A Beatles song that ‘almost killed’ John Lennon
When it comes to creativity, few bands can ever match The Beatles. According to Paul McCartney himself, the fab four actually never had a dry session during the time they were together. That’s one of the reasons the Lennon-McCartney partnership will go down in history as one of the finest the world has ever seen. However, there were some times when they were not as satisfied with their output. And John Lennon was certainly vocal when it came to criticism.
Lennon himself was quite a perfectionist. Even though his music is considered one of the best of all time in rock as well as pop, he always felt he could do better. In his infamous interview to David Sheff, the troubled Beatle remarked:
I feel I could make every f**king one of them better
However, back in the early days, The Beatles could not gamble a lot with their creativity. Much like other musicians trying to make a name for themselves, the fab four covers. And they were so successful with them that they were able to make those songs their own. One of those songs was ‘Twist And Shout’ by The Isley Brothers. And it is this song that almost “killed” John Lennon.
How Twist and Shout almost destroyed Lennon’s vocal cords
During the days of The Beatles’ first LP Please Please Me, producer George Martin understood that Twist and Shout would require every ounce of energy John Lennon had in his cords. And so, he made sure this track was the final one to be recorded. Martin said in The Beatles Anthology:
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.
And Lennon agreed about the severe strain the song put on his voice. Even though he believed he could have sung it better, he understood that singing it again could mean permanent damaging his vocal cords. He said in the Anthology series:
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.
Paul McCartney was perpetually in awe
There were few singers in the world who had the ability to sing Twist and Shout the way John Lennon did. And fellow Beatle Paul McCartney acknowledged his effort, saying:
There’s a power in John’s voice [On ‘Twist and Shout’] that certainly hasn’t been equaled since. And I know exactly why– It’s because he worked his bollocks off that day. We left ‘Twist And Shout’ until the very last thing because we knew there was one take.
In an age of autotune and altered vocals, it’s rare to see singers put their own voices to such a test. But back in the olden days, they did not have that luxury. And in all probability, they wouldn’t have adopted it had it been available. Recording Twist and Shout could have broken John Lennon’s voice forever, turning his career into an ephemeral one. You can listen to the live performance of this song right below.