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The Beatles Songs: Maggie Mae

The history of this Beatles song


Maggie Mae

Written by: Traditional; arranged by John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr
(arrangement credited as Lennon/McCartney/Harrison/Starkey)

Recorded: January 24, 1969 (Apple Studios, 3 Savile Row, London, England)
Mixed: March 26, 1970
Length: 0:39
Takes: 1


John Lennon: lead harmony vocals, acoustic rhythm guitar (1968 Gibson J-200)
Paul McCartney: lead harmony vocals, acoustic rhythm guitar (1967 Martin D-28)
George Harrison: rhythm guitar (1968 Fender Rosewood Telecaster)
Ringo Starr: drums (1968 Ludwig Hollywood Maple)

Available on: (CDs in bold)

  • Let It Be, (US: Apple AR 34001, UK: Apple PX1, Apple PCS 7096, Parlophone CDP 7 46447 2)


    • During the rehearsal/recording of what was to become Let It Be, the Beatles ran through every song they'd ever heard or played, new and old, theirs and others', hits and rarities, in a desperate attempt to create some much-needed group unity. One of the rare places that approach succeeded was on their version of "Maggie Mae," a traditional Liverpool sailor's song that John in particular had been playing since he was in the Quarrymen -- in fact, on that fateful June 6, 1957 day at the Woolton Parish Fete when John met Paul, it was in the set.
    • Playing such a number at a church fair was rather shocking in itself, even for Lennon. "Maggie Mae," which may date back as far as the late 1700's and which was mentioned in print as early as 1830, was a tale of a prostitute who sleeps with a sailor ("homeward bounder"), only to steal all his clothes. This is why the judge in the song sends her away, perhaps to Australia, common practice for the British government in those days.
    • The song was a favorite of skiffle bands, although John likely heard it first from his unconventional mother, Julia, who fathered John with a wayward sailor (!). On January 24, 1969, while rehearsing and recording "Two of Us," the Beatles took brief detours into this song, and it was the third and final one that was captured for posterity on Let It Be, having survived both of engineer Glyn Johns' first two attempts at a tracklisting. When Phil Spector took over the project in early 1970, he simply stuck it at the end of the original LP's side one, perhaps to offset the heavy preaching of the song "Let it Be."


    • John, who leads the singalong, actually forgets some of the words. The original as it was sung at the time features the words "I was paid off at the pool, in the port of Liverpool / Three pounds ten a week, that was my pay," but Lennon misremembers this as "Tis the part of Liverpool / That they returned me to / Two pounds ten a week, that was my pay." The unheard resolution to the song, which the Beatles completed in other takes, ends: "With a pocket full of tin / I was very soon taken in / By a girl with the name of Maggie Mae."
    • Though this track and "Dig It" were left off of the 2003 remix album Let It Be... Naked, an alternate, slightly longer version of "Maggie Mae" can be heard on the bonus "Fly on the Wall" disc.
    • "Maggie Mae" was also poignantly found among the home demos Lennon made in 1979, the last before his untimely death.
    • Although the song evolved over the years to mention different locations in Liverpool, Lime Street, mentioned here, was indeed a known hangout for prostitutes plying their avocation. In its earliest days it was named for nearby kilns which processed lime, though those are long since gone.
    • Because the band recorded this number at the same time as "Two of Us," it features the same instrumentation, including George playing bass notes on his Fender Telecaster electric guitar!

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