You’ve Got to Hide That Flub Away: Finding the Beatles’ Secret Messages and Mistakes

Chris Willman
Stop The Presses!

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No musical catalog in history has been more scrutinized than the Beatles', not just because it represents the apotheosis of pop music, but because there are so many hundreds of easy-to-miss things buried therein. And we don't even mean Paul himself, since "I buried Paul" might count as the greatest Misheard Lyric of all time.

With Paul McCartney's New album due out October 15 (and an album release party streaming on Yahoo! Monday night), it's high time to revisit some of the deliberate and inadvertent Easter eggs buried in those vintage Beatles records, and even a couple of more recent hidden messages from Macca.

"Don't Stop Running"

In 2008, McCartney released Electric Arguments under the name of The Fireman, his side project with Youth. The album's final moments seem to include a bit of backward masking, which, when reversed, reveals a phrase that sounds like: "Warmer than the sun, cooler than the air." The English papers ran stories presuming that this was somehow a slam against McCartney's ex, Heather Mills, though it really doesn't sound like anything more than a post-apocalyptic weather report.

"Free as a Bird"

On this final Beatles single, released in 1995 (based around a vintage John Lennon track), McCartney acknowledged throwing in an old trick: "We even put one of those spoof backwards recordings on the end of the single for a laugh, to give all those Beatles nuts something to do," he said. The message about the brief reunion of the three then-surviving Fabs: "Turned out nice again."

"Hey Jude"

In his definitive insiders' book, The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn writes: "Listen for an undeleted expletive at 2:59” into the finished record!” He doesn't elaborate, but listeners have said that underneath McCartney's lead vocal, they hear John Lennon saying, "Got the wrong chord... f---ing hell!"

"Strawberry Fields Forever"

What Lennon is muttering in a low voice in the spooky coda of the song is not "I buried Paul," contrary to a late-'60s legend that still persists today. It's..."Cranberry sauce." (He even says it twice, in an extended edit of the track found on some overseas editions.) So now you know: It was Ringo who buried Paul, while John was busy having a yummy Thanksgiving.

"I Saw Her Standing There"

If you're attentive, you may have noticed that both John and Paul sound like they're laughing while they sing, a minute and a half into the track. The apparent reason: In two instances just prior to that, the two of them were singing slightly different lyrics. John sang "I wouldn't dance" while Paul sang "Now I'll never dance," and the following phrase began with John singing "When" and Paul crooning "Since." The disharmony and the resulting mirth all stayed in.

"All You Need is Love"

Lennon can be heard singing a snippet of "She Loves You" as well as the word "Yesterday" in the extended coda. (At least most people assume it's Lennon, though some claim it's McCartney.) What's not so obvious are the musical references their producer George Martin worked into the orchestral arrangement — to Bach's Branderburg concerto, "Greensleeves," La Marseillaise, and Glenn Miller's "In the Mood." According to Lewisohn's book, “George Martin had woven these pieces of music into the score believing them to be out of copyright. But 'In the Mood' was not, and in late July [of 1967] publisher KPM won a royalty settlement from EMI.”

"I'm Only Sleeping"

The definitive web source for sonic goofs and oddities on Beatles records, What Goes On: The Beatles Anomalies List, finds McCartney apparently taking the song title literally. "1:57: Voice says, 'Yawn, Paul,' and at 2:01, he does!"

"A Day in the Life"

As you might expect from the Beatles' most epic track, there is a lot to listen for here. Especially if your name is Fido. Lewisohn writes that, after the final piano chord, "John Lennon suggested that they insert a high-pitch whistle especially for dogs, 15 kilocycles, to make them perk up.”

Within that piano chord itself, you might hear something more mundane. It was produced by John, Paul, and Mal Evans simultaneously pounding an E major chord on three adjacent pianos, and letting it ring out for 53 seconds in the take that was used. But a minute is a long time to ask for absolute quiet in a jam-packed studio, and "one can hear a rustle of paper and a chair squeaking," Lewisohn writes.

The ultimate Beatles Easter egg was in the run-out groove of the original LP release. Following the piano chord and dog whistle comes some gibberish designed to make anyone with a non-automatic turntable go insane as the same nuttiness repeated over and over. For decades, fans have slowed down those few seconds to try to make out what the voices are saying, and they usually come up with something obscene. But engineer Geoff Emerick says those efforts at deciphering are in vain. "The decision to throw in a bit of nonsense gibberish came together in about 10 minutes. They ran down to the studio floor and we recorded them twice," he says in The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions. "They made funny noises, said random things; just nonsense. We chopped up the tape, put it back together, played it backwards and threw it in...There was no hidden meaning.” The run-out groove madness was deleted on subsequent pressings of the LP after the '67 first edition, but restored for the 1987 CD, as was the dog whistle effect.

In the alternate version of "Day in the Life" found in the Anthology series, you get to hear Paul swear. After he sings, "Everybody spoke and I went into a dream" instead of the intended "somebody spoke," he blurts out, "Oh, s---!" Some sources claim that in the officially released version, you can hear him snicker at that same mistake, even though the gaffe had been overdubbed.

Finally, a note from the orchestration of "A Day in the Life" was used as a sort of proto-sample on "Revolution #9" from The White Album.

"I Am the Walrus"

It only seems like you hear the entirety of Shakespeare's King Lear toward the end of the song. But the snippets of dialogue came from a 190-minute BBC radio production that they stumbled across while twirling the dial in the control room. It was recorded directly into the mix.

Squeaky Ringo

There must have been an oil shortage in Britain in the '60s, at least when it came to Ringo Starr's drum stool and kick drum pedal. The "Beatles Anomalies List" is full of references to squeaks that allegedly came from Ringo's equipment. The site says that on "From Me to You" and "Hold Me Tight," the bass drum pedal squeak is audible during the entire track, while it only pops up once in "I'll Get You," at the nine-second mark. Meanwhile, some blame the squeak at the end of "A Day in the Life" on the Ringman getting itchy, waiting out the highly elongated piano chord on his stool. When in doubt, blame the drummer, right?

With McCartney's New on the horizon, will we be saying, "Turned out nice again," as he did (backwards) in "Free as a Bird"? There's a good way to find out: