Revolver Deep Dive Part 11: Doctor Robert

Side Two, Track Four

Calling ‘Dr. Robert’

by Jude Southerland Kessler and Steve Matteo

 

This month, the Fest for Beatles Fans Blog enjoys a closer look at Revolver’s “Dr. Robert.”  Jude Southerland Kessler, our Fest Blogger and author of The John Lennon Series works hand-in-hand with Steve Matteo, author of Act Naturally: The Beatles on Film (2023), Let It Be, and Dylan to examine a Lennon song that has frequently been brushed aside as “a minor creation.” As Jude and Steve dig into the music and lyrics of this tongue-in-cheek creation, here’s hoping we all uncover some new insights into the story behind the song, the composition, and the recording techniques.

 

And we can’t wait to see each and every one of you at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare for the Chicago Fest for Beatles Fans, August 9-11! The lineup is too good to miss! Get your tickets and get ready for the time of your life!

 

What’s Standard:

 

Date Recorded: 17 April 1966

Place Recorded: Studio Two

Time Recorded: 2.30 p.m. – 10.30 p.m.

 

Technical Team:

Producer: George Martin

Sound Engineer: Geoff Emerick

Second Engineer: Phil McDonald (Lewisohn, The Beatles Recording Sessions, 74)

 

On this day: The Beatles recorded their backing track with John on his 1961 Fender Stratocaster electric guitar with synchronized tremolo (or possibly his Epiphone ES-230TD Casino electric guitar), Paul on his 1964 Rickenbacker 4001S bass (which he was using more and more frequently in studio, when he could sit down), George on maracas, and Ringo on his 1964 Ludwig Oyster Black Pearl “Super Classic” drums. As per their “now standard” method of recording, they first performed several rehearsal takes (not numbered) and then recorded seven actual takes, proclaiming seven as “best.”

 

Then, onto take 7, the boys made several superimpositions: John on the Mannborg harmonium (the studio’s), George on guitar,* and Paul on the studio’s Steinway “Music Room” Model “B” Grand Piano. (Hammack, The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Vol. 2, 123)

 

*I wrote to Jerry Hammack to ascertain which guitar George was using, and he graciously answered me: “George was working with a 1961 Fender Stratocaster with synchronized tremolo, 1964 Gibson SG Standard with Gibson Maestro Vibrola vibrato, or a 1965 Epiphone ES-230TD, Casino with Selmer Bigsby B7 vibrato during this period, and could have used any of these on his work. With this album and Pepper, the Casinos were certainly getting most of the attention.”

 

Hammack also tells us that at this point, “Dr. Robert” “…clocked in at 2:56” but “would be edited to 2:13 during remixing.” Sincere thanks to Jerry for helping with the Fest blog each month!

 

Second Date Recorded: 19 April 1966

Place Recorded: Studio Two

Time Recorded: 2.30 p.m. – 12.00 a.m.

 

Technical Team:

Producer: George Martin

Sound Engineer: Geoff Emerick

Second Engineer: Phil McDonald (Lewisohn, The Beatles Recording Sessions, 74)

 

On this day: Since most of the work on “Dr. Robert” had been completed on the 17th, all that was left to do was capture the vocals from John and Paul…which they did. Later that same evening, a remix was done to thicken both those vocals and George’s guitar work.

 

Sources:

Lewisohn, The Beatles Recording Sessions, 75, Lewisohn, The Complete Beatles Chronicle, 218, The Beatles, The Beatles Anthology, 209, Rodriguez, Revolver: How The Beatles Reimagined Rock’n’Roll, 121-123, Womack, Sound Pictures, The Life of Beatles Producer George Martin, 57, Harry, The Ultimate Beatles Encyclopedia, 209, Winn, That Magic Feeling, 12, Gould, Can’t Buy Me Love, 361-362, Spizer, The Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records, 215, Turner, Beatles ’66, 157-159, Turner, A Hard Day’s Write, 114,  Margotin and Guesdon, All the Songs, 344-345, Davies, The Beatles Lyrics, 173-174, Spignesi and Lewis, 100 Best Beatles Songs, 227-228, Riley, Tell Me Why, 194-196, MacDonald, Revolution in the Head, 158-159, O’Toole, Songs We Were Singing, 113-115, Womack, The Beatles Encyclopedia, 231, Hammack, The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Vol. 2, 122-124, Spizer, The Beatles From Rubber Soul to Revolver, 221, Miles, The Beatles Diary, Vol. 1, 239,  Shotton, John Lennon In My Life, 122, and Sheff, The Playboy Interviews (1981 edition), 152-153.

 

What’s Changed:

 

  1. A Thinly-Veiled Reference to Drugs – For years, Brian had sternly admonished The Beatles to remain “palatable to the mothers and fathers of teens everywhere.” And as such, the boys had not felt free to express opinions on anything, especially when it came to politics or the Vietnam War. Furthermore, Brian had asked the boys to present “a wholesome image,” eschewing cigarettes at press conferences or photo shoots. And through most of 1963-1964, John, Paul, George, and Ringo had reluctantly complied.

 

However, by the 1965 North American Tour, those old prohibitions were slip-sliding away. Indeed, the songs of late 1965’s Rubber Soul spoke frankly about difficult topics. They addressed marital infidelity (“Norwegian Wood”), a possible liaison with a rising film star (“Drive My Car”), the dissolution of John’s marriage (“It’s Only Love”), and the complications inherent in adult relationships (“You Won’t See Me” and “I’m Looking Through You”). Even The Beatles’ jaunty single, “We Can Work It Out/ Day Tripper” spoke frankly about love affairs that didn’t go smoothly or finish well.

 

Now, in the spring of 1966, John penned “Dr. Robert,” a light-hearted ditty about a doctor whom you could ring for drugs…and not cough syrup or any ordinary prescription. And the “rush” that John felt in penning a song like this was the knowledge that to “the Establishment” (Brian included) harmonizing about illegal drug usage was still very much taboo! In his book John Lennon In My Life, John’s lifelong friend Pete Shotton wrote, “When John played me the acetate of ‘Dr. Robert,’ he seemed beside himself with glee over the prospect of millions of record buyers innocently singing along.” (p. 122) Much like singing the “tit-tit-tit-tit-tit” backing chorus to “Girl,” the theme of “Dr. Robert” and his little black bag intrigued John and the lads because it felt quite naughty.

