit.
Curiously, concerning the overdubbed background vocals, all three times the phrase “it feels so right” occurs in the song, the background vocals follow this with the word “so” while Paul’s lead vocal sings “now.” Opinions differ as to whether this was a mistake made an unbelievable three times or an intentional experiment. For those who look for flaws, there are many to be found in “Hold Me Tight” as well as most other Beatles songs. For those who just like to enjoy the music, like myself, these flaws are minimal in significance aside from showing the human element in full force.
Capitol's "Meet The Beatles" album
The first US release of “Hold Me Tight” was on “Meet The Beatles!,” the first official Capitol album released on January 20th, 1964. This album was finally released on an individual compact disc on January 21st, 2014, both the mono and stereo mixes being contained on a single CD. "Hold Me Tight" has never appeared on any compilation album, single or EP.
The February 26th, 1987 released compact disc “With The Beatles” contains the song in mono while the remastered version released on September 9th, 2009 contains the song in stereo.
The November 15th, 2006 box set “The Capitol Albums, Vol. 1” also contains the song both in stereo and mono as originally heard on the "Meet The Beatles!" album.
On September 9th, 2009, the box set “The Beatles In Mono” was released which features the newly remastered mono version of “Hold Me Tight.”
The Beatles in Hamburg, 1961 (with Stu Sutcliffe and Pete Best)
It has been confirmed that the song was included in their set lists in 1962 and 1963 during their Cavern Club and Hamburg performances. Because it was not loved by the band, their 1963 performances of the song were minimal, which led to the song being dropped from their act even before it was released in Britain in November. The song was never performed for any of their BBC recording sessions. It appears that “Hold Me Tight” was quickly forgotten after it was completed at EMI studios.
Scene from the 2007 movie "Across The Universe"
For a song that has been given such a ‘bad rap’ over the years, discerning ears can detect a skillful use of songwriting tricks as well as a thunderous studio performance. Its surprising inclusion in the opening segments of the 2007 Academy Award nominated musical “Across The Universe” shows it as an accurate representation of teenage romance and thereby gives the song its due merit.
Although the near-spotless reputation of The Beatles continues to escalate towards sainthood without “Hold Me Tight” being recognized for what it was, credit should still be given when due. Far from being “half finished,” as some critics have complained, we see in this song The Beatles, McCartney in particular, flexing their songwriting muscles by concocting an imaginative and tightly woven arrangement early in their career. Well done!
“Hold Me Tight”
Written by: John Lennon / Paul McCartney
- Song Written: September, 1962
- Song Recorded: September 12, 1963
- First US Release Date: January 20, 1964
- First US Album Release: Capitol #ST-2047 “Meet The Beatles!”
- US Single Release: n/a
- Highest Chart Position: n/a
- British Album Release: Parlophone #PCS 3045 “With The Beatles”
- Length: 2:32
- Key: F major
- Producer: George Martin
- Engineers: Norman Smith, Richard Langham
Instrumentation (most likely):
- Paul McCartney - Lead and Background Vocals, Bass Guitar (1961 Hofner 500/1), Handclaps
- George Harrison – Lead Guitar (Gretsch 6122 Country Gentleman), Background Vocals, Handclaps
- John Lennon – Rhythm Guitar (1958 Rickenbacker 325), Background Vocals, Handclaps
- Ringo Starr – Drums (Ludwig), Handclaps
Written and compiled by David Rybaczewski
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