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I Want to Hold Your Hand

Background Information

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"I Want to Hold Your Hand"
Single by The Beatles
from the album Meet the Beatles! (US)
Non-album single (UK)
B-side " This Boy" (UK)
" I Saw Her Standing There" (US)
Released 29 November 1963 (1963-11-29) (UK)
13 January 1964 (U.S.)
Format 7"
Recorded Abbey Road: 17 October 1963
Genre Rock
Length 2:24
Label Parlophone R5084 (UK)
Capitol Records 5112 (US)
Writer(s) Lennon/McCartney
Producer George Martin
The Beatles UK singles chronology
" She Loves You"
"I Want to Hold Your Hand"
" Can't Buy Me Love"
Music sample
I Want to Hold Your Hand

"I Want to Hold Your Hand" is a song by the English pop and rock band The Beatles. Written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, and recorded in October 1963, it was the first Beatles record to be made using four-track equipment. McCartney and Lennon did not have any particular inspiration for the song. Instead, they had received specific instructions from manager Brian Epstein to write a song with the American market in mind.

"I Want to Hold Your Hand" was the band's first number-one hit on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, starting the British Invasion of the United States music charts. It also held the top spot in the United Kingdom charts. A million copies of the single had already been ordered on its release. "I Want to Hold Your Hand" became The Beatles' best-selling single worldwide.

Background and composition

Epstein was worried about The Beatles' lack of commercial success in America—their earlier singles had flopped there—and so he encouraged Lennon and McCartney to write a song that would appeal to American listeners. McCartney had recently moved into 57 Wimpole Street, where he was living as a guest of Dr. Richard and Margaret Asher. Their daughter, actress Jane Asher, had become McCartney’s steady girlfriend since first meeting earlier in the year. This location briefly became Lennon and McCartney’s new writing base, taking over from McCartney’s Forthlin Road home in Liverpool. Margaret Asher taught music in a “small, rather stuffy music room” in the basement and it was here that Lennon and McCartney sat at the piano and composed 'I Want to Hold Your Hand'. In September 1980, Lennon 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 [E minor] 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.

In 1994, McCartney agreed with Lennon's description of the circumstances surrounding the composition of "I Want to Hold Your Hand" saying:

'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. It was our big number one; the one that would eventually break us in America.

In the studio

The Beatles started recording "I Want to Hold Your Hand" at Abbey Road Studios in Studio 2 on 17 October 1963. Notably, this marked the end of the Beatles using two-track recording; from then until 1968, all Beatles releases were recorded on four-track machines. Curiously, the song’s intro has an extra half a beat leading into the vocal. As it is unlikely to have been recorded in this way (the Beatles never played it like this live, although they did have to mime to it) it is therefore probably the result of an imperfect edit - the whole intro section from an earlier take spliced onto take 17. A studio montage in The Beatles Anthology includes an audio clip of McCartney instructing Ringo Starr on the dynamics of the drums in the song's intro.

"I Want to Hold Your Hand" was one of the few Beatles songs (along with "She Loves You") to be recorded in German, entitled, "Komm, gib mir deine Hand". Odeon, the German arm of EMI (the parent company of the Beatles' record label, Parlophone Records) was convinced that the Beatles' records would not sell in Germany unless they were sung in German. The Beatles detested the idea, and when they were due to record the German version on 27 January 1964 at EMI's Pathe Marconi Studios in Paris (where the Beatles were performing 18 days of concerts at the Olympia Theatre) they did not arrive for the session. Their record producer, George Martin, was outraged, and insisted they give it a try. Two days later, the Beatles recorded "Komm, gib mir deine Hand", one of the few times in their career that they recorded outside of London. However, Martin later conceded “They were right, actually, it wasn’t necessary for them to record in German, but they weren’t graceless, they did a good job”.

"Komm, gib mir deine Hand" appeared in full stereo on the US Capitol LP 'Something New' and currently on the new Capitol CD compilation called "The Capitol Albums Vol. I".

Launching the invasion

In the UK, "She Loves You" (released in August) had shot back to the number one position in November following blanket media coverage of the Beatles (described as Beatlemania). Mark Lewisohn later wrote: “'She Loves You' had already sold an industry-boggling three quarters of a million before these fresh converts were pushing it into seven figures. And at this very moment, just four weeks before Christmas, with everyone connected to the music and relevant retail industries already lying prone in paroxysms of unimaginable delight, EMI pulled the trigger and released 'I Want To Hold Your Hand'. And then it was bloody pandemonium".

On 29 November 1963, Parlophone Records released "I Want to Hold Your Hand" in the United Kingdom, with " This Boy" joining it on the single's B-side. Demand had been building for quite a while, 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 14 December 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 to the top spot for five full weeks. It stayed in the charts for another fifteen weeks afterwards, and incredibly made a one-week return to the charts on 16 May 1964. Beatlemania was peaking at that time; during the same period, the Beatles set a record by occupying the top two positions on both the album and single charts in the United Kingdom.

