US picture sleeve
|Single by the Beatles|
|"The Inner Light"|
|Released||15 March 1968|
|Recorded||3 and 6 February 1968,
EMI Studios, London
|Genre||Rock and roll,rhythm and blues|
|The Beatles singles chronology|
"Lady Madonna" is a song by the Beatles, written by Paul McCartney and credited to Lennon-McCartney. In March 1968, it was released as a single, backed with "The Inner Light". The song was recorded on 3 and 6 February 1968 before the Beatles left for India, and its rhythm and blues-inspired style signalled a "back to basics" approach to writing and recording for the group following the psychedelic experimentation of the previous two years. This single was the last release by the band on Parlophone in the United Kingdom, where it reached number 1 for the two weeks beginning 27 March, and Capitol Records in the United States, where it debuted at number 23 on the Billboard Hot 100 for the week ending 23 March and reached number 4 from the week ending 20 April through the week ending 4 May. All subsequent releases, starting with "Hey Jude" in August 1968, were released on their own label, Apple Records, under EMI distribution, until the late 1970s, when Capitol and Parlophone re-released old material.
The song, which was recorded in five takes, made its first album appearance on the 1970 collection Hey Jude. The recording began with three takes of the basic rhythm track, with McCartney on piano and Ringo Starr playing the drums with brushes.
According to musicologist Walter Everett, "Lady Madonna" is a raucous rock and roll song.Paul McCartney based his piano part for the song on Humphrey Lyttelton's 1956 trad jazz rendition of "Bad Penny Blues" which had been recorded by George Martin in the 1950s. According to Ringo Starr in Recording the Beatles, "We asked George how they got the sound on Bad Penny Blues." McCartney said of writing the song in a 1994 interview, "'Lady Madonna' was me sitting down at the piano trying to write a bluesy boogie-woogie thing ... It reminded me of Fats Domino for some reason, so I started singing a Fats Domino impression. It took my other voice to a very odd place." Domino himself covered the song later in 1968. The Fats Domino hit "Blue Monday" from 1956 tracks the feelings of a hard working man over each day of the week. "Lady Madonna" imagines the situation from a woman's perspective.
John Lennon helped write the lyrics, which give an account of an overworked, exhausted (possibly single) mother, facing a new problem each day of the week. McCartney explained the song by saying: "'Lady Madonna' started off as the Virgin Mary, then it was a working-class woman, of which obviously there's millions in Liverpool. There are a lot of Catholics in Liverpool because of the Irish connection." The lyrics include each day of the week except Saturday, which McCartney only noticed many years later: "I was writing the words out to learn it for an American TV show and I realised I missed out Saturday... So I figured it must have been a real night out." In 2017 McCartney said his inspiration for the song came after seeing a photograph in National Geographic magazine of a woman breastfeeding entitled, "Mountain Madonna."
The tenor saxophone solo was played by British jazz musician and club owner Ronnie Scott. The mix used in the single had obscured much of Scott's saxophone, but the versions on Anthology 2 and Love feature a more prominent use of his solo, at the end of the song. In a BBC documentary, Timewatch, McCartney explained the decision behind this. At the time Scott had not been impressed that his music had been hidden behind the "imitation brass vocals" by McCartney, Lennon and Harrison, so McCartney had decided to fix it with the most recent mix. In Revolution in the Head, author Ian MacDonald claims that Scott's "audibly exasperated tenor solo" was prompted by McCartney's "unprofessional" failure to provide the brass players with a proper horn arrangement.
Two promotional films were made for "Lady Madonna", which were syndicated to television broadcasting companies. The material was shot on 11 February 1968 in Abbey Road Studios and was distributed by NEMS Enterprises to US and UK TV stations. The films were directed by Tony Bramwell.
The footage consisted of the Beatles recording in the studio. The song they were working on at the time was "Hey Bulldog". In 1999, the material was re-edited by Apple to create a new promo for "Hey Bulldog".
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.
In Britain, Parlophone issued "Lady Madonna" backed by "The Inner Light" on 15 March 1968, with the catalogue number R 5675. The single was released three days later in the United States, as Capitol 2138. Among contemporary reviews, Billboard magazine described "Lady Madonna" as a "powerful blues rocker".Chris Welch of Melody Maker expressed doubts about the song, writing: "Best bit is the piano intro, then you can have fun wondering why Paul['s singing] sounds like Ringo ... then go out and buy another record." Welch concluded: "I can't really see this being a hit, not when there's competition from the likes of Four Jacks and a Jill and Kay Starr."
"Lady Madonna" topped the UK Singles Chart for two weeks, although on the national chart compiled by Melody Maker it peaked at number 2. It was the first single by the Beatles not to make number 1 on Melody Makers chart since the band's 1962 debut, "Love Me Do". In America, "Lady Madonna" peaked at number 4 on the Billboard Hot 100, making it the first Beatles single not to top that chart since "Eleanor Rigby" in 1966. Author Ian MacDonald considers this relative lack of success to be significant, describing the song as "a moderately entertaining let-down after the psychedelic heights of early 1967". Writing in 1988, Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn described "Lady Madonna" as a "terrific" single that was "curiously overlooked today by those analysing the group's output".
A variation of this song can be heard on McCartney's Chaos and Creation at Abbey Road DVD. McCartney calls it "An Old Lady in New Clothes". McCartney has also performed "Lady Madonna" during various concert tours. Live versions appear on Wings over America, Paul Is Live and the two 2002 tour albums, Back in the U.S. (released in North America) and Back in the World (released in other countries).
The Beatles' version of "Lady Madonna" has appeared on the following compilation albums, released by Apple Records: Hey Jude (1970), 1967-1970 (1973), 20 Greatest Hits (1982), Past Masters, Volume Two (1988), Anthology 2 (1996; takes 3 and 4 of the song), 1 (2000) and Love (2006).
A remixed version of this song was featured in the Cirque du Soleil show Love. In this form, the saxophone solo is played almost un-accompanied at the very beginning of the song. The drum intro to "Why Don't We Do It in the Road?" can be heard at the beginning and vocal percussion from "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" can be heard during the song. After the first two verses, it changes to the riff from "Hey Bulldog" in A minor, with a remixed version of Billy Preston's Hammond organ solo from "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" and parts of Eric Clapton's guitar solo from "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." It then returns to the original form of the song, and at the very end the final Ronnie Scott saxophone solo (not heard on the final master) is played.
According to Ian MacDonald: