Old Brown Shoe
|"Old Brown Shoe"|
US picture sleeve (reverse)
|Single by the Beatles|
|A-side||"The Ballad of John and Yoko"|
|Released||30 May 1969|
|Recorded||16, 18 April 1969,
EMI Studios, London
|The Beatles singles chronology|
"Old Brown Shoe" is a song by the English rock band the Beatles. Written by George Harrison, the group's lead guitarist, it was released on a non-album single in May 1969, as the B-side to "The Ballad of John and Yoko". The song was subsequently included on the Beatles' compilation albums Hey Jude, 1967–1970 and Past Masters, Volume Two. At the Concert for George tribute in November 2002, a year after Harrison's death, the song was performed by Gary Brooker. Several music critics have recognised "Old Brown Shoe" as one of Harrison's best compositions from the Beatles era. A demo version of the song, recorded by Harrison in February 1969, was released on the 1996 compilation Anthology 3.
Composition and musical structure
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: I want a love that's right / But right is only half of what's wrong. Again, it's the duality of things – yes-no, up-down, left-right, right-wrong, etc." This idea was also prevalent in the Beatles' 1967 single "Hello, Goodbye". Author and critic Ian MacDonald identifies the "hood-eyed spirit" of Bob Dylan in the song's "dusty shuffle-beat" and ironic lyrics, while recognising the "surprising and graphic" chord progression as typical of Harrison's work. Author Alan Clayson cites the "undercurrent of bottleneck" in the song's main guitar riff as anticipating Harrison's slide guitar style, a technique he first embraced in December 1969 while on tour with Delaney & Bonnie and Friends.
"Old Brown Shoe" is in the key of C major. The chorus goes to the subdominant chord (F) ("I'm stepping out this old brown shoe"), and cadences on the submediant (A minor) via its secondary dominant (E). Among musicologists' assessments of the composition, Walter Everett considers that 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"). Alan Pollack highlights the song's interesting flat VI (A♭) 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.
Everett finds the voice leading and harmony on "Old Brown Shoe" "far more subtle and interesting" than such qualities in the song that was chosen as the A-side of the Beatles' next single, John Lennon's "The Ballad of John and Yoko". Dominic Pedler terms the song "highly underrated" and featuring "some typically inspired Harrison-esque sleight-of-hand, courtesy again of the augmented chord". According to music journalist Graham Reid, the track demonstrates that Harrison was "really on a roll at this point" as a songwriter. He interprets the message as the guitarist "straining against the constraints of the Beatles ('the zoo'?)" during a period when, as the lyrics state, he himself was "changing faster than the weather".
The Beatles' recording of "Old Brown Shoe" features lead vocals from Harrison, and backing vocals from Lennon and Paul McCartney. The unusual bass sound was achieved by tracking the bass with the lead guitar. Everett states that it was McCartney's Jazz Bass doubled in the bridge with Harrison's Telecaster, both playing chromatically moving arpeggiations in a similar manner to the bridge guitars in "And Your Bird Can Sing". In a 1987 interview for Creem magazine, however, Harrison recalled that he played bass himself on the track. When the interviewer, J. Kordosh, suggested that the bass part "sounds like McCartney was going nuts again", Harrison replied: "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". Although Lennon recorded a rhythm guitar part for the track, his instrumentation was removed and replaced by Hammond organ, played by Harrison.
The song was recorded on 16 and 18 April 1969 during the early sessions for the Abbey Road album. The group had previously performed the song a number of times over three days, beginning on 27 January, during the Let It Be sessions at Apple Studio. Harrison made a solo demo, featuring only piano and electric guitars, at EMI Studios on 25 February 1969, the day of his 26th birthday. Along with his solo performances of "Something" and "All Things Must Pass" from the same session, this demo was released on Anthology 3 in 1996.
Release and reception
In a 1980 interview, Lennon said that he was responsible for the choice of "Old Brown Shoe" as the B-side of "The Ballad of John and Yoko". The single was released in Britain as Apple R 5786 on 30 May 1969.
In the United States, Apple Records issue the record in a picture sleeve featuring shots of the four Beatles and Ono in the garden of McCartney's London home. On the reverse side of the sleeve, the photo included a dark brown shoe placed in a bush in front of the five figures. In the opinion of author Bruce Spizer, this shot, taken by Linda McCartney, shows Harrison, McCartney and Starr in better humour than in the shot used on the front of the sleeve, where the three bandmates appear uncomfortable with having to pose behind Ono and Lennon. "Old Brown Shoe"'s first appearance on an album was in February 1970 when, along with its A-side, it was included on Capitol Records' North American release Hey Jude.
Ian MacDonald admires "Old Brown Shoe" as one of its author's "most forceful pieces" and "an archetypal B-side from an era when B-sides were worth flipping a single for". Writing for Rolling Stone in 2002, Greg Kot described it as "dark, droll, rollicking" and said it was perhaps Harrison's "most underrated Beatles composition". In his review of the Past Masters Volume Two compilation, for Rough Guides, Chris Ingham recognises "Old Brown Shoe" as "perhaps the densest, sharpest Harrison song to make it onto a Beatles record". Joe Bosso of MusicRadar includes it among Harrison's "10 Greatest Beatles Songs", describing it as "An infectious, lively track that tumbles out of the gate ... and gallops off", and he praises Harrison's "blazing guitar solo" and other musical contributions.
