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5 Beatles songs that require re-tuning

Back in the good old days of analog recording, keeping a tape recording in its original concert pitch wasn't always a for-sure thing. Geoff Emerick (recording engineer on many of The Beatles' albums) tells in his book Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of the Beatles about the process of using Varispeed technology to speed up or slow down the tapes for various reasons.

For instance, Paul McCartney specifically requested that "When I'm Sixty Four" be slightly sped up in order to make his voice sound younger, with the result that this song in the key of C plays back on the album a half step higher, in the key of D flat. 

Similarly, certain tracks that were used with the film A Hard Day's Night had to be slowed down so that the music lined up with the lip-syncing on screen. If you ever try to play along with the film version of "If I Fell," you'll notice that the pitch is a half step lower than it is on the album.

This makes life fun for the Beatles-loving guitarists of the world, of course, because the voicing and tonality of certain songs never sounds quite right when they're played at standard pitch. And while some songs -- "I'm Looking Through You" and the previously mentioned "When I'm Sixty Four," for instance -- are a half step high and can easily be dealt with by slapping a capo on the guitar, it's the ones that ended up a half step low that will drive you crazy.

Here's a list of songs that play back on the albums a half step lower than the keys they were recorded in:

- I'm Only Sleeping
- Yellow Submarine
- Lovely Rita
- I'll Get You
- Across the Universe

I've seen chord books that have "I'm Only Sleeping" being played with a capo at the fourth fret, using B minor and E minor chords, to keep the song pitched in E flat minor as it sounds on the record. Creative, but painful. It just doesn't have that same jangling, sleepy sound that comes from playing in E minor with lots of open strings.

Similarly, "Lovely Rita" -- which is a fantastic song to play on the guitar -- is pitched in E flat major, and so most songbooks suggest a capo at the first fret so the song can be played in D major. But the recording is clear, and several of those intro chords feature ringing open E and B strings, as seen in this opening sequence:

"Across the Universe" is an especially fun case. The song is played in D major, but when it was first released as a contribution to the No One's Gonna Change Our World album, it was sped up to E flat major. On the next release, as a track on the Let it Be album, it was slowed down to D flat major. Not until the 2003 release of Let it Be ... Naked did we finally get to hear the master recording in its correct pitch, and make sense out of the chord shapes in the intro:

My suggestion: keep your guitar tuned a half step lower and capo up one fret when you want to play in standard pitch. Of course, then you'll have to re-learn all of the chord positions. Back to the drawing board.


  1. And that's why I usually don't play along with the records... I'm too lazy to re-tune my guitar... 😁

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