The Beatles song that nearly ruined John Lennon’s singing voice forever
When The Beatles first exploded onto the pop music scene in 1963 they, like much of the new and exploding array of rhythm and blues bands, took to covering some of America’s finest tunes.
One such song would see John Lennon stretch his vocal cords so far that he would never be the same again as he gave everything to the recording of the song on 1963’s Please, Please Me. Below, we’re looking back at The Beatles cover of ‘Twist and Shout’.
‘Twist and Shout’ used to be the opening song of the band’s live set, when they still performed at dance halls and the legendary Cavern Club. The cover of Phil Medley and Bert Berns’ song, which was popularised as a chart hit single by the Isley Brothers in 1962, was given another take by the Fab Four a year later.
It became a part of their set and also accompanied them on some of their landmark appearances including a host of BBC radio appearances as well as their iconic moment on The Ed Sullivan Show. It’s a strong part of the band’s iconography.
The song had always been a bone of contention for Lennon, the musician often citing his uncomfortableness about playing the song when there was a black artist on the bill, saying in 1963, “It doesn’t seem right, you know. I feel sort of embarrassed… It makes me curl up. I always feel they could do the song much better than me.”
When Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr did record the song in 1963, the song’s growling vocal performance nearly put John Lennon’s vocal cords out of action for good. “The last song nearly killed me,” Lennon confirmed in 1976. “My voice wasn’t the same for a long time after— every time I swallowed it was like sandpaper.”
In fact, listening back to the recording, Lennon has remarked that he “was always bitterly ashamed of it because I could sing it better than that, but now it doesn’t bother me. You can hear I’m just a frantic guy doing his best.”
His songwriting partner, Paul McCartney, suggested the vocal is one of Lennon’s finest moments on record: “There’s a power in John’s voice there that certainly hasn’t been equalled since.” But there was a reason Lennon never got to the same heights, “And I know exactly why—It’s because he worked his bollocks off that day. We left ‘Twist And Shout’ until the very last thing because we knew there was one take.”
The band’s drummer Ringo Starr also knew the damage the track had done to Lennon, “We started (recording the album) about noon and finished it at midnight, with John being really hoarse by ‘Twist And Shout’.”
It’s why producer George Martin made sure the song was saved until last for recording, he says in Anthology, “I knew that ‘Twist And Shout’ was a real larynx-tearer and I said, ‘We’re not going to record that until the very end of the day, because if we record it early on, you’re not going to have any voice left.’ So that was the last thing we did that night. We did two takes, and after that John didn’t have any voice left at all. It was good enough for the record, and it needed that linen-ripping sound.”
Luckily, The Beatles managed to work around the loss of Lennon’s voice during what was an incredibly busy time for the band, as Beatlemania was exploding across the country. Soon enough the singer’s voice returned and the Fab Four could continue with their domination.
Listen below to that incredible song and the powerful vocal performance John Lennon gave The Beatles’ ‘Twist and Shout’.