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“I CALL YOUR NAME”

(John Lennon - Paul McCartney)

Arguably, no other musical artists’ songs have attracted as much speculation as has The Beatles.  Die-hard fans of the group just seem to need to know what the lyrics of their songs mean.  Many fans, as well as critics and authors, hold on tightly to their interpretations even when all available evidence points elsewhere.  For instance; what actually is “norwegian wood,” did the title “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” intentionally mean to spell out “LSD,” and, most famously, did The Beatles actually insert hidden clues in their music to give listeners the impression that Paul McCartney was dead?

Of lesser significance, nonetheless still interesting, is the true intention of the lyrics to “I Call Your Name.”  It may appear to have an obvious meaning on the surface, but deep down does it mean something else?  Even the song’s co-author can do nothing but speculate.  “When I look back at some of these lyrics,” McCartney has stated, “I think: Wait a minute.  What did he mean?  ‘I call your name but you’re not there.’  Is it his mother?  His father?  I must admit I didn’t really see that as we wrote it because we were just a couple of young guys writing.  You didn’t look behind it at the time, it was only later you started analyzing things.”

Because of Lennon’s passing on December 8, 1980, the speculation can only continue regarding this and many others of his songs.  As we analyze these lyrics below, we may be able to get a glimpse of what his intentions were with regard to this song.  We may individually reach a conclusion, but we all have to humbly admit that we probably will never know for sure.

John Lennon's first band, The Quarrymen, July 6th, 1957

Songwriting History

“That was my song,” said John Lennon in his 1980 Playboy interview, “when there was no Beatles and no group.  I just had it around.  It was my effort as a kind of blues originally, and then I wrote the middle eight just to stick it in the album when it came out years later.  The first part had been written before Hamburg even.  It was one of my first attempts at a song.”

Since John has stated in interviews that be began writing songs “when I got my first guitar,” and this was one of his first attempts at songwriting, the main portions of the song could easily date back as far as March 1957 when John received his first guitar.  Since his first group, The Quarrymen, was formed shortly after he got his guitar, the song most likely was conceived within the time period of March and April of that year.   The style of the song fits in with this time frame, as it harkens back to pre-rock and roll days, more reminiscent of Bing Crosby than Chuck Berry.

One thing that Lennon failed to mention was that McCartney did help him with the song during a writing session at John’s home with his Aunt Mimi on Menlove Avenue shortly after he joined the Quarrymen.  “Physically it was always a bad idea for us to sit side by side on the bed in his bedroom,” Paul remembers.  “The necks of our guitars were always banging.”  Nonetheless, McCartney claims “We worked on it together, but it was John’s idea.”

After Lennon had it “around” for six years, he pulled it from his memory banks in May of 1963 to construct the “middle eight,” or bridge section, to offer to the latest Brian Epstein protégé Billy J. Kramer.  Epstein had been encouraging the burgeoning Lennon/McCartney songwriting team to offer original songs for other artists to perform so as to earn additional royalty payments.  They were happy to acquiesce, but only with what they felt were substandard material.  They had already offered “Do You Want To Know A Secretand “I’ll Be On My Way” to Kramer and, when more were requested, dusted off “Bad To Me” and “I Call Your Name.”

We do know that the song was completely written as of June 1963, since Lennon had recorded a demo of the song to give to Billy J. Kramer at that time.  Kramer and his group The Dakotas recorded the song on June 27th and released the song as the flip side to “Bad To Me” which reached #1 in Britain.  Since the song languished on the B-side of Kramer’s single, Lennon decided to reclaim the song as a Beatles track in March of 1964.

The Beatles in EMI studio two, 1964

Recording History

Many may have questions regarding the recording history of “I Call Your Name” because of the subtle differences between the mono and stereo mixes they are used to hearing.  These differences aren’t so much a product of the recording as they are of the mixes that were made of the song.  The actual recording was very simple and quite the usual process for The Beatles and everyone involved.

March 1, 1964, was the last date utilized for recording their first batch of songs for their upcoming first film, eventually titled “A Hard Day’s Night.”  Three songs were recorded in EMI studio two for this three hour morning/afternoon session which ran from 10 am to 1:30 pm.  After completely finishing “I’m Happy Just To Dance With You” and “Long Tall Sally,” they started on “I Call Your Name,” which would make it approximately noon.

Before the first take of the song, Lennon asked George Martin, who was in the control room, “Do you think it’s a bit much doing Billy J.’s intro and solo?  Cos it’s our song anyroad, innit?”  When you listen to Billy J. Kramer’s version of the song, you see that The Beatles did decide to use the intro and solo previously recorded for his version.