 

I was a tad surprised to find that in 100 Best Beatles Songs, Spignesi and Lewis rated “Dr. Robert” as #73. However, their explanation soon set me straight. They wrote, “Prior to Revolver…The Beatles…wrote about romance and relationships…Suddenly, with one album, their focus changed. Confiscatory taxes, the alienated and the lonely, laziness, consciousness, the afterlife, and lest we forget, yellow submarines were all topics on Revolver. And then, on this same album, came ‘Dr. Robert,’ which was about (blimey!) recreational drug use. The message was clear: ‘We’ve changed. Either get on board or get out of the way.’ And most of us went along happily for the ride.” (p. 227) Yes, indeed, in 1966 the times they were a-changing for The Beatles…and for us. And as we changed, they changed (or vice versa). The Beatles constantly evolved, and “Dr. Robert” is evidence of that.

 

  1. A Slathering of Humor – Though most listeners never comprehended it, in “Dr. Robert,” John Lennon was happily “takin’ the mickey” out of us all. He applied Lennonesque humor so subtly and with such finesse, that few realized that the heavy sound of the harmonium on the “Well, well, well, you’re feeling fine” bridge – backing those comforting words spoken by the goodly Dr. Robert – washed the words of the healer in a saintly soundtrack. When Dr. Robert spoke, it sounded exactly like a hymn offering salvation!

 

And why not? The healer was, John told us, the sort of doctor who “day or night will be there any time at all.” He’s the kind of physician who “will do everything he can – Dr. Robert!” From Dr. R’s “special cup” to his meds that would “pick you up,” the incomparable Dr. R had a unique way to “well, well, well make you.” You can almost see The Beatles cutting their eyes at one another and snickering.

 

Clearly, the boys were in on the joke. But actually, so were we, albeit unwittingly. In Tell Me Why, Tim Riley refers to the track as  a “penetrating satire,” and he says that John’s biting humor “implicates not only the doctor and his ‘patients’ but the listener who gets seduced by the song’s tease as well.” (p. 123) This clever “nudge, nudge, wink, wink” creation casts us all under the spell of the sympathetic and edgy Dr. Robert.

 

A Fresh, New Look:

 

This month we’re privileged to have journalist and author Steve Matteo join us for the “Fresh New Look” segment of our Fest Blog. Steve was part of the 2023 Chicago Fest for Beatles Fans and the 2024 New York Fest at the TWA Hotel. He is the author of Let It Be and Dylan and his 2023 release, Act Naturally: The Beatles on Film. Steve has also written for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Rolling Stone, Spin, Elle, and Salon. We’re looking forward to having Steve and his wife, Jayne, join us again for the Chicago Fest 2024 and we’re excited to hear his reactions to “Dr. Robert,” the fun “nudge, nudge, wink, wink” creation by John Lennon and the boys.

 

Jude Southerland Kessler: Steve, welcome to the Fest Blog and thank you very much for taking time out of your busy schedule to share your expertise with us. Steve, in the spring/early summer of 1966, The Beatles and George Martin (now an independent producer) returned to EMI Studios not merely as musicians but as artists and innovative technicians. Using “every trick in the book” (as Lou Christie would sing years later) they employed unique instruments, recording techniques, and even outside musicians to create precisely the effects they sought. Although it’s not as obvious with this song as with others, “Dr. Robert” is layered with intentional sounds and stylings that afford the listener samples of a stressed life eased by Dr. Robert and his medicine show. How does John Lennon utilize his guitar, the vocals, and George Martin/Geoff Emerick’s recording techniques to achieve this aural imagery?

 

Steve Matteo: “Dr. Robert,” released at a significant time in the history of the recordings of the Beatles, is a song often discussed because of its lyrical story. The group’s previous album was Rubber Soul, the first album that throughout showed off the new sounds and textures they were exploring in the studio. The album broadened the canvas of the recording studio and introduced new colors and shadings that made the group’s already extraordinary songs even more vivid. After Rubber Soul and just before they began recording Revolver, they recorded the single “Paperback Writer” and the B-side “Rain.” While lyrically “Paperback Writer” was a poppy story of a writer of dime-store novels, it had guitar and vocal effects that were quite new. “Rain” was even more musically adventurous. On what may be the group’s best B-side, the interplay between McCartney’s bass and Starr’s drums is some of the most exciting playing of any track from the group and illustrates the cosmic musical relationship the group’s rhythm section created.

 

The vocals, however, are primarily what make “Dr. Robert” so musically memorable. The vocals on the track utilize ADT (Automatic Double Tracking) technology more than the other tracks on this album that is filled with it. Also, some of the vocal harmonies when the group sings “Well, well, well, you’re feeling fine” sound like a Greek chorus. It is here where the druggy theme of the song is most pronounced, but also shows how the group is clearly having fun with the subject matter. Adding to the decadent debauchery of the song’s milieu is some spacey Mannborg harmonium keyboard work by John Lennon, the main writer of the song and lead vocalist. Musically the song is very simple and playful, belying its subject matter.

 

While the theme of the song, particularly the doctor in question, has been debated and speculated upon since its release, another potentially key influence on the songwriting may have been overlooked. It’s hard to tell the exact spark that influenced Lennon to write the song, but one possibility is intriguing and highly plausible. The Rolling Stones had recorded a song called “Mother’s Little Helper,” which was the lead track on the group’s Aftermath album, released on April 15, 1966.

 

The recording of “Dr. Robert” began on April 14. There’s certainly a good chance Lennon heard the album long before its official U.K. release. There is a much-viewed photo of McCartney in the recording studio closely examining the back cover of Aftermath, with his reading glasses on and holding onto his Rickenbacker bass guitar. With “Mother’s Little Helper,” rather than reflecting the burgeoning drug culture of the youth of the day, Jagger was writing about someone with parental and adult responsibilities dealing with the stress by taking pills.

 

“Dr. Robert,” Lennon’s first song to address the theme of drugs, rather than glorifying them, tells of a doctor available to the pampered and well-connected denizens of the demi-monde of the day. Unlike “Mother’s Little Helper,” the song doesn’t, for the most part, have a dreamy or spacey quality. While “Mother’s Little Helper” has a terse, almost gritty rock’n’roll edge, “Dr. Robert” is a jaunty little tune. It is a whimsical tale with the kind of light touch that appeared on the surface of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice” books, which were filled with drug references – literature Lennon was all too familiar with and fond of since he was a child.

 

Kessler: Steve, Beatles music experts and biographers have bandied about the identity of the infamous Dr. Robert. Some, like Hunter Davies, point to dentist John Riley who, without permission, gave George and John LSD in their coffee in the spring of 1965. Some point to London’s Robert Fraser. Most aver that Dr. Robert is New York’s famed Robert Freymann (Freeman or Frieman in other sources) who served as “healer” for the stars; some go so far as to claim that John was one of his clients. However, for those like you who know The Beatles’ harried schedule during those few days in which The Beatles were in New York during February of 1964, late August of 1964, mid-September of 1964, and mid-August of 1965 when they returned to play another “Ed Sullivan Show,” perform in Shea Stadium, and host celebrities in their suite the following day, there was absolutely zero time for John (and/or The Beatles) to trek over to see this supposed Dr. Robert. And there is no record of his presence in their suite, though myriad others are catalogued. Paul states that they have merely heard about the doctor and are writing this song based on that knowledge. In The Beatles Anthology and later in his Playboy Interviews, John Lennon stated that he consistently carried and administered the drugs for the band and –  like almost all of his other songs – this song was written about him; he was Dr. Robert. What say you?

