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Music

The Story Behind The Song: The Beatles classic 'I Want To Hold Your Hand'

There were two important motivations behind the composition of The Beatles 1963 single ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ – one commercial, the other romantic. But considering this track is one of The Beatles’ most enduring love songs, I’m going to choose to focus on romance.

We begin with Paul McCartney, who just three years previously had been performing in sticky nightclubs in Hamburg, but now found himself in the beautifully ornate London home of the actress Jane Asher on 57 Wimpole Street. He’d been invited to stay by Jane’s parents, Dr Richard and Margaret Asher, whose daughter was dating McCartney at the time. It was one of those immense Georgian Houses with tall windows that line the backstreets of Mayfair and Fitzrovia. When morning broke over the city, honey-coloured sunlight would have poured through the windows and dappled Asher and McCartney as they gradually emerged from sleep. For Paul, the house proved to be the perfect place to write. When Margaret wasn’t teaching her Oboe lessons in the small music room, Lennon and McCartney would sit and compose songs from opposite sides of a piano, “eyeball to eyeball.”

Recalling the moment they happened upon ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’, Lennon said: “I remember when we got the chord that made the song. We were in Jane Asher’s house, downstairs in the cellar playing on the piano at the same time. And we had, ‘Oh you-u-u/ got that something…’ And Paul hits this chord and I turn to him and say, ‘That’s it!’ I said, ‘Do that again!’ In those days, we really used to absolutely write like that — both playing into each other’s noses.” The track came at the perfect time.

Following the release of ‘Please Please Me,’ ‘From Me to You’ and ‘She Loves You,’ The Beatles were an established name in the UK, escaping hysterical fans at will, but were still to break America. Brian Epstein, the band’s manager, needed a song and he needed one fast; ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ was the answer to his prayers.

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The track was quickly taken to studio two of Abbey Road, which at that time was equipped with a four-track reel to reel. That would have meant that the sound of Ringo’s kit- which itself was made up of no less than five pieces – would have been captured with one, maybe two overhead microphones, leaving the other tracks open for Lennon, McCartney and Harrison.

It really is astonishing thinking about the quality of recordings such as ‘I Want To Hold You Hand’ considering the technological limitations. ‘Bouncing’ tracks down (the act of combining several tracks into one) would have freed up some space, but even that didn’t leave The Beatles with much room to manoeuvre.

Still, it was more than they were used to, having recorded their previous singles on a two-track. The group managed to record ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ in a whopping 17 takes, with the recording process acting as a way for The Beatles to refine the song to a finely-honed pop masterpiece it turned out to be, securing the band their first US number one.