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Music

The Beatles song that ruined John Lennon’s voice

Most rock bands consider themselves lucky if they can muster up one great singer among them, but the biggest group of all time had at least three to their name, and Paul McCartney was alright too. Of course, I speak in jest; of The Beatles, Paul McCartney was likely the most gifted vocalist, but John Lennon and George Harrison weren’t far behind. Ringo Starr was also a pretty bearable singer, but he rarely contributed and was by far the least experienced of the four in the vocal arena, which is fine, because it wasn’t his job. 

Much of The Beatles’ early success can be attributed to the rich vocal harmonies of the three fronting members. The allure of handsome harmonising singers was such that their concerts were famously plagued with screaming women. The seats in the front rows were allegedly often left soaked in urine, ostensibly from the overwhelming excitement. 

Amid the pandemonium of The Beatles’ early rise to fame was a very strenuous effort from the fabulous foursome. The group had achieved their first charting single in 1962 with ‘Love Me Do’, and with success quickening their stride, they looked to add more singles to their armoury and lined up their debut album in the crosshairs. The group’s second single, ‘Please, Please Me’, released on January 11th 1963, became their first to be released in the States. On February 11th, in the midst of a heavy touring schedule alongside Helen Shapiro, The Beatles piled into Abbey Road Studios in North London to record their debut album, Please Please Me.

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The band worked ten intense hours over three sessions and managed to finish recording the album in just one day. As producer George Martin remembered, The Beatles had been exhausted from having played two shows each night on their tour with Helen Shapiro. He originally booked two sessions for the day and was doubtful that they would have the energy to see them through. But in the end, they defied expectations and opted for an extra session to finish the album off. As Ringo Starr later said of the turbulent period, “For me, it was all a bit of a blur. The sessions and those times until we did the album – and that too – is a bit of a blur.”

At the very end of the final session, the group decided to persist and record their classic take on the Isley brothers’ ‘Shake It Up Baby’ retitled as ‘Twist and Shout’. They were extremely tired and short on time with the 10pm curfew imposed by Abbey Road Studios coming up soon. Fortunately, they managed to nail the song in one take, but it seems that the vocally demanding song with its shouty chorus took its toll on Lennon’s voice.

At the time, Lennon was also battling a mild cold which served to exacerbate the issue. As Lennon later said of the session, “The last song nearly killed me. My voice wasn’t the same for a long time after, every time I swallowed it was like sandpaper.”

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