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The Beatles at Salisbury Plain filming "Help!"
"THE NIGHT BEFORE"
(John Lennon – Paul McCartney)
1965 appeared to be the year that the Beatles began to branch out as musicians on their recordings. While Paul showed his prowess on piano many times before this year, and even on lead guitar (see “She’s A Woman”), the others stayed pretty strict to their instruments.
But recording sessions for 1965 saw George playing a sitar on “Norwegian Wood,” Paul once again playing lead guitar parts on “Ticket To Ride” among others, and Ringo even playing a small Hammond organ part on “I’m Looking Through You.” Even John Lennon wanted to branch out away from rhythm guitar and the occasional harmonica or lead guitar role. On February 17th, which was the third recording session of the year, John decided to play a Hohner Pianet keyboard on both of the songs recorded that day. Those two songs were George’s “You Like Me Too Much” and Paul’s “The Night Before.”
Impressed by Paul’s ability to jump onto the keyboards whenever the mood would strike him, John wanted to show this ability as well. His first time at the piano in the studio was back on June 2nd, 1964 during the recording of Paul’s “Things We Said Today,” although it was decided not to keep it in the song. You can slightly hear his piano during the songs' bridge on the stereo mix, but John obviously felt this didn’t really count for much. However, his electric keyboard work on “The Night Before” is definitely heard. In fact, it can be said that it is the driving force of the song.
57 Wimpole Street, London
In McCartney’s book “Many Years From Now,” co-author Barry Miles states regarding “The Night Before” that the song was written “probably at Wimpole Street.” He was referring to 57 Wimpole Street in London which was the family home of his current girlfriend Jane Asher where Paul was living.
Paul and John collaborated on many songs together at this London home, including “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” However, it appears that John wasn’t present the day this song was written. Back in 1965, John appears to credit the song solely to Paul by saying: “’The Night Before’ that Paul does, is good.” Paul clarifies matters by saying “I would say that’s mainly mine, I don’t think John had a lot to do with that.”
The time of writing is dependent on speculation but it appears to have been written earlier that year, possibly during their stay in London in January finishing up their seasonal production “Another Beatles Christmas Show” at the Odeon Cinema. Shortly after the final night of this show, Paul and Jane left for a vacation in Tunisia so, since we know the song was written in London, we can say with relative certainty that it was written before they left.
Many commentators also speculate that the lyrics are certainly about his turbulent relationship with Jane Asher. While this is possible, it seems unlikely that he would write a song about Jane ‘changing her mind’ about Paul and lying to him and then afterward go on an extensive vacation with her. Later that year, problems appeared in their courtship which led Paul to write “I’m Looking Through You” and “You Won’t See Me.” At this point, though, it makes more sense to assume the lyrics are fictional, “projecting myself into a situation and writing a nice story about it,” as John would describe it.
Scene from the movie "Help!"
Their third recording session of 1965, which is by extension also the third session for what became the soundtrack to their film “Help!,” was on February 17th of that year. This nine hour session began at 2 pm in EMI’s Studio Two, the first five hours being devoted entirely to Paul’s composition “The Night Before.”
Official documentation only details two takes being needed to complete the song, which may sound puzzling since it took a total of five hours to fully record it. We need to remember, though, that these two takes were of the rhythm track only, which consisted on Ringo on drums, Paul on bass, George on rhythm guitar and John on electric piano. Once it was decided that ‘take two’ was the better rhythm track, a healthy dose of overdubs were then recorded on top of it.
These overdubs included the vocals, first Paul’s lead vocal with backing vocals from John and George, and then Paul’s double-tracked lead vocals. Ringo overdubbed maracas during the bridges of the song. Since the solo portion of the song was left empty in the rhythm track, a guitar solo was required. But who played it?
“George and Paul are playing the same break exactly, both playing but in different octaves,” Lennon informed Melody Maker on February 27th, 1965. Therefore, as overdubs, both George and Paul played the same guitar solo but one was an octave higher than the other. The final seconds of the song feature a miniature reprise of this solo, which was recorded the same way. By 7 pm, the song was complete and work started on George’s “You Like Me Too Much,” which extended the day another four hours.
The mono mix of “The Night Before” was created the next day, February 18th, 1965 in the control room of EMI Studio Two by producer George Martin and engineers Norman Smith and Ken Scott. This mix was used in both the film and the British album.
The first stereo mix of the song was made on February 23rd, 1965 in the control room of EMI Studio Two, but George Martin didn’t deem this task important enough to attend. Norman Smith supervised this stereo mixing session with 2nd engineer Malcolm Davies assisting. This mix ended up being used on the British and American stereo albums as well as the American mono album, since they combined both channels to create their own mono mix.
A second stereo mix of “The Night Before” was created on April 18th, 1965 in Room 65 of EMI. Since they needed to create mono and stereo mixes of the newly recorded title track “Help!” to send to United Artists for the movie, they also thought to send a special stereo mix of “The Night Before” as well. Since these mixes were for the film, George Martin thought it important to attend, along with Norman Smith and Phil McDonald as engineers. Despite this effort, United Artists used the mono mix of “The Night Before” made on February 18th for the film and this stereo mix was never used for anything.
