Fast recording sessions were nothing new to The Beatles. The nature of the music business at the time was such that recording single songs rarely took more than a day, and full albums could be churned out in little more than a week’s time. It was a far simpler process back then: point some mics at the band, make sure the levels are fine, and turn on the red light. Maybe an additional guitar overdub or a redone lead vocal would be tacked on after the original take, but for the most part, it was beneficial for everyone to get it done as quickly as possible.
The Beatles embraced this style of recording for their first album, Please Please Me. Apart from the recording of singles like ‘Love Me Do’ and the album’s title track, all of the songs from their first record were recorded in a single day. John Lennon was sick at the time, and you can hear his voice get progressively more haggard as the songs go on. By the time they reached ‘Twist and Shout’, Lennon gave it all he had in a single performance – a second take wasn’t possible because Lennon could barely speak.
Once the band began touring at an almost nonstop rate, quick recording sessions were necessary whether they liked it or not. Between live shows, promotional television appearances, film shooting, and frequent travel, The Beatles had to shoehorn in trips to the studio in order to meet their quota of an album every six months or so. The group’s fourth album, Beatles for Sale, came out just five months after A Hard Day’s Night, with the band beginning to feel the exhaustion that was creeping up on them.
On October 18th, 1964, The Beatles had a long day ahead of them. A nine-hour session was booked for EMI Studios at Abbey Road, and the band dutifully trudged in at 14:30 with a number of items on the agenda. The first order of business was to record a new intro and outro for ‘Eight Days a Week’, which the band had started recording twelve days prior. When that was completed in relatively short order, the group truly began one of their most proactive recording days since Please Please Me.
Next up was a take on Little Richards’ medley of ‘Kansas City/Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey!’, which was recorded in just two takes. That cover went so well that the band took on another, ‘Mr. Moonlight’, with less success. After four takes, they dropped it and moved on to a song slated for their next single. Lennon leaned his Gibson acoustic guitar against Paul McCartney’s bass amp after the first take, producing a droning note of feedback that he instantly fell in love with. Even though the band recorded eight more takes of the song, Lennon insisted that the feedback from take one was added to the final master, creating the iconic opening to ‘I Feel Fine’.
Most bands would consider this amount of work a success: they polished up one song, fully recorded a cover, and even completed work on their next single. But The Beatles weren’t done. After a re-do of ‘Mr. Moonlight’, ‘I’ll Follow the Sun’ was recorded in eight takes, and the band decided to keep grinding out covers. George Harrison took on Carl Perkins’ ‘Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby’ and Lennon gave his frantic take on Chuck Berry’s ‘Rock and Roll Music’. Since both songs were in the band’s live repertoire, only a single take was recorded for each.
Despite nearly blowing his voice out on ‘Rock and Roll Music’, Lennon thought one more cover would be adequate for the day and chose the precise two-part harmonies of Buddy Holly’s ‘Words of Love’. The band sound exhausted on the recording, and it’s not hard to see why: a full day of raucous covers, workmanlike polishing of originals, and even stumbling onto new sounds. After two passes and a final vocal overdub for ‘Words of Love’, The Beatles left EMI with eight songs in the can.
The session was indicative of The Beatles’ approach to recording: fast-paced and dense, using up all the time they had. There was a dichotomy present as well – the band had enough energy and resolve to record eight new songs in one day, but their creativity was beginning to burn out, as evidenced by the large number of covers they were relying on. 1965 would prove to be another manic year for the group, and it wouldn’t take long for The Beatles to start taking more and more time while in the studio to craft their songs.