- Published on 1968
- Author: Lennon/McCartney
- Track 18 on “The Beatles – White Album”
What the Beatles said about “Birthday”
PAUL 1968: “What happened was ‘The Girl Can’t Help It’ was on television. That’s an old rock film with Little Richard and Fats Domino and Eddie Cochran and a few others… and we wanted to see it, so we started recording at five o’clock. And we said, ‘We’ll do something, We’ll make up a backing track.’ So we kept it very simple– twelve bar blues kind of thing. And we stuck in a few bits here and there in it, with no idea what the song was or what was gonna go on top of it. We just said, ‘Okay. Twelve bars in A, and we’ll change to D, and I’m gonna do a few beats in C.’ And we really just did it like that… random thing. And we came back here to my house and watched ‘The Girl Can’t Help It.’ Then we went back to the studio again and made up some words to go with it all. So this song was just made up in an evening. Umm, you know. We hadn’t ever thought of it before then. And it’s one of my favorites because of that. I think it works, you know, ‘cuz it’s just… It’s a good one to dance to. Like the big long drum break, just ‘cuz, normally we might have four bars of drums, but with this we just keep it going, you know. We all like to hear drums plodding on.”
JOHN 1972: “Both of us (wrote it.)”
JOHN 1980: “‘Birthday’ was written in the studio. Just made up on the spot. I think Paul wanted to write a song like ‘Happy Birthday Baby,’ the old fifties hit. But it was sort of made up in the studio. It was a piece of garbage.”
PAUL circa-1994: “We thought, ‘Why not make something up?’ So we got a riff going and arranged it around this riff. So that is 50-50 John and me, made up on the spot and recorded all in the same evening.”
Info about “Birthday”
Written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, mainly by McCartney, it is the opening track on the third side of the LP (or the second disc in CD versions of the record). Surviving Beatles Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr performed it for Starr’s 70th birthday at Radio City Music Hall on 7 July 2010.
The song was largely written during a recording session at EMI Studios on 18 September 1968 by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. McCartney: “We thought, ‘Why not make something up?’ So we got a riff going and arranged it around this riff. So that is 50–50 John and me, made up on the spot and recorded all in the same evening.”During the session, the Beatles and the recording crew made a short trip around the corner to McCartney’s house to watch the 1956 rock & roll movie The Girl Can’t Help It which was being shown for the first time on British television. After the movie they returned to record “Birthday”.
George Martin was away so his assistant Chris Thomas produced the session. His memory is that the song was mostly McCartney’s: “Paul was the first one in, and he was playing the ‘Birthday’ riff. Eventually the others arrived, by which time Paul had literally written the song, right there in the studio.” Everyone in the studio sang in the chorus and it was 5 am by the time the final mono mix was completed.
Lennon said in his Playboy interview in 1980: “‘Birthday’ was written in the studio. Just made up on the spot. I think Paul wanted to write a song like ‘Happy Birthday Baby’, the old fifties hit. But it was sort of made up in the studio. It was a piece of garbage.”
“Birthday” begins with an intro drum fill, then moves directly into a blues progression in A (in the form of a guitar riff doubled by the bass) with McCartney singing at the top of his chest voice with Lennon on a lower harmony. After this section, a drum break lasting eight measures brings the song into the middle section, which rests entirely on the dominant. A repeat of the blues progression/guitar riff instrumental section, augmented by piano brings the song into a bridge before returning to a repeat of the first vocal section, this time with the piano accompaniment.
- Paul McCartney – lead vocal, bass, piano
- John Lennon – vocals, guitar
- George Harrison – guitar, tambourine
- Ringo Starr – drums, handclaps
- Pattie Harrison – backing vocal
- Yoko Ono – backing vocal
- Mal Evans – handclaps