Subscribe to our newsletter

(Credit: Alamy)


The Beatles song that "nearly killed" John Lennon


It is widely known that during their creative pomp, The Beatles put their heart and souls into everything that they made. For years, the band didn’t take a single step back from their jet-set lifestyle, a working routine that nearly broke them both professionally and, famously, personally. However, even in the studio, they didn’t stop until they had sweated profusely over a track until they physically couldn’t work anymore. Yet, even then, they weren’t always happy with the final output.

The Fab Four were perfectionists of the highest order, but none more so than John Lennon. His work with The Beatles is rightly revered as being some of the most noteworthy pieces of pop magic ever made but, the truth is, Lennon wasn’t very impressed with a reasonable number of them. “I feel I could make every fucking one of them better,” remarked Lennon during his notorious interview with David Sheff. 

In the early days of The Beatles, they heavily relied on covers and succinctly managed to make them their own. The most notable cover that The Fab Four pulled off in breathtaking fashion is their rendition of ‘Twist And Shout’, first popularised by The Isley Brothers.

The recording almost ruined John Lennon’s voice for good, and he was fortunate to come out without permanently damaging his vocal cords. When they recorded Please Please Meproducer George Martin knew that this track needed to be the final one to be recorded, in case an injury to John’s voice occurred.

During Anthology, Martin explained: “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.”

“The last song nearly killed me,” Lennon said in footage used in Anthology. “My voice wasn’t the same for a long time after; every time I swallowed it was like sandpaper. I was always bitterly ashamed of it, because I could sing it better than that; but now it doesn’t bother me. You can hear that I’m just a frantic guy doing his best.”

Few singers on the planet had the capabilities to do what Lennon managed that day when they recorded ‘Twist And Shout’, and even he didn’t ever deliver vocals as strapping as this again.

“There’s a power in John’s voice [On ‘Twist and Shout’] that certainly hasn’t been equalled since,” McCartney later commented. “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.”

In the age of autotune and altered vocals becoming the norm, it’s become significantly rarer for singers to use their voice in the same remarkable way that Lennon does on ‘Twist And Shout‘. The recording could have broken his voice forever, but he was willing to take that risk to capture the perfect recording, and it’s safe to say that Lennon fired his shot as close to the moon as he could with this one.