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The history of this classic Beatles song



The original US sheet music for the Beatles' "Birthday"

source: rarebeatles.com


Written by: Paul McCartney (100%)
(credited to Lennon-McCartney)
Recorded: September 18, 1968 (Studio 2, Abbey Road Studios, London, England)
Mixed: September 18, October 14, 1968
Length: 2:43
Takes: 22


John Lennon: lead vocals, backing vocals, lead and rhythm guitar (1965 Epiphone E230TD(V) Casino), tambourine, handclaps
Paul McCartney: lead vocals, backing vocals, lead and rhythm guitar (1965 Epiphone E230TD(V) Casino), piano (1905 Steinway Vertegrand "Mrs. Mills"), handclaps
George Harrison: backing vocals, bass guitar (1961 Fender Bass VI), handclaps
Ringo Starr: backing vocals, drums (Ludwig), handclaps
Yoko Ono, Pattie Harrison, Mal Evans: backing vocals

Available on: (CDs in bold)
The Beatles (a/k/a "The White Album"; UK: Apple PMC 7067-8; US: Apple SWBO 101; Parlophone CDP 7 46443 2; CDP 7 46444 2)
Rock And Roll Music (UK: Parlophone PCSP 719; US: Capitol SKBO 11537)


  • One of the simplest and yet most enduring tracks in the Beatles' canon, "Birthday" was essentially a jam begun in the early hours of a "White Album" session on September 18, 1968 and finished that same day, right down to the mixing.
  • Engineer Chris Thomas, taking over production duties for a vacationing George Martin, claims that Paul McCartney wrote the song's main guitar riff before the others arrived for work around 5 pm -- the idea being, since the band wanted to watch the classic '50s rock and roll movie The Girl Can't Help It at Paul's house around 9 pm, Paul would write a simple Fifties-style 12-bar-blues based rock song in order to make the session go quicker.
  • Though there is some dispute over what John contributed to the song, the band laid down the backing tracks that early evening, consisting of Paul's guitar riff, John on tambourine, Ringo on drums and George on bass. After the group had finished watching the movie, they returned to Abbey Road, overdubbed John's second guitar on top of Paul's, added piano and handclaps, then wrote words to the song. (It is unclear whether or not an actual birthday was being celebrated by someone in the studio that day.) Then the vocals were added: Paul and John sing the verses together, and all four Beatles sing the "I would like you to dance" bridge, with Yoko, Pattie, and Mal responding "Birthday!"


  • The odd keyboard sound on the track, heard during the second solo and during the fadeout, is actually Paul's piano, fed into a guitar amp and heavily processed with a technique called STEED (Single Tape Echo, Echo Delay) that created a sort of feedback from the piano mic and the speaker.
  • Paul has claimed that the song's signature riff is derived from both the opening piano riff of Little Richard's "Lucille" and the famous guitar riff of Roy Orbison's "Oh, Pretty Woman."
  • The bleed-through from a previous take makes Paul sound like he's saying "daaaaance" twice at the end of the bridge; in the mono mix, this is covered up, but in the more traditional stereo mix, it's easy to hear. There's also a second stereo mix made by George Martin in 1976 for the Rock N' Roll album.

Covered by: Alex Harvey, Underground Sunshine, Mirth, Cavedoll, Phish, Les Fradkin, Leif Garrett, Freiwillige Selbstkontr, Shark Frenzy, John Farnham, John Smith, Los Zignos

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