When I’m Sixty Four - The Beatles
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"When I’m Sixty Four" - The Beatles (1967)
In 1972 Lennon said that “When I’m Sixty Four” was written by McCartney in the days when they performed at the Cavern:
“It was just one of those ones that he’d had, that we’ve all got, really- half a song. And this was just one of those that was quite a hit with us.”
Eight years later he added:
“I would never even dream of writing a song like that. There are some things I never think about, and that’s one of them.”
In 1984 McCartney claimed he wrote the song when he was 15.
“When I wrote it I thought I was writing a song for Sinatra. There were records other than rock ‘n’ roll that were important to me.”
In the 1990s- he commented:
“I thought it was a good little tune but it was too vaudvillian, so I had to get some cod lines to take the sting out of it, and put the tongue very firmly in cheek.”
The track represents the most obvious example of an early music hall style in its melody, harmonic and rhythmic identity. McCartney’s vocal style has given it a lighter, more vulnerable quality by having been transposed up a step electronically. This was done in order to raise the key by one semitone- at McCartney’s request as he wanted to have his voice sound younger to make it sound more ‘rooty-tooty’.
Approximately two-thirds of he way through the track - on the lyrics “Vera, Chuck and Dave” - one can hear McCartney’s British accent, particularly on the word “Chuck.” It was the rare occasion when any British rock vocalist sung in anything but an American accent.
“When I’m Sixty Four”’s production called for a sound design that would contemporize its period quality. A clarinet trio is featured prominently, unusual in most music genres, but particularly in rock and roll. In the final verse, the clarinet is played in harmony with McCartney’s vocal - a unique form of harmonization.
George Martin helped McCartney get around some of the lurking schmaltz factor by suggesting the use of clarinets on the recording in a classical way. This pushed it firmly towards satire. The clarinets were recorded really close up, bringing them so far forward it gave it a fuller, fatter sound.
The narrator is speaking about meaningless existence and pointing out that life is boring and pointless. That there’s nothing to look forward to as you grow older except for routines. The solution to our problems is to adopt a comically casual and good-natured acceptance of life. It makes us realize how pitifully frail are human institutions and resolutions, “opposed to the thud of Time.” It disconcertingly makes the connection between being needed and being fed. It is central to the labor of life.
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