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“SHE’S LEAVING HOME”
(John Lennon – Paul McCartney)
“George Martin had the idea to put the string quartet on it and I said, ‘No, I don’t think so.’ He said, ‘I’ve really got a feeling for it. I can hear it working.’ So I said, ‘Oh, a string quartet, it’s very classical, I’m not interested really…’”
This first-hand account from Paul McCartney concerning his reluctance to add a string arrangement to his 1965 classic “Yesterday” had certainly changed once he had heard the finished product. The overwhelming response to this song undoubtedly was the impetus to the use of stringed instruments on the remainder of the albums released by the group. They had taken this instrumentation to the next level in 1966 with “Eleanor Rigby,” them gaining a Grammy award in the process. And then, with their intense focus on the recording process in 1967, they took yet a different course with this instrumentation on the beautifully poignant “She’s Leaving Home.”
This snapshot of the sixties’ generation gap and its’ sad outcome within the family leaves hardly a dry eye when the lyrics are contemplated. As the years have gone by, the message most assuredly stands the test of time.
February 27, 1967 issue of London's Daily Mail
“Turn on, tune in, drop out.” This phrase, first popularized by counter-culturist Timothy Leary in late 1966, advocated embracing cultural changes and detaching yourself from existing forms of conventionality. Leary explained in his 1983 autobiography “Flashbacks” that “drop out” meant “self-reliance, a discovery of one's singularity, a commitment to mobility, choice, and change.”
The result of this highly publicized suggestion was, as Steve Turner’s book “A Hard Day’s Write” indicates, “streams of young people headed for San Francisco, center of Flower Power, leading the FBI to announce a record number of 90,000 runaways” in 1967. The youth of that time would often quit school and anything else that had made them conform to ‘straight’ society, virtually vanishing from their previous lifestyle to one of supposed ‘freedom.’
One such teenager was Melanie Coe, the daughter of John and Elsie Coe from Stamford Hill, London. The February 27th, 1967 isuue of London’s Daily Mail featured an article about her disappearance with the heading “A-Level Girl Dumps Car And Vanishes.” It described Melanie as “the schoolgirl who seemed to have everything,” leaving not only her Austin 1100 outside the house unlocked, but also “a wardrobe full of clothes,” taking “only those she was wearing.” Her father was quoted as exclaiming, “I cannot imagine why she should run away. She has everything here…even her fur coat.”
“We’d seen a story in the newspaper about a young girl who had left home and not been found. There were a lot of those at the time,” remembers Paul McCartney in his book “Many Years From Now.” Continuing his account of the writing of the song, which took place in March of 1967 undoubtedly at Paul’s St. John’s Wood home, he states: “That was enough to give us a story line. So I started to get the lyrics: she slips out and leaves a note and then the parents wake up and then…It was rather poignant. I like it as a song, and when I showed it to John, he added the Greek chorus, long sustained notes, and one of the nice things about the structure of the song is that it stays on those chords endlessly. Before that period in our songwriting we would have changed chords but it stays on the C chord. It really holds you. It’s a really nice little trick and I think it worked very well.”
Paul then defined what the “Greek chorus” entails by adding: “While I was showing that to John, he was doing the Greek chorus, the parents’ view: ‘We gave her most of our lives, we gave her everything money could buy.’ I think that may have been in the runaway story, it might have been a quote from the parents.” John reiterated Paul’s explanation by saying: “Paul had the basic theme for this song, but all those lines like ‘We sacrificed most of our life…we gave her everything money could buy,’ those were the things Mimi used to say to me. It was easy to write.”
Therefore, it appears that the bulk of the chorus - the "long sustained notes" (“sheeeee….is leaving…..”) and the answering melody lines (“we struggled hard all our lives to get by” etc.) - was written by John while all of the verses were written by Paul. “It was John’s idea for the words of the old couple, ‘What did we do that was wrong?’ in the background,” explained George Martin. “He was looking at the misused old people and also the conflict between them and the young girl. Originally, it was undoubtedly Paul’s song, but John contributed quite a bit in a way with the answering chorus.” Paul confirms this by saying, “It was largely mine, with help from John.”
Like many other tracks on the “Sgt. Pepper” album, people read into the lyrics of “She’s Leaving Home” things that really weren’t there. Even George Harrison came forward to dispel the rumor concerning an unsavory insinuation in the lyric: “’A man from the motor trade’ means whatever’s in your mind, you know. I know when I say it isn’t an abortion, and if people believe it is, then it’s up to them. They’ll just go on believing it.”
Many reviewers revealed the “man from the motor trade” as an actual person. “People have since said that was Terry Doran, who was a friend who worked in a car showroom, but it was just fiction, like the sea captain in ‘Yellow Submarine,’ they weren’t real people. George Harrison said once he could only write songs from his personal experience, but they don’t have to exist for me. The feeling of them is enough. The man from the motor trade was just a typical sleazy character, the kind of guy that could pull a young bird by saying, ‘Would you like a ride in my car, darlin’?’ Nice plush interior, that’s how you pulled birds. So it was just a little bit of sleaze.”
“The amazing thing about the song was how much it got right about my life,” stated Melanie Coe in the book “A Hard Day’s Write.” “It quoted the parents as saying ‘we gave here everything money could buy’ which was true in my case. I had two diamond rings, a mink coat, hand-made clothes in silk and cashmere and even my own car. Then there was the line ‘after living alone for so many years,’ which really struck home to me because I was an only child and I always felt alone…I heard the song when it came out and thought it was about someone like me but never dreamed it was actually about me...I must have been in my twenties when my mother said she’d seen Paul on television and he’d said that the song was based on a story in a newspaper. That’s when I started telling my friends it was about me.”
While Paul’s lyrical detail about her leaving home was pure fiction, he oddly enough hit the nail on the head in many ways. “I did leave a note, yes,” Melanie said in a television interview. She did meet up with a man and shared an apartment with him in Bayswater, Central London. “He was a croupier,” Melanie continued, “but previously, oddly enough, he’d actually worked in the car business, so he was a ‘man from the motor trade.’”
Even odder still is the coincidence concerning the chosen main character in the song. Four years earlier, on October 4th, 1963, thirteen-year-old Melanie had actually met Paul during the filming of the hit British television show “Ready Steady Go.” Melanie competed with three other contestants in a miming competition for the program, this episode being the first time The Beatles appeared on the show. Paul was recruited to judge the competition and he picked Melanie as the winner. “Paul McCartney came over and shook my hand and gave me a Beatles album, which was the greatest thing that could happen to any little teenage girl.”
George Martin and Paul McCartney, circa 1967
Before recording began, Paul thought carefully about how the song should be presented on the album. “Paul was getting very keen on the possibilities of orchestral settings,” states Barry Miles in the book “Many Years From Now,” “and felt that ‘She’s Leaving Home’ would be best suited by this type of arrangement.” Therefore, on March 10th, 1967 or thereabouts, Paul contacted George Martin about his idea.
In his book “All You Need Is Ears,” George Martin describes his take on this discussion with Paul: “During the making of ‘Pepper’ he was also to give me one of the biggest hurts of my life…At that time I was still having to record all my other artists. One day Paul rang me to say: ‘I’ve got a song I want you to work with me on. Can you come round tomorrow afternoon? I want to get it done quickly. We’ll book an orchestra, and you can score it.’ ‘I can’t tomorrow, Paul. I’m recording Cilla (Black) at two-thirty.’ ‘Come on. You can come round at two o’clock.’ ‘No, I can’t, I’ve got a session on.’ ‘All right, then,’ he said, and that ended the conversation.”
“What he did then, as I discovered later, was to get Neil Aspinall, the road manager, to ring round and find someone else to do the score for him, simply because I couldn’t do it at that short notice. In the end he found Mike Leander, who could. The following day Paul presented me with it and said, ‘Here we are. I’ve got a score. We can record it now.’”
“I recorded it, with a few alterations to make it work better, but I was hurt. I thought: Paul, you could have waited, for I really couldn’t have done it that afternoon, unless I had just devoted everything to The Beatles and never dealt with any other artist. Paul obviously didn’t think it was important that I should do everything. To me it was. I wasn’t getting much out of it from a financial point of view, but at least I was getting satisfaction. The score itself was good enough, and still holds up today, but it was the only score that was ever done by anyone else during all my time with The Beatles. However, it had happened, and there was nothing to be done about it.”
Mike Leander was a freelance producer and arranger who Paul met while attending the recording session at Decca Studios for Marianne Faithfull’s version of Paul’s song “Yesterday.” Apparently he remembered meeting him at this session on got his number by dispatching Neil Aspinall to find it for him.
Paul explains his side of the story in “Many Years From Now”: “I rang George Martin and said, ‘I’m really on to this song, George. I want to record it next week.’ I’m really hot to record it, I’ve got one of those ‘I’ve got to go, I’ve got to go!’ feelings and when you get them, you don’t want anything to stop you, you feel like if you lose this impetus, you’ll lose something valuable. So I rang him and I said, ‘I need you to arrange it.’ He said, ‘I’m sorry, Paul, I’ve got a Cilla session.’ And I though, F**king hell! After all this time working together, he ought to put himself out. It was probably unreasonable to expect him to.”
“Anyway, I said, ‘Well, fine, thanks George,’ but I was so hot to trot that I called Mike Leander, another arranger. I got him to come over to Cavendish Avenue and I showed him what I wanted, strings, and he said, ‘Leave it with me.’ It is one of the first times I actually let anyone arrange something and then reviewed it later, which I don’t like as a practice. It’s much easier if I just stay with them. Anyway he took it away, did it, and George Martin was very hurt, apparently. Extremely hurt, but of course I was hurt that he didn’t have time for me but he had time for Cilla (Black).”
“It was the song that got away,” George Martin stated later. “It was the song I wanted to do…It was just one of those silly things. He was so damned impatient and I was up to my eyes with other work and I just couldn’t cope. But Paul realizes now, though he was surprised that I was upset.”
At any rate, with all hurt feelings aside, the session for “She’s Leaving Home” was booked for March 17th, 1967, in EMI Studio Two. It appears that Paul was the only Beatle in attendance on this day, the intention of this session being the recording of the strings only. The instrumentalists booked for this session were Erich Gruenberg (leader), Derek Jacobs, Trevor Williams and Jose Luis Garcia (violins), John Underwood and Stephen Shingles (violas), Dennis Vigay and Alan Dalziel (cellos), Gordon Pearce (double-bass) and Sheila Bromberg (harp). Sheila was the first woman to appear on a Beatles recording (unless you count Pattie Boyd and Marianne Faithfull’s scant contributions to “Yellow Submarine”)
The session documents indicate it to have begun at 7 pm, but harpist Sheila Bromberg, in a 2011 BBC segment, indicates otherwise. “There were people called fixers. This fixer called me up and said, am I free from 9 o’clock at night until midnight?..and I thought, ‘Do I really want a session from 9 to midnight?’ But it was Alec, and he gave me a lot of work, so I didn’t want to turn him down…So I was sitting here (in EMI Studio Two) at half-passed eight tuning the harp.”
George Martin prepared the final sheet music to be presented to the ten musicians present on this day and gave it to them to rehearse before 9 pm arrived. “I had to change the score a little bit, but not very much,” George Martin recalls, adding, “Mike Leander did a good job.” Sheila continues: “Suddenly a piece of music was plunked on my music stand and I gave it a brief look…(Alec) didn’t tell me at the time it was for The Beatles. You never knew who you were going to play with…And then this voice said, ‘Well, whatcha got on the duss?,” meaning ‘What’s written on the music?’ I recognized the Liverpool accent. I turned around and, of course, it was Paul McCartney.”
