Was “The Night Before” the Beatles’ response to the Shirelles’ 1960 hit “Will You Love Me Tomorrow”? The 1965 Help! track could be seen that way, as it deals with a common topic: what happens the morning after intimacy?
Mostly written by Paul McCartney, “The Night Before” describes an insecure narrator questioning his lover’s sincerity. It also features stellar harmonies and terrific guitar work from McCartney and George Harrison, and driving piano courtesy of John Lennon.
Despite its significant presence in Help!, “The Night Before” remains one of the Beatles’ most overlooked album tracks.
McCartney composed “The Night Before” in his apartment on Wimpole Street in London specifically for the film; Lennon later claimed not to remember much about the tune (although he deemed the track “good” in 1965), while McCartney stated in a 1994 interview that “I would say it is mainly mine. I don’t think John had a lot to with that.” Amazingly, the group recorded “The Night Before” in just two takes on February 17, with George Martin producing along with engineer Norman Smith.
From 2 to 7 p.m., the group recorded vocals and backing tracks, with two notable differences: McCartney and Harrison played the guitar solo together, an octave apart, while Lennon pounded on the Hohner Pianet electric piano. His rhythmic style underscores Ringo Starr’s drums, lending the track its driving beat. After double tracking McCartney’s lead vocals as well as Harrison and Lennon’s backing voices, the group moved on to the next song: Harrison’s “You Like Me Too Much.”
Over February 18 and 23, Martin and Smith completed mono and stereo mixes while the Beatles returned to filming Help! During a subsequent press junket for the movie, the group recorded a live version for the BBC on May 26, 1965; this along with live renditions of “Ticket to Ride,” “Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby,” “I’m A Loser,” “Honey Don’t,” “Dizzy Miss Lizzy,” “She’s a Woman,” and “Ticket to Ride” were broadcast as part of the show The Beatles Invite You to Take a Ticket to Ride on June 7, 1965.
“The Night Before” begins with Starr’s light-touch drumming, accented by Lennon’s heavily rhythmic piano. McCartney utilizes a raspier singing style, emphasizing the anguish and uncertainty the narrator feels. “Treat me like you did the night before,” he pleads. “Were you telling lies? Was I so unwise?” Harrison and Lennon harmonize on the phrase “ah, the night before,” suggesting the man’s longing to return the previous evening’s romance. Yet his beloved’s feelings have seemingly cooled, leading to the lines most reminiscent of “Will You Love Me Tomorrow.”
“Last night is the night I will remember you by; when I think of things we did it makes me want to cry,” McCartney wails, raising his voice in volume and key on the last word. Starr accents this section with maracas, working in tandem with McCartney’s vocals.
McCartney and Harrison then execute their shared solo, the sound piercing through the piano and drums. This technique creates a jolting effect, demanding the listener to pay full attention to the interlude. With the listener primed, the song leads directly into the lyric “When I held you near you were so sincere; treat me like you did the night before.”
The track ends with a brief reprise of the dual guitar solo, the final resolved chord suggesting hope at reconciliation. Will they “say goodbyes,” as McCartney sings, or to paraphrase the lines, will love remain in their eyes? The question remains open to interpretation.
Like many songs on Help!, “The Night Before” represents solid pop songwriting, an example of tapping into listeners’ experiences with insecurity and hesitation toward commitment.
The Shirelles questioned whether to give in to their lust, asking their would-be lover “will you still love me tomorrow?” In “The Night Before,” the narrator has already taken the next step, but now feels regret. The Beatles invert the trope by inserting a male perspective, thus proving that both sexes experience similar difficulties when surrendering to love.
For these reasons as well as superior musicianship, “The Night Before” should be appreciated as a classic, if underrated, Beatles tune.