Lennon's vocal style was inspired by the American singer Bob Dylan. Lennon wrote the song at home during what he called his "Dylan period", wanting another song for the film Help!. The song "is just basically John doing Dylan", Paul McCartney confirmed.
The song is in a folkishstrophic form and uses a Dylanesque acoustic guitar figure in compound time, chiefly acoustic accompaniment, no backing voices and light percussion from brushed snare, tambourine and maraca.
The basic rhythm track was recorded first, followed by George Harrison's guitar and some extra percussion. John Scott recorded a tenor flute in the spaces in Lennon's vocal track and an additional alto flute part, an octave higher than the first, on the last available track of the four-track machine.
Performance in the film
In the film Help!, at the opening of the song, the head of the cult, Clang (Leo McKern), appears from underneath a manhole cover in the middle of Ailsa Avenue, London, where parts of the film were shot. He stays there for the whole song, which the Beatles play in Lennon's quarter of the Beatles' shared flat. The flute part of the song is performed by George's in-house gardener (who also trims his grass carpet with chattery teeth). They are watched by Ahme (Eleanor Bron), and at the end of the song, Harrison passes out after Ahme produces a giant needle for Starr, who is wearing the ring the cult is seeking.
Other studio tracks
There is a montage of the first two takes (both broken down), followed by a completed alternate version (Take 5), included on Anthology 2. Lennon counts off the song then stops to readjust his guitar pickup ("I'm just going to raise this so that it's nearer to the bass strings than the top string"). This is followed by the sound of a glass shattering on the floor, prompting John to teasingly sing: "Paul's broken a glass, broken a glass. Paul's broken a glass. A glass, a glass he's broke today" (In the background, Ringo plays the snare drum with wire brush drum sticks keeping in time with John's cadence). John also addresses Paul as "Macca", a nickname in England for someone who is of Irish descent and/or has "Mc" in their last name. "Oh, you ready, Macca?"