Within The Beatles‘ seemingly endless arsenal of rock and roll covers, ‘Long Tall Sally’ held a particularly special place. Paul McCartney’s admiration of Little Richard was forged early in his association with John Lennon and George Harrison, and from the earliest days of The Quarrymen all the way to the final song of The Beatles’ final concert in 1966, ‘Long Tall Sally’ was a go-to number.
Despite its throat-shredding vocal lines, it’s not hard to see why it was a band favourite. It’s a high energy number that always got a strong response from audiences, and The Beatles’ arrangement allowed both Lennon and Harrison to take separate solos throughout the song. The band wound up playing it so often that McCartney wrote what was essentially a Little Richard rip-off, ‘I’m Down’, just so he could have his own kind of high energy rocker without having to constantly return to ‘Long Tall Sally’.
Even though The Beatles were known for remarkable recording efficiency in their early days, songs were rarely given a single pass and deemed adequate. ‘Twist and Shout’ was completed in one take, but only because Lennon’s voice completely gave out and the end and a second take had to be aborted. It was rumoured that the backing track for ‘A Day in the Life’ was completed in one go, but the truth was that the fourth take was used as evidenced by the fact that the group had swapped instruments by the time the final backing track was selected.
When the band entered the studio during their sessions for A Hard Day’s Night, however, they were confident in their ability to capture ‘Long Tall Sally’ in a single go. Rival group The Kinks had released their own version of the song a month before, and the band were keen to put their version out as quick as possible. Their eagerness can be heard as they attack the song with kinetic energy: McCartney rips through the vocal line like it’s nothing, while Lennon and Harrison rip off charmingly shambolic solos. By the final chorus, Ringo Starr has turned his driving rhythm into a full-fledged gallop, giving the band a final push until they crash into the final chord in just over two minutes time.
When producer George Martin asked if they needed another pass, the band declined. They listened to their version and deemed it worthy of release, which eventually was granted as a part of The Beatles’ Second Album in America and the Long Tall Sally EP in the UK. Martin still felt the song could use some polish, so he recorded a rollicking piano part to accompany the arrangement. Like the band themselves, Martin kicked off his piano lines in a single take. Eventually, the song would appear on Past Masters, a collection of singles and scraps from The Beatles catalogue that never found their way onto official Beatles albums.
Check out The Beatles version of ‘Long Tall Sally’ down below.