Six takes of the song were recorded on this day, four of which were complete. Of these four, being that these were professional session musicians, their performances were nearly flawless and identical. However, someone in particular was fussy about what he wanted. “First of all I played exactly what was written,” Sheila relates. “Then I stopped and (Paul) said, ‘No, I don’t want that. I want something, ehhhh…’” After she tried out other ideas, Paul would just repeat, “No, I don’t want that. I want something, ehhh…” “I think he had an idea in his head of what he wanted it to sound like but he couldn’t describe it, he couldn’t express it, and he was waiting for somebody to bring it out of the air. During the session, after each time we played it, Paul McCartney, we would hear from the controls, ‘No, I don’t want that. I want something, ehhh…’ So we’d play it again.”
“Came midnight, and the string section were really fed up. And eventually, the leader of the orchestra stood up, Erich Gruenberg, tucked his violin under his arm, and said, ‘Now it is midnight, we have to go home, because we are working in the morning.’ So a voice (Paul) from the control box said, ‘Well, I suppose that’s that then.’ And we all went home.” With not much difference between the performance of the takes, both ‘take one’ and ‘take six’ were marked as ‘best’ and the session was complete for the day by 12:45 am.
Three days later, on March 20th, 1967, the next session for “She’s Leaving Home” was booked for 7 pm at EMI Studio Two with at least two Beatles in attendance, Paul and John. The first task at hand was to free up space for overdubs of the vocals, since all four tracks on the four-track tape will filled with the strings from three days ago. This could easily be accomplished by making a tape reduction onto another four-track tape to leave open two tracks for the overdubs. However, they still couldn’t decide whether ‘take one’ or ‘take six’ was really ‘best’ (there being hardly a difference anyway), so they did reduction mixes for both; ‘take one’ received three reduction mixes (takes 7 through 9) and ‘take six’ received one (take 10). Thereafter, the final decision was made: the third reduction mix of ‘take one,’ now considered ‘take 9,’ was the winner. So, as it came to be, the very first performance from the ten-piece string section was the one that was used, Paul making them stick around until midnight for no reason whatsoever.
The next job was to overlay the vocals. As was their habit during the recording of the album, they liked to experiment with tweaking the tape speed to get different affects. In the case of "She's Leaving Home," a decision was made to record their vocals with the orchestral track sped up slightly, changing the pitch from E major to F major. Engineer Geoff Emerick, in his book “Here, There And Everywhere,” relates the eyewitness details of this overdub. “There were still two available tracks on the multitrack tape, but Paul felt strongly that he wanted certain lines double-tracked, and he also wanted the strings to remain in stereo. The only solution was to have them sing their vocals at the same time, recording each pass on a single track.”
“The lights in the studio were turned off to set the mood; the sole source of illumination was a table lamp next to the wall. The two Beatles, lifelong friends and collaborators, sat on high stools, facing each other, studying each other’s lips intently for phrasing. Watching them, I remember thinking that John’s and Paul’s voices were so different yet so perfectly complemented each other’s, just like their personalities and approach to music-making. It wasn’t an easy vocal to nail down, either – at one point there was a long discussion about getting the right amount of emotion into the lyric. Paul was quite the perfectionist by this time, and he was really pissing John off by having him sing the same line over and over again. Up in the control room, I had to do a bit of tweaking to get the correct perspective and contrast between the two vocals.”
This being completed, and after some interviews and recorded speeches were taped by John and Paul, the mono mix was created to complete the day’s activity. This was done in the control room of EMI Studio Two by George Martin, Geoff Emerick and 2nd engineer Ken Scott, undoubtedly with Paul and John still present. They did six attempts at this mono mix, the sixth being deemed the best. Paul still wanted something to be done with the opening harp segment of the song, so different experiments were pursued. The first mix had them treating it with ADT (Artificial Double Tracking) to give it a richer sound, but they ended up scrapping this idea. The sixth mix had them adding a doubling effect to the harp, which is what they ended up keeping.
“That’s what he was after,” Sheila Bromberg exclaimed when she heard the final product. However, Paul is a little sketchy on this detail. “I don’t like the echo on the harp, but that must be George (Martin) rather than Mike Leander, or, to give him his due, it might have been one of us saying, ‘Stick some echo on that harp.’ You just can’t tell.” My vote is that Paul forgot about his insistence and never did get the sound he wanted.