Since the first stereo mix wasn’t made under the supervision of George Martin, a decision was made to create a new mix in 1986 for its debut on compact disc. Therefore, this third stereo mix is the one most known to all these days, although it’s nearly identical to what was originally available in 1965.
Song Structure and Style
This formula pop song is structured in a format that was very usual for the early Beatles, this being the ‘verse/ verse/ bridge/ verse’ format (or aaba). Because the song moves along at a nice pace with time to spare in filling out a standard two-and-a-half minute length, a solo section (that is, half solo/half verse) is included as well as a repeat of the bridge and final verse. As was also evident in their earlier work, such as 1964’s “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “You Can’t Do That,” we see here a bluesy vocal style on top of the framework of a pop song which, as usual, works well.
Before the aforementioned pattern begins, we hear a somewhat labored but effective eight-measure introduction. With the absence of any lead instrument or vocals, what we witness here is the basic rhythm track that sets the stage for the song without any frills. These basic chords change every two measures during this introduction, while the rest of the song changes chords on every measure almost all of the time. Some accidental vocal imperfections can easily be detected in the fourth measure of this introduction, which are heard in both the stereo and mono mixes.
The first sixteen-measure verse begins immediately on the down-beat with Paul’s double-tracked vocals starting out the first sentence with “We said our goodbye…” Interestingly, John and George’s harmonized backing vocals finish this sentence with the title of the song, “…ah, the night before.” This pattern continues in every third and fourth measure as well as every seventh and eighth measure of each verse.
Notice too that Paul’s solo vocal that precedes the backing vocals trail off into the backing vocals section while the backing vocals trail off into Paul’s solo vocal line that follows it. For instance, Paul adds extra syllables to the word “goodbye-i-i-i” that is still heard when John and George start singing their part. Likewise, the backing vocals extend and slide down their final word “beforrrrrrrre” while Paul starts his next line “love was in your eye.” This interesting interplay creates an overlapping effect that portrays the cohesiveness and cooperative nature the Beatles enjoyed during this part of their career.
The second half of the verses let Paul tell the rest of his tale by himself, although John and George create a backwash in the ninth through twelfth measure as the word “before” morphs into a harmonized “aaah.” As any good Beatles tune will do, the title of the song appears at the end of each verse. The pattern continues here again as Paul finishes the thought of the verse, as well as the moral of his entire story, with his solo line “treat me like you did the night before.” Paul even throws in a little vocal gymnastics on the word “did,” which is a slurred grace note reminiscent of what John repeatedly did on the previous year’s “I’m A Loser.” (For instance, notice the vocal slur John sings in the first verse on the word “love” during the line “there is one love I should never have crossed.”)
This verse concludes with a fanfare that consists of two ascending chords. This was included as a suitable transition from one verse to the next, since the last chord of the verse would otherwise be the same as the first chord of the next verse. Later in the song, whenever a verse goes into a bridge, there is no need for this fanfare so they don’t play it.
After a second verse that is identical in structure except for the omission of the ending fanfare, we go into the first occurrence of the bridge. The bridge is eight measures long and is sung in its entirety by Paul alone, although he is double-tracked throughout. In order to make the arrangement stand out, Ringo switches from playing his ride cymbal normally to hitting just the bell of the cymbal. He also switches to alternating from a rim shot on the snare drum to a double hit on his tom-tom, which creates a Latin rhythm (as witnessed in the film footage of the movie “Help!”). The melodic climax of the song occurs at the end of the bridge when Paul hits a high A note on the word “cry.”
After the bridge, we return to an identical repeat of the first verse which segues nicely into the ‘solo/verse’ section of the song. The end of this verse, though, shows Paul obviously enjoying himself with his vocal track. The first of his double-tracked vocals has him ending the last line with “the night before…oh, oh…yesssss.”
While the next section is structurally identical to a verse, the first eight measures are utilized as the instrumental, or solo, section of the song, while the last eight measures conclude the verse vocally with the lyrics of the second verse. The Beatles were used to utilizing this trick as seen in “A Hard Day’s Night” and “I’ll Follow The Sun” (to name a couple).
The guitar solo heard in the first eight measures is anything but ad-lib as we would hear in early Beatles recordings. This dual guitar solo, played by both George and Paul, are overdubbed playing the same notes an octave apart and are so rehearsed that it comes across as nearly flawless. The second of Paul’s double-tracked vocals shows him adding a small nuance at the end, this time in the form of a quick “yeah.”
After an identical repeat of the bridge, they then repeat the second verse, which is also becoming an established pattern (witness “Eight Days A Week” and “Ticket To Ride”). It sounds as though a minor flub occurred during Paul’s double-tracking overdub. He apparently started singing the first verse for the final verse (beginning with the word “we”) instead of the second verse (beginning with the word “were”). Nobody thought we’d catch it, but we did!
Because of the inclusion of a small conclusion to the song, this last verse is actually eighteen measures long. The ending consists of a partial reprise of the fanfare that is heard at the end of some of the verses while Paul repeats the title of the song once again (as if we didn’t know what the song was called by that point). As the eighteenth measure begins, the song ends with a powerful final chord and crashing cymbal.