 

Matteo: It would appear the doctor in question initially was based on a doctor in New York who indeed did administer “vitamin” injections for his curious clientele. A more sinister reality of the situation may have been the doctor giving amphetamine shots to wealthy socialites, the famous and the infamous. Various doctors have been named as the subject of Lennon’s song, even though Lennon himself may not have been aware of exactly who the doctor was and just what he was doing. Many sources, as Jude pointed out in the “What’s New” segment, claim the real-life doctor in question was Dr. Robert Freymann, a German-born doctor who, at the time of the writing and recording of the song, was 60 years old and whose office was located at 78th Street, in Manhattan, on the tony upper east side. Interestingly, in the film Ciao Manhattan, produced by Andy Warhol, there is a character named Dr. Charles Robert, who was likely based on the real Dr. Freymann, or even on Lennon’s song, since the film came out in 1972. In 1972, the real Dr. Freymann was still practicing medicine and was eventually expelled from the New York State Medical Society for malpractice in 1975.

 

What makes things even more confusing is that in Manhattan in the mid- to late-60s and early-70s there were many so-called “Dr. Roberts” offering a seamlessly endless cornucopia of potions to cure whatever ailed one. This doctor is the dark and destructive side of the drug culture, not those experimenting with marijuana or LSD who were seeking a more spiritual enlightening, although LSD and amphetamines could be equally lethal with enough use. It’s easy to read many other meanings (and doctors, real and imagined) into the song and on any given day, Lennon may have offered his own varying answers to what it was all about. It is, of course, not the only song on the album that has drug references, just the first he had written.

 

Prior to Revolver, “Rain” may have been influenced by drug use, but didn’t directly address drugs in the song’s lyrics. The other songs on the album about drugs, directly or indirectly, are “I’m Only Sleeping,” “She Said She Said” and “Tomorrow Never Knows.” Paul’s songs that had direct or indirect drug references are “Yellow Submarine” and “Got to Get You Into My life.” All of them share an obliqueness when addressing drugs, but all have drugs as a key component, whether musically or lyrically or both. There is also the question of whether the songs were simply influenced by the drug culture, or written under the influence.

 

Lennon was always a fan of double-entendres, as were The Beatles, especially the naughty schoolboys that still lurked in the four. “Dr. Robert” doesn’t so much have double-entendres as it includes lyrics that don’t specifically spell out the story of the song’s title character. It’s a song for those in the know, who get the wink-wink wordplay. The lyrics that most spell out who “Dr. Robert” is and what his function was and how Lennon slyly laid it out are: “If you’re down, he’ll pick you up/Doctor Robert/Take a drink from his special cup.”

 

Kessler: Steve, as I mentioned in the “What’s Changed” segment of the blog, in Spignesi and Lewis’s book, 100 Best Beatles Songs, “Dr. Robert” is rated at #73 , above such songs as “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “Get Back,” and “Michelle.” How do you feel about the song’s ranking and the song itself?

 

Matteo: It’s difficult to rate “Dr. Robert.” In the context of Revolver, arguably the group’s best album, it may not be considered one of the group’s best songs or recordings. Among their entire catalog, it probably fares better. As is always the case, individual tracks from The Beatles that may not be considered among their best would probably rank pretty high against those from many other artists and certainly better than what passes for hits on the charts these days.

 

For more information on Steve Matteo, HEAD HERE

Follow Steve on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter

For my review of Steve Matteo’s book, Act Naturally: The Beatles on Film, HEAD HERE

Join Steve and Jude at the Fest for Beatles Fans, Aug. 9-11 at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare!!

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Revolver Deep Dive Part 10: For No One

Revolver

Side Two, Track Three

“For No One” Is For Everyone

by Jude Southerland Kessler

 

This month, the Fest for Beatles Fans Blog enjoys a closer look at Paul McCartney’s exquisite ballad, “For No One.”  Jude Southerland Kessler, our Fest Blogger and author of The John Lennon Series is “going solo” on this deep dive, but calling upon the wisdom of many respected Beatles music experts as she explores this outstanding and touching work. Insights into this song have been enhanced by:

 

Lewisohn, The Beatles Recording Sessions, 78-79, Lewisohn, The Complete Beatles Chronicle, 220-221, The Beatles, The Beatles Anthology, 207, Womack, Sound Pictures, The Life of Beatles Producer George Martin, 82-84, Harry, The Ultimate Beatles Encyclopedia, 248, Emerick, Here, There and Everywhere, 128-129, Winn, That Magic Feeling, 18, Rodriguez, Revolver: How The Beatles Reimagined Rock’n’Roll, 136-138, Gould, Can’t Buy Me Love, 360-361, Spizer, The Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records, 215, Turner, Beatles ’66, 107-108, Turner, A Hard Day’s Write, 113,  Margotin and Guesdon, All the Songs, 342-343, Davies, The Beatles Lyrics, 169-171, Spignesi and Lewis, 100 Best Beatles Songs, 168-170, Riley, Tell Me Why, 193-194, MacDonald, Revolution in the Head, 164, Womack, The Beatles Encyclopedia, 281, Hammack, The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Vol. 2, 138-140, Spizer, The Beatles From Rubber Soul to Revolver, 220, and Miles, The Beatles Diary, Vol. 1, 239. Also here.

 

What’s Standard:

 

Date Recorded: 9 May 1966

Place Recorded: Studio Two

Time Recorded: 7.00 – 11.00 p.m.

 

Technical Team:

Producer: George Martin

Sound Engineer: Geoff Emerick

Second Engineer: Phil McDonald

 

On this day: A backing track was created in ten takes with Ringo on his 1964 Ludwig Oyster Black Pearl “Super Classic” drum set and Paul on EMI’s Steinway “Music Room”  Model “B” Grand Piano. (Hammack, 139) The tenth was designated as “best” and to this, Paul added work on a clavichord (which had been hired from Martin’s AIR company at the cost, Lewisohn tells us, of five guineas). Ringo added cymbals and maraca to Take 10 as well. Note: John and George did not take part in creating this backing track. (Lewisohn, The Beatles Recording Sessions, 78 and Lewisohn, The Complete Beatles Chronicle, 220-221)

 

Second Date Recorded: 16 May 1966

Place Recorded: Studio Two

Time Recorded: 2.30 p.m. – 1.30 a.m.

