Tuesday, July 2, 2013

"Misery" - The Stories Behind the Songs of The Beatles

Song: "Misery"
Album: "Please Please Me" - Track 2
Recorded: 11th February 1963
Released: 22nd March 1963 (UK), 22nd July 1963 (US)
Writing Credits: McCartney-Lennon
Producer: George Martin
John Lennon: vocals, rhythm guitar
Paul McCartney: vocals, bass guitar
George Harrison: lead guitar
Ringo Starr: drums
George Martin: piano

Determined to be recognized in the music world as songwriters, and not just another generic British group making a living through cover versions, The Beatles' song writing duo of Paul McCartney and John Lennon made the effort to write and include their own material on their debut album as well as covers of American numbers. One of these compositions of their own making that would be included on the album was "Misery". However, it was originally intended for someone else to record instead. 

Flyer for Helen Shapiro's 1963 February tour. Here you
can see  that The Beatles as well as Kenny Lynch
 are included as supporting acts.

In the February of 1963 The Beatles toured with popular young British singer Helen Shapiro as one of her seven supporting acts. Her manager, Norrie Paramor of EMI's Columbia label, had asked The Beatles earlier if they would write a song for Shapiro to appear on her next album and they had agreed. On the 26th of January the band performed at the King's Hall on Glebe Street, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire. Whilst backstage before the show they penned what was to become "Misery", their intended song for Shapiro, with Lennon as the main contributor. Tony Bramwell, an at the time employee to Beatles' manager Brian Epstein, claims that Hollies members Allan Clarke and Graham Nash also contributed to the song's composition. "John and Paul were stuck on one of the lines and Allan and Graham began throwing in suggestions. The boys wanted to get it ready for Helen Shapiro" he said. Clarke validates Bramwell's claim, though does not recall what words or lines he contributed specifically. He says "John and Paul were plucking along writing this song and we helped with a couple of words." The song is said to have been completed at McCartney's Liverpool home at Forthlin Road.

Ticket from the night in which The Beatles began
composing what was to be "Misery"

Shortly after a tape was made and sent to Paramor to consider for Shapiro. McCartney expressed "We've called it 'Misery' but it isn't quite as slow as it sounds. It moves along at quite a steady pace and we think Helen Shapiro will make quite a good job of it".  However, Paramor turned the tune down. Shapiro remembers:

British singer Helen Shapiro whom The Beatles
toured with and composed "Misery" for her to record in 1963.

"I got on great with them and John was like a brother to me. Very protective. He and Paul certainly offered 'Misery' to me first, through Norrie, but I didn't know anything about it until I met them on the first day of the tour [February 2nd 1963, Bradford, Yorks]. Apparently he'd turned it down even though I'd hadn't heard it".

Instead, the song was covered by another artist who was also part of the same February tour: a black British  singer named Kenny Lynch. This made him the first artist, out of countless to come, to cover a Lennon-McCartney composition. You can listen to Lynch's cover here.

"Misery" written by Lennon-McCartney
and covered by British artist Kenny Lynch

Eleven takes of "Misery" were recorded during the single 15 hour recording session of "Please Please Me". The song was recorded at 30 inches per second, double the standard 15 inches per second. This was so George Martin could add the piano section in played at a preferred slower speed, lower octave and later date, the 20th of February, without The Beatles present.

The world is treating me bad... Misery

I'm the kind of guy
Who never used to cry
The world is treating me bad... Misery!

I've lost her now for sure
I won't see her no more
It's gonna be a drag... Misery!

I'll remember all the little things we've done
Can't she see she'll always be the only one, only one

Send her back to me
Cos everyone can see
Without her I will be in misery

I'll remember all the little things we've done
She'll remember and she'll miss her only one, lonely one

Send her back to me
Cos everyone can see
Without her I will be in misery (Oh oh oh)
In misery (Ooh ee ooh ooh)
My misery (La la la la la la)

"Misery" - Please Please Me (1963)

"Misery" - Takes 2, 3 4, 5, 6 - The Beatles Anthology 1 (1995)


Turner, S. (2005). "The Beatles: The Stories Behind The Songs (A Hard Day's Write)". Carlton Books Limited. SevenOaks.

Anon. (n.d.). "Misery". Retrieved from http://www.beatlesbible.com/songs/misery/

Helen Shapiro tour flyer image retrieved from http://www.multiplusbooks.com/630223.html

Beatles ticket image retrieved from http://www.multiplusbooks.com/630126.html

Helen Shapiro image retrieved from http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/arts/music/albumreviews/article3724404.ece

Kenny Lynch 45 image retrieved from http://www.45cat.com/record/pop1136


  1. I didn't know Misery was written to someone else, a bit of As Tears Go By situation there! Thank you for the post, I'm really enjoying your Beatles Project! xxx

  2. Hello, dear Lucy in the Sky! I must say that your excellent post turned "Misery" into pure joy. I hadn't listened to the song in many years and it was fun to hear it again. I am always struck by the squeaky clean production on those early Beatles recordings. Hard to believe the Lads from Liverpool were once an opening act for more established Brit artists like Helen Shapiro. I never heard of Kenny Lynch and rather enjoyed his rendition of "Misery," but the Beatles' version remains the definitive.

    Lucy, this was a fabulous post. It was interesting to learn the back story behind "Misery." I also want to compliment you once again on the neat and attractive look of your page, something I look for and appreciate on the blogs of others. I love the pumpkin orange/butterscotch, magenta, black and beige color combination - very pleasing to the eye. Nicely done, dear friend. Have a wonderful Wednesday, Lucy!

  3. I've always liked that although the title alludes to a slow song, its very up beat. Definitely a song you can still dance too. I also really like the piano in the bridge with its little ditty kind of tune.
    Great post! I cant wait for the next one!