I Want to Hold Your Hand

From Academic Kids

"I Want to Hold Your Hand"
Missing image

Single by The Beatles
Not featured on an original album in the United Kingdom; released on Meet the Beatles! in the United States
UK Release November 29, 1963
US Release December 26, 1963
Single Format vinyl record (7")
Recorded Abbey Road Studios, October 17, 1963
Genre Rock
Song Length
Record label EMI, Swan
Producer George Martin
Chart positions 1 (UK)
1 (USA)
The Beatles single chronology
"She Loves You"
"I Want to Hold Your Hand"
"Can't Buy Me Love"

"I Want to Hold Your Hand" is the title of the hit 1963 Beatles song written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney that led the British Invasion of the United States music charts. It was the first Beatles record to be made using 4-track equipment and in real stereo, and the Beatles' first number one song on the Billboard magazine charts, heralding 19 more number one singles from the Beatles in the United States. It also held the top spot in the United Kingdom charts, where a million copies of the single had already been ordered by its release.

Interestingly, McCartney and Lennon did not have any particular inspiration for the song, unlike their later hits such as "Yesterday", "Hey Jude" and "Let It Be". Instead, they had received specific instructions from manager Brian Epstein to write a song with the American market in mind, and the result was "I Want to Hold Your Hand". It was also recorded in German as "Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand", one of the very few times the Beatles recorded a song in a language other than English.


Writing in a basement

Lennon and McCartney were ordered by manager Brian Epstein to sit down and write something intended to cater to the interests of American listeners. The two Beatles sat at a piano they found in the basement of a house, and began jamming with it. However, whose house it was is interestingly in contention. Most sources state that "I Want to Hold Your Hand" was composed in the cellar of Jane Asher's home in Wimpole Street; she was McCartney's girlfriend at the time. This story was supported by Lennon; in September 1980 (the interview was published in the month of his death, December of the same year), he told Playboy magazine: "We wrote a lot of stuff together, one on one, eyeball to eyeball. Like in 'I Want To Hold Your Hand,' I remember when we got the chord that made the song. We were in Jane Asher's house, downstairs in the cellar playing on the piano at the same time. And we had, 'Oh you-u-u/ got that something...' And Paul hits this chord, and I turn to him and say, 'That's it!' I said, 'Do that again!' In those days, we really used to absolutely write like that—both playing into each other's noses."

Missing image
The British single of "I Want To Hold Your Hand" received a million orders before it was even shipped.

McCartney, however, disagreed, saying only a year after writing the song: "Let's see, we were told we had to get down to it. So we found this house when we were walking along one day. We knew we had to really get this song going, so we got down in the basement of this disused house and there was an old piano. It wasn't really disused, it was rooms to let. We found this old piano and started banging away. There was a little old organ too. So we were having this informal jam and we started banging away. Suddenly a little bit came to us, the catch line. So we started working on it from there. We got our pens and paper out and just wrote down the lyrics. Eventually, we had some sort of a song, so we played it for our recording manager and he seemed to like it. We recorded it the next day."

In 1994, McCartney stated he agreed with Lennon's description of the circumstances surrounding the composition of "I Want To Hold Your Hand", but did not specifically mention Lennon's claim that it had been written in Asher's home: "'Eyeball to eyeball' is a very good description of it. That's exactly how it was. 'I Want To Hold Your Hand' was very co-written."

As is obvious from McCartney's and Lennon's statements, they did not have a specific inspiration for the song. However, they were considerably impressed by the song, and so was Epstein, who had been in a state of worry after several of the Beatles' earlier singles in the United States had flopped in the charts. Upon hearing the song, goes the legend, Epstein confidently booked several venues in America for Beatles performances, a full two months before the song came out on a single. The Beatles took the story further when they arrived in America, declaring that they refused to go to America until they had a number one there. However, in reality, Epstein first booked a venue for a Beatles performance in America before "I Want To Hold Your Hand" was even recorded.

At the studio

The Beatles started recording "I Want To Hold Your Hand" at Abbey Road Studios in Studio 2 on October 17 1963. Notably, this marked the end of the Beatles using two-track recording; from then until 1968, all Beatles releases were recorded in four-track. The song was also the first Beatles song to be recorded in true stereo; beforehand, their releases had been released in mono, although some record labels in the United States tried remixing some Beatles songs in a fake stereo. A stereo recording does not a stereo release make, however — both the British and American single releases were in mono.

"I Want To Hold Your Hand" was also one of the very few Beatles songs to be recorded in German. The German arm of EMI (the parent company of the Beatles' then record label, Parlophone Records) was convinced that the Beatles' releases would not sell unless they were in German. The Beatles detested the idea, but George Martin managed to persuade them to give it a try. However, when they were due to record the German version on 27 January 1964, they were nowhere to be seen.