According to Ian MacDonald (except where noted):
- George Harrison – vocal, guitars, Hammond organ, bass guitar
- John Lennon – backing vocal
- Paul McCartney – backing vocal, tack piano
- Ringo Starr – drums
- Gary Brooker performed the song at the Concert for George in 2002.
- Leslie West covered the song on the 2003 album Songs from the Material World: A Tribute to George Harrison.
- Conan O'Brien performed the song at George Fest in 2014.
- Harrison 2002, p. 134.
- Everett 1999, p. 242.
- Turner 1994, pp. 139–40.
- MacDonald 2005, p. 348.
- Clayson 2003, p. 279.
- Pedler 2003, pp. 327–28.
- Pollack, Alan W. (1999). "Notes on 'Old Brown Shoe'". soundscapes.info. Retrieved 10 January 2012.
- Everett 1999, p. 244.
- Everett 1999, p. 243.
- Pedler 2003, p. 327.
- Reid, Graham (10 September 2012). "The Beatles: Old Brown Shoe (1969)". Elsewhere. Retrieved 18 June 2017.
- MacDonald 2005, p. 347.
- Guesdon & Margotin 2013, p. 547.
- Kordosh, J. (December 1987). "The George Harrison Interview". Creem. Archived from the original on 30 April 2007. Retrieved 5 June 2011.
- Miles 2001, p. 340.
- Lewisohn 2005, p. 173.
- Unterberger 2006, pp. 257–59.
- Sulpy & Schweighardt 1999, pp. 290, 328.
- Lewisohn 2005, p. 171.
- MacDonald 2005, pp. 347–48.
- Unterberger 2006, pp. 264–65.
- Sheff 2000, p. 166.
- Miles 2001, p. 345.
- Lewisohn 2005, p. 177.
- Spizer 2003, p. 54.
- Spizer 2003, pp. 185–86.
- The Editors of Rolling Stone 2002, p. 187.
- Ingham 2006, p. 72.
- Bosso, Joe (29 November 2011). "George Harrison's 10 greatest Beatles songs". MusicRadar. Retrieved 18 June 2017.
- Castleman, Harry; Podrazik, Walter J. (1976). All Together Now: The First Complete Beatles Discography 1961–1975. New York, NY: Ballantine Books. ISBN 0-345-25680-8.
- Clayson, Alan (2003). George Harrison. London: Sanctuary. ISBN 1-86074-489-3.
- The Editors of Rolling Stone (2002). Harrison. New York, NY: Rolling Stone Press. ISBN 978-0-7432-3581-5.
- Everett, Walter (1999). The Beatles as Musicians: Revolver Through the Anthology. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-512941-5.
- Guesdon, Jean-Michel; Margotin, Philippe (2013). All the Songs: The Story Behind Every Beatles Release. New York, NY: Black Dog & Leventhal. ISBN 978-1-57912-952-1.
- Harrison, George (2002). I, Me, Mine. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books. ISBN 978-0-8118-5900-4.
- Ingham, Chris (2006). The Rough Guide to the Beatles (2nd edn). London: Rough Guides/Penguin. ISBN 978-1-84836-525-4.
- Inglis, Ian (2010). The Words and Music of George Harrison. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger. ISBN 978-0-313-37532-3.
- Leng, Simon (2006). While My Guitar Gently Weeps: The Music of George Harrison. Milwaukee, WI: Hal Leonard. ISBN 978-1-4234-0609-9.
- Lewisohn, Mark (2005) . The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions: The Official Story of the Abbey Road Years 1962–1970. London: Bounty Books. ISBN 978-0-7537-2545-0.
- MacDonald, Ian (2005). Revolution in the Head: The Beatles' Records and the Sixties (Second Revised ed.). London: Pimlico (Rand). ISBN 978-1-84413-828-9.
- Miles, Barry (2001). The Beatles Diary Volume 1: The Beatles Years. London: Omnibus Press. ISBN 0-7119-8308-9.
- Pedler, Dominic (2003). The Songwriting Secrets of the Beatles. London: Omnibus Press. ISBN 978-0-7119-8167-6.
- Sheff, David (2000) . All We Are Saying. London: St. Martin's Griffin. ISBN 978-0-312-25464-3.
- Spizer, Bruce (2003). The Beatles on Apple Records. New Orleans, LA: 498 Productions. ISBN 0-9662649-4-0.
- Sulpy, Doug; Schweighardt, Ray (1999). Get Back: The Unauthorized Chronicle of The Beatles' Let It Be Disaster. New York, NY: St. Martin's Griffin. ISBN 0-312-19981-3.
- Unterberger, Richie (2006). The Unreleased Beatles: Music & Film. San Francisco, CA: Backbeat Books. ISBN 978-0-87930-892-6.