Dec 04

THE BEATLES – “I Want To Hold Your Hand”

Popular27 comments • 3,881 views

#160, 14th December 1963

One reason I’m happy I started Popular is the entry it’s given me into enjoying the early Beatles. I can’t ever remember Beatles records playing in the house but I can’t ever remember not knowing these songs, either – certainly the first time I purposely listened to “I Want To Hold Your Hand” I knew it. They’re the currency of pop, but actually liking them seemed as odd as, well, fancying the picture of the Queen on an old coin.

Listening to them in context I can’t help but get a sniff of that old coronation fuss, even if I still find them hard to adore. It’s not so much the genre-shift between The Beatles and the stuff that came before (which had positive qualities of its own), more the difference between them and the songs surrounding them. Imagine the Searchers or Gerry Marsden doing “I Want To Hold Your Hand”. You’d have got the upbeat feel, you’d have got most of the energy, you might at a pinch have got the lovely double-handclaps – but there’s no doubt the performance would have been blunter and duller.

For one thing the Beatles were skilled at covering Merseybeat’s particular Achilles heel. There’s a streak of childish whimsy in a lot of the beat group hits that has aged dreadfully. “I Like It”, “Sweets For My Sweet”, the ghastly “Little Children”, all suffer from a cloying attempt at wide-eyed innocence that ends up simply trite. “I Want To Hold Your Hand” has a title that rings exactly these warning bells. But the band obviously know it and they crack open the song every time the chorus comes round, launching themselves into those high “HAND!!!”s, demented with glee. It gives the song its repeated climax, its hands-in-the-air power and handsomely overturns any lingering tweeness.



  1. 1
    Ashley Pomeroy on 13 Oct 2008 #

    The thing that strikes me most about this forgotten gem from the distant past is how hard it is to sing; unless you have a second person to do the harmonies, it sounds ridiculous, particularly when you get to the low-down “I think you’ll understand” bit. And the section in the chorus where they stretch out the word “hand” until it is seven syllables long. The other thing that gets me is how frantic the song is. And the “I get high / I can’t hide” confusion is uncanny.

  2. 2
    Erithian on 13 Oct 2008 #


  3. 3
    rosie on 13 Oct 2008 #

    Flippin’ kids!

  4. 4
    James K. on 20 Apr 2009 #

    Indeed, I think that one could make a case that this is the most well-known song of the twentieth century, or at least since 1950. Actually, that’s not right; it might be more accurate to say that it’s the most well-known song TITLE. What I mean by that is that probably relatively few people could actually sing the lyrics accurately from beginning to end, but if even the most out-of-it person knows one thing about the Beatles, it’s that they recorded this song. That’s from a U.S. perspective, where the song has immense historical importance. Are things different in the U.K.?

  5. 5
    Erithian on 20 Apr 2009 #

    Slightly different, James, in that IWTHYH was the song that really kicked off the British invasion in the States, Ed Sullivan and all that; but if any one song has equivalent significance in the UK it’s “She Loves You” – the one that returned to the top after seven weeks away on the back of the Royal Variety Show and the onset of Beatlemania, and was in the top three from September to December. It was removed from number one by IWTHYH, and they had a 1-2 at Christmas.

    When the Sun reported on the vigil in Central Park following Lennon’s death the headline was “They Loved Him, Yeah Yeah Yeah”…

  6. 6
    James K. on 22 Apr 2009 #

    I wonder what it was about this song that caused it to be the U.S. breakthrough. In my mind the British were right – “She Loves You” is a much better song. (“She Loves You” was a U.S. smash eventually, of course, but out of order.) “I Saw Her Standing There” (only an album track in the U.K. but the B-side of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” in the U.S.) was the best early Beatles song of all, in my opinion.

  7. 7
    Ashley Pomeroy on 27 Jun 2009 #


    For future reference, it was a joke; I was stunned that an article about this song could go for five years without attracting a single comment, on a site that’s full of comments. Part of me wonders if the site had recently wiped out its old comments, or if comments had not been enabled until October 2008.

    I’ll be back and commenting more when this blog catches up with my teenage years – the golden days of acid house, SAW, and serious-faced post-Live Aid musicians with something important to say, e.g. Tanita Tikaram, Terence Trent D’Arby, Red Box, Jive Bunny, er, The Firm, etc.

    On a more serious level, I believe that the Beatles are starting their long slide into history. Soon they will all be dead, and then there will be two further rounds of re-releases, and after that they will no longer sell records and will just fade away. The people who were teenagers in the 1960s will be dead or senile in twenty years and their music already sounds a little alien and weird. Soon it will be a period piece, and then it will be only of interest to historians; the history books of a century hence will reduce the band to a paragraph in the section of the “culture” chapter that deals with pop music.

  8. 8
    rosie on 27 Jun 2009 #


    This alien and weird teenager of the 1960s has no intention of being old and senile.

    Flippin’ kids!

