16. “I’m Only Sleeping“
Who doesn’t love sleeping in? So great was John Lennon’s love for relaxation that Maureen Cleave once referred to him as “the laziest person in England”. This does seem to be the most obvious inspiration for “I’m Only Sleeping”, Revolver‘s ode to lethargy: the lyrics are evocative of such counter-culture sentiments as those seen in The Psychedelic Experience and could easily beg for more incendiary interpretations, but the music itself is far more telling.
Complicated, multi-layered orchestration provides the meat on the bones of Lennon’s simple melody, and a few clever production tricks bring it all together. Aside from various dreamy touches, the fluid bass and shimmering guitars draw you back to those moments just after waking when it still feels like a dream, or to the daydreams just before you drift off. The rhythm track, meticulously sewn together from a number of takes, provides a solid framework for George Harrison’s hypnotic guitar solo.
The sitar-like result, to be notably reused in Lennon’s equally mind-bending “Tomorrow Never Knows”, was achieved the hard way: by recording the part normally, then playing it backward and writing out the notation, then recording the notation only to play it backward one final time and creating a mystifyingly harmonious string of notes. The effect is surreal without being distracting and proves a fantastic compliment to Lennon’s time-distorted vocals. Such forays into the realm of the psychotropic are rarely so innocently inviting. — Carole Ann Wright
17. “It’s All Too Much“
George Harrison didn’t deserve to be made fun of as much as he was, but there’s also no question that his songwriting took far longer to mature than that of his prolific bandmates. (Well, two of them anyway.) The lads must have kicked themselves when he emerged with All Things Must Pass after the demise of the band — when they perhaps realized just how much better their last couple of records could have been if they’d used some of this material instead of, say, “I Dig a Pony” or “Maxwell’s Horrible Stupid Bullshit Silver Hammer”.
Still, as he was finding his voice, Harrison was prone to a few pretty ugly problems (vague plagiarism not least of these) which surely signaled his insubstantiality as a writer to his mates. And, can we agree on this? “Within You Without You”, “Love You To”, “The Inner Light”, and “Only a Northern Song” are, finally, kind of boring. That said: “It’s All Too Much”, the centerpiece of Side One of the mostly forgettable Yellow Submarine record, ranks among the best of the Beatles’ psychedelic work.
A noisy, slippery pastiche of sound and texture, “It’s All Too Much” is a harsh trip, but it contains multitudes. The repetition becomes infectious, the sitar doesn’t seem out of place, and the guitar lines are cutting and bright. It all ends a bit too messily for my ears, but so does your average acid trip. Though it’s regularly dismissed as George’s attempt to play ball with “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Tomorrow Never Knows”, this complex piece is more than just their poor cousin. Plug in and see. — Stuart Henderson
“Girl” resembles nothing so much as an Eastern European folk song in its structure, colored by an off-kilter string solo that hobbles about sounding like a harpsichord with missing keys. This ambiguous ballad from 1965’s Rubber Soul finds John Lennon with a heart wide open, begging for compassion from someone who can comprehend his excruciating quandary. After each verse we hear Lennon sigh — it’s a sigh we’ve all exhumed. He’s overwhelmed with a girl who may have been told when she was young “that pain would lead to pleasure”.
The protagonist has been scathed by this two-edged sword of a female, but he’s still there painfully revealing his vulnerability while ignoring his incapacity to leave. “When I think of all the time I’ve tried so hard to leave her she will turn to me and start to cry; and she promises the earth to me and I believe her, after all this time I don’t know why…” With these lines, we know he’s incapable of movement and we even feel pity for his cruel, but clueless lover. They’re both nameless, they’re both stuck. It’s one of the greatest songs about romantic despair from this era… Sigh. — Lisa Torem
19. “You Won’t See Me“
Paul McCartney’s fractious relationship with Jane Asher led to many wonderful songs within the Beatles canon, some tender and heartfelt, others intense and cutting. “You Won’t See Me” is firmly in the latter and stands right at the center of the first two Beatles eras. “You Won’t See Me” takes the pop sheen, and general tunefulness of their early Beatlemania hits, and adds harsh, even vitriolic, lyrics. It might stay within the firmly-established rhythmic mold and meter of old hits with its stream of rhymes and reverb-heavy backing vocals, but it paints a far less idyllic picture than fans were used to from the Fab Four at this time.
No hope is provided in this narrative; the protagonist is driven mad by his girlfriend’s unreasonable behavior and will do anything to regain the solace his love once provided. A superb performance by all concerned, the melodic counterpoint of the backing vocals in contrast to McCartney’s bellowing and forceful main vocal line is the Beatles taking the formula they had so expertly tamed and refined and bringing it to a new place. Their pop songs would become more complex, more sprawling, more innovative from here on, but for sheer verve and pop sensibilities, this song deserves its place amongst the tall trees of Rubber Soul. McCartney isn’t hiding behind characters as he would do in the future. This is him at his most strident. Pop star or no, the man had girlfriend problems and that makes this song all the more relatable, all the more human. — Emmet O’Brien
20. “Yer Blues“
Paul McCartney’s “Helter Skelter” gets a lot of credit, and rightfully so, for its heavy, shrieking, metal-influencing rock and roll, especially amidst the experiments and stylistic shifts of the “White Album”. But elsewhere on the Beatles’ double album, John Lennon contributes an equally fierce (if less influential) piece of unhinged rock and roll — “Yer Blues” — in which he repeatedly professes his loneliness, his desire to die, and indirectly his love for the unnamed girl keeping him around.
This song is less surprising from the author of “I’m a Loser” than the sweet-tempered McCartney’s proto-metal, but scarcely less enjoyable. If it is indeed, as often cited, a bit of self-referential near-parody (the narrator isn’t so despondent as to put down his record collection since he “feels so suicidal, just like Dylan’s Mr. Jones”), it’s a loving, sly one, foreshadowing the kind of simple rock and roll the band tried to rekindle, with artistic if not interpersonal success, towards the end of their career. But it’s hard not to assume “Yer Blues” contains at least a core of genuine feeling, even if Lennon is willing to have a laugh with it.
The world is lousy with Beatles covers, yet you rarely hear anyone take this one on. Too bad: its raw, loose bluesiness, especially that zoom up the fretboard right before “girl you know the reason why”, makes it ridiculously fun to bash out on a guitar. – Jesse Hassenger
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This article was originally published on 22 November 2009.