The Beatles‘ laid-back “Eight Days a Week” has become one of their signature singles: a widely covered No. 1 hit that even inspired the name of a band documentary. So it’s surprising to learn that John Lennon, the song’s co-writer and lead vocalist, hated it — describing it as “lousy” in a 1980 interview.
In the beginning, though, it was just another tune — the latest from a Lennon/Paul McCartney song factory that, by 1964, could churn out product with minimal effort. This time, the creative spark came from the titular phrase, which McCartney has most frequently attributed to a chauffeur.
“John had moved out of London, to the suburbs,” McCartney reflected in the Beatles’ 2000 Anthology book. “I usually drove myself there, but the chauffeur drove me out that day and I said, ‘How’ve you been?’ – ‘Oh, working hard,’ he said, ‘working eight days a week.’ I had never heard anyone use that expression, so when I arrived at John’s house I said, ‘Hey, this fella just said, ‘eight days a week.’ John said, ‘Right — ‘Oooh, I need your love, babe …’ and we wrote it.
“We were always quick to write. We would write on the spot,” McCartney added. “I would show up, looking for some sort of inspiration; I’d either get it there, with John, or I’d hear someone say something.”
The duo often worked in that seemingly backward style: name first, song later. “Once you’ve got a good title, if someone says, ‘What’s your new song?’ and you have a title that interests people, you are halfway there,” McCartney noted. “Of course, the song has to be good.”
The breezy rocker — like much of its corresponding LP, Beatles for Sale — highlights the Beatles’ subtly evolving sound: the hint of twang in George Harrison‘s 12-string electric guitar, the somewhat dark harmonies on the bridge, Lennon’s nearly anguished vocal ad-libs, the opening fade-in fanfare.
Still, arranging “Eight Days a Week” took a bit of in-studio tweaking: As highlighted on the first Anthology compilation, Lennon and McCartney experimented with wordless vocal harmonies and falsetto swoops before settling on their final approach. Lennon later reflected, in an interview documented in Anthology, that the end result was “a bit manufactured.”
“‘Eight Days A Week’ was the running title for Help! before they came up with ‘Help!’ It was Paul’s effort at getting a single for the movie,” Lennon told interviewer David Sheff in 1980, as documented in the 2000 book All We Are Saying. “That luckily turned to ‘Help!,’ which I wrote, bam! bam!, like that and got the single. ‘Eight Days a Week’ was never a good song. We struggled to record it and struggled to make it into a song. It was his initial effort, but I think we both worked on it. I’m not sure. But it was lousy anyway.”
Despite Lennon’s disappointment, the public disagreed: After appearing on Beatles for Sale in December 1964, “Eight Days a Week” was issued as a stateside single on Feb. 15, 1965 and became their seventh No. 1 in America. (The song was in good company. The Beatles’ previous chart-toppers in one jaw-dropping, year-long streak: “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “She Loves You “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “Love Me Do,” “A Hard Day’s Night” and “I Feel Fine.”)
It’s no shock, given Lennon’s distaste, that the Beatles never played “Eight Days a Week” live. (They did reportedly mime the track for the U.K. TV series Thank Your Lucky Stars, but the footage is widely thought to be lost.)
It’s more peculiar that McCartney, ever a crowd-pleaser, took so long to perform it. When he finally broke out the tune during a May 2013 show in Brazil, the crowd response was appropriately deafening.
Who Was the Fifth Beatle?