This song is obviously Paul’s vehicle to shine in the movie soundtrack. His exuberant vocal work stands out, as does his bass playing which by this point in the game is getting a little more well-deserved volume in the mix. His guitar work in the solo gets the job done, Paul probably the one to orchestrate the solo with George in the first place.
John is next to be mentioned for his impressive first jaunt as a keyboardist on a Beatles song (his barely heard chords in “Things We Said Today” not worth mentioning). He and George’s background harmonies in the verses are also done suitably well. George doesn’t feature prominently in this song, although his rhythm guitar work and his half of the guitar solo are done proficiently. Ringo puts in a spirited performance with his small drum fills and changes in texture when required.
Lyrically, Paul tells the familiar story of how yesterday, all his troubles were so far away. Coincidentally, these lyrics depict how last night everything seemed fine with his relationship but, as he states, “now today I find you have changed your mind.” When they had said their “goodbyes” yesterday, he remembers that ‘love was in her eyes’ and she was “so sincere.” He resolves to remember her as she was the previous night, although these memories make him “wanna cry.”
While the similarities to this and a very popular Paul song of the same era are obvious, the differences are also apparent. This time, he accusingly asks, “were you telling lies?” He also is addressing his former girlfriend directly, while the other song (which will remain nameless) is sung in the third person.
August 13th, 1965 was the release date of Capitol’s soundtrack album for the movie “Help!” This was the first American release for Paul’s song “The Night Before,” which was positioned at the top of the Billboard album charts for nine straight weeks. The mono release of this album still featured the stereo mix in a “type B” mix-down made by Capitol Records.
The next release of the song wasn’t until June 7th, 1976 on the double-compilation album “Rock ‘n’ Roll Music.” This highly successful album began a true resurgence of the Beatles popularity in America just over six years after the bands’ break-up was made public.
Just as the above album went out of print, Capitol decided to split the release into two single budget albums. “Rock ‘n’ Roll Music, Volume 2,” which was released in October of 1980, contained “The Night Before.”
The compact disc era brought with it the entire British “Help!” album, which was released on April 30th, 1987. This stereo release contains the newly mixed version of the song which was crafted by the hands of original producer George Martin. This new mix was also utilized for the re-mastered version of this CD, which was released on September 9th, 2009.
Two box sets were released by Capitol to reintroduce the original 60’s albums to the general public. The second of the two, “The Capitol Albums, Vol. 2,” was released on April 11th, 2006 and contains the entire US “Help! Soundtrack Album” in both stereo and mono as originally heard in 1965. Both mixes of "The Night Before" were also contained on the promotional CD sampler that was issued just prior to this box set.
Another promotional disc was released on or around November 6th, 2007 to coincide with the latest DVD release of the movie “Help!” This “7 Song Radio Sampler” featured all of the soundtrack Beatles songs, including “The Night Before,” in a handsome package that is quite hard to find today.
Except for being included in the original prints of the movie “Help!,” the mono mix of the song had never been heard on American shores in any form. Until 2009, that is. The September 9th, 2009 released box set “The Beatles In Mono” finally brings this mono mix to the US, along with the entire Beatles catalog that was originally mixed in mono. The original 1965 stereo mix is also included in this set.
The Beatles receiving their MBE's, 1965
The complete live performance history of the song “The Night Before” can be summed up with one BBC radio performance. This was recorded on May 26th, 1965 for their very last BBC radio show entitled “The Beatles (Invite You To Take A Ticket To Ride).” The show was broadcast on June 7th of that year, which was almost two months before the song was released as part of the British “Help!” album.
“I was given a demo tape with about nine songs and I chose six of them in a rather arbitrary way,” director Richard Lester said about the songs used in the film “Help!” He continues, “I fitted the songs into the film in places where I thought I could do something with them.”
Paul’s architecturally perfect pop song “The Night Before” was a natural choice to be one of these six. Richard Lester decided to have the group perform the song on Salisbury Plain preceding a chase scene involving tanks, which of course has nothing to do with this song. Nonetheless, it got in the movie and, although it’s not considered one of the Beatles biggest hits, it definitely got noticed. And deservedly so.
“The Night Before”
Written by: John Lennon / Paul McCartney
Song Written: January, 1965
Song Recorded: February 17, 1965
First US Release Date: August 13, 1965
US Single Release: n/a
Highest Chart Position: n/a
British Album Release: Parlophone #PCS 3071 “Help!”
Key: D major
Producer: George Martin
Engineers: Norman Smith, Ken Scott
- Paul McCartney - Lead Vocals, Bass Guitar (1963 Hofner 500/1), Lead Guitar (1962 Epiphone Casino ES-230TD)
- John Lennon - Electric Piano (1964 Hohner Pianet C), Backing Vocals
- George Harrison – Lead and Rhythm Guitar (1961 Sonic Blue Fender Stratocaster), Backing Vocals
- Ringo Starr – Drums (1964 Ludwig Super Classic Black Oyster Pearl), maracas
Written and compiled by Dave Rybaczewski
John Lennon and Richard Lester, 1965