Song facts: Lady Madonna

 Lady Madonna/The Inner Light single, 1968. 

Lady Madonna/The Inner Light single, 1968. 

Lady Madonna was written spontaneously by Paul McCartney, while sitting at a piano one day in early 1968. Originally intended to be about the Virgin Mary, the song ended up the story of a working-class Liverpool mother struggling to make ends meet.

"The original concept was the Virgin Mary but it quickly became symbolic of every woman; the Madonna image but as applied to ordinary working class woman. It's really a tribute to the mother figure, it's a tribute to women. Your Mother Should Know is another. I think women are very strong, they put up with a lot of shit, they put up with the pain of having a child, of raising it, cooking for it, they are basically skivvies a lot of their lives, so I always want to pay a tribute to them." - Paul McCartney
"Good piano lick, but the song never really went anywhere. Maybe I helped him on some of the lyrics, but I'm not proud of them either way." - John Lennon

Recording

Recording took place at Abbey Road Studios on February 3rd and February 6th of 1968. This was the last song the band recorded before flying to India later that month.

Lady Madonna was recorded in three takes, consisting of McCartney on piano and Ringo playing the drums with brushes. In the evening overdubs were added with McCartney on his Rickenbacker bass, Harrison and Lennon on fuzz guitars and Ringo on drums.

Paul added his vocals later, with John and George providing harmony.

Personnel

The Beatles

  • Paul McCartney – lead vocal, piano, bass, handclaps
  • John Lennon – backing vocal, lead guitar, handclaps
  • George Harrison – backing vocal, lead guitar, handclaps
  • Ringo Starr – drums, drums (with brushes), handclaps

Additional musicians and production

  • Ronnie Scott – tenor saxophone
  • Bill Povey – tenor saxophone
  • Harry Klein – baritone saxophone
  • Bill Jackman – baritone saxophone
  • George Martin – production
  • Ken Scott – engineering
  • Geoff Emerick – engineering
 Lady Madonna/The Inner Light single, 1968.

Lady Madonna/The Inner Light single, 1968.

 Lady Madonna/The Inner Light single, 1968.

Lady Madonna/The Inner Light single, 1968.

 Lady Madonna/The Inner Light single, 1968.

Lady Madonna/The Inner Light single, 1968.

 Lady Madonna single, 1968.

Lady Madonna single, 1968.

Saxophone solo

The tenor saxophone solo was played by Ronnie Smith, a British musician and club owner. Smith's solo was largely buried in the final mix but features more prominently on the take released on The Beatles' Anthology 2 and Love albums.

 Lady Madonna/The Inner Light single, 1968.

Lady Madonna/The Inner Light single, 1968.

Release

Lady Madonna was released as a single on March 15th 1968, with George Harrison's The Inner Light issued as the B-side. This was the last single The Beatles released on the Parlophone label.

The song reached number one in the UK for the two weeks beginning March 27th, but failed to reach the top spot on the US Billboard Hot 100, peaking at number four. It later appeared on The Beatles' Hey Jude album in 1970, and the Past Masters and Mono Masters compilation albums.

Promo films

As The Beatles were travelling to India later that month, they made two short films to promote their forthcoming single. These were distributed by Brian Epstein's NEMS Enterprises to UK and US TV stations. 

The videos were shot on February 11th while The Beatles were recording Hey Bulldog. This gave fans the impression that the band were actually recording Lady Madonna in the clip. In 1999 Apple used the same footage to create a promo for Hey Bulldog.

The videos were first broadcast on Top of the Pops on March 14th, 1968.

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