At this stage a decision was made to make two edits to the song, deleting a small cello phrase from the end of both the first and second chorus just after the words “for so many years” and just before the following verse begins in both instances. The unedited orchestral takes of the song (both 'take 1' and 'take 6') can be heard on the bonus discs of the 50th Anniversary Editions of the album as released in 2017. With these edits accomplished and a slight bit of reverb added, and also remembering to play the tape back slightly faster so their vocals would sound natural, the mono mix was complete and the session was over, it already being 3:30 am the next morning.
The stereo mix wasn’t made until April 17th, 1967, in the control room of EMI Studio Two by Martin, Emerick and 2nd engineer Richard Lush. The violins and harp are panned to the right channel while the violas, cellos and double-bass are panned to the left, all vocals being centered in the mix. They once again made sure to edit out the cello phrases at the end of the choruses as done on the mono mix. While current opinion has it that more emphasis was still given to the mono mixes, Paul did get his wish to have stereo strings in this song, he apparently thinking of the consumers who preferred to hear Beatles music in stereo.
One thing that was forgotten while making this stereo mix was to speed up the tape to the degree that would make the vocals sound natural. This mix, which incidentally is the version most listeners have come to know, was made with the tape running at the standard speed which allows for the musicians to be heard naturally in the key of E but makes Paul and John's vocals sound a little laborious in the process. This adds to the argument that less effort was exerted in making the stereo mixes for the album, details being forgotten and not corrected since it was thought that the majority of consumers wouldn't hear this anyway. In any event, a small amount of reverb was added and opening harp segment was doubled as they were on the mono mix.
Sometime in 2016 or 2017, George Martin's son Giles Martin, along with engineer Sam Okell, returned to the master tapes of "She's Leaving Home" to create a new stereo mix of the song for release on the 50th Anniversary editions of the "Sgt. Pepper" album. He also created mixes of both 'take one' and 'take six' of the instrumental recordings before Paul and John overdubbed their vocals, complete with the small cello phrases still in place and George Martin's count off for the musicians ("one-two-three, two-two-three"). These instrumental versions are included in deluxe editions of the album as released in 2017.
A live recording of “She’s Leaving Home” by Paul and his band was made in Mexico City in early November of 2002, this version gracing the international album “Back In The World.”
Song Structure and Style
The Beatles return to a waltz tempo again for this track, having already conquered this with conventional pop instrumentation in “This Boy,” “Baby’s In Black” and “Yes It Is.” They take it to new dimensions this time around with a string arrangement that harkens back to the turn of the century. Structurally, the song is made up of a ‘verse/ verse/ refrain/ verse/ verse/ refrain/ verse/ refrain’ formula (or aabaabab) with a brief introduction and a suitable conclusion bringing the full picture together quite nicely.
Parsing out the song in 3/4 time (as most sheet music does), the brief introduction becomes four full measures made up of the fragrant harp figure played twice and artificially doubled (or echoed) for effect. The first verse, as with all of the verses, is sixteen measures long and begins with Paul’s vocals directly on the downbeat. The harp, with the doubling effect turned off, now becomes the rhythm instrument of the piece as it plucks the chords on each beat, this being the only instrument heard for the first five measures of the verse. The violas emerge in the sixth measure to fill in the gap left as Paul finishes his first lyric “as the day begins.” The violins enter the picture in the ninth measure in conjunction with the violas as a backdrop to Paul’s next two sung lines which finish off the first verse.
The second verse begins immediately afterward mid-sentence from the previous verse (“leaving the note that she hoped would say more, she goes / downstairs”). With the harp still playing the rhythm, the cellos accentuate the chord changes for the first five measures, the rest of the strings enter the picture after the word “handkerchief” to play a delicately arranged harmony line that encompass the sixth through eighth measures. All instruments play simple harmony phrases during the final two lines of the second verse to accentuate the liberation of the young girl’s unnoticed escape from her home (“stepping outside she is free”).
