Old Brown Shoe

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"Old Brown Shoe"
Single by The Beatles
A-side "The Ballad of John and Yoko"
Released 30 May 1969 (UK)
4 June 1969 (US)
Format 7"
Recorded 16, 18 April 1969,
EMI Studios, London
Genre Blues rock
Length 3:16
Label Apple
Writer(s) George Harrison
Producer(s) George Martin
The Beatles singles chronology
"Get Back"
(1969)
"The Ballad of John and Yoko" /
"Old Brown Shoe"
(1969)
"Something" / "Come Together"
(1969)

"Old Brown Shoe" is a song written by George Harrison that was first released by the Beatles as a B-side to "The Ballad of John and Yoko". It is also available on the Beatles' compilation albums Hey Jude, 1967–1970 and Past Masters, Volume Two.

Composition and musical structure[edit]

Harrison commented about this song: "I started the chord sequences on the piano, which I don't really play, and then began writing ideas for the words from various opposites... Again, it's the duality of things – yes no, up down, left right, right wrong, etc."[1] This idea was also prevalent in the Beatles' earlier single, "Hello, Goodbye".[2]

The song is mostly in the key of C Major opening in the verse with bluesy tonic 7 (C7) and ii7 (Dm7) chords. The chorus goes to the IV chord (F) ("I'm stepping out this old brown shoe") but instead of doing so via a flat VI (A flat) back to the tonic C; the song creatively transitions via a III aug (E aug) chord (on "won't be the same now") which is the dominant of the impending Am chord (on "I'm telling you").[3][4] Everett consider this "C/Am" duality fits well "with the composer's main concern in the poetic text" ("I want a love that's right but right is only half of what's wrong").[5] Pollack also emphasizes the song's interesting flat VI (Ab) chord in the verse, the V-IV (G-F chord) alternation in the bridge and the 'bluesy' effect of the frequent flat 3rd and 7th notes alongside the I7 (C7) chords.[6] Everett considers that the voice leading and harmony on 'Old Brown Shoe' are "far more subtle and interesting" than such qualities in the song ("The Ballad of John and Yoko") on the A side of the single.[7] Pedler terms the song "highly underrated" and featuring "some typically inspired Harrison-esque sleight-of-hand, courtesy again of the augmented chord."[8]

Recording[edit]

The Beatles' recording of this song features lead vocals from Harrison, and backing vocals from John Lennon and Paul McCartney. The unusual bass sound was achieved by tracking the bass with the lead guitar. There is some controversy over whether Harrison played bass. Everett states that it was McCartney's Jazz Bass doubled in the bridge with Harrison's Telecaster playing chromatically moving arpeggiations in a similar manner to the bridge guitars in "And Your Bird Can Sing".[9] In a two part CREEM interview (published December 1987 and January 1988), however, George Harrison appears to confirm he played bass for the piece. Extract from the interview:[10]

  • Creem: You also told me you played bass on "Old Brown Shoe."
  • George: It’s like a lunatic playing.
  • Creem: It sounds like McCartney was going nuts again.
  • George: That was me going nuts. I’m doing exactly what I do on the guitar.

Everett states that Harrison's "stinging highly Claptonesque solo" was played on a Telecaster coloured through a Leslie speaker given Automatic double tracking (ADT) treatment and "sent wild to both channels."[11] Although Lennon did play guitar on the track, his instrumentation was removed and replaced by the organ sound.[12] It has been said[by whom?] that Ringo Starr sang backing vocals on the line "Wearing rings on every finger", but this is an unreferenced claim.

The song was recorded during the sessions for the Abbey Road album. The group had previously performed the song a number of times over three days during the Let It Be sessions at Apple Studios in January 1969, which have been widely bootlegged.[13] Harrison made a solo demo (featuring only piano and electric guitar) at EMI Studios on 25 February 1969 (along with "Something" and "All Things Must Pass"), which was released on Anthology 3 in 1996.

In 1980 John Lennon claimed that he was responsible for the choice of "Old Brown Shoe" as the B-side of "The Ballad of John and Yoko" single.[14]

Personnel[edit]

Personnel per Ian MacDonald[15]

Cover versions[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ The Beatles Interview Database 2006.
  2. ^ Turner 1994, pp. 139–140.
  3. ^ Dominic Pedler. Songwriting Secrets of the Beatles Omnibus Press London 2003, pp327-328.
  4. ^ Alan W Pollack. Notes on Old Brown Shoe 1999. http://www.recmusicbeatles.com/public/files/awp/obs.html accessed 10 Jan 2012
  5. ^ Walter Everett. The Beatles as Musicians: Revolver Through the Anthology. Oxford University Press. NY. 1999. p 244
  6. ^ Alan W Pollack. Notes on Old Brown Shoe 1999. http://www.recmusicbeatles.com/public/files/awp/obs.html accessed 10 Jan 2012
  7. ^ Walter Everett. The Beatles as Musicians: Revolver Through the Anthology. Oxford University Press. NY. 1999. p 243
  8. ^ Dominic Pedler. Songwriting Secrets of the Beatles Omnibus Press London 2003, p327.
  9. ^ Walter Everett. The Beatles as Musicians: Revolver Through the Anthology. Oxford University Press. NY. 1999. p 243.
  10. ^ Kordosh 1987.
  11. ^ Walter Everett. The Beatles as Musicians: Revolver Through the Anthology. Oxford University Press. NY. 1999. p 243
  12. ^ Walter Everett. The Beatles as Musicians: Revolver Through the Anthology. Oxford University Press. NY. 1999. p 242
  13. ^ The Beatles Bible 2008.
  14. ^ Sheff 2000, p. 166.
  15. ^ MacDonald 2005, p. 347.

References[edit]

External links[edit]