So, what makes this a hit? A REALLY BIG hit?!


I WANT TO HOLD YOUR HAND

Writers: John Lennon / Paul McCartney

Recorded by: The Beatles

February 9, 1964. A day that threw the universe into a wild frenzy and changed history forever. The Beatles played The Ed Sullivan Show for the first time and life was never the same. “I Want To Hold Your Hand” had hit #1 on the American Billboard Charts on Feb. 1, and it was one of the 5 songs the Lads From Liverpool performed during their debut on Mr. Sullivan’s weekly variety show. This Lennon/McCartney composition would stay at #1 for 7 weeks, ushering the British Invasion into American pop and rock music. Beyond that, it is probably the most significant single of the rock era because it permanently changed the course of music. The Beatles’ influence is unparalleled and has been felt by every artist that came after them.

The Beatles were already having success in the UK when their manager told them to write a song that could break their career wide-open in America. “I Want To Hold Your Hand” was that song. It was recorded on October 17, 1963 and entered the American Billboard Hot 100 at #45 on January 18, 1964. It went #1 on February 1, 1964 – less than two weeks later! Lennon and McCartney obviously had incredible musical instincts to know what the American audience wanted.

Before I go any further, let me say that my first memory of life was listening to Beatles’ records, including “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” with my older siblings. I was 3 years old and the Beatles were enjoying enormous worldwide success. Their music flipped a switch in me that has never been turned off. Not only did I become a Beatles fan, I became a music addict. And not only that, but Feb. 9, 1964 was also my first birthday, so I’m sure there was some kind of cosmic connection between their music and my psyche. I can’t say that I remember seeing this performance, but I know it was viewed in my home because my siblings still talk about watching the Beatles’ debut on Ed Sullivan that night.

So, let’s take a look at what makes “I Want To Hold Your Hand” so special. Well, first of all, the track just makes you feel good. It’s uptempo, it’s in a major key, it’s happy, and you can dance to it. The Beatles were heavily influenced by black American pop and rhythm and blues artists like Little Richard and Chuck Berry. You can hear that influence and energy in this track. The Beatles brought the best of English pop music and combined it with a touch of the soul of black pop/r&b in a way that was unique and groundbreaking. The Beatles also played their own instruments on their records, and producer George Martin skillfully translated their live performance to tape. John, Paul, George and Ringo were able to reproduce their sound from the studio to the stage, which played a major role in their overall appeal. This performance would not have been nearly as exciting if the guys were on stage syncing to the record.

The track is in the key of G, but the introduction starts on the IV (C) chord and goes to the V (D) chord 3 times. This creates anticipation and excitement to get to the I (G) chord for a feeling of resolution. This resolution occurs with the word “I’ll” in the first line of the first verse. The IV to V chord progression is also heard 3 times in the last line of the bridge with “I Can’t Hide, I Can’t Hide, I Can’t Hide,” again creating that anticipation to get back to the I chord, which it does on the first line of the next verse. This creates energy that keeps the song exhilarating.

The lyric communicates a sweet innocence that appeals to a wide audience. The kids love it and their parents may even like it. Plus, no Mom watching the show could deny that Paul sure was a cutie! However, the 4 lads had enough of a mischievous-vibe about them to prevent the lyric from coming across as saccharin-sweet. The Beatles had the right balance of boyish charm and youthful rebellion to arouse a young girl’s curiosity and fantasy. Not sure that this song would have had the same effect on the planet if Pat Boone had sung it in the ‘50s.

One of the main rules of songwriting is to keep the lyric as clean and simple as possible. John and Paul achieved this task in spades. The chorus is nothing more than the hook of the song, “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” repeated 2 or 3 times. The verses are a simple 4 lines, with the 4th line being, “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” which leads right into the chorus of “I Want To Hold Your Hand” repeated 2 or 3 additional times. A great example of less is more. The bridge serves its purpose by giving us enough information to make the song even more charming, but not enough to weigh the lyric down. The track doesn’t have a musical interlude because it doesn’t need one. Every necessary element is there in this 2 and ½ minute pop masterpiece. No reason to add more.

The right rhythm, the right chord progression, and the right simple and appealing lyric came together with the right band at the right time to kick-start a musical and social revolution. Could John, Paul, George and Ringo have possibly known that their music would turn the world upside down? Probably not, but that’s what makes music so fun. You just never know how people will respond to your artistic endeavors.

Thousands of books have been written on the Beatles’ music and influence and my short article barely scratches the surface. I would encourage any aspiring songwriter to listen to their hits - particularly the early hits - dissect the lyric and music, and seek out what made those timeless songs the classics that they are.

I WANT TO HOLD YOUR HAND

Writers: Paul McCartney & John Lennon

Verse 1:

Oh yeah, I'll tell you something I think you'll understand When I say that something I wanna hold your hand

Chorus: I wanna hold your hand I wanna hold your hand

Verse 2:

Oh please, say to me You'll let me be your man And please, say to me You'll let me hold your hand

Chorus: You’ll let me hold your hand I wanna hold your hand

Bridge:

And when I touch you I feel happy Inside It's such a feeling that my love I can't hide I can't hide I can't hide

Verse 3:

Yeah, you've got that something I think you'll understand When I'll say that something

I wanna hold your hand

Chorus: I wanna hold your hand I wanna hold your hand

Bridge:

And when I touch you I feel happy Inside It's such a feeling that my love I can't hide I can't hide I can't hide

Verse 4:

Yeah, you've got that something I think you'll understand When I say that something

I wanna hold your hand

Chorus:

I wanna hold your hand I wanna hold your hand I wanna hold your hand

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