Accidents were baked into the very DNA of The Beatles. From the very jump, the Fab Four were experimenting with whatever sounds and sonics could be produced, whether it was backwards guitar solos, Ringo Starr malapropisms, or even misheard condiment selections.
Whatever happened to come up at any given moment, The Beatles were always there to pounce. It was a technique that was not just inspiring to the artists making them but to the fans and audiences who heard them. Nothing made a fan feel more special than when they picked out an obvious error.
Paul McCartney detailed the band’s openness to impromptu happenings in recent years. “One of the things about The Beatles is that we noticed accidents. Then we acted upon them,” McCartney explained in The Lyrics: 1956 to the Present. “When we had a tape playing backwards by accident, we would stop and go, ‘What is that?’ a lot of other people would go, ‘Oh God, what is that bloody noise?’ But we always loved being sidetracked by these ideas.”
There’s always been something magnetic about the band’s efforts and their ability to not only understand the spark of artistry but to nurture those sparks into roaring flames of creativity is what has always set them apart from the masses of rock bands that littered the airwaves. Below, we’re taking a look through some of the band’s best mistakes.
Mistakes hidden within The Beatles songs:
‘I Feel Fine’
While recording material for 1964’s Beatles for Sale, the group were at the start of a massive nine-hour recording session. That particular day would see the group record no less than eight songs, including the bulk of covers that would appear on Beatles for Sale. The day was started by finishing up ‘Eight Days a Week’, a song eyed as a potential single. When that was finished in quick succession, the band moved on to another potential single, John Lennon’s ‘I Feel Fine’.
After a few takes, the band put down their instruments and trekked up to the booth to hear the playback. When Lennon placed his electric-acoustic guitar against McCartney’s bass amp, a wild noise began to fill the studio.
“We were just about to walk away to listen to a take when John leaned his guitar against the amp,” McCartney recalled. “I can still see him doing it. He really should have turned the electric off. It was only on a tiny bit, and John just leaned it against the amp when it went, ‘Nnnnnnwahhhhh!’ We went, ‘What’s that, Voodoo?’ ‘No, it’s feedback.’ ‘Wow, it’s a great sound!’”
Since feedback was considered a nuisance or an obstruction in those days, the band’s producer offered to eliminate the sound, but the band actually insisted on keeping it and sticking it onto the front of the track. “George Martin was there so we said, ‘Can we have that on the record?’” Paul continued. “‘Well, I suppose we could, we could edit it on the front.’ It was a found object, an accident caused by leaning the guitar against the amp.”
There aren’t many songs that divide the opinions of Beatles fans quite so dramatically as McCartney’s classic music hall tune ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’ a song as rich in jovial bounce as it is in smugness, the song is a rich part of the band’s history. However, if you do happen to be one of those fans who hates every single note on the song, then we may have a deciding factor for your next squabble.
The song actually contains a mistake. In the final verse of the track, McCartney swaps the vocations of his two protagonists, Desmond and Molly Jones. During the recording, the mistake was brought up to the songwriter and he decided to keep it in to try and raise a few questions.
Playing around with different effects can sometimes be dull be can also sometimes achieve accident perfection. That can certainly be said for Beatles song ‘Rain’. “After we’d done the session on that particular song – it ended at about four or five in the morning – I went home with a tape to see what else you could do with it,” Lennon once explained. “And I was sort of very tired, you know, not knowing what I was doing, and I just happened to put it on my own tape recorder and it came out backwards. And I liked it better. So that’s how it happened.”
Unwittingly, Lennon had put the first piece of backward tape on record, and it all happened because he was stoned. Speaking to Playboy in 1980, Lennon confessed: “I got home from the studio and I was stoned out of my mind on marijuana… and, as I usually do, I listened to what I’d recorded that day. Somehow it got on backwards and I sat there, transfixed, with the earphones on, with a big hash joint.”
Adding: “I ran in the next day and said, ‘I know what to do with it, I know… listen to this!’ So I made them all play it backwards. The fade is me actually singing backwards with the guitars going backwards. (sings) ‘Sharethsmnowthsmeanss!’ That one was the gift of God… of Ja actually—the God of marijuana, right? So Ja gave me that one.”
Easily the most accessible song in the band’s catalogue, the track McCartney wrote for John Lennon’s son Julian will go down in history as perhaps the purest distillation of the band’s songwriting. Effervescent, solemn and everything in between, the track is a bonafide anthem for all who have heard it. But the song does contain a mistake that most will find incredibly surprising.
During the band’s heyday, their clean-cut image helped sell their records across the globe. Clean-shaven and smiling from ear to ear, the group were an ideal boyband. Of course, now we know a little more about the mischievous mop tops, we can be safe in the knowledge that they were far from squeaky clean.
In this song, we hear their naughty side as you can hear McCartney say “f**king hell” low down in the mix. It comes in shortly after the first time Macca sings “Then you can start, to make it better”.
Often thought of as the band’s dying whisper thanks to its placement as the final track on Abbey Road, ‘Her Majesty’ may not be the top of everybody’s favourite song list, but it does contain a hidden gem of a mistake if you listen carefully enough.
Though it may only last 26 seconds, there is something golden and beautiful about ‘Her Majesty’. McCartney said in 1969, “That was just… I don’t know. I was in Scotland, and I was just writing this little tune. I can never tell, like, how tunes come out. I just wrote it as a joke.” Innocent and joyous about this song that elevates it above the aforementioned tracks. At under 30 seconds, the track is a bit of a throwaway but as throwaways go, it’s a marvellous one.
However, the song was almost literally thrown away after McCartney decided that tacking it on to the end of the famous Abbey Road medley wouldn’t work. However, engineer John Kurlander was nervous to discard any special work the band had done and instead left it on the end of a rough mix. The group loved the potency of the song and so included it in their final release keeping the final chord from ‘Mean Mr. Mustard’ at the top of the track.