They did seven takes of the song live with all Beatles playing the usual instruments, although only three of those takes were complete.  Take seven was found to be the best, over which two overdubs were performed, one for double tracking John’s vocals and the other for Ringo to play a cowbell throughout the entire song.  This wrapped up the session for the day at 1:30 pm, preparing for the first day of shooting for “A Hard Day’s Night” the next day.

Now the mixing process begins.  Two days later, on March 3rd, George Martin and engineers Norman Smith and A.B. Lincoln, convened in the control room of EMI studio one to prepare mono mixes for six of the recently recorded songs.  These mixes were hurriedly made because of United Artists’ urgent request for the songs to be used in the film.  Since “I Call Your Name” was one of the songs mixed on this day, it can be assumed that they intended the song to be in the movie at this stage.  Since the title track to the movie wasn’t yet written or recorded, “I Call Your Name” obviously got replaced in the soundtrack when the song “A Hard Day’s Night” eventually materialized.  Either way, as it turned out, the mix for “I Call Your Name” made on this day was ultimately scrapped.

The next day, March 4th, saw the first mono mix of the song that did get released.  George Martin entered the control room of studio three between 10 and 11 am with an unnamed engineer to create another mono mix of the song.  This is the mono mix that was sent to the US for inclusion on the rush-released “The Beatles’ Second Album.”  It was decided during this mix that the solo section was performed better on a previous take, so this was edited into take seven just after the double-tracked lyric “I call your name” in the third verse, evidenced by the disappearing of the cowbell at that point.  After the solo is complete, take seven reappears with the lyric “don’t you know I can’t take it,” which brings back the cowbell for the rest of the song.

March 10, 1964, saw George Martin and Norman Smith enter EMI studio two to create seven mixes, four of them stereo, for newly recorded Beatles’ songs.  “I Call Your Name” received its’ first stereo mix on this day, which was also rushed off to Capitol Records in America for “The Beatles’ Second Album.”

There are some noteworthy differences in this first stereo mix.  First of all, a decision was made to use a different introduction to the song from an earlier take, however this take did not have either the cowbell or double-tracked vocal overdubs applied to it since it was not deemed good enough at the time of recording.  As it is, the beginning guitar intro by George Harrison is noticeably different from what is heard in the earlier mono mix taken directly from take seven.  Just as John starts singing “I call your name,” the cowbell appears for the first time.  The solo section is also edited in to the mix like it was for the previous mono mix, but the edit comes just before John sings “I call your name” at the end of the third verse, leaving it without the cowbell during those words.    It’s also noteworthy to mention that the vocals and the cowbell appear in the right channel of this first stereo mix.  Since both of these mixes were released in the US on the mono and stereo versions of “The Beatles’ Second Album” respectively, America got to become familiar with these unique versions of the song.

June 4, 1964, saw another mono mix of the song which was ultimately the one used in Britain for the “Long Tall Sally” EP, released on June 19th.  George Martin, Norman Smith and 2nd engineer Richard Langham entered EMI Studio Two on this day with, once again, editing the song in mind.  Like the mono mix sent to the US, they stuck strictly to take seven for the introduction which has the cowbell appear right from the beginning of the song.  When editing in the solo section from that previous take, the edit appeared just before the words “I call your name” in the third verse, at which point the cowbell disappears.  It then reappears when the solo is over just as the words “don’t you know I can’t take it” are said.

June 22, 1964, three days after the British EP was released, another stereo mix of the song was prepared during a marathon mixing session for the upcoming “A Hard Day’s Night” album.  This session, attended only by George Martin, Norman Smith and engineer Geoff Emerick, took place in the control room of EMI Studio One.  That this mix ever materialized indicates that they were still considering including the song on the album, although obviously this idea was dropped shortly thereafter.

Just like the earlier stereo mix, the EMI staff incorporated the introduction from an earlier take without the overdubs, thereby omitting the cowbell.  However, this time they were a little late in returning back to the finished take seven with the overdubs, so the first line, “I call you name,” is from the earlier take and is therefore single-tracked.  They then decided to edit back to take seven at the beginning of the second measure, which brings the cowbell for the first time in the song just before the words “but you’re not there.”  The solo section is still edited in from the earlier take of the song, but it comes in just after the words “I call your name” at the end of the third verse, which therefore has the cowbell playing through those words.  Unlike the previous stereo mix that has the vocals in the right channel only, these elements are now centered in this newer stereo mix.  This hurriedly done mix didn’t get released until the 1976 “Rock ‘n’ Roll Music” compilation.

