The first track from the album A Hard Day's Night to be recorded ("This Boy" was recorded the previous 17 October, but despite appearing in the film is absent from the accompanying soundtrack), "Can't Buy Me Love" is, in Paul McCartney's own words, "my attempt to write a bluesy mode” (Miles, Many Years From Now , page 161). And what better way to write a blues song than through the use of the 12 bar blues, the most standard (even cliché) of blues progressions?
The song was first recorded on 29 January 1964 at the Parthé Marconi Studios in Paris, France - one of the relatively few Beatles tracks not to be recorded at Abbey Road (then EMI) Studios. The band did four takes. Take 1 has never surfaced, but take 2 shows a very different style than the released version. First, the tonality of the song is C# major - a major second higher pitched than the finished product. This gives McCartney's voice a slightly strained timbre - very bluesy, and quite similar to that which can be heard on "She's a Woman" or "I'm Down". In addition, Harrison and Lennon both add backing vocals starting in the second verse ("Oooooh, love me too", "Oooooh, give to you", et cetera) that again parallels the standard blues idiom. (By the way, I've been searching for a predecessor to this take, something that perhaps inspired or influenced the band's decision to experiment with these backing vocals, but I've had a surprisingly difficult time finding an adequate example. If anybody ever reading this has any suggestions, please do comment!)
Despite lasting less than a minute before breaking down, take 3, by contrast, omits the backing vocals entirely. Also, the tonality has been lowered to B major, which significantly reduces the intensity of the lead vocals and instead provides a calmer, more in control timbre.
The fourth take splits the difference tonally - it's in C major. This gives McCartney's voice a bit of that bluesy edge, but slightly assuaged so it's not quite so gritty and intense. This fourth take served as the basis for the released version of the song, on to which George Harrison overdubbed a double-tracked guitar solo, and McCartney overdubbed his lead vocals on 25 February. The finished product was then mixed by George Martin on 10 March.
Miles, Barry. Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now. Henry Holt and Company, New York, NY, 1997.
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This blog is a workshop for developing my analyses of The Beatles' music.