The “Feelgood” Story Behind the Early Beatles B-Side Classic “Mr. Moonlight”

Willie Lee Perryman took on the name Piano Red as he worked the clubs around Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Alabama in the ’30s and ’40s. The albino Black blues pianist played in both white and African American clubs. His blues repertoire grew to include pop hits of the day as he appealed to all audiences. He recorded for Vocalion Records in 1936, but the label did not release any of the sides. Perryman worked as an upholsterer and played music on the weekends. In 1950, he recorded “Rockin’ with Red” and “Red’s Boogie” for RCA Records. Both songs hit the Top Five on the Billboard R&B chart. Releases followed on the Columbia and Checker labels. He also worked as a disc jockey in Atlanta during the ’50s, hosting “The Piano Red Show” and “The Dr. Feelgood Show.”

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In 1961, Okeh Records signed Perryman and his group and they began using the name Dr. Feelgood and the Interns. Dr. Feelgood was a persona Perryman had developed on his radio shows. The band released several singles, and while they didn’t enjoy much success on the charts, their influence was evident in the many cover versions later recorded by successful groups. The 1962 single “Doctor Feelgood” was backed by a song that would become a staple in the live shows by an emerging Liverpool quartet. Meanwhile, the B-side was written and sung by Interns guitarist Roy Lee Johnson, and it went from an obscure flip side to a Beatles classic. Let’s take a look at the story behind “Mr. Moonlight” by The Beatles.

A Moment of Tension

“Mr. Moonlight” starts with John Lennon’s strained vocal squeezing out every bit of emotion in the titular line. Neil Aspinall, who was the driver for the band in the early days, recalled to music historian Mark Lewisohn how the song was a highlight of their early shows: “Mr. Moonlight’ was great because there would be this moment of tension in the audience. The song would be announced, and everybody knew John would have to start on that note—MISTER! Moonlight. There was no chord to precede it. He had to get it right from nothing.”

You came to me one summer night
And from your beam, you made my dream
And from the world, you sent my girl
And from above, you sent us love
And now she is mine. I think you’re fine
‘Cause we love you, Mister Moonlight

Eight Takes

The Beatles recorded the song over two sessions for their 1964 album Beatles for Sale. On August 14, the band entered EMI Studios on Abbey Road and recorded four takes. On October 18, they returned to the studio to take another four passes at the song. It was during this session that they added the Hammond organ, moving away from the guitar-heavy direction they started with. Take eight was the one included on the album. Paul McCartney told Disc magazine in November 1964: “This is the second one we didn’t write. It was originally the B-side of ‘Dr Feelgood’ and one of the numbers we played at The Cavern. I play a bit of organ softly in the background, and John and I do the singing. Ringo got hold of a horn-shaped sort of conga drum for this with good effect.”

Mister Moonlight, come again, please
Here I am on my knees, begging if you please
And the night you don’t come my way
I pray and pray more each day
‘Cause we love you, Mister Moonlight

The Edit

Though the bulk of the song is comprised of the eighth take, producer George Martin liked Lennon’s intro line better from take four. The first two words from take four were spliced onto the beginning of take eight to make the finished mono master. They recorded the song on four tracks, with Ringo Starr’s drums and McCartney’s bass on track one. Track two contains overdubs of George Harrison playing an African drum and McCartney’s Hammond organ. Track three holds the vocals of Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison, while track four contains a Harrison overdubbed guitar part. Two changes occurred when Martin and engineers Norman Smith and Mike Stone mixed the song in stereo. The ending of the song lasts a bit longer, including four repeats of the song’s title as compared to three on the mono mix. Also, track two, containing McCartney’s organ part, was left up all the way to the end, revealing some notes that only appear on the stereo version of the song.

And the night you don’t come my way
Oh, I pray and pray more each day
‘Cause we love you, Mister Moonlight

An Album Cut Makes the Charts

While The Beatles released Beatles for Sale in the UK, Capitol Records included the song on the U.S. release Beatles ’65. “Mr. Moonlight” was not released as a single or a B-side, but it still managed to reach No. 65 on the Billboard Hot 100. In The Beatles Anthology, McCartney talked about finding obscure songs not everyone else in the Merseybeat scene was playing: “I think we sussed early on that we weren’t going to get anywhere unless we were different because if you weren’t original, you could get stranded. … We had to play numbers no one else had.” “Mr Moonlight” certainly fits that bill.

Mister Moonlight, come again, please
Here I am on my knees, begging if you please
And the night you don’t come my way
Oh, I pray and pray more each day
‘Cause we love you, Mister Moonlight
Mister Moonlight, Mister Moonlight, Mister Moonlight

Other Recordings

The December 1962 Live at the Star Club recordings include a version of “Mr. Moonlight” captured during The Beatles’ residency in Hamburg, Germany. The Beatles Anthology 1 contains takes one, two, and four, including George Harrison’s slide guitar solo. In 1963, The Merseybeats released a version on Fontana Records, and The Hollies followed the next year on Parlophone with a much poppier arrangement.

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