“When I’m Sixty-Four” is a Beatles’ song which Paul McCartney wrote when he was 16. Indeed, the song appears on the “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album. It also makes an appearance in the Beatles’ film, “Yellow Submarine“.
Recorded: 6th – 21st December, 1966
Studio: EMI Studios, London
Genre: Pop, music hall
Track Duration: 2:37
Record Label: Parlophone
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Geoff Emerick
Paul McCartney: lead and backing vocals, bass guitar, also the piano
John Lennon: backing vocals, as well as the lead guitar
George Harrison: backing vocals, also the guitar
Ringo Starr: drums, as well as the tubular bells
Robert Burns, Henry MacKenzie, Frank Reidy: two clarinets, bass clarinet
When I’m Sixty-Four
In 1958, Paul McCartney used the piano in his family home, 20 Forthlin Road, Liverpool, in order to create the song. It has a music hall feel to it and is about a romantic couple planning to grow old together. In times of equipment failure, the band could easily sing this song using just a piano if necessary.
“I’d started fiddling around on my dad’s piano, I wrote ‘When I’m Sixty-Four’ on that when I was still 16, it was all rather tongue in cheek and I never forgot it. I wrote that tune vaguely thinking it could come in handy in a musical comedy or something. Like I say, I didn’t know what kind of career I was going to take back then.
I wasn’t necessarily looking to be a rock ‘n’ roller. When I wrote ‘When I’m Sixty-Four,’ I thought I was writing a song for [Frank] Sinatra. There were records other than rock ‘n’ roll that were important to me. And that would come out in the Beatles doing songs like ‘Till There Was You.'”
Rolling Stone Magazine (1974)
“When I’m Sixty-Four was something Paul wrote in the Cavern days. We just stuck a few more words on it like ‘grandchildren on your knee’ and ‘Vera, Chuck and Dave’. It was just one of those ones that he’d had, that we’ve all got, really; half a song. And this was just one that was quite a hit with us. We used to do them when the amps broke down, just sing it on the piano.”
On the 6th December, 1966, they began recording for a new album and they recorded “When I’m Sixty-Four” first as part of those sessions. There were two takes with the best version being the second one. As yet, there was no name for the album but we now know it as “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, of course.
During the 8th of December, Paul McCartney added his lead vocals in an overdub session. Then on the 20th December, he added the backing vocals from himself, John Lennon and George Harrison.
Paul decided to make himself sound younger for this track so raised the key by one semitone. In order to do this, the master take was sped up a little. Paul explains, “I wanted to appear younger, but that was just to make it more rooty-tooty; just lift the key because it was starting to sound turgid.”
George Martin considered adding “When I’m Sixty-Four” as a B-side to either “Strawberry Fields Forever” or “Penny Lane”. That didn’t happen and so those two songs became part of a double A-side single.
“The idea of a double a-side came from me and Brian [Epstein], really… He came to me and said, ‘I must have a really great single. What have you got?’ I said, ‘Well, I’ve got three tracks – and two of them are the best tracks they’ve ever made. We could put them together and make a smashing single.’ We did, and it was a smashing single – but it was also a dreadful mistake. We would have sold far more and got higher in the charts if we had issued one of those with, say, When I’m Sixty-Four on the back.”
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