The Beatles Song That “Nearly Killed” John Lennon

The Beatles Song That “Nearly Killed” John Lennon | I Love Classic Rock Videos

John Lennon live in 1969 - BeatlesAndSolo / Youtube

Behind every iconic recording lies a story, and for The Beatles, one particular song encapsulates a remarkable moment in their early career. The electrifying rendition of “Twist and Shout” on their debut album, Please Please Me, stands as a testament to John Lennon’s sheer dedication and vocal prowess. However, the price he paid for delivering such an unforgettable performance left a lasting impact on his voice. Let’s delve into the intense recording session that “nearly killed” John Lennon and cemented the band’s indomitable spirit.

After an entire day of recording, The Beatles found themselves faced with their final song for the album: a cover of The Top Notes’ “Twist and Shout.” Aware of the vocal demands placed on Lennon, the band deliberately saved it for last. Lennon had been battling a cold throughout the session, and his voice was on the verge of exhaustion.

The Race Against Time

Engineer Norman Smith vividly recalled the intense atmosphere, stating, “Someone suggested they do ‘Twist and Shout’ with John taking the lead vocal. But by this time all their throats were sore; it was 12 hours since we had started working. John’s, in particular, was almost completely gone, so we really had to get it right the first time.”

A Stripped-Down Performance

Lennon’s determination knew no bounds. Cris Neal, an engineer, remembered, “John was stripped to the waist to do this most amazingly raucous vocal. The next morning Norman Smith and I took a tape around all the studio copying rooms saying to everybody: ‘What the hell do you think of this!’”

The “Linen-Ripping Sound”

Producer George Martin strategically saved “Twist and Shout” for the end of the session, recognizing the strain it would put on Lennon’s voice. Martin recalled, “I knew that ‘Twist and Shout’ was a real larynx-tearer, and I said, ‘We’re not going to record that until the very end of the day because if we record it early on, you’re not going to have any voice left.’ So that was the last thing we did that night. We did two takes, and after that John didn’t have any voice left at all. It was good enough for the record, and it needed that linen-ripping sound.”

The Lingering Effects

Reflecting on the experience, Lennon later remembered, “The last song nearly killed me. My voice wasn’t the same for a long time after; every time I swallowed it was like sandpaper. I was always bitterly ashamed of it because I could sing it better than that, but now it doesn’t bother me. You can hear that I’m just a frantic guy doing his best.”