When was it recorded? Feb. 3 & 6, 1968
When was it first released, and on which album? Mar. 15, 1968 as a single
Who wrote it? McCartney
Have I heard this song before? Yep yep
What my research dug up:
So I finally bought my own physical copies of “Abbey Road” and The White Album CDs today. Then when I met my Dad for lunch, he noticed and told me I could have just taken his copies that he wasn’t using anymore. Like… thank you, that’s awesome, but I could have used that information four hours ago.
Paul primarily wrote “Lady Madonna”; John might have helped with the lyrics but even he’s not sure about that (and that he was “not proud of them either way”).
“’Lady Madonna’ was me sitting down at the piano trying to write a bluesy boogie-woogie thing. I got my left hand doing an arpeggio thing with the chord, an ascending boogie-woogie left hand, then a descending right hand. I always liked that, the juxtaposition of a line going down meeting a line going up. That was basically what it was. It reminded me of Fats Domino for some reason, so I started singing a Fats Domino impression. It took my voice to a very odd place. …The original concept was the Virgin Mary but it quickly became symbolic of every woman; the Madonna image but as applied to ordinary working class woman. It’s really a tribute to the mother figure, it’s a tribute to women. …I think women are very strong, they put up with a lot of shit, they put up with the pain of having a child, of raising it, cooking for it, they are basically skivvies a lot of their lives, so I always want to pay a tribute to them.” — Paul McCartney (Barry Miles, Many Years From Now)
Domino must have been flattered by the imitation since he covered the song later in 1968. Worth noting due to Paul’s comment is how Domino’s 1956 single “Blue Monday” “tracks the feelings of a hard working man over each day of the week [while] ‘Lady Madonna’ imagines the situation from a woman’s perspective” (Wikipedia).
A more direct music reference appears in the introduction, which is similar to Humphrey Lyttelton’s 1956 hit “Bad Penny Blues” (released on the same record label as the Beatles).
While “Lady Madonna” does track the feelings of a hard-working woman over the course of a week, Paul missed one pretty important detail.
“I was writing the words out to learn it for an American TV show and I realized I missed out Saturday; I did every other day of the week, but I missed out Saturday. So I figured it must have been a real night out.” — Paul McCartney (Barry Miles, Many Years From Now)
Alan Pollack similarly noted, “Perhaps, in consequence of her great piety, This Lady rests on the seventh; day, that is.”
“Lady Madonna” was the last single the Beatles recorded and released before their trip to Rishikesh. The initial rhythm track was laid down Feb. 3 in three takes. According to About.com, “[T]hree days later, the group convened to lay down a vocal version of a brass solo (accomplished by cupping their mouths over their hands). When the results seemed somehow incomplete, Paul brought in four sax players.” Quoth the Beatles Bible, “They were called in at the last minute, without any prepared music, and their lines were largely improvised.”
British jazz musician Ronnie Scott played the tenor saxophone solo, although most of the solo was removed in the single mix (much to Scott’s displeasure).
“Lady Madonna” was released as a single with “The Inner Life” (which I talked about on Day 133) as its B-side. This was the Beatles’ first single of 1968 and their last single released on Parlophone before switching to their own label, Apple.
By Mar. 27, “Lady Madonna” was #1 on the British music charts. The single only peaked at #4 in America.
Two music videos were made for “Lady Madonna,” intended for TV distribution to promote the song while the Beatles were in India. As noted on Day 91: “Hey Bulldog,” the Beatles were actually working on “Hey Bulldog” during the filming for these videos. They were shot Feb. 11 at Abbey Road Studios and directed by Tony Bramwell.
According to Wikipedia, “A cut of the film on The Beatles Anthology includes not only footage of the ‘Hey Bulldog’ session but also a session from roughly five months later where the band rehearsed ‘Hey Jude’ during the White Album sessions. Visible differences in lighting, clothing and hair (both head and facial) indicate the difference in time between the shoots. Some footage of McCartney’s session with Cilla Black for the song ‘Step Inside Love’ is also included.” I’m preeeeetty sure that’s the first video of the song I posted above. (Watch John’s magically disappearing/reappearing muttonchops.)
Quoth the Beatles Bible, “A new edit of ‘Lady Madonna,’ comprising elements from takes three, four and five, was included on the ‘Anthology 2’ album.” According to Paul, Scott’s extended saxophone solo is restored and brought to the forefront of this mix to make up for hiding it in the original version.