When the Beatles Began to Fracture on ‘Hello, Goodbye’
"Hello, Goodbye," the Beatles' 15th No. 1 hit in the U.S., may have been the true beginning of the end for the Fab Four.
Recorded in October 1967 as work was wrapping on the Magical Mystery Tour project, the Paul McCartney-penned song was chosen as the band's single for the holiday season over John Lennon's lobbying for his own "I Am the Walrus." It stands as an early line of demarcation and separation in the group, reeling from the Aug. 27 death of manager Brian Epstein and already at odds over Magical Mystery Tour, and headed into the difficult processes of The Beatles and Let It Be albums.
Lennon was openly dismissive of "Hello, Goodbye," which was, in the custom of the time, credited to Lennon-McCartney even though it was entirely written by the latter. The group's first post-Epstein release was indeed a more straightforward pop tune coming in the wake of the ambitious Sgt. Pepper's Hearts Club Band and the sonic circus of some of Magical Mystery Tour's tracks, including "I Am the Walrus," and critics at the time were far from unanimous in their opinion of the song, despite its commercial success.
Lennon, meanwhile, voiced his displeasure with the song in his lengthy 1970 interview with Rolling Stone, and he still bore a grudge a decade later, telling Playboy, "That's another McCartney. Smells a mile away doesn't it? An attempt to write a single. It wasn't a great piece ... three minutes of contradictions and meaningless juxtapositions."
Author Steven Stark quoted Lennon as saying that he "began to submerge" after "Hello, Goodbye" was chosen as the A side, as he and McCartney began to do more writing apart than together.
Critical opinion at the time was divided. The New York Times labeled it "interesting but subordinate" and noted that it "sounds like a B side." Melody Maker dubbed it "a very 'ordinary' Beatles record" but felt that "all the Beatles soul and feeling is shining through." New Musical Express proclaimed it "supremely commercial, and the answer to those who feel the Beatles are going too way out."
Watch the Beatles' 'Hello Goodbye' Video
The court of public opinion, meanwhile, welcomed it with open arms and ears. In addition to its three-week run at No. 1 in the U.S., where it was certified gold, "Hello, Goodbye" topped charts in the U.K. France, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands, West Germany and elsewhere.
The song itself began at McCartney's home in St. John's Wood, as remembered by Beatles aide-de-camp Alistair Taylor in his memoir Yesterday: The Beatles Remembered. When Taylor asked McCartney about songwriting, he provided a demonstration, sitting at a harmonium in his dining room and shouting out words, directing Taylor to say the opposite.
"It's a song about everything and nothing," McCartney told Disc magazine in 1967. "If you have black, you have to have white. That's the amazing thing about life." McCartney later told biographer Barry Miles, "It's such a deep theme in the universe, duality — man, woman, black, white, ebony, ivory, high, low, right, wrong, up, down, hello, goodbye — that it was a very easy song to write." Ultimately, McCartney added, he was championing "the more positive side of duality."
Interestingly, McCartney did not include "Hello, Goodbye" in his 2021 best-selling book The Lyrics, though he has performed the song live, including as the opening number of his Driving World Tour in 2002, the following year's Back in the World Tour and some dates during the On the Run trek during 2011-12.
Recording on "Hello, Goodbye" began Oct. 2, 1967, at EMI (aka Abbey Road) Studios, with subsequent sessions for overdubs later in the month before finishing on Nov. 2. While working on the song, the group came up with an ad-libbed coda that Lennon dubbed "the best bit" and which played over the end credits of the Magical Mystery Tour film. The 16th take of the song is included on The Beatles Anthology 2 compilation, which came out in March 1996.
The video for "Hello, Goodbye," meanwhile, turned into an epic drama. Three versions came out of the filming, directed by McCartney, on Nov. 10 at the Saville Theatre in London, featuring the Beatles in their Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band uniforms and accompanied by dancers.
One of the clips aired on The Ed Sullivan Show on Nov. 26, but the videos were banned from British TV because of the Musicians Union's strict anti-miming regulations. Top of the Pops angered the band by creating a pastiche of scenes from A Hard Day's Night shot more than three years earlier, while the original footage was included in The Beatles Anthology.
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