How ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ Changed Everything for Paul McCartney
The Beatles took Paris by storm as they played 18 days of concerts in January 1964 at the Olympia Theater.
They stayed at the iconic George V hotel, now a Four Seasons property and the gold standard of luxury in the city since its construction in 1928. The accommodating staff granted a request for a piano in the Beatles' suite, where Paul McCartney began to experiment with some blues phrasing. The result was the first draft of a future hit called "Can't Buy Me Love."
They were on a roll. The Beatles landed their first chart-topping song in America at the end of December 1963 and were on their third in the U.K. with "I Wanna Hold Your Hand." Now, demand for the latest material from McCartney's hit songwriting partnership with John Lennon was at a fever pitch.
At the same time, EMI was determined to make the Beatles happen in as many territories as possible. That's how the Fab Four found themselves in the EMI Pathe Marconi Studios in Paris to record German-language versions of "She Loves You" and "I Want to Hold Your Hand."
When the session wrapped up early, they decided to record the song McCartney had been working on in the hotel, the first version of "Can't Buy Me Love." This marked the first time that a song was written solely by McCartney, despite the continuing Lennon/McCartney credit. "That's Paul's completely," Lennon told David Sheff in All We Are Saying. "Maybe I had something to do with the chorus, but I don't know. I always considered it his song."
Did its apparent catchiness and the band's decision to record "Can't Buy Me Love," rather than other tracks they'd been working on, spark a sense of friendly rivalry in Lennon? Whatever the case, Lennon went on a creative tear, writing nine of the 13 songs that would comprise 1964's Hard Day's Night album.
Watch the Beatles Perform 'Can't Buy Me Love'
Lennon had re-assumed his role as group leader, but McCartney was clearly in ascension: This was also the first single on which only one member of the group sang the lead vocals.
In fact, there were a series of firsts. "Can't Buy Me Love" marked the first time McCartney tried to write with a 12-bar blues riff. It was their first song recorded outside the U.K. This was also one of the first pop songs to start with the chorus, after producer and fifth Beatle George Martin decided the song needed a quick boost.
Finally, "Can't Buy Me Love" is one of the first songs, but not the last, on which Ringo Starr isn't the only drummer. Studio engineer Norman Smith added the hi-hat cymbal work, after a tape snafu caused the original recording to lose the necessary treble. The Beatles were busy filming the accompanying Hard Day's Night movie, and couldn't get Starr back into the studio.
Paired with Lennon's "You Can't Do That," "Can't Buy Me Love" was certified with a gold plaque on the day of its March 16, 1964 release in the U.S. The song sold a two million copies in the first week alone, while quickly shooting to No. 1 after arriving on March 20 in the U.K. At that point, the Beatles had a whopping 14 singles in the Hot 100 – including the entire Top 5.
As for its meaning, McCartney said he was open to others' interpretations of "Can't Buy Me Love" – but only to a point. "When someone suggests that 'Can't Buy Me Love' is about a prostitute, I draw the line," McCartney told American journalists in a 1966 news conference. "That's going too far."
McCartney soon found himself in America for the first time, basking in the glow of a huge hit while tooling around Miami in a shiny new sports car – and he couldn't help but offer an impish addendum.
"I remember meeting this rather nice girl and taking her out for dinner in this MG in the cool Florida night, palm trees swaying," McCartney later told Barry Miles. "You kidding? A Liverpool boy with this tanned beauty in my MG going out to dinner. It should have been 'Can Buy Me Love,' actually."
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