After all was said and done, there were four unique mixes of “I Call Your Name” made in 1964, two of them released in Britain and two in the US.

 

Song Structure and Style

“I Call Your Name” has a structure similar to most of the Lennon/McCartney originals up to this point, which consists of a 'verse/ verse/ bridge/ verse' structure (or aaba), but with a few unique features.  It may appear on the surface that the first two verses constitute one verse altogether, but upon closer inspection they are similar enough in chord structure and melody line to be viewed separately, which consistently fits it into the usual aaba mold.

We start off with a four measure introduction complete with guitar phrase (copied pretty much from Billy J. Kramer’s version) which follows a similar chord pattern as the last four measures of the second and fourth verse, as we’ll see later.  This creates a nice segue into the first verse.

This first verse is eight measures long with chord changes every two measures and features four short lyrical phrases, one for every chord change.  The second verse starts immediately afterward as if it is connected and follows a similar pattern except for the last four measures which change chords every measure and end at the home key, which differentiates it from the first verse.

The eight measure bridge also features the four short lyrical phrases, but the lead guitar plays a double-time pattern similar to the one heard throughout the song “Hold Me Tight.”  After this we hear the third verse which is identical in structure to the second except for different lyrics.

Then we go for a left turn.  An eight measure instrumental section appears next which takes us away from the slow ‘beat style’ rhythm to a style which was becoming popular in Britain in the early sixties dubbed “blue beat.”  This term was coined to describe early Jamaican music, or “ska,” which was released on the label Blue Beat Records in the UK.  This syncopated rhythm focusing on offbeats, which found its’ way to American shores shortly afterward with songs like “My Boy Lollipop” by Millie Small, was quite new to US ears.

Lennon actually tried to utilize this musical style much later in his career during the bridge section of his hit “Mind Games,” although he found that American studio musicians still hadn’t grasped this concept yet.  “I should have invested in reggae because I never thought the Americans would get on,” stated Lennon.  “The Beatles made an attempt at ‘ska’ - the middle - the solo on ‘I Call Your Name’ was ‘ska’ - deliberate and conscious.”

The Beatles attempt at “blue beat” (or “ska”) in this song was a bit clumsy but adventurous.  McCartney switched to a walking bass line, Ringo emphasized a swing style drum beat, and Harrison played a syncopated version of the guitar solo heard in Billy J. Kramer’s version of the song.

We then switch back to a straight ‘beat style’ rhythm with a reprise of the bridge and final verse, which ends the song rather identically to George’s “Don’t Bother Me.”  The title of the song is heard repeatedly as the song fades with two chords alternating, the second chord always coming in on the syncopated “four-and,” which is the only time this is heard during the song.

Lennon’s double-tracked vocal is the only voice heard in the song, which is sung dogmatically compared to Kramer’s submissive delivery.  Because of the pairing of painful lyrics with a joyous major key, the forceful vocal delivery tends to diminish the intended seriousness of the song.  For instance, the jubilant final phrase of the melody line in the second verse denotes a positive tone, but the actual words are proclaiming “I can’t go on.”  Adding this with his excited yelp before the guitar solo and the falsetto “ooh” at the end of the song, we get the impression that he’s not quite as hurt by the situation he’s singing about after all.

Harrison attempts to be creative but, possibly because of his not being that familiar with this piece, comes across somewhat ham-fisted throughout.  He flubs his double-time guitar runs in the bridge a few times, which seemingly came with ease on “Hold Me Tight” the year before.  Given more time to perfect, and in not so much of a hurry to get filming for their movie the next day, he no doubt would have been able to nail it in another few takes.

McCartney plays somewhat rudimentarily throughout except for the walking bass lines in the instrumental section and the octave jumps as the song fades.  Ringo doesn’t stray too much from his beat-style pattern throughout except for the “ska” instrumental section and the syncopated accents in the closing seconds of the song.

The musicianship in this song is not where the actual charm lies, but in the song itself.  Lyrically we follow the story of heartbreak and desperation, presumably the loss of a significant other.  But, because of our widespread knowledge of Lennon’s personal life, one can speculate that the pain is actually from another source.  As indicated above, even McCartney wonders if the loss depicted in this song concerned John’s childhood without his father or possibly the loss of his mother Julia.

