When was it recorded? Aug. 14 and Oct. 18, 1964
When was it first released, and on which album? Dec. 4, 1964 on “Beatles for Sale”
Who wrote it? Roy Lee Johnson
Have I heard this song before? No
What my research dug up:
American musician Roy Lee Johnson wrote “Mr. Moonlight” while he was in high school. He performed with a number of bands across the States beginning in his teenage years but returned to his hometown of Atlanta in 1961 to join Piano Red’s backing band, the Interns.
Piano Red (real name William “Willie” Lee Perryman) was the first artist to record “Mr. Moonlight” under another stage name, Dr. Feelgood. Perryman was the first blues musician to hit the American popular music charts (no small feat). Quoth Wikipedia, “He was a self-taught pianist who played in the barrelhouse blues style (a loud percussive type of blues piano suitable for noisy bars or taverns)… His simple, hard-pounding left hand and his percussive right hand, coupled with his cheerful shout, brought him considerable success over three decades.”
So to recap, Dr. Feelgood (AKA Piano Red) and the Interns (which included songwriter Johnson) recorded “Mr. Moonlight” first. It appeared as the B-side to Dr. Feelgood’s single, “Dr. Feel-Good,” in 1962.
The single was not a hit, but according to Wikipedia, “The record became something of a cult favorite among several young British R&B enthusiasts, some of whom would soon go on to become members of well-known bands.”
Obviously, one of those bands was the Beatles. “Mr. Moonlight” was a staple of their early live shows; here’s a version from 1962’s bootleg, “Live at the Star Club” in Hamburg.
The Beatles first attempted to record “Mr. Moonlight” for the album “Beatles for Sale” on Aug. 14, 1964. They recorded four takes that day, but decided not to use them. The first and last takes appear on “Anthology 1.”
The Beatles’ second stab at the song on Oct. 18 also yielded four takes.
Now according to Wikipedia, the mono and stereo version of “Mr. Moonlight” vary in time, though not majorly. UK Mono is 2:33, UK Stereo is 2:36, and US Stereo is 2:40. Let’s listen to whatever it is I rustled up.
Well, that was boring.
According to the Beatles Bible, “Despite a blistering vocal from John Lennon, Mr. Moonlight is held by many Beatles fans as one of the least successful songs in their catalogue.” I’m not sure what makes it “unsuccessful,” but the finished song really drags. I didn’t think the Anthology takes were that bad, and Dr. Feelgood’s original has a good amount of life to it, but the Beatles’ final version is just blah.