Debut of a new thing I wanna do. I love looking at albums and artists as a whole, but sometimes individual songs need their due as well. And so to start off this foray into spotlighting a song a week, I'll begin with the song I'm obsessed with right now, The Beatles' cover of "Twist and Shout".
Originally written Phil Medley and Bert Berns (whose other compositions include "Hang on Sloopy" and "Piece of My Heart") and recorded by the Top Notes, produced by Phil Spector and released in 1961. It was covered just the next year by The Isley Brothers, produced by Bert Berns himself, after he felt that Spector had screwed up the original recording and wanted to show him how it should be done. The song was a hit for the Isley's, and became a popular song for R&B groups to cover. The Beatles version appeared as the closing song on their debut album Please Please Me in 1963, and issued as a single in '64 (it would be the only top 10 song the band had that wasn't an original). It was the final song recorded during the marathon session Please Please Me was recorded in, the 11th song in 10 hours. Producer George Martin knew that the song would be tough on John Lennon's voice and so saved it for last. He'd intended to record it as many times as it took to get it right, but Lennon was only good for one take before "John's voice had gone" as Martin put it.
Lennon's voice is obviously shredded, and you can hear it on the recording. Thankfully, he finished the take and gave us one of the great vocal performances in rock music. The rasp was on his voice in full force, and Lennon sounds drained but forcing himself through. Paul and George's backing vocals sound as sweet as the Isley's did, but John's demolished vocal chords are what makes the song special. During the "Shake it, shake it, shake it baby now" part towards the end, you can hear the weariness in the band, but with smiles on their faces in a way that's infectious even to just listen to. I can imagine Lennon must've collapsed in exhaustion just after the tape ran out. "Twist and Shout" was the first Beatles song I remember ever hearing, I must've only been about 3 or 4 at the time, and it transfixed me as I listened to the cassette over and over again. Some things you just don't grow out of as an adult, and I still can't listen to "Twist and Shout" without a big smile on my face, convulsing like Paul McCartney does when John tells us to "shake it, shake it, shake it". It's one of the great songs by the greatest of bands, and a perfectly fine choice to open my new series of blog posts.