 

Technical Team:

Producer: George Martin

Sound Engineer: Geoff Emerick

Second Engineer: Phil McDonald

 

On this day: Obviously, on this long day, the entire time in studio wasn’t spent on “For No One.” Most of the afternoon and evening was given to overdubs and mixing in order to create a master reel. But a portion of the day was set aside for Paul to overdub his poignant lead vocal onto Take 10 of “For No One.” It was recorded, Lewisohn reminds us, at 47 ½ cycles and then sped up on replay. (Lewisohn, The Beatles Recording Sessions, 78 and The Complete Beatles Chronicle, 220-221) Rodriguez comments that this “gave [McCartney’s] voice a slightly elevated pitch upon playback.” (p. 137)

 

Third Date Recorded: 19 May 1966

Time recorded: 7.00 – 11.00 p.m.

 

Technical Team:

Producer: George Martin

Sound Engineer: Geoff Emerick

Second Engineer: Phil McDonald (Lewisohn, The Beatles Recording Sessions, 79)

 

On this day: Alan Civil, principal French horn player from the Royal (some sources say “London”) Philharmonic Orchestra was invited to EMI Studios to play the haunting French horn obbligato in this song. There are two completely different versions of what happened that day. Let’s look at both:

 

Many sources, including Civil himself, tell the story that Hunter Davies repeats in The Beatles Lyrics, p 171. He writes: “Civil came in [to EMI Studios], was told roughly what was wanted by George Martin and Paul, composed his own bit, played and went home, earning only his session fee.” This version of historical events can be found in great detail  in Womack’s Sound Pictures, The Life of Beatles Producer George Martin, pp. 82-83. Womack summarizes: “In Civil’s memory, it was McCartney who asked him to improvise a solo – ‘to make something up,’ as it were, in a baroque style.”

 

However, there is another completely different version of the day’s events, and Womack, using direct quotes from The Beatles Anthology, unveils this second account as well. He writes, “McCartney’s memories of the session vary dramatically from Civil’s. The Beatle later recalled humming the melody to Martin, who dutifully adapted McCartney’s vision into musical notation.” Womack quotes McCartney as saying, “George asked me, ‘Now what do you want him to play?’ I said, ‘Something like this,’ and sang the solo to him, and he wrote it down.” (Womack, p. 83 and The Beatles Anthology, 207)

 

So, which version of the story actually occurred? Womack points out that the “high F” note in the obligato just might hold the answers we seek. Womack quotes Paul as saying, “At the end of the session…George explained to me the range of the [French horn]…” and showed Paul that what they had composed “goes from here to this top E.” Mischievously, Paul responded, “What if we asked him to play an F?” And Womack goes on to say, “In Paul’s recollection, George saw the joke and joined in the conspiracy. We came to the session and Alan looked up from his bit of paper: ‘Eh, George? I think there’s a mistake here – you’ve got a high F note written down.’ Then, George and I said, ‘Yeah,’ and smiled back at him, and he knew what we were up to and played it.” (Womack, p. 84 and The Beatles Anthology, 207) It seems unlikely that Civil would have written what was considered an “unreachable note” for himself. It is more likely that this impossible task was proposed by McCartney and Martin, and Civil rose to meet the challenge.

 

 

What’s Changed:

 

  1. Keyed in B…This song was composed in a key used quite rarely by The Beatles. In fact, only these of The Beatles’ songs were composed in B: “For No One,” “Penny Lane” (whose chorus changes to A major), and “Revolution.” The official sheet music for “For No One” has the key raised to C, but that is not the key in which the song was written or recorded. It’s felt that C was chosen for the sheet music to make the song easier to play. Spignesi and Lewis, 169 and here

 

 

  1. Museum Piece Rescue – Paul wrote and recorded “For No One” but never had occasion to perform it live. He regretted this inability to share his ballad with an audience, making the song what Paul dubbed “a museum piece.” Therefore, “For No One” was included in Give My Regards to Broad Street.

 

  1. Reverb Reserve – Geoff Emerick famously employed very little reverb in the songs he engineered, and “For No One” really benefits from this economy of treatment. It produced a simple, pure sound.

 

  1. Destiny’s Role – The French horn obbligato was originally slated to be performed by maestro Dennis Brian. (Rodriguez, 137) However, Brian died in an automobile accident before he could record the solo, and Alan Civil, described by Rodriguez as “an equal caliber musician,” was selected to replace him. Civil turned in an exceptional performance and is one of the first “outside” musicians (along with Anil Bhagwat) to be mentioned on a Beatles record.

 

  1. Continued Experimentation with a Classical Theme – “For No One” has been categorized as “chamber music” or “baroque music.” In a vein similar to “Eleanor Rigby,” this song’s lovely melody has classical roots, but it flourishes when the French horn obbligato is added to the score. In the Autumn of 1965, The Beatles were elbow-deep in musical exploration, and we’re all the better for it.

 

 

A Fresh, New Look:

 

The Reviews are In!

 

“One of my favourites of [Paul’s]! A nice piece of work.”
John Lennon

 

“Another remarkable McCartney ballad, melodically sophisticated and lyrically mature.”

Barry Miles, The Beatles Diary, Vol. 1, 239

 

“A great ballad with a beautiful melody and striking production.”

Spignesi and Lewis, 100 Best Beatles Songs, 168

 

“…a sad, regretful, wistful, heartbreaking song…impeccably put together with a wonderful French horn solo by Alan Civil, perhaps the best-known hornist of his day…”

Hunter Davies, The Beatles Lyrics, 171

 

“…conveys the solitude and regret of Yesterday, with more disbelief, more longing…”

Tim Riley, Tell Me Why, 193

 

“…remains one of Paul’s greatest accomplishments, with…a simple but effective melody.”

John C. Winn, That Magic Feeling, 18

 

“For No One” is universally respected. Calling it “a dark sister to ‘Here, There and Everywhere,” and “the true heir of ‘Yesterday,” Jonathan Gould (among so many others) extols this unusual song’s unvarnished honesty, and its “stark, sinking feeling” that something beautiful is dying and cannot be revived. (p. 360)  This is not a ballad of love; it’s a requiem of loss.

 

When first approached about the song in the 1960s, Paul denied that it was written for a particular person, but later, he confessed, “I wrote that on a skiing holiday in Switzerland. In a hired chalet amongst the snow.” (Womack, The Beatles Encyclopedia, 281) And with him on that holiday (in the Swiss resort of Klosters) was, of course, his long-time love, Jane Asher. (Spizer, 215 and Winn, 18) Paul states, “I suspect it was about another argument. I don’t have easy relationships with women, I never have. I talk too much truth.” (Womack, 281). The lovers’ quarrel in that snow-banked chalet must have been calamitous, because the first title of this Revolver track was “Why Did it Have to Die?” And in The Beatles Lyrics, 172, Davies shares the hand-written draft of Paul’s original lyrics. They read:

 

“Why did it have to die?