  9. 9
    admin on 28 Jun 2009 #

    “Part of me wonders if the site had recently wiped out its old comments”. Almost right. Comments when this post was current were indeed lost.

    yay to iPod copy/paste :)

  10. 10
    Brooksie on 17 Feb 2010 #

    I believe I read somewhere that ‘She Loves You’ had been played on American Bandstand the previous year, and the panel had laughed at it and given it a total thumbs down. I can’t even imagine that. To me it has far more pop wallop than this (which is saying a lot). I think SLY might have been a little too ‘aggressive’ and ‘Mersey’ to really reach out. IWTHYH has a sentiment that parents could find palatable; “I really like you, can I hold your hand please?” Also; timing. This one came out after the shock of Kennedy when the US was looking for something, anything, to make them feel better.

  11. 11
    Paulito on 23 Oct 2010 #

    @#7 – Your comments have an irresistible parallel with those of the sniffy ‘serious’ music critics who, in 1963/64, confidently predicted that the Beatles would be forgotten within a year. 40 years after they broke up, their recordings remain as popular as ever with successive generations – i.e. not just among the ageing baby boomers whom you seem to believe still dominate popular taste – and continue to exert a huge influence on much contemporary music. As such, your prophecy that the Fabs will soon be a mere “period piece” seems pretty far-fetched.

    Indeed, if your logic were correct, the music of Frank Sinatra would already be slipping into obscurity, and nobody would even know anything by Beethoven (died 1827) or Bach (1750)…

  12. 12
    Ed on 23 Oct 2010 #

    @11 Frank who?

  13. 13
    crag on 13 Apr 2011 #


    Mary Archer, Wife of Jeffrey Archer, Scientist(1988)

    Kaffe Fasset, Decorative Artist(1990)

    George Martin, Record Producer(1995)

    Andrew Lloyd Webber, Composer(1999)

    Jerry Springer, Broadcaster (2009).

  14. 14
    Erithian on 29 Jan 2014 #

    Just a suggestion – at the moment the Dunblane thread is digressing onto the subject of the UK and US charts and the cultural significance and ubiquity thereof. It’s the kind of digression we always make, but it maybe sits increasingly uncomfortably with the unique nature of the Dunblane record. Perhaps we could relocate to here, since this week is the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ first US number one (1 February according to Wiki) and next week is the 50th anniversary of their landing at JFK (7 February).

  15. 15
    Tom on 29 Jan 2014 #

    I agree the Dunblane thread isn’t a brilliant place to have it – it feels like a conversation that’s fragmented across a lot of threads, though, probably because we’re at a point where things are clearly changing with the charts, and the nature of those changes will be a big topic for conversation. So I’m sure it’ll migrate naturally.

    (The current schedule I’m aiming for is Sunday – Tuesday – Friday for new Popular, with Monday and Thursday for the Pop World Cup. So the Tuesday entry gets longer in the spotlight.)

    More comments on the actual Beatles would be welcome!

  16. 16
    Cumbrian on 29 Jan 2014 #

    What on earth is there left to say about The Beatles?

  17. 17
    Erithian on 29 Jan 2014 #

    Paul and Ringo – the Grammys. The nearest you’re going to get to a reunion. Good to see, and the kind of setting where it’ll get massive respect. What did you make of the song though – Queenie Eye from Paul’s New album? Nice bit of Macca quirkiness, and kudos to them for not picking an obvious one.

  18. 18
    Tom on 29 Jan 2014 #

    #16 Not much – get in quick before Mark Lewisohn does.

  19. 19
    Izzy on 29 Jan 2014 #

    The book is extraordinary though (I feel able to commit after about 200 pages). Once he’s finished, that’s it forever I reckon.

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    enitharmon on 29 Jan 2014 #

    As for a Beatles reunion, I don’t relish the prospect of a superannuated rhythm section coming together for old times’ sake but I do like the news I’ve heard recently of Dhani Harrison, James McCartney, Julian and Sean Lennon working together in a studio. Throw in Zack Starkey and it’s perfect. Album title? Here Come The Sons, of course!

  21. 21
    Izzy on 29 Jan 2014 #

    I’d really like it if Paul & Ringo spent a year as guns-for-hire, just laying down rhythms on demand, nine to five, like a scouse Sly & Robbie. But I can’t think of anything less likely to happen.

  22. 22
    Andrew Farrell on 29 Jan 2014 #

    Their influence lives on!

