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Lady Madonna

The history of this classic Beatles song

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The original US 45 sleeve for

The original US 45 sleeve for "Lady Madonna"

source: ebay.com

Lady Madonna

Written by: Paul McCartney (100%) (credited as Lennon-McCartney)
Recorded: February 3 and 6, 1968 (Studio 2, Abbey Road Studios, London, England)
Mixed: February 6 and 15, 1968; December 2, 1969
Length: 2:14
Takes: 5
Musicians: John Lennon: harmony vocals, rhythm guitar (1965 Epiphone E230TD(V) Casino), handclaps
Paul McCartney: lead vocals, bass guitar (1964 Rickenbacker 4001S), piano (Alfred E. Knight), handclaps
George Harrison: harmony vocals, lead guitar (1961 Sonic Blue Fender Stratocaster), handclaps
Ringo Starr: drums (Ludwig), handclaps
Ronnie Scott: tenor sax
Bill Povey: tenor sax
Harry Klein: baritone sax
Bill Jackman: baritone sax
First released: March 15, 1968 (UK: Parlophone R5675), March 18, 1968 (US: Capitol 2138)
Available on: (CDs in bold)
  • Hey Jude, (US: Apple SW 385, UK: Parlophone PCS 7184)
  • The Beatles 1967-1970 (UK: Apple PCSP 718, US: Apple SKBO 3404, Apple CDP 0777 7 97039 2 0)
  • Past Masters Volume Two, (Parlophone CDP 7 90044 2)
  • The Beatles 1 (Apple CDP 7243 5 299702 2)
Highest chart position: US: 4 (March 23, 1968); UK: 1 (two weeks beginning March 27, 1968)
History:
  • Signaling the group's return to a straight rock and roll sound after the wild experimentation of their past few singles, the Beatles' first single of 1968 was inspired by various sources. The rhythm arrangement owes quite a bit to a boogie-woogie recording from 1958, "Bad Penny Blues" by Humphrey Lyttleton, a "trad-jazz" tune the group was quite familiar with (it was the first such song by a British group to break into the Top 20 in their native land). Contrary to legend, the melody of "Lady Madonna" was not taken from the song, merely the rhythm of the intro, which was itself based on a riff by Chicago skiffle musician Dan Burley. (Also contrary to popular belief, producer George Martin did not produce the original "Bad Penny Blues," although he was Parlophone's A&R head at the time; that job went to Joe Meek, who would later gain fame as the British counterpart to Phil Spector.)
  • The drum pattern of the intro, as played by Ringo, featured no sticks but only "brushes," to match the rhythmic style of Lyttleton's recording. Ringo added a second, more "rock" drum track on top, however, which comes in with Paul's vocal.
  • Said vocal was claimed by Paul to be a tribute to New Orleans-based rock legend Fats Domino, which would explain the unusually low register he sings in on this track. Ringo himself heard a bit of Elvis in the vocal. Both artists would later cover the song.
  • The lyrical content of the song deals with women and their unique burden of bearing and raising children. Paul McCartney has stated that his original inspiration was the Christian icon of the Virgin Mary, but folksinger Richie Havens has claimed he heard McCartney tell a fan in the late Sixties that the original inspiration was an African magazine (or an article about Africa in a magazine) showing a mother suckling her child, with the caption "Mountain Madonna."
  • The original band track was laid down on February 3rd, 1968; three days later, the group convened to lay down a vocal version of a brass solo (accomplished by cupping their mouths over their hands). When the results seemed somehow incomplete, Paul brought in four sax players -- an instrumentation typical to New Orleans rock and copied on the later "Savoy Truffle" -- to beef up the sound.
Trivia:
  • It's unknown whether or not John contributed lyrics to "Lady Madonna" during its creation, but his input, if any, is thought to be minimal. The recurring hook "see how they run" is remarkably similar to John's phrase in the previous year's "I Am The Walrus," but it is unknown whether this is intentional, the phrase having been very prominent in the nursery rhyme "Three Blind Mice."
  • This was the last single recorded before the band left for their famous trip to India. It is also the last single to be released on the Capitol label, as all subsequent releases would be on their new imprint, Apple.
  • The sax solo played by Ronnie Scott has been pushed to the front of the mix in more recent releases of "Lady Madonna," supposedly due to complaints by Scott that it was barely audible.
  • The promo film for this song was actually shot during the February 11, 1968 session for "Hey Bulldog" (later released on the Yellow Submarine soundtrack). Note that at no time during the video does the band actually mouth the words.
  • Of all the days of the week mentioned in the song -- a direct reference to the nursery rhyme "Monday's Child" -- only Saturday is left out.
  • This is one of four Beatles songs directly referenced by John Lennon in the band's "Glass Onion" ("Lady Madonna trying to make ends meet, yeah").
  • Aretha Franklin's version of "Lady Madonna" served as the theme song for the ABC sitcom Grace Under Fire (1993-1998). It was also licensed for legal use in the 1984 arcade video game "Bomb Jack," and can be heard on a loop, complete with bridge, during the game's second level.
Covered by: Apollo 100, Area Code 615, Chet Atkins, John Bayless, Booker T. and the MGs, Fats Domino, Dave Edmunds, Jose Feliciano, The Four Freshmen, Andrew Gold, Richie Havens, Tom Jones, James Last, Ramsey Lewis, Helen Merrill, Os Mutantes, The Nylons, Joan Osborne, Buck Owens, Junior Parker, Elvis Presley, Gary Puckett and the Union Gap, Noel Redding, Swamp Dogg, Cal Tjader, Young-Holt Unlimited
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