Martin later recounted his anger at the Beatles' rudeness: "The boys were enjoying their new life. They were very busy and they were tasting their first fruits of success. I had asked them to appear at the EMI studios one afternoon and I got there with this German fellow, who came to coach them with this language and when the time came, I think it was four o'clock, there was no sign of them, at all! I was a bit puzzled by this, and thought, 'I wonder what has happened to them?' So I rang their hotel and I spoke to Neil Aspinall, who said, 'Oh, they are having tea. They're not going to come.' And so I said, 'But, why?' And he said, 'Well they don't want to. They've decided they don't want to make a record in German, after all.' I was absolutely livid! So, I hopped in a cab, together with the German, and I tore to the George V hotel and I burst in on the scene and they were all having tea there, the four Beatles, the two road managers, and the only woman present was Jane Asher. It was rather like the Mad Hatter's tea party in Alice In Wonderland because Jane was pouring tea from a China tea pot with her long gold hair and the others sitting around, rather like the March Hare. And as I burst into the room, and yelled at them, they all fled to corners of the room. The place disintegrated. There wasn't anyone left at the table except Jane Asher pouring tea. The four mop-tops were in each corner of the room, just looking over a cushion, or a chair, pretending to hide, and laughing. I said, 'Look, you really owe this fellow a great apology. He's come all this way, over from Germany, so, say you're sorry.' And they, in their cheeky Liverpool way, said, 'Oh, sorry, so sorry!' After that, they came and did the German record in the studio. They still didn't like doing it very much, but they did it. That was the very first time I had a row with them, and probably the only time."

Two days later, the Beatles recorded "Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand" at the Pathe Marconi Studios in Paris, the only time in their entire career that they recorded outside London.

Launching the invasion

On November 29 1963, Parlophone Records released to the United Kingdom "I Want To Hold Your Hand", with "This Boy" joining it on the single's B-Side. Demand had been building for quite a while before, as evidenced by the one million advance orders for the single. When it was finally released, the response was phenomenal. A week after it entered the British charts, on December 14 1963, it knocked "She Loves You", another Beatles' song, off the top spot, the first such instance of the same act taking over from itself at number one in British history, clinging on to it for a full five weeks. It stuck around the charts for another fifteen weeks afterwards, and incredibly made a one week return to the charts on May 16 1964. Beatlemania was peaking around the period; during the same period, the Beatles set an incredible record by owning the top two positions on both the album and single charts in the United Kingdom.

In the United States, EMI and Brian Epstein successfully convinced Capitol Records that the Beatles could make an impact on American music, leading to the release of "I Want To Hold Your Hand" with "I Saw Her Standing There" on the B-Side as a single on December 26 1963. Epstein, seizing the opportunity, demanded a gigantic US$40,000 to promote the single from Capitol. The largest the Beatles had ever spent on an advertising campaign before was a paltry US$5,000. The single had actually been intended for release in mid-January of 1964, coinciding with the planned appearance of the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. However, a 15-year old fan of the Beatles, Marsha Albert, was determined to get hold of the single earlier. Later she said: "It wasn't so much what I had seen, it's what I had heard. They had a scene where they played a clip of 'She Loves You' and I thought it was a great song. I wrote that I thought [the Beatles] would be really popular here, and if [deejay Carroll James] could get one of their records, that would really be great."

James was the deejay for WWDC, a radio station in Washington, D.C. Eventually he decided to pursue Albert's suggestion to him, and asked the station's promotion director to get BOAC, a now-defunct airline, to ship in a copy of "I Want To Hold Your Hand" from Britain. Albert related what happened next: "Carroll James called me up the day he got the record and said 'If you can get down here by 5 o'clock, we'll let you introduce it.'" Albert managed to get to the station in time, and introduced the record with: "Ladies and gentlemen, for the first time on the air in the United States, here are the Beatles singing 'I Want to Hold Your Hand.'"

The song proved to be a huge hit, a surprise for the station, as they catered mainly to more staid audience, which would normally be expecting songs from singers such as Andy Williams or Bobby Vinton instead of rock and roll. James took to playing the song repeatedly on the station, often tuning down the song in the middle to make the declaration, "This is a Carroll James special," to avoid theft of the song by other stations.

Capitol threatened to get a legal injunction banning airplay of "I Want To Hold Your Hand", which was already being spread by James to a couple of deejays in Chicago and St. Louis. James and WWDC ignored the threat, and Capitol came to the conclusion that they could well take advantage of the publicity, releasing the single two weeks ahead of schedule.

Missing image
The American single of "I Want To Hold Your Hand" had shipped 250,000 copies just three days after its release, heralding the British invasion of America

The demand was insatiable; in the first three days alone, a quarter million copies had already been sold. In New York City, 10,000 copies flew off the shelves every hour. Capitol was so overloaded by the demand, it contracted part of the job of pressing copies off to Columbia Records and RCA. By January 18, the song had started its 15-week chart run, and on February 1, the Beatles finally achieved their first number one in America; only four other British artists had ever done so, the last being Lonnie Donnegan in 1956. They finally relinquished the title after seven weeks, passing the baton to the very song they had knocked off the top in Britain — "She Loves You". This was the first time since Elvis Presley in 1956, with "Love Me Tender" beating out "Don't Be Cruel", that an act had dropped off the top of the American charts only to be replaced by another of their releases.

With that, the British invasion of America had been launched, and the music scene there would never be the same. Throughout the whole year of 1964, only British artists were flying high at the top of the American charts; besides the Beatles, other dominant British acts of the same period included the Rolling Stones, the Hollies and Herman's Hermits.

Interestingly, the American single's front and back sleeves featured a photograph of the Beatles with one of them holding a cigarette. In 1984, Capitol Records airbrushed it out for their rerelease of the single.

"I Want To Hold Your Hand" was also released in America on Meet the Beatles!, which groundbreakingly altered the American charts by actually outselling the single. Beforehand, the American markets were more in favour of hit singles instead of whole albums; however, two months after the album's release, it had shipped more than three-and-a-half million copies, a little over a hundred thousand ahead of the "I Want To Hold Your Hand" single.

The aftermath

As mentioned, the song was greeted by raving fans on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, but dismissed by more than a few critics as nothing more than just another fad song that would not hold up to the tests of time. Cynthia Lowery of the Associated Press expressed her exasperation with Beatlemania by saying of the Beatles: "Heaven knows we've heard them enough. It has been impossible to get a radio weather bulletin or time signal without running into 'I Want To Hold Your Hand.'" Another critic declared that the Beatles were "really pretty boring to listen to. Their act is absolutely nothing," and that "[t]heir greatest asset is that they look like rather likable, almost innocent young fellows who have merely hit a lucky thing".

Bob Dylan was impressed by the Beatles' innovation, saying, "They were doing things nobody was doing. Their chords were outrageous, just outrageous, and their harmonies made it all valid." Interestingly, for quite a while, Dylan thought the Beatles at one point were singing "I get high" instead of "I can't hide". He was understandably surprised when he met them and found out that at the time, none of them had actually smoked marijuana. Even the Beatles could be unsure of the lyrics; some concert recordings of theirs indicate that Lennon sometimes sang "I want to hold your head".

Although the song was nominated for the Grammy Award for Record of the Year, the award went to Astrud Gilberto and Stan Getz for "The Girl from Ipanema". However, in 1998, the song won the Grammy Hall of Fame Award. It has also made the list in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. In addition, the Recording Industry Association of America, the National Endowment for the Arts and Scholastic Inc. have named "I Want To Hold Your Hand" as one of the Songs of the Century.

"I Want To Hold Your Hand" was not subject to numerous cover versions like other Beatles' songs such as "Yesterday" or "Something", although Arthur Fiedler & the Boston Pops Orchestra did attempt an instrumental version in 1964, which actually rose as high as number 55 in the American charts. Another notable cover was by The Moving Sidewalks who did a psychedelic version in the late 1960s. French parodic band Odeurs covered the song as a military march sung with a strong German accent.

Melody and lyrics

Reminiscent of Tin Pan Alley and Brill Building techniques and an example of modified thirty-two-bar form (Covach 2005, p.70), the song is written in a two-bridge model, with only an intervening solo to connect them. The original song has no real lead singer, nor is it a duet, with both Lennon and McCartney singing in harmony with each other, though it could be argued Lennon is leading McCartney. The song opens with a few stuttering guitar chords, then in true Beatles fashion, lunges upward, relying on an surprising minor chord, joined by George Harrison's guitar riffs. At the end of each verse, the singers make a sudden jump a whole octave higher with the word "hand".

The song is about a man expressing his feelings for his lover, and at first, the singing is done in a seemingly shy and bashful manner, with the singer pausing every few words: "Oh yeah, I (pause) tell you something (pause) I think you'll understand". However, when the chorus is reached and the singers make the octave-long jump, there is no hiding their feelings, with an uninterrupted "I want to hold your hand". The lyrics are straightforward and simple compared to later works of the Beatles. A sample from the song is available.


External links

  John Lennon Missing image
Paul McCartney

The Beatles George Harrison Ringo Starr  

History of the Beatles | Long-term influence | British Invasion | Classic rock era | Paul is Dead rumours | Apple Records | George Martin | Geoff Emerick | Brian Epstein | Beatlesque | Discography | Bootlegs | Beatlemania


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