The Beatles Songs: "Getting Better"

The history of this classic Beatles song

beatlesgetbetuksheet.jpg
The original UK sheet music for "Getting Better". rarebeatles.com

Getting Better

Written by: Paul McCartney (50%), John Lennon (50%)
Recorded: March 9-10 and 23, 1967 (Studio 2, Abbey Road Studios, London, England)
Mixed: March 23 and April 17, 1967
Length: 2:47
Takes: 7

Musicians:

John Lennon: harmony vocals, backing vocals, rhythm guitar (1965 Epiphone E230TD Casino)
Paul McCartney: lead vocals (double-tracked), bass guitar (1964 Rickenbacker 400IS)
George Harrison: backing vocals, tamboura
Ringo Starr: drums (1963 Black Oyster Pearl Ludwig), congas
George Martin: pianette (Hohner)

Available on: (CDs in bold)

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (UK: Parlophone PMC 7027, PCS 7027; Capitol (S)MAS 2653; Parlophone CDP 7 46442 2)

History:

The genesis for "Getting Better" stretches all the way back to 1964, when Ringo came down with tonsillitis just before a planned Australasian tour. Jimmy Nicol, fellow Liverpudlian scenester and session drummer who had worked with George Martin and played drums on a record of Beatles covers, was suddenly asked to be the drummer for the biggest band in the world (for eight dates, anyway). Knowing the pressure that was put on him, the band would ask Nicol after every gig how he was adjusting, to which his only reply was a somewhat tense "It's getting better." So often did Nicol use those words -- and only those -- to describe his situation on the tour that it became a joke phrase within the band.

In 1967, Paul was walking his sheepdog Martha near his home and conversing with author Hunter Davies, then writing a book about the group.

As they were discussing the weather, McCartney noted, "It's getting better," and then cracked up, thinking of the old joke. According to Davies, when John visited that evening, Paul asked him to help write a song around the theme.

"Getting Better" was one of the last songs created from scratch by Lennon and McCartney working together, although the initial idea was Paul's.

John's contributions are easy to spot, especially the sardonic and contradictory "Can't get no worse" line in the chorus, which Paul loved. John also contributed the shocking lines "I used to be cruel to my woman / I beat her and kept her apart from the things that she loved." This was the first public admission of such behavior by John.

As befits the simple and spontaneous nature of the song, the recording was again a simple affair. Work was begun on March 9, 1964, in an all-day session where seven takes were made of John's guitar, Paul's bass, and Ringo's drums. Producer George Martin, finding someone had left behind a pianette (a cross between an electric piano and a harpsichord), added this to the track, playing it by directly hitting the strings themselves with mallets. The next day, Paul double-tracked his bass parts, as well as George's tamboura and congas by Ringo, played during the verses. All vocals were added on the 23rd.

Vocals were supposed to be completed two days earlier on the 21st, but for a strange interlude: John, thinking he'd taken "uppers" to stay awake through the session, suddenly found he'd actually ingested quite a bit of LSD. At the time, George Martin was the only other one at the studio, and having no experience with drugs, thought the best thing to do was take John up on the roof of Abbey Road studios to get some air.

When Paul and George arrived and learned where John was, they quickly raced up and brought him down.

Trivia:

  • Paul McCartney has only recently began to cover this song in concert, playing it on and off during his 2002 and 2003 tours.
  • On the same night John had his accidental LSD trip, another strange occurrence took place: Pink Floyd, then recording Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, came over to visit the group. the meeting was decidedly anticlimactic, however, consisting of what Davies referred to as "half-hearted hellos."

Covered by: Gomez, The Bee Gees with Peter Frampton, Steve Hillage, Status Quo, Smash Mouth, Kaiser Chiefs, Fionn Regan, Cheap Trick, Les Fradkin, Davy Graham, Sons of the Never Wrong, The Wedding Present