Day 185: “Old Brown Shoe”

When was it recorded?   Jan. 27-29; Feb. 25; and Apr. 16 & 18, 1969

When was it first released, and on which album?   May 30, 1969 as the B-side to “The Ballad of John and Yoko” single

Who wrote it?   Harrison

Have I heard this song before?   No

What my research dug up:

George took a cue from “Hello, Goodbye” when writing “Old Brown Shoe.”

“I started the chord sequences on the piano, which I don’t really play, and then began writing ideas for the words from various opposites… Again, it’s the duality of things – yes no, up down, left right, right wrong, etcetera.” — George Harrison (I Me Mine)

Alan Pollack wrote, “The song bears enough Lennon and McCartney Stylized Blues influence to fit in compatibly with the group’s overall output of the period. But at the same time, George appears happy and comfortable to go his own way with respect to chord progressions, arrangement, and an artfully complex, ambiguous attitude in the lyrics hard to pin down between sarcasm and ardor.” Pollack also noted, “‘Old Brown Shoe’ provides as fine an example you’ll find this side of ‘Abbey Road’ of George Harrison… doing his thing while also holding his own. And yet, it retains a B-side kind of relative obscurity that is as unfortunate as it is undeserved.” Indeed.

The Beatles performed “Old Brown Shoe” a few times during the Get Back / Let It Be sessions. On Jan. 27, George did a solo piano performance of the song, “followed by an attempt by the whole group with Billy Preston” (Beatles Bible). The group played “Shoe” eight times Jan. 29. None of these versions have been officially released. That doesn’t mean you can’t find them on bootlegs, though.

On Feb. 25, 1969, George recorded two solo demos of “Old Brown Shoe.” Coincidentally (or not), the day was also his 26th birthday. One of them appeared on “Anthology 3.”

I like how much clearer the vocals are here than on the final version.

The Fab Four started work on an official version of “Old Brown Shoe” two months later. According to the Beatles Bible, on Apr. 16, “In the morning Harrison recorded a second demo version, and that evening the group taped four takes.”

On Apr. 18, John’s rhythm guitar part was edited out in favor of a Hammond organ part (BB). George also added another lead guitar part.

According to Wikipedia, “The unusual bass sound was achieved by tracking the bass with the lead guitar.” Though a number of musicologists assumed Paul played the bass, George stated otherwise in a Dec. 1987/Jan. 1988 interview with CREEM magazine.

Creem: You also told me you played bass on “Old Brown Shoe.”

George: It’s like a lunatic playing.

Creem: It sounds like McCartney was going nuts again.

George: That was me going nuts. I’m doing exactly what I do on the guitar.

Quoth Wikipedia, “In 1980 John Lennon claimed that he was responsible for the choice of ‘Old Brown Shoe’ as the B-side of ‘The Ballad of John and Yoko’ single.” I couldn’t find a direct quote for this, so take it with a grain of salt.

Much, much better with headphones (or probably quality stereos, which I lack) – I was missing out on a lot of the bass part without them the first time I listened to this track.




2 thoughts on “Day 185: “Old Brown Shoe”

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