Next is the nineteen-measure refrain (undoubtedly twenty measures long before the final measure was edited out in the control room) which premiers the point/counterpoint feature of the song as suggested by Lennon. Even though the parents are unaware of their child’s departure at this point in the story, their haunting view of the situation, signified by the ‘reverbed’ double-tracked Lennon vocal, is depicted in their explanation of how they “sacrificed most of their lives” to give her “everything money could buy.”
Paul’s sustained falsetto revealing of the song’s title is also double-tracked in contrast to the intimate single-tracked storytelling tone of the verses that preceded it. With the full gamut of the instrumentalists in tow, this three phrase segment takes up the first twelve measures as Paul interrupts John’s last phrase to narrate the moral of the story thus far: “She’s leaving home after living alone for so many years.” This, then, finishes off the eighteenth measure, the final nineteenth measure taken up with three staccato chops from the violins. One other significant element needing to be mentioned is the touching “bye bye” John depicts the parents acceptingly exclaiming in the sixteenth and seventeenth measures.
Next comes the third and fourth verses paired together as the first two were, all of the string players playing subdued during the depiction of the mother discovering the “letter that’s lying there” revealing her daughter’s departure in the third verse. Also at mid-sentence, the fourth verse begins (“standing alone at the top of the stairs, she breaks / down”) and then adds the most emotional instrumental segment in Mike Leander’s arrangement. The staccato violins, as if tapping out an emergency-like ‘morse code’ signal, excellently reveal the mother’s shock as she wakes her husband with the news “our baby’s gone!”
Then, as if we’re back to the newspaper article again, the second refrain appears with the double-tracked vocalists and the parents explaining “we never thought of ourselves…we struggled hard all our lives to get by.” The string section adds slightly to the arrangement in contrast to the first refrain but is still appropriately subdued to highlight the emotion of the parents’ dumb-founded expressions.
One final verse is now brought forward to narrate briefly the whereabouts of the girl. Two days later, she has an appointment to meet “a man from the motor trade” to start their new life together, this being highlighted by full staccato pulses from the strings to leave the mystery of this man and the wonderment of their future hanging in the air as the final detail of the story.
The last refrain, which does not chop off the final twentieth measure this time around, makes the final lyrical point of the entire song. “She…is having…fun” Paul exclaims in the background as John relates the parents view that “fun is the one thing that money can’t buy.” (Well, apart from “love,” that is, as Paul related in “Can’t Buy Me Love” three years earlier. :-) ) The string arrangement pulls out all the stops for this last refrain, as if this older generation of musicians agreed that “fun” should supersede stability and conventionality – in other words, they probably didn’t agree with the sentiment being expressed but they were getting paid to give the younger generation’s opinion. As far as the young girl was concerned, however, fun was “always denied” to her in favor of the pursuit of monetary value, as Paul expresses as the final phrase of this third refrain.
An eight-measure conclusion follows which rounds out the musical arrangement with a strident push and elegant religious-like ending. A final double-tracked repeat of the song’s title is sung by Paul in a downward fashion followed by a final waving “bye bye” from the parents as the bittersweet song concludes.
Paul once again is the driving force for “She’s Leaving Home,” performing his vocals with hardly a flaw, although the slowed-down stereo mix, which changes the key from F major to E major in the process, makes him sound rather unnatural and even as if he has a stuffy nose at times. John may have gotten 'pissed' at Paul’s instructions during the recording of his vocal, but his delivery of the parents rationalizations give the song the added strength to the message that was meaning to be conveyed. Bravo on both counts. Very well done!
June 2nd, 1967 was the release date of the groundbreaking album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” While both mono and stereo copies of the album were available in the US, the vast majority of the country purchased the stereo version and thereby grew accustomed to hearing the somewhat slower mix of "She's Leaving Home" that is considered standard to this day. The mono version went out of print very quickly.
Sometime in 1978, Capitol released an interesting picture disc version of the album which paired the famous front cover on the a-side with a close-up of the “Pepper” drum head on the b-side. Capitol re-released this picture disc on December 15th, 2017 on 180 Gram vinyl using the new Giles Martin stereo mix.
The “Sgt. Pepper” album was first released on compact disc on September 21st, 1987. It was then re-released in a re-mastered condition on September 9th, 2009.
Also on September 9th, 2009 was the long out-of-print mono version of the album as contained in the amazing box set “The Beatles In Mono.” Most Beatles’ fans got their first experience of hearing the original mono mix of “She’s Leaving Home” from this collection.
On May 26th, 2017, a newly remixed stereo version of the "Sgt. Pepper" album was released based on the superior mono mix of 1967. A new vibrant stereo mix of "She's Leaving Home" is included in all editions of this re-release. The instrumental 'take one' is included in the "2 CD Anniversary Edition," while the instrumental 'take one' and 'take six' is included in the "Super Deluxe Edition" box set.
The Beatles may never have performed the song live, but Paul played the song sparingly with his band on stage. His first use of the song was during his “Back In The US Tour” of 2002, which spanned from September 21st in Milwaukee, Wisconsin to October 29th in Phoenix, Arizona. During the refrains, band members Rusty Anderson, Brian Ray and Abe Laboriel Jr. sang John’s counter melody lines while Paul held out the falsetto high notes as he did on the original recording.
The brief “Driving Mexico” tour (from November 2nd to 5th, 2002) and “Driving Japan” tour (from November 11th to 18th, 2002) also included the song, as did his “Back In The World” tour the following year, this spanning from March 25th (Paris) to June 1st (Liverpool) of 2003.
Of the three Beatles songs usually thought of as orchestrated, “She’s Leaving Home” is usually considered the least successful. While “Eleanor Rigby” won Paul a Grammy Award for “Best Contemporary Vocal Performance, Male or Female” in 1966, and “Yesterday” secured the number one spot on the US Billboard pop charts for four weeks and went on to become the most covered song in history according to the Guinness Book Of World Records (with over 2,500 recorded versions), “She’s Leaving Home” remained an album track and received little attention by the masses in comparison.
This is not to say this extremely moving song - arguably the most moving song in the entire Beatles catalog - didn’t get noticed. Before the album was released, Paul flew to Los Angeles to premier some of the new tracks to Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys, Paul playing “She’s Leaving Home” on the piano for Brian and his wife. “We both just cried,” Brian explains. “It was beautiful.”
Also, on June 12th, 1967, just ten days after “Sgt. Pepper” was released, Harry Nilsson was nearly finished recording his first RCA album “Pandemonium Shadow Show” when he found himself impelled to record his own version of “She’s Leaving Home.” “With his savvy musical sense, he knew a gem when he heard one,” related Derek Taylor in the CD liner notes to Nilsson’s album.
While the song may be habitually skipped over by listeners throughout the later years, the overall complexity and versatility of the “Sgt. Pepper” experience cannot be fully enjoyed without appreciating its’ dramatic and poignant flair. Author Chris Ingham puts it perfectly when he describes the instrumentation as “one of the lushest Beatle orchestral sounds on one of the most mature Beatles songs.”
“She’s Leaving Home”
Written by: John Lennon / Paul McCartney
Song Written: March, 1967
Song Recorded: March 17 & 20, 1967
First US Release Date: June 2, 1967
US Single Release: n/a
Highest Chart Position: n/a
Length: 3:26 (mono), 3:35 (stereo)
Key: F major (mono), E major (stereo)
Producer: George Martin
Engineers: Geoff Emerick, Richard Lush, Ken Scott
Paul McCartney - Lead Vocals
John Lennon - Lead Vocals
Erich Gruenberg - Leader, Violin
Derek Jacobs - Violin
Trevor Williams - Violin
Jose Luis Garcia - Violin
John Underwood - Viola
Stephen Shingles - Viola
Dennis Vigay - Cello
Alan Dalziel - Cello
Gordon Pearce - Double-bass
Sheila Bromberg - Harp
Written and compiled by Dave Rybaczewski