Who doesn’t love an occasional mystery surrounding a song by one of the most popular bands on the planet? If you’re looking for some scoop to enrich your personal Beatles knowledge, look no further. The story behind the song ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ will give you exactly that. Let’s unravel the secret behind the song, shall we?
‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ arrived as the A-side of The Beatles’ sixth single and was released in 1964. Written by Paul McCartney, the song was included in the band’s album A Hard Day’s Night when it was released on June 1964, and would later appear on several other compilation albums by the band.
When asked to reveal the meaning behind the lyrics, McCartney once stated: “The idea behind it was that all these material possessions are all very well, but they won’t buy me what I really want.” Later, he commented on it further, saying: “It should have been ‘Can Buy Me Love’,” in reference to all the things he could enjoy that money and fame brought him.
Owing to the little studio time the band had left on their hands, ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ was quickly recoded and edited over four sessions in two different recording studios – EMI’s Pathe Marconi Studios in Paris, France, and EMI Studios on Abbey Road in London, UK.
With Paul McCartney on the vocals and bass, John Lennon on acoustic rhythm guitar, George Harrison on lead and rhythm guitar and Ringo Starr on drums, the band’s line-up for the song was complete – almost. This goes back to the mystery we were referring to at the beginning.
There was a very slight change in the studio version of the song, which practically nobody knew about until Mark Lewisohn brought this up in his book, The Complete Beatles Chronicle, explaining: “An interesting document was uncovered at EMI in 1991 suggesting that a ‘drummer’ participated in this 10am – 1pm session with regards to ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ – which can only mean that he did some overdubbing. He was paid a Musicians’ Union session fee…but his name was not detailed on the document.”
If you listen to closely, you’ll realise a slight difference in the studio mix of the drumming than in the mono mix. Geoff Emerick wrote in his book, Here, There and Everywhere addressing this mystery: “There was a technical problem to be overcome, discovered when the tape was brought back and played at our studios. Perhaps because it had been spooled incorrectly, the tape had a ripple in it, resulting in the intermittent loss of treble on Ringo’s hi-hat cymbal.”
With the time constraint they were working under, and with The Beatles members themselves being caught up in other work, there was hardly any time to get them down to the studio and re-record the hi-hat portion. George Martin and record producer Norman Smith took it upon themselves to make the necessary adjustments.
Geoff continues, “As I eagerly headed into the engineer’s seat for the first time, Norman headed down to the studio to overdub a hastily set-up hi-hat onto a few bars of the song while I recorded him, simultaneously doing a two track to two-track dub. Thanks to Norman’s considerable skills as a drummer, the repair was made quickly and seamlessly.”
The man behind the hi-hat, Norman Smith, worked with the Beatles for several years. During his time of working with the band, he was promoted from sound engineer to producer. He had an amicable relationship with the band. John Lennon nicknamed him “Normal” referring humorously to his calm, easy-going nature.
Listen to ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ below.