Birthday - The Beatles

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"Birthday" - The Beatles (1968)

Commenting on "Birthday", in 1972 Lennon claimed:

“Both of us wrote it.”

Eight years later, he said:

“It was a piece of garbage.”

McCartney remembers the events differently and says it was a 50:50 effort. He recounts that it was written in one evening- in between the Beatles watching the rock film “The Girl Can’t Help It” with Little Richard, Fats Domino, Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent.

He recollects in his autobiography:

“We kept it very simple- twelve bar blues kind of thing. And we stuck in a few bits here and there in it. We just said ‘Okay, Twelve bars in A.’ And then we went back to the studio again and made up some words. It’s a good one to dance to. Like the big long drum break- just cux normally we might have four bars of drums, but with this we just keep it going.”

The unique sound of this song was not supplied by an organ or any kind of keyboard. It came from running a guitar through a Leslie speaker. The speaker rotates, which is what provides the different sound.

As one of the group’s rare moments of improvisation, it features John and Paul on lead vocals, each playing their Casino guitars to the hilt. The song finds the band indulging in yet another moment of parody, with the group reconceiving the act of birthday celebration in their own image.

Musicologist Tim Riley commented:

“By the time they reach the last verse, the texture smolders with energy and the song hits a pitch of accumulated hilarity. The siren noises that are left wagging once the final anticipatory kicks in send the tune home with the effect of a huge train blistering past. The result is that the listener left gaping at the force of its motion.”

Author Jonathan Gould adds:

“It’s a primitive rock-’n’-roll dance songs with rudimentary chords, choppy, repetitive melodies, and comically insistent beats. Paul and John attempt to share a lead vocal and wind up satirizing their own rivalry by turning a sentiment as innocuous as ‘Happy Birthday’ into a power struggle.”
The power struggle occurs when the two band mates scream at each other “You say it’s your birthday” and then “It’s my birthday too, yeah!” Gould remarked how “then the birthday boys put on their best New York accents and head off to a ‘pah-dy, pah-dy’ where they proposition each other with an edge of Teutonic insistence: ‘I would like you to dance’.”

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