When was it recorded? Jun. 28 and Jul. 2 & 22, 1968
When was it first released, and on which album? Nov. 22, 1968 on “The Beatles”
Who wrote it? Lennon
Have I heard this song before? Yes(-ish)
What my research dug up:
Somewhat inverse of “Good Morning, Good Morning,” John wrote “Good Night” as a lullaby for his then-five-year-old son, Julian. Again, simple as that.
According to Wikipedia “George Martin’s arrangement is excessively lush, and intentionally so. Lennon is said to have wanted the song to sound ‘real cheesy,’ like a Gordon Jenkins-esque Old Hollywood production number.” I was thinking Bernard Herrmann again since we know Martin used him as a template before (Day 59: “Eleanor Rigby”), but Jenkins works, too. For reference, Jenkins was an American composer of the ‘40s and ‘50s known for working with Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, and Nat King Cole (and Johnny Cash, who doesn’t have anything close to the sound of the other three performers but whose music I adore, hence my mention).
Although penned by John, Ringo sings lead on “Good Night.” In fact, Ringo is the only Beatle to appear on this track, as studio musicians perform the backing arrangement and the Mike Sammes Singers perform the backing vocals.
“I think John felt it might not be good for his image for him to sing it, but it was fabulous to hear him do it, he sang it great. We heard him sing it in order to teach it to Ringo and he sang it very tenderly. John rarely showed his tender side, but my key memories of John are when he was tender, that’s what has remained with me: those moments where he showed himself to be a very generous, loving person. I always cite that song as an example of the John beneath the surface that we only saw occasionally… I don’t think John’s version was ever recorded.” — Paul McCartney (Barry Miles, Many Years From Now)
The first five takes of “Good Night” from Jun. 28 featured only Ringo singing and John on the guitar. A rehearsal of the song from the same date with Ringo singing and John on the piano did find its way onto “Anthology 3” (with part of the final orchestral score sneaking in at the end).
Ringo re-recorded vocals on Jul. 2 and backing vocals were added then. George Martin started working on his orchestral score on Jul. 2, too. However, some genius decided to discard everything and start all over on Jul. 22. (When I say “someone,” I’m not being vaguely sarcastic – I really couldn’t find who was responsible for that decision. Any clues, readers?)
I’m not sure how it happened, but I had previously heard only the instrumental version of this song (so everything minus Ringo + the Mike Sammes Singers). (I was going to say “oddly enough,” and then I remembered far stranger things that have happened as a result of being in a concert band and realized it wasn’t that odd all-in-all.)
It’s a sweet song that hardly strikes me as something John Lennon of all people would have written. A number of the reviews I read called the number “schmaltzy;” however, Alan Pollack argues “Good Night” is 100% necessary in the wake of “Revolution #9” (which I have heard before).
“Where else could you put “Revolution #9?” Too early in the running order would make the rest of the album seem a bit anti-climactic at best. At worst, you could lose your audience well before you’ve trotted out your rest of your best stuff. Putting it at the very end lends it too much emphasis. Maybe put it on the end of one of the other sides, but maybe no one will be sufficiently motivated to turn the record over. Next to last fells just right. Now then, what kind of act… could possibly follow “Revolution #9?” You clearly need a sharp contrast, but exactly what kind? Virtually any other song from the album would sound a combination of anticlimactic, stylistically repetitive, underwhelming, or too weird. “Good Night” has the simultaneous virtues of providing musically archconservative ballast, a change of style as refreshingly surprising as anything else on the album, and a clever, self-referential way of telling you the music’s over.” — Alan Pollack, Notes on “Good Night”