When the Beatles’ popularity was still growing, they had a lot to prove to the world. As a result, they gave it their all when they were recording their debut album, Please Please Me, in 1963. One song, in particular, gave them a lot more trouble than the rest—but it was worth it.
In 1963 they released their most popular single to date, Twist and Shout. The track was originally recorded by The Top Notes before being covered by the Isley Brothers, and eventually the Beatles.
The song became a hit, going multi-platinum and launching her popularity even further in the process.
But during the recording process, John Lennon almost couldn’t finish singing. After recording the song once, completely, the Beatles’ producer, George Martin, encouraged them to play it a second time.
Lennon almost refused, knowing that his voice had already been cut from his first performance, but Martin was eager to try again. So Lennon reportedly put two throat lozenges in his mouth, sucked on a mouthful of warm milk, and walked into the recording room again.
“The last song almost killed me,” Lennon said in The Beatles Anthology.
After being yelled across the active track again, Lennon had to give up.
Martin confirmed that the first recording of the song was better, so they continued with it on Please Please Me. But Lennon was really impressed by his dramatic performance.
“My voice wasn’t the same for a long time after that,” he explained. “Every time I swallowed, it was like sandpaper.”
As a result, Lennon withdrew into himself because he felt he could have done a better job. “I was always very ashamed of it,” he admitted. “Because I can sing it better than that.”
Years later, Lennon looked carefully at his performance.
“Now it doesn’t bother me,” he said. “You can hear I’m just a frenzied guy trying his best.”
He went on to add, “We sang for 12 hours, almost non-stop. We were catching a cold, and we were worried how it would affect the record. At the end of the day, all we wanted to do was drink pints of milk.”
It was Martin who pushed Lennon to sing the song as hard and fast as possible a second time, but he knew he had messed up.
“I knew Twist And Shout was a real throat ripper,” Martin said in Anthology.
“We’re not going to record that until the end of the day,” he told the band at the start of the recording session, “because if we had recorded it earlier, there wouldn’t be any sound left.”
That’s what the band did. They played Twist and Shout twice that evening, damaging Lennon’s voice in the process.