“Birthday” is a Beatles’ song from their 1968 double LP, the “White Album”.
Recorded: 18th September, 1968
Track Duration: 2:42
Record Label: Apple Records
Producer: Chris Thomas
Engineer: Ken Scott
Paul McCartney: lead vocal, piano, lead guitar, handclaps
John Lennon: lead and backing vocals, lead guitar, handclaps
George Harrison: six-string bass, handclaps
Ringo Starr: drums, tambourine, handclaps
Pattie Harrison: backing vocal, handclaps
Yoko Ono: backing vocal, handclaps
Mal Evans: handclaps
Made up on the spot in the Abbey Road Studios, “Birthday” obviously gives credit to the Lennon-McCartney songwriting partnership. While jamming in the studio when George Martin was away, assistant producer Chris Thomas took control.
We thought, ‘Why not make something up?’ So we got a riff going and arranged it around this riff. We said, ‘We’ll go to there for a few bars, then we’ll do this for a few bars.’ We added some lyrics, then we got the friends who were there to join in on the chorus. So that is 50-50 John and me, made up on the spot and recorded all on the same evening.
I don’t recall it being anybody’s birthday in particular but it might have been, but the other reason for doing it is that, if you have a song that refers to Christmas or a birthday, it adds to the life of the song, if it’s a good song, because people will pull it out on birthday shows, so I think there was a little bit of that at the back of our minds.
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles
Later, Lennon would dismiss the song like he trashed many other:
Birthday was written in the studio. Just made up on the spot. I think Paul wanted to write a song like Happy Birthday Baby, the old Fifties hit. But it was sort of made up in the studio. It was a piece of garbage.
All We Are Saying, David Sheff
The Beatles began recording “Birthday” on the 18th September 1968 in Studio Two of the EMI Studios, London, during the 5.00pm-4.30am session. There were 20 takes that day with the last one being suitable for the master rhythm track for overdubbing.
During the recording session, The Beatles and recording staff all went to McCartney’s home just around the corner from the studio. This is because they wanted to watch the first showing on British TV of the 1956 rock & roll movie, “The Girl Can’t Help It”.
“I had mentioned to Paul a couple of days earlier about The Girl Can’t Help It being on television during this evening. The idea was to start the session earlier than usual, about five o’clock in the afternoon, and then all nip around the corner to Paul’s house in Cavendish Avenue, watch the film and go back to work.
So on the day Paul was the first one in, and he was playing the Birthday riff. Eventually the others arrived, by which time Paul had literally written the song, right there in the studio. We had the backing track down by about 8.30, popped around to watch the film as arranged and then came back and actually finished the whole song. It was all done in a day!”
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn
Both Pattie Harrison and Yoko Ono as well as Mal Evans helped with the handclaps on this track.
The song sits as track one on the White Album’s second LP or disc 2 of the CD version, just before “Yer Blues“. However, on 8th of October 1990, McCartney released a single in the UK which reached number 29 in the charts. This was a live version together with a live version of “Good Day Sunshine” as the B-side. In America, this release was only on cassette but it still peaked at number 35 in the US Mainstream Rock (Billboard Chart).