Antelis' 'When I'm Sixty-Four'
Follows the Beatles Beat by Beat

Imaging & Sound: The Business Biweekly of Chicago Production
February 11, 2002

 

Burnett music producer Ira AntelisIra Antelis (pictured on the right) spent weeks analyzing the Beatles’ “When I’m Sixty-Four,” from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, before Julian Lennon walked into a New York studio to lay down the vocal track for an Allstate spot via Leo Burnett.

The song may seem relatively straightforward compared to the other tunes on the album, which dramatically pushed recording technology far beyond anything heard before, but Antelis’ careful study of the CD remastering of the original recording revealed some critical facts about “Sixty-Four”: It’s off-key and it doesn’t have a perfectly consistent tempo, ranging instead from 136 to 142 beats per minute.

“I realized from the clarinet fingerings that the song was recorded in C, but the playback speed was increased during the mastering process to raise the pitch about 80 percent of the halfstep to D-flat, the technological limit then,” said Antelis, Burnett’s in-house music producer. “Most covers are recorded in D-flat, but that’s too high and the song doesn’t sound right.”

Antelis recorded in C and carefully raised the pitch to match the original. He also painstakingly created a click track for the players that duplicated the tempo variations, but he still set some limits in the effort to replicate the original: He didn’t try to hunt down the exact mics used in the original sessions, nor did he insist on using the same reverb plates, available in the U.S. only in a Los Angeles studio. (Most of the tracks were recorded at Engine in Wicker Park.)

The session musicians, of course, weren’t the Beatles, but Antelis took some satisfaction from selecting bassist Will Lee (a member of David Letterman’s house band), who was also Paul McCartney’s choice when he assembled players for his performance of “Let It Be” at a recent benefit for Sept. 11 charities. Lee used a bass of his own choosing, but carefully emulated McCartney’s left-hand pizzicato technique rather than the pick Antelis initially believed McCartney employed.

The running time for Allstate’s “Tree” is only 30-seconds, but Lennon recorded the entire song (running time for the original is 2:38) to accommodate future spots for which other verses may be more appropriate. Antelis believes this was the first time Julian Lennon has recorded a Beatles song, and he doubts that Lennon will include the recording in a future CD release. McCartney, not his father, sang “Sixty-Four” on Sgt. Pepper.

—Mark Paul