One possibility that we may be able to rule out is his mother’s death, which occurred on July 15, 1958, more than a year before the estimated time the bulk of the song was written.  The lyrics could well have been inspired by John growing up most of his life without his father Alfred “Freddie” Lennon.  In fact, the line “was I to blame for being unfair” could possibly depict how as a child John was asked to choose which parent he wanted to live with, subsequently choosing his mother.

Another indication in favor of this speculation is the line “I never weep at night,” which is vehemently repeated three times in the song although it appears to be a meaningless thought if the song concerns a lost romantic love.  Visions of young John growing more and more detached from the memory of his father would make this line make a little more sense.  Nonetheless, since the song’s co-author doesn’t even know the true answer, we surely will never know either.

American Releases

The main release of the song was on the April 10, 1964 Capitol album “The Beatles’ Second Album,” which featured the March 4th mono mix on the mono copies and the March 10th stereo mix on the stereo copies.  On January 21st, 2014, this album was released as an individual compact disc for the first time, the mono and stereo mixes being contained on a single CD.

June 7, 1976 saw the second release of the song on the Capitol double-compilation album “Rock ‘n’ Roll Music.”  The later June 22nd stereo mix appeared on this release.  On October 27, 1980, albums one and two of this collection were divided and released in two volumes, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Music, Volume 1” containing the same stereo mix “I Call Your Name.”

March 7, 1988 saw the fourth release of the song on the compilation CD “Past Masters, Volume One,” which also contained the later June 22nd stereo mix.  Both volumes of "Past Masters" were then combined on September 9th, 2009 into one stereo volume simply entitled "Past Masters."  The same June 22nd stereo mix appears on this re-mastered release.

On June 30th, 1992, Capitol released a CD box set entitled “Compact Disc EP Collection” which contained all of the British EP’s in mono.  This is the first time that the June 4th, mono mix of “I Call Your Name,” as originally heard in Britain, was released in the US.

On November 16th, 2004, a box set entitled “The Capitol Albums, Vol. 1” was released which feature both of the early mixes of “I Call Your Name” as originally released in the US on “The Beatles’ Second Album.”  A promotional CD Sampler of this box set was distributed to radio stations that also included these same stereo and mono mixes of the song.

On September 9th, 2009, the June 4th mono mix of the song, as originally contained on the British “Long Tall Sally” EP, appeared in the box set “The Beatles In Mono” on a CD entitled “Mono Masters.”  This being the case, all four 1964 mixes of “I Call Your Name” are now readily available in the US on compact disc.

 

The Beatles recording in BBC studios

Live Performances

It seems that The Beatles never performed “I Call Your Name” outside of EMI studios other than for one performance for BBC radio.  The song was recorded on March 31, 1964 for the BBC show “Saturday Club,” which aired on April 4th.

Surprisingly Ringo recorded and taped a performance of the song for British television in commemoration of what would be John’s 50th birthday, and also the 10th anniversary of his death.  Being that the Travelling Wilburys were in popularity at the time, the band that played with Ringo encompasses Jeff Lynne on rhythm guitar and Tom Petty on bass, as well as Joe Walsh on lead guitar and Jim Keltner on cowbell.  While this version has the obvious Jeff Lynne production trademark as well as a finely done double-tracked vocal from Ringo, it remains to be released commercially.

John Lennon, 1957

Conclusion

The songwriting talent of John Lennon can truly be said to have dazzled the world.  From the beauty and inspirational quality of “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Imagine” to the paean-like “All You Need Is Love” and “Give Peace A Chance,” which have become anthems of our generation.

Since the passing of time has done nothing but accentuate the giftedness of Lennon’s abilities, it is only natural for some to inquire of his humble beginnings as a songwriter.  “I Call Your Name” answers these inquiries, since it is the earliest known song written by John Lennon.  This painful and (possibly) personal account, which predates the anguish of “I’m A Loser” and “Help!” by seven or eight years, shows Lennon quite comfortable in exposing his personal feelings effectively in song.

Song Summary

"I Call Your Name

Written by:  John Lennon / Paul McCartney

  • Song Written: March 1957 (approx.)
  • Song Recorded:  March 1, 1964
  • First US Release Date: April 10, 1964
  • First US Album Release:  Capitol #ST 2080 The Beatles’ Second Album
  • US Single Release: n/a
  • Highest Chart Position: n/a
  • British Album Release: Parlophone # PCSP 719 “Rock ‘n’ Roll Music”
  • Length: 2:09
  • Key: E major
  • Producer: George Martin
  • Engineers: Norman Smith, Richard Langham

Instrumentation (most likely):

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

Written and compiled by Dave Rybaczewski

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