There are two central truths to The Beatles: they were incredibly versatile, and they worked incredibly fast. There are stories about the band recording eight songs in one day or finishing off their entire debut over the course of 12 hours. These are the kind of tales that could never be replicated today, but something that gets lost in these stories is the remarkable ability of the members to turn on a dime between styles and genres.
Take the recording session that happened on June 14th, 1965. The Beatles entered EMI Studios in the early afternoon, and the first order of business was to record a Paul McCartney song with folk and country overtones. ‘I’ve Just Seen a Face’ had a twang and rhythm that was reminiscent of the style that The Beatles had adopted on Beatles for Sale a year earlier, complete with acoustic guitars and rollicking rhythms from Ringo Starr.
While ‘I’ve Just Seen a Face’ wasn’t the most uptempo song in the world, most bands probably would have called it a day once they completed a good take of one song. The Beatles decided that they were still in the zone and wanted to keep recording. Next on the docket was to track a B-side for their upcoming single ‘Help!’.
McCartney had just written a 1950s-esque Little Richards style rocker called ‘I’m Down’, and that was the song that The Beatles tackled first that day. Featuring John Lennon on a Vox Continental organ, the band worked through six passes of the song before the seventh was deemed worthy of preserving.
Lennon practically attacked the organ during the sessions. “I was putting my foot on it and George couldn’t play for laughing. I was doing it for a laugh. The kids didn’t know what I was doing,” Lennon recalled in Anthology. “Because I did the organ on ‘I’m Down’, I decided to play it on stage for the first time. I didn’t really know what to do, because I felt naked without a guitar, so I was doing all Jerry Lee – I was jumping about and I only played about two bars of it.”
The amount of energy needed to probably bring ‘I’m Down’ to life probably would have exhausted most other bands, especially if they had already completed another song earlier in the day, but McCartney wasn’t done. Pulling back out the acoustic guitar, McCartney gave the other musicians a break by recording his new song ‘Yesterday’ solo.
“On the day, I recorded Paul singing and playing guitar simultaneously,” George Martin later remembered. “Then we overdubbed the strings while Paul had another go at the vocal. But because we didn’t use headphones there was leakage from the studio speaker into his microphone, giving the impression of two voices or double-tracking.”
When The Beatles left EMI at night, they had successfully completed three tracks, one of which would be featured on a single and two of which would land on their next album Help! For most bands that would be remarkably efficient, but for The Beatles, it was all in a day’s work.