You’d like to know

Cry and blame her

You wait

You’re too late

As you’re deciding why the wrong one wins the end begins

And you will lose her

Why did it have to die

I’d like to know

Try – to save it

You want her

You need (love) her

So make her see that you believe it may work out

And one day you may need each other.”

 

Unlike some of Paul’s songs for Jane which threaten (“Why, tell me why, did you not treat me right?/ Love has a nasty habit of disappearing overnight”) or chide (“Now today I find/ You have changed your mind/ Treat me like you did the night before”) or point out unfair treatment (“When I call you up/ Your line’s engaged/ I have had enough/ So act your age!”), “For No One” is neither angry nor frustrated. Instead, it is a tender song of love lost.

 

Paul, who in the latter part of 1965 had been extensively reading plays, wrote the lyrics almost as if they were stage directions:

 

Your day breaks, your mind aches,
You find that all her words of kindness linger on
When she no longer needs you.

She wakes up, she makes up,
She takes her time and doesn’t feel she has to hurry,
She no longer needs you.

 

We watch the characters moving through the miasma of a sorrowful morning, a day in which two lovers have both physically and metaphorically awakened to the realization that their “love is dead.” And suddenly, McCartney’s message is inclusive. Using simple, direct language and brief sentences, he pulls us into his lyrics. He speaks a language that everyone understands and draws each listener into these familiar scenes of heartbreak. His lyrics are, as John Winn commented, “evocative.” (That Magic Feeling, 18)

 

For me, that word “familiar” was the very lynchpin of my love of this song. I was 12 years old…sitting on the side of my bed and playing Revolver for the first time…carefully placing the 33 1/3 on the turntable of my lift-top record player and lowering the needle. For the next hour, I sat cross-legged and listened…and listened and listened and blinked back tears.

 

“A song about taxes?! John Lennon knowns what it’s like to be dead?!!!! And what in the world has happened to George Harrison? ‘Love You To?’ Love you to what????” The studious me was completely bewildered by Revolver’s suggestions to “lay down your thoughts” and “turn off your mind.”

 

The only track to which I could relate was “For No One.” It recalled “Yes It Is” and “This Boy.” It hearkened back to “I’ll Follow the Sun” and even to John’s “If I Fell.” In myriad ways, it tethered me to “Yesterday.”

 

Years later, I read Robert Rodriguez’s brilliant work Revolver: How The Beatles Reimagined Rock and Roll, and the LP unfolded for me like a brightly colored pop-up book! (Thank you, Robert!) But at age 12, “For No One” provided a tidbit of the wonderfully familiar. On this strange LP of eccentric songs, “For No One” supplied music I understood. Like Paul’s universal lyrics, his melody offered a sound to which fans of the Cavern Beatles or The BBC Beatles could cling. In the turbulent, kaleidoscopic Summer of 1966, this song alone whispered, “Safe and sound.”

 

Each month, in our “Fresh, New Look” segment of the Fest Blog, I ask our guest commentator, “What do you like about this song? What appeals to you?” So…this month, I’d love to hear from you!

 

Please comment below and tell us what you felt when you first heard “For No One.” How did you react and why? And almost sixty years later, how do you feel about the song today?

 

I’d love to hear from you. And more importantly, I can’t wait to see you all in just a few months at the Chicago Fest for Beatles Fans, August 9-11 at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare!

 

 

For more information on Jude Southerland Kessler or  The John Lennon Series, HEAD HERE

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Revolver Deep Dive Part 8: Good Day Sunshine

Side Two, Track One

Good Day, Great Song!

by Jude Southerland Kessler with Special Guest, Ivor Davis

 

The Fest for Beatles Fans kicks off the exciting 60th Anniversary of 1964 – that landmark year in which many significant Beatles events (including The Beatles’ first trip to America and the release of the film “A Hard Day’s Night” with its remarkable soundtrack LP) took place! Simultaneously, The Fest will celebrate its 50th Anniversary – by gathering at the TWA Hotel in New York on Feb. 9-11. (Yes, the very date that The Beatles were first featured on “The Ed Sullivan Show”!) I’ll be there, and I hope you will be, too!

 

This month, our Fest Blog will add to the festivities by continuing our in-depth study of Revolver. We’re flipping the LP onto Side Two to enjoy Track One, the appropriately jubilant song, “Good Day Sunshine”!

 

Joining us this month to explore McCartney’s upbeat classic is the most upbeat of authors, the former Foreign Correspondent for the Daily Express – the man who toured with The Beatles in 1964 and went with them to meet Elvis in 1965, Ivor Davis. Ivor has been a guest at many Fests and is one of our favorite people in the vast Beatles family. We’re hoping he returns to the Chicago Fest in August as he releases the extended, enhanced version of his detailed work, The Beatles and Me on Tour. Let’s see what this respected British journalist, noted author, and Fest friend has to say about “Good Day Sunshine” as he gives it a “fresh, new look.”

But first, please join me for the “song stats”…

– Jude

 

What’s Standard:

 

Date Recorded: 8 June 1966 – The Beatles rehearsed “A Good Day’s Sunshine” (the original title) for quite a while, eventually recording three takes that comprised the rhythm track: bass guitar, drums, and piano. “Take One” was selected as “best.” (Lewisohn, The Beatles Recording Sessions, 82) Then, according to many sources, the tape was rewound, and Paul recorded a lead vocal with backing vocals by John and George on a second track. This was accomplished using frequency control (or “varispeed”) at a slightly slower than normal speed. When played at regular tempo, the vocals would be pitched a semitone higher. (Hammack, 148)

Time recorded: 2.30 p.m. – 2.30 a.m. (The rehearsals took up most of this time frame, with the actual recording of the three takes only consuming about an hour.)

 

Technical Team:

Producer: George Martin

Sound Engineer: Geoff Emerick

Second Engineer: Richard Lush

 

9 June 1966 – Onto “Take One,” Ringo added another bass drum, snare drum, and cymbals on a third track. (Winn, 24) Then, on a fourth track (Winn, 24) George Martin added what Mark Lewisohn in The Beatles Recording Sessions (p. 82) refers to as “a honky-tonk piano solo for the song’s middle eight.” This unusual sound was also achieved via the use, once again, of varispeed. The solo was taped at 56 cycles per second so that when played at normal tempo, it would sound brighter. Handclaps were also added along with extra harmonies by John and George.

Location for both sessions: EMI, Studio Two

Time recorded: 2.30 p.m. – 8.30 p.m.

