The Beatles, “I Call Your Name” from Past Masters (1964): Deep Beatles

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This week’s edition of Deep Beatles could be retitled “A Tale of Multiple Mixes.”

Originally intended for the Hard Day’s Night soundtrack, the Beatles’ “I Call Your Name” stands out for its cowbell-led percussion, unusual musical structure, and distinctive guitar solo. While omitted from the album due to its slight similarity to “You Can’t Do That” (chiefly its cowbell), “I Call Your Name” resurfaced on the Beatles’ 1964 UK EP Long Tall Sally and the U.S. Capitol release The Beatles’ Second Album. Today, it can be found on the Past Masters compilation.

John Lennon had been hanging on to “I Call Your Name” since the Beatles’ pre-Hamburg days, according to a 1980 Playboy interview. “That was my song. When there was no Beatles and no group, I just had it around,” he said. “It was my effort as a kind of blues originally, and then I wrote the middle-eight just to stick it in the album when it came out years later. The first part had been written before Hamburg even. It was one of my ‘first’ attempts at a song.” In a 1994 interview, Paul McCartney recalled helping Lennon revise the track before the recording.

Lennon first gave “I Call Your Name” to Billy J. Kramer, a singer Brian Epstein had recently signed to his roster of artists. Kramer and his backing band the Dakotas recorded the song along with another early Lennon/McCartney composition, “Bad to Me,” in 1963; Parlophone then released the single, but chose “I Call Your Name” as the B-side. A year later, John Lennon apparently decided enough time had passed for the Beatles to record their own version. In The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn said Lennon could be heard discussing Kramer’s version in the control room. “Do you think it’s a bit much doing Billy J’s intro and solo? ‘Cos it’s our song anyroad, innit?” he said before the group attempted take one.

The Beatles assembled at Abbey Road Studios on March 1, 1964 to record “I Call Your Name,” along with “I’m Happy Just to Dance with You” and “Long Tall Sally.” The lineup included John Lennon on vocals and rhythm guitar; Paul McCartney on bass; George Harrison on lead guitar; and Ringo Starr on drums and, even more importantly, cowbell. Under George Martin’s direction, the Beatles recorded seven attempts, completing only three takes. Take seven was deemed best, with another Lennon lead vocal and Starr’s cowbell added to the final version. Harrison’s solo was added in from take five.

“I Call Your Name” may not have been a hit, but it marks a significant change in the Beatles’ repertoire. Although John Lennon may have written the track early in his career, it demonstrates how the group wanted to incorporate musical forms outside of straightforward rock. As Alan Pollack states in his “Notes On” series: “The style of this one is not easily pigeon-holed; somewhat bluesy in flavor, but not at all in form; more like pop, or even jazz, than the predominantly harder rock songs which chronologically surround it.” What makes the song even more distinctive is its instrumental section, an early attempt at an emerging genre out of Jamaica: ska.

A precursor to reggae and rocksteady, ska features a fast tempo, a strong off beat, and elements of rock, jazz, calypso, and American R&B. The Beatles were most likely exposed to ska through Blue Beat, a British record label that struck a deal with Jamaican record producers to distribute that country’s music in the UK. The foundation of the label coincided with a mass migration of Jamaican artists to Britain, hoping to earn their fortunes outside of their home country. The label featured early ska pioneers Wilfred “Jackie” Edwards, Laurel Aitken, Owen Gray (his hit “Please Let Me Go” combines Fats Domino’s New Orleans sound with a calypso feel), trombonist Rico Rodriguez, Kentrist Fagan (aka Girl Satchmo), and Millie Small, who recorded ska’s best-known early hit: 1964’s “My Boy Lollipop.”

Ska earned a cult following among “mods” in the 1960s, and its Blue Beat-powered heyday spanned the years 1960-67. Presumably John Lennon did not hear the genre until the early 1960s, thus he most likely added the instrumental break around 1964. Compare “My Boy Lollipop” to Ringo Starr’s brief change in drumming style and George Harrison’s offbeat guitar solo:

Another interesting aspect of the Beatles’ “I Call Your Name” is its complex story of multiple mixes: the U.S. mono and stereo versions, and the U.K. mono and stereo mixes. Each varies when Starr’s cowbell enters the song, and the U.S. stereo version (found on the stereo mix of The Beatles’ Second Album) also adds reverb. The first mono mix occurred March 3, 1964, a rushed effort to have the songs ready for the upcoming Hard Day’s Night soundtrack. George Martin and engineer Norman Smith prepare the track for inclusion in the film. Ultimately “I Call Your Name” was dropped from the movie, thus this initial mix was scrapped. This would not conclude the mixing journey, of course; so many were created that a timeline is needed to keep track of the releases.

The Beatles’ Second Album mono version: On March 4, Martin returned to Abbey Road to create the mono mix that would appear on this project, released only in the U.S. The cowbell enters the song almost immediately, although it drops out briefly right before Harrison’s solo. Why? A previous take of the instrumental section was edited into take seven, as mentioned earlier. Also, listen to how the mono mix introduces the cowbell immediately as the song begins:

The Beatles’ Second Album stereo version: Martin and Smith created this first stereo mix on March 10, 1964. First, the cowbell enters the song right as John Lennon sings the word “call.” Note how George Harrison’s introductory guitar solo slightly differs from the previous mono mixes. The cowbell also drops out right before Lennon sings the last “I call your name” before the guitar solo, yet another variation on how Martin and Smith edited in the instrumental break from a previous take. Even more importantly, the entire mix features an echo effect. Does the reverb enhance the quality of the song or detract from the original mono mix? You be the judge:

Long Tall Sally U.K. EP mono version: This mono mix was created on June 4, 1964, and is almost identical to the U.S. mono version. The cowbell appears at the very beginning of the track, and the edit of the instrumental section occurs right before Lennon sings the final “I call your name” before the instrumental; the cowbell returns after Lennon croons “don’t you know I can’t take it.”

• UK stereo mix: Martin, Smith, and Geoff Emerick reunited on June 22, 1964 to complete several mixes, including created and editing together two stereo versions of “I Call Your Name.” This hastily completed version featured Lennon’s voice single-tracked at the very beginning of the song, and the cowbell placement once again varies slightly at the start and conclusion of the instrumental section. This mix first appeared on the 1976 compilation Rock ’N’ Roll Music, and is now available on the Past Masters collection. Listen to the U.K. stereo mix as found on Past Masters. After Lennon sings the title phrase, the cowbell begins right before sings “but you’re not there”:

No matter which version you prefer, most can agree that “I Call Your Name” illustrates the Beatles’ rapid artistic development. The tempo changes twice; unusual chord changes appear in the two bridges; and the instrumental section stands as an early indicator of the Beatles’ interest in incorporating world music into rock and roll. “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” owes its existence to this prior experimentation with ska. Clearly, Ringo Starr still holds great affection for the unique track — as he, Tom Petty, and Jeff Lynne rendered a charmingly energetic version for the 1990 TV special Lennon: A John Lennon Tribute.

Kit O'Toole

Kit O'Toole

Kit O'Toole is a lifelong music enthusiast who maintains a stand-alone music blog called Listen to the Band. In addition, she is the internet columnist and a contributing editor for Beatlefan magazine. She also holds an Ed.D. in Instructional Technology. Contact Something Else! at
Kit O'Toole
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