EMI and Brian Epstein finally convinced American label Capitol Records, a subsidiary of EMI, that the Beatles could make an impact in the United States, 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 26 December 1963. Capitol had previously resisted issuing Beatle recordings in the U.S. This resulted in the relatively modest Vee-Jay and Swan labels releasing the group's earlier Parlophone counterparts in the U.S. Seizing the opportunity, Epstein demanded US$40,000 from Capitol to promote the single (the most the Beatles had ever previously spent on an advertising campaign was 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 British Overseas Airways Corporation 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 a 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 turning down the song in the middle to make the declaration, "This is a Carroll James exclusive", to avoid theft of the song by other stations.

Capitol threatened to seek a court order 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 on 26 December.

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 fifteen-week chart run, and on 1 February, the Beatles finally achieved their first number-one in America, emulating the success of another British group, the Tornados with " Telstar", which was number one on the Billboard charts for three weeks over Christmas and New Year 1962/63. The Beatles finally relinquished the number one spot after seven weeks, passing the baton to the very song they had knocked off the top in Britain: "She Loves You". Hunter Davies's biography of the band states that "I Want to Hold Your Hand" received certification for sales of 5 million copies in the US alone. The replacement of themselves at the summit of the U.S. charts 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 of 1964, only British artists were flying high at the top of the American charts; besides the Beatles, other dominant British acts of that period included the Dave Clark Five, the Rolling Stones, the Kinks, the Hollies and Herman's Hermits.

The American single's front and back sleeves featured a photograph of the Beatles with Paul holding a cigarette. In 1984, Capitol Records airbrushed out the cigarette for the re-release 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 song was greeted by raving fans on both sides of the Atlantic but was dismissed by some critics as nothing more than another fad song that would not hold up to the test 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." For a time Dylan thought the Beatles were singing "I get high" instead of "I can't hide". He was surprised when he met them and found out that none of them had actually smoked marijuana.

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 Press have named "I Want to Hold Your Hand" as one of the Songs of the Century. In 2004, it was ranked number 16 on Rolling Stone's list of " The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time". It was ranked as #2 in Mojo's list on the "100 Records That Changed the World", after Little Richard's Tutti Frutti.

"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 cover was by the Moving Sidewalks, who made a psychedelic version in the late 1960s. French parodic band Odeurs covered the song as a military march sung with a strong German accent. The pre-"Dirty Water" Standells performed the song in a guest appearance as themselves in the sitcom The Munsters, along with another song called "Do the Ringo." Lunarock, a Canadian band based in Sailor Moon fame, did a cover of the song as well. Most notably, bop-guitarist Grant Green included a stunning jazz recording of "I Want to Hold Your Hand" as the title track of a 1965 album. Interestingly, the other tunes were jazz standards, perhaps validating Green's prescient appreciation of the Beatles' burgeoning musicality. The American band Sparks also delivered an unusual Philadelphia Sound-style cover of the song in the mid-1970s. It was also covered by R&B band Lakeside. The Beatles/ Metallica fusion group Beatallica performed an homage to the song, titled "I Want to Choke Your Band", on their 2004 eponymous second album.The song was also covered by Jennifer Cihi (Serena) - Sandy Howell (Raye) from Sailor_Moon_soundtracks_(USA) (contemporary dance).

Neil Innes' the Rutles also memorably pastiched the song with laser-like accuracy as "Hold My Hand" in 1978, while British pop duo Dollar had a UK Top 10 hit with their version in January 1980 (coincidentally charting simultaneously with The Tourists' cover of " I Only Want To Be With You", which had originally been a hit for Dusty Springfield concurrently with the Beatles' version of "I Want To Hold Your Hand"). On Devo's debut album, Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!, the song Uncontrollable Urge opens with a distorted version of I Want to Hold Your Hand's opening riff. In the 2007 film Across the Universe, T.V. Carpio sings a slowed-down cover version of the song in character as a young lesbian pining over a seemingly unattainable classmate.

For the 2006 album Love, coinciding with the Cirque Du Soleil production of the same title, George Martin and his son, Giles, melded the original studio recording (truncated) with a live performance at the Hollywood Bowl, complete with screaming hordes of teenage girls and the famous introduction from The Ed Sullivan Show, "Here they are ... The Beatles!!"

The Beatles' recording of this song also appeared as the opening track in the 1997 Time-Life 6-CD boxed set, "Gold And Platinum: The Ultimate Rock Collection", marking one of the very rare times that a Beatles recording was featured in an American-released various artists compilation collection. This set also featured one song each from the solo members of the Beatles: "It Don't Come Easy" (Ringo Starr), "Band On The Run" (Paul McCartney), "(Just Like) Starting Over" (John Lennon) and "All Those Years Ago" (George Harrison).

Melody and lyrics

Reminiscent of Tin Pan Alley and Brill Building techniques and an example of modified thirty-two-bar form, the song is written on a two-bridge model, with only an intervening verse to connect them. The original song has no real "lead" singer or even a clearly defined melody, as Lennon and McCartney sing in harmony with each other. It could be argued that Lennon is leading McCartney, as Lennon's vocals are more prominent on the recording; however, when the Beatles performed the song on The Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964, McCartney's vocals could be heard more clearly (although this may have been due to a poor audio mix).


  • John Lennon – vocal, rhythm guitar, handclaps
  • Paul McCartney – vocal, bass, handclaps
  • George Harrison – lead guitar, handclaps
  • Ringo Starr – drums, handclaps

Credits: Ian MacDonald

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