 

Technical Team:

Producer: George Martin

Sound Engineer: Geoff Emerick

Second Engineer: Phil McDonald

 

Instrumentation and Musicians:*

Paul McCartney, the composer, played Studio Two’s Steinway “Music Room” Model “B” grand piano and sang lead vocals.

 

John Lennon, sang backing vocals. (Bruce Spizer in The Beatles Rubber Soul to Revolver, p. 219, notes that you can hear John echo “She feels good” at 1.27 in the song.) Some sources (for example, Margotin and Guesdon’s All the Songs, p. 228) have John playing rhythm guitar. However, Riley in Tell Me Why says, “With piano double-tracked on both channels, there’s no need for guitar.” (p. 191) And Hammack (see below) has John possibly manning the bass guitar.

 

George Harrison, sang backing vocals. In The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Vol. 2, Hammack states that it was “either Lennon or Harrison on bass (it was not documented, nor is it discernible from the available audio which Beatle played bass).” (p. 148) Because both Harrison and Lennon were right-handed, the bass used on this song was not one of Paul’s but a 1964 Burns Nu-Sonic. (Hammack, 148)

 

Ringo Starr, played drums on his 1964 Ludwig Oyster “Black Pearl” Super Classic drum set as well as tambourine.

 

George Martin, played an original “honky-tonk” piano solo for the middle eight.

 

*Most information above is found in Hammack’s The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Vol. 2 and supplemented as noted above.

 

Sources: Lewisohn, The Beatles Recording Sessions, 82, Lewisohn, The Complete Beatles Chronicle, 224, Winn, That Magic Feeling, 24-25, McCartney, The Lyrics, 232, Spizer, The Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records, 215, Spizer, The Beatles Rubber Soul to Revolver, 219, Turner, Beatles ’66, 203-204, Turner, A Hard Day’s Write, 111-112,  Miles, The Beatles Diary, Vol. 1, 239, Margotin and Guesdon, 228-229, Davies, The Beatles Lyrics, 166-169, Spignesi and Lewis, 275-276, Riley, Tell Me Why, 191, MacDonald, Revolution in the Head, 167, Womack, Long and Winding Roads (2007 edition), 143, Hammack, The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Vol. 2, 148-150, and Mellers, Twilight of the Gods, 77.

 

For more information on comedians and musicians in the British Music Hall tradition, go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_British_music_hall_performers#British_Music_Hall_entertainers

 

What’s Changed

 

  1. Incorporation of musical influences from myriad sources – Some of these include:
  2. the colorful sounds of the old British music hall with which all of The Beatles would have been quite familiar. The Empire Theatre in City Center and the Philharmonic Hall on Hope Street (to name just a few) hosted these vibrant, vaudeville variety shows featuring comedians such as Liverpool’s George Formby and Ken Dodd, as well as gifted musicians from all genres. In The Lyrics, Paul recalls, “Both John and I grew up while the music hall tradition was still very vibrant, so it was always in the back of our minds.” And here in “Good Day Sunshine,” the warm variety show vibe is woven throughout, transporting the listener back to those happy music hall days. Indeed, Riley points out that, “[t]he ragtime piano solo…is round with Joplinesque pleasure…” and “…if it weren’t for the vibrant colors of the harmonies in the refrain, [the song] would be positively old-fashioned.” (Tell Me Why, 191) Some suggest that this song is a precursor to “When I’m 64” and later, “Honey Pie.”
  3. the Folk Rock trend which was topping the charts in America. Paul has acknowledged that “Good Day Sunshine” was specifically influenced by the Lovin’ Spoonful’s laid-back “walk in the sun” hit song, “Daydream,” which had been released in February 1966. Indeed, John and Paul had recently seen the Lovin’ Spoonful in concert at London’s Soho district Marquee Club. (Turner, Beatles ’66, 204 and Turner, A Hard Day’s Write, 112) Some sources list the Kinks’ hit, “Sunny Afternoon” as a source of inspiration, but The Beatles recorded “Good Day Sunshine” in early June and “Sunny Afternoon” didn’t hit the charts until 6 July 1966.
  4. the Tamla Motown beat. This influence reaches “Good Day Sunshine” in a rather meandering fashion. Of course, The Beatles had always loved the sounds of Motown, but in “Good Day Sunshine,” the “choppy guitar beat” and pounding piano that introduces the song was heavily influenced by a similar sound at the beginning of the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Daydream.” When asked about their unusual “Daydream” intro, John Sebastian (lead singer for the Spoonful) said he borrowed it from two Supremes songs, “Where Did Our Love Go?” and “Baby Love.” So, in a circuitous way, these two Motown hits also impacted “Good Day Sunshine.”

 

  1. Harmonic Shifts and a Raised Ending for the Song – In the song’s final chorus, The Beatles employ a clever harmonic shift, and in the concluding, cascading chants of “Good Day Sunshine,” they raise the key half a tone. These subtle but effective techniques not only supply optimism about the song’s tender love affair but also leave the listener with a sense of well-being about the world in general…particularly on this lovely, sunny day. (Miles, 239 and Margotin and Guesdon, 338-339)

Note: This raised-ending technique had only been employed by The Beatles once before: in the concluding lines of “And I Love Her.”

 

  1. A Joyful Song for Jane Asher – The majority of the songs that Paul had previously created for his love – the talented actress Jane Asher – focused on the couple’s struggle to maintain a long-distance relationship and two successful careers. But on Revolver, Paul penned two optimistic and contented love songs, “Here, There, and Everywhere” and “Good Day Sunshine.” In Long and Winding Roads, Womack notes that “Good Day Sunshine” is about “blissfully functional romantic love.” (p. 143) And in Twilight of the Gods, Mellers says, “The tune is a yodel equating the love experience with a sunny day.” After the stormy angst of “I’m Looking Through You,” “We Can Work It Out,” “You Won’t See Me,” and “For No One,” this is a happy change of pace.

 

  1. Two potential “nudge-nudge, wink-winks”…and a third that is not! – From time to time, The Beatles enjoyed amusing themselves with covert lyrical references that were slightly naughty (Think the “tit-tit-tit-tit” chant in Rubber Soul’s song “Girl”). And some believe that “Good Day Sunshine” features a few nudge-nudge, wink-winks of its own.

 

For example, by 1965, some British politicians and the press had begun criticizing The Beatles for their Scouse expressions and accents. So, Paul – more than any of the others – strove to use “The Queen’s English.” But when recording “Good Day Sunshine,” Davies notes, “[O]n the word ‘laugh’ in the third line, I can detect Paul doing a short, flat Northern ‘ah’ just to amuse himself.” (p. 166) It’s a brief rebellion, but satisfying nonetheless.