  23. 23
    hectorthebat on 16 Mar 2014 #

    Critic watch:

    Barnes & Noble.com (USA) – The Best Music of the 20th Century (1999)
    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    CMT (USA) – Impact: Songs That Changed the World (2002)
    Dave Marsh & Kevin Stein (USA) – The 40 Best of the Top 40 Singles by Year (1981) 8
    Gary Pig Gold (Canada) – The 40 Most Influental Records of the 20th Century (1999)
    Greil Marcus (USA) – STRANDED: “Treasure Island” Singles (1979)
    Pause & Play (USA) – 10 Songs of the 60’s (2003)
    Pitchfork (USA) – Top 200 Songs of the 60s (2006) 58
    RIAA and NEA (USA) – 365 Songs of the Century (2001) 28
    Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (USA) – 500 Songs That Shaped Rock (1994?)
    Rolling Stone & MTV (USA) – The 100 Greatest Pop Songs Since the Beatles (2000) 6
    Rolling Stone (USA) – 40 Songs That Changed the World (2007)
    Rolling Stone (USA) – The 100 Best Singles of the Last 25 Years (1988) 3
    Rolling Stone (USA) – The 100 Greatest Beatles Songs (2010) 2
    Rolling Stone (USA) – The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (2004) 16
    Rolling Stone (USA) – The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (Updated 2010) 16
    San Antonio Express-News (USA) – Rock ‘n’ roll timeline (2004)
    Stephen Spignesi and Michael Lewis (USA) – The 100 Best Beatles Songs (2004) 20
    TIME (USA) – The All-Time 100 Songs (2011)
    The Recording Academy Grammy Hall of Fame Albums and Songs (USA)
    VH1 (USA) – The 100 Greatest Songs of All Time (2000) 23
    HarperCollins GEM (UK) – Single of the Year 1949-99 (1999)
    Mojo (UK) – The 100 Greatest Singles of All Time (1997) 14
    Mojo (UK) – The 100 Records That Changed the World (2007) 2
    Mojo (UK) – The 101 Greatest Tracks by The Beatles (2006) 14
    New Musical Express (UK) – Classic Singles (magazine feature 2006-2007)
    New Musical Express (UK) – The Top 100 Singles of All Time (2002) 96
    New Musical Express (UK) – The Top 150 Singles of All Time (1987) 85
    Q (UK) – 100 Songs That Changed the World (2003) 2
    The Guardian (UK) – 1000 Songs Everyone Must Hear (2009)
    Uncut (UK) – The 50 Greatest Beatles Tracks (2001) 17
    Zig Zag (UK) – Gillett & Frith’s Hot 100 Singles (1975)
    Now & Then (Sweden) – The Beatles’ 50 Best Songs (1992) 46
    Berlin Media (Germany) – The 100 Best Singles of All Time (1998) 25
    Zounds (Germany) – The Top 30 Songs of All Time + Top 10 by Decade (1992) 24
    Gilles Verlant and Thomas Caussé (France) – 3000 Rock Classics (2009)
    Hervé Bourhis (France) – Le Petit Livre Rock: The Juke Box Singles 1950-2009
    Rolling Stone (France) – The 100 Best Singles of the Last 25 Years (1988) 14
    Rocks Musiczine (Spain) – The 100 Best Rock Songs in History (1995) 79
    Toby Creswell (Australia) – 1001 Songs (2005)
    Giannis Petridis (Greece) – 2004 of the Best Songs of the Century (2003)
    Grammy Awards (USA) – Record of the Year Nominee

  24. 24
    lonepilgrim on 28 Jan 2015 #

    it helps that Lennon sings “I want to hold your hand’ with an intensity that suggests that this only is stage one of engaging with her anatomy and the harmonies only add to the frenzied mood. The “I can’t hide” line was memorably misheard as “I get high” by Bob Dylan and led to him introducing the band to the pleasure of ‘pot’.

  25. 25
    Tommy Mack on 28 Jan 2015 #

    I remember having an argument about The Beatles with Alex ‘Barry’ Sarll: he said they were sexless and I offered the lascivious way John Lennon sings ‘and when I touch you, I feel happy inside’ on the mid-8 of IWTHYH as a counter example…(an aside, he said ‘I wish I could hear The Beatles the way they sound in your head’ and I agreed that I tended to remember Beatles songs as harder and faster and find myself slightly surprised when hearing the actual records…well, I now don’t think it was ALL in my head but also that I first heard The Beatles on vinyl and scratched old 45rpm singles at that which must have toughened the sound somewhat compared to the re-masters.

  26. 26
    Paulito on 1 Feb 2015 #

    It’s more how he sings “I can’t hide” that evinces lustful abandon.

    Interesting debate question as to whether the Beatles were sexy or sexless. Clearly the girlies thought the former – and not just the teenyboppers that were too young to know better. While the Fabs didn’t project the peacock sexual swagger of, say, early Elvis or the Stones or Jim Morrison, neither did most other serious acts of the day. The cocksure stud thing just wasn’t their bag. After cleaning up their fairly lascivious early act as per Mr. Epstein’s advice, the Beatles’ initial focus was on crafting hook-laden, widely accessible pop-rock with standard courting-and-kissing lyrical concerns. After that, they largely concentrated their energies on expanding the boundaries of popular music, while their lyrical concerns became increasingly diverse and cerebral.

    They produced plenty of songs that were sexual or sensual – if sometimes quite subtly so – but it wasn’t their main preoccupation. Which, in turn, made them more interesting as a band (see also Kinks, Who, Dylan, Byrds etc).

  27. 27
    Gareth Parker on 8 Jun 2021 #

    Another reasonably OK Beatles #1 to my ears. 5/10.

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