The Beatles

When I'm Sixty-Four

Song Review by

Part of what made Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band perceived as a "psychedelic" album was not so much far-out collages of weird sounds and effects (though there were some of those) as a carnival-like atmosphere in which the music varied so much that one was never sure what was coming next. Certainly "When I'm Sixty-Four," primarily written by Paul McCartney, was something that would have never been called "psychedelic" if it had been released on its own, or in a different context. It was more a throwback to pre-rock vaudevillian music hall, complete with knickers-up music hall rhythm, brush drums that blurred the lines between soft shuffle and soft shoe, and a merry singalong melody suitable for drives to the seaside. This being McCartney, though, there were layers of irony and cleverness to the lyric not found in many genuine music hall tunes, as well as a very catchy tune, though perhaps not done in an arrangement that pleased hard-line rockers. There was irony just in the very act of the world's most popular rock group, one that was extremely identified with under-30 youth at the time, singing about growing old as if the Beatles were looking forward to it. It's not a wholly wholesome picture of the golden years, either, the singer almost pleading to know if he'll still be needed and fed at the age of 64. There's also some tongue-in-cheek attitude in the final verse, where a postcard is signed "yours sincerely, wasting away," and the answer "mine for evermore" is filled in on a form. Musically, the upbeat verses are effectively counterpointed by more melancholy bridges, where eerie almost circular background harmonies rejoin McCartney's note that "you'll be older too." Those bridges also benefit from well-placed bells, and a point where the song almost seems to sputter to a stop with different tempo changes before kicking back to life. "When I'm Sixty-Four" had actually been written and even performed by the Beatles back in the early '60s, before they began their recording career, getting revived for Sgt. Pepper's; McCartney's real-life father was indeed 64 at the time of recording. Perhaps because it was one of the Beatles' least rock-oriented recordings, it's attracted a good share of covers by fairly middle-of-the-road artists; Georgie Fame, John Denver, and Claudine Longet were among the more famous of the performers who did versions in the late '60s. Those easily pissed off at seeing some of their favorite music used to sell products could scream at their television sets in the early 21st century, when it was placed (in a sound-alike version by a different artist) in a commercial for an insurance company that was widely broadcast on network television.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band 1967 Apple Records / Capitol 2:37
No Image 1994 Big Music 1:26
The Ultimate Box Set 1995 Capitol 2:37
Yellow Submarine Songtrack 1999 Capitol / EMI Records / Apple 2:39
The Beatles: Stereo Box Set 2009 Capitol 2:37
The Beatles USB 2009 Capitol / EMI 2:37