 

Then, in the third verse, when Paul sings, “I love her and she’s loving me,” Spignesi and Lewis suggest that this unusual wording might have been a tactful hint that the beloved is, in fact, making love to him. (p. 275) Was this intended? Only Paul knows for sure.

 

However, one thing that Paul clearly expressed unequivocally was the fact that there was no hidden drug allusion in “Good Day Sunshine.” McCartney has readily admitted that he was referring to marijuana use in the lyrics of “Got to Get You Into My Life.” But repeatedly, Paul told reporters and critics alike that “Good Day Sunshine” is simply “a very happy song.” End of story.

 

 

A Fresh New Look:

 

As the only journalist to tour with The Beatles from “Day One to Day End” of the 1964 North American Tour whilst simultaneously serving as ghost writer for George Harrison’s “diary” in the Daily Express, Ivor Davis knew The Beatles quite well…as a friend and companion. He also lived the exciting days of 1964 and 1965 along with them, serving as an official commentator for soccer’s World Cup tournament in 1965. Ivor’s “insider” role gives him a unique vantage point as we discuss the Summer of 1966 and the events surrounding “Good Day Sunshine.” 

 

Jude Southerland Kessler: Ivor, in Hunter Davies’s book Beatles Lyrics, he acknowledges the influence of American folk-rock (specifically The Lovin’ Spoonful’s hit “Daydream”) on “Good Day Sunshine.” But Davies goes on to say that within the song, he “can hear echoes of old British Music Hall tunes, the kind [Paul’s] father probably played for the whole family to sing along at Xmas.” (p. 166) Having been reared in London, what echoes and sounds of the music hall do you detect in this number?

 

Ivor Davis: YES, ABSOLUTELY. So much. It’s a joyful song – heralding better days to come. Don’t forget Jim McCartney was a bandleader – who had relished and reveled in all that Thirties Big Band music hall stuff – which according to Angie and Ruth McCartney – not surprisingly spilled over to Paul, and without a doubt, inspired this particular piece of music.

 

A quick history lesson, if I may. Back in the late Forties and Fifties, major British port cities, like London – my hometown – and of course Liverpool, were still emerging from a grim war that had flattened and left the landscape in shambles. That was a period when because of huge food shortages, Paul and the other lads were fed on such “delicacies” as atrocious egg powder – for breakfast. The powder was artificial eggs that were simply too horrible to eat. And we were all given ration books – resulting in many a hard years’ nights! And the Boys were fed cod-liver oil daily. So, times were not easy.

 

However, our local  music halls were the perfect pick-me-ups, where mere working-class mortals could pay a few shillings and escape into the bosom of singers like, “Two Ton” Tessie O’Shea – (dubbed thus because she was an amply endowed performer – who in today’s world would never have been labeled in that somewhat demeaning way). Tessie,  by pure coincidence, shared star billing with The Beatles when they first appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in February l964. Music halls and of course, popular radio comedy shows like The Goon Show, were comedic balm to help soothe all our World War II wounds.  Our happy “escape hatch.”

 

Kessler: The Beatles Revolver LP was released in August of 1966, and several Beatles music experts point out that “Good Day Sunshine” very aptly captured the mood of that magical summer in the UK. In fact, Spignesi and Lewis say that the song’s lyrics “fit the mood, fit the sound, and fit the times.” What events do you recall in the Summer of ’66 that might have inspired this bright and euphoric song?

 

Davis: In the Summer of 1966, I was invited to the Beverly Hills home of actor singer Anthony Newley and his songwriting partner Leslie Bricusse where along with film director Sir Richard Attenborough  (Dickie to us—back then) and legendary celebrity photographer Terry O’Neill, we watched England win the World Cup – beating arch rivals, the Germans. Joy was everywhere, we were all euphoric! We were 6,000 miles from England, but our joy spilled over as Britain  celebrated revenge on those Huns – and the mood in Britain was pure ecstasy.

 

Kessler: Ivor, as a young teen, I remember listening to Revolver and being hard-pressed to find a song that I could “like” on this strange and innovative record. I usually loved anything Lennon, but John’s “She Said She Said” and “Tomorrow Never Knows” were “a bridge too far” for a small-town Southern girl. “Good Day Sunshine” seemed safer and more palatable. As a British foreign correspondent living in L.A. in 1966, what was your reaction to the songs on Revolver and to “Good Day Sunshine” in particular?

 

Davis: “Good Day Sunshine” was indeed so very palatable and uplifting.  Who amongst us, growing up in the chilly and cold climes of the British winters,  would not welcome the warm sun to begin our day?!  I remember that creative Beach Boys boss Brian Wilson, who was in L.A., said that the joyous song inspired him beyond belief. It was, he said, his tonic, because Brian suffered from long running severe depression, and he was quick to acknowledge that after hearing “Sunshine,” he was uplifted and inspired – and immediately sat down to write more joyous music – such as his huge hit, “Good Vibrations.” And, of course, I can understand why “Sunshine” was so much more palatable to a small-town Southern girl like you, Jude! Only recently I learned that “Good Day Sunshine” was the song that was automatically played every morning for isolated residents and astronauts living in U.S. Space Stations – high in the heavens of outer space!

 

Kessler: Now, Ivor, you’re getting ready to re-release your book, The Beatles and Me on Tour, which covers your time with the lads in 1964 and 1965…and several episodes in later years as well. I know you’ve added some new material to the book and many new photos. Since we have you with us, can you give us some hints of what this new material might include? A sneak peek for your Fest Family?

 

Davis: Glad you brought that up! My 60th anniversary edition of The Beatles and Me on Tour contains what I think to be a wonderful potpourri of information – along with some new fabulous photographs from some of the world’s leading Beatles cameramen including Henry Diltz, Harry Benson, Paul Harris, and the late Ron Joy and Curt Gunther. They captured The Beatles in ways no one else did!

 

Here are a few titbits: Paul McCartney and wife Nancy have bought a new “house” in Malibu – for a cool $5 million plus – but you would never guess where it is located! I’ll just say it’s walking distance from Barbra Streisand and Bob Dylan’s Malibu palaces.

 

And would you believe how I literally stumbled on this info? I speak to a bunch of world-famous celebrity entertainers, including Sting, and they told me how they were all so heavily influenced to become stars—by, of course, our very own Fab Four.

 

Then, there’s a wonderful story about the world-famous folk singer who admits she became a “Beatle groupie” —with her eye on John, even though her world-famous boyfriend told The Beatles to keep their hands off her! You’ll enjoy that story, Jude.

 

Kessler: That sounds intriguing! So, tons of new info and photos headed our way in the new book…AND we’re hoping you’ll be at the Chicago Fest to sign copies for each and every one of us, Ivor! Fingers crossed! Until then…thank you very, very much for being with us for the “Good Day Sunshine” blog, and from your Fest family, sincere congratulations on your new release!

 

For more information on Ivor Davis and the upcoming release of his expanded version of The Beatles and Me On Tour, HEAD HERE

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For more information on Jude Southerland Kessler or The John Lennon Series, HEAD HERE

 

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Changin’ Times in Hyper-Drive: Pop Culture in the Summer of ‘66

Our Fest for Beatles Fans in-depth study of Revolver has reached the mid-point. Throughout 2023, we moved song-by-song through the album, enjoying the insights of Beatles music experts, historians, and biographers. Before plunging into Side Two of this transformative LP, we asked the Executive Editor of Beatlefan magazine, Al Sussman, to put Revolver into perspective against the rich backdrop of 1966’s diverse and creative plethora of hit songs, films, and television programs.

 

Al is a lifelong member of our Fest family, and for many years assisted Mark and Carol in the planning of the Fest experience. He also hosted many of the weekend’s panels and events. Furthermore, Al is the author of the respected historical work, Changin’ Times: 101 Days That Changed a Generation about the importance of that unique historical period between 22 November 1963 and 1 March 1964.  

 

With his meticulous, introspective look at history, Al shares his insights into the kaleidoscopic pop culture of 1966. Sit back and enjoy! – Jude Southerland Kessler


Most Beatles fans know that Brian Wilson’s Beach Boys masterpiece Pet Sounds had a major influence on The Beatles, particularly Paul McCartney, and many have seen the photos of the group in the studio perusing the new Rolling Stones LP Aftermath. And of course, The Beatles had a mutual admiration society going with the Byrds and their folk-rock brethren the Lovin’ Spoonful and the Mamas & Papas.

 

The pop culture world of the summer of 1966 was awash with such communal creativity, and much of that was centered in Swinging London, but also in Los Angeles and New York, in the burgeoning scene in San Francisco and in small southern studios in Memphis and Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Indeed, The Beatles flirted with the idea of recording at the Stax studios in Memphis that year but never quite made it happen.

 

The week that the single of “Paperback Writer”/“Rain,” the first release from the sessions that produced Revolver, reached American record stores, the Stones had the No. 1 single with “Paint It, Black,” which featured Brian Jones on sitar – just months after George Harrison had brought that instrument to the pop world on Rubber Soul’s “Norwegian Wood.”

 

But folk-rock was very much a part of the Top 10, with the Spoonful’s “Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind,” the Mamas & Papas’ “Monday Monday” and Simon & Garfunkel’s “I Am A Rock.” West Coast pop craftsmanship was represented by Gary Lewis & the Playboys’ “Green Grass,” which was largely recorded by the L.A. session players known as the Wrecking Crew and arranged by session pro Leon Russell.

 

1966 was arguably soul music’s greatest year, and that Top 10 featured two classic R&B ballads: Percy Sledge’s “When A Man Loves A Woman” and James Brown’s “It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World.” And smack in the middle of the Top 10 was a soon-to-be No. 1 by that standard-bearer for traditional pop music, Frank Sinatra, with “Strangers In the Night.” Indeed, in July, the Chairman of the Board would have a No. 1 single with that song and a chart-topping LP named after the hit.

 

But The Beatles would oust Frank from both perches with their “Paperback Writer” single and the “Yesterday”…And Today album, once the “butcher cover” controversy had subsided and the album was released with the more traditional cover.

 

Unlike the tightly-formatted charts of the 21st Century, musical variety was the hallmark of what one heard on the radio that summer. The album charts were dominated by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. Their What Now My Love LP spent eight weeks at No. 1 that late spring/early summer and, for the week of June 18, Herb and the Brass had three of the Top Five, with Whipped Cream and Other Delights and Going Places also in that Top Five.

 

By mid-July, “Paperback Writer” had been ousted from the top of the charts by a two-year-old recording of a song written by Brill Building songwriters Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich. Tommy James and the Shondells’ recording of “Hanky Panky” suddenly exploded as a result of airplay from a Pittsburgh disc jockey. After topping the charts for a couple of weeks, “Hanky Panky” was dislodged by a slice of in-your-face hard rock. The Troggs’ “Wild Thing” became a rock anthem that Jimi Hendrix would perform the following summer in climaxing the Monterey Pop Festival.

 

The summer of ’66 was the hottest of the decade in the U.S., so it was fitting that the No. 1 single for much of August was the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Summer In The City.” If one wanted to escape the heat and humidity, a visit to a movie theater was a great option, with the fare on the screen nearly as varied as it was on the radio.

 

There was the domestic potboiler film treatment of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, the all-star cast Cold War comedy The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming!, the scenic Born Free, yet another in the series of increasingly bad vehicles for Elvis Presley, Paradise Hawaiian Style, the science fiction adventure film Fantastic Voyage, and a romantic comedy out of Swinging London that made a star out of 30-year-old Michael Caine, Alfie, which also starred Paul McCartney’s then-girlfriend Jane Asher.

 

Television’s three networks were in rerun season during that summer of ’66, but interesting changes were on the horizon. For instance, NBC’s Monday night rock showcase, Hullabaloo, was canceled after a season-and-a-half and was replaced in September by a sitcom about a rock ‘n’ roll band called The Monkees. Modeled after the two Beatles feature films, The Monkees was a pioneering effort in the area of music video, and the group created for the show had tremendous success right from the start, just as some younger, more conservative Beatles fans were becoming disenchanted with that summer’s controversies and the adventurous new Beatles music on Revolver.

 

The Monkees (the show and the group) were a tailor-made alternative, and their first single, “Last Train To Clarksville,” was just starting to get radio airplay in late August, even as The Beatles were finishing up what would be their final tour.

 

It was in the summer of ’66 that rock radio listeners got an alternative to the screaming DJs and pimple cream commercials of Top 40 radio. As a result of a Federal Communications Commission ruling that AM stations could not simulcast their programming on their FM affiliates full time, other forms of programming had to be installed. So, in New York at the end of July, the FM affiliate of WOR began playing rock music but without constant jingles and other characteristics of Top 40. WOR-FM played the current hits but also new music not yet on the charts.

 

For instance, young Janis Ian’s song about interracial dating, “Society’s Child,” which wouldn’t become a hit single until the following year, received heavy exposure on WOR-FM. By that fall, when the station began using on-air personalities, former Top 40 DJs like Murray The K and Scott Muni, WOR-FM became one of the first commercial outlets for an intelligent presentation of rock music

 

But, whichever side of the radio dial was one’s preferred listening form, the summer of ’66 was brimming over with great and lasting music. At any moment, one could hear the likes of Dusty Springfield’s “You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me,” Petula Clark’s “I Couldn’t Live Without Your Love,” the Hollies’ “Bus