When The Beatles were still growing in popularity, they had a lot to prove to the world. As a result, they gave everything they had when they were recording their first album, Please Please Me, in 1963. One song, in particular, gave them a lot more trouble than the rest – but it was worth it.
In 1963 they released their most popular single yet, Twist and Shout. The track was originally recorded by The Top Notes before being covered by the Isley Brothers, and eventually The Beatles.
The song was a major success, going multiplatinum and launching their popularity even further in the process.
But during the recording process, John Lennon almost couldn’t finish singing it. After recording the song once, perfectly, The Beatles’ producer, George Martin, encouraged them to play it a second time.
Lennon almost refused, knowing that his voice was already cut up from his first performance, but Martin was keen to try again. So Lennon reportedly put two throat lozenges in his mouth, swigged a mouthful of warm milk, and stepped into the record booth once more.
Lennon said in the Beatles Anthology: “The last song nearly killed me.”
After screaming through the energetic track a second time, Lennon had to give up.
Martin confirmed the first recording of the song was better, so they went ahead with that on Please Please Me. But Lennon had already been affected by the dramatic performance he turned in.
“My voice wasn’t the same for a long time after,” he explained. “Every time I swallowed, it was like sandpaper.”
As a result, Lennon withdrew into himself as he felt he could have done a better job. “I was always bitterly ashamed of it,” he admitted. “Because I could sing it better than that.”
Lennon, years later, looked back carefully on his performance, however.
“Now it doesn’t bother me,” he said. “You can hear that I’m just a frantic guy doing his best.”
He went on to add: “We sang for 12 hours, almost nonstop. We had colds, and we were concerned how it would affect the record. At the end of the day, all we wanted to do was drink pints of milk.”
Martin was the one who pushed Lennon to sing the song as hard and fast as he could for a second time, but even he knew he had messed up along the way.
Martin said in Anthology: “I knew that Twist And Shout was a real larynx-tearer.”
He told the band at the beginning of the recording session: “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’s what the band did; they played Twist and Shout twice over that evening, damaging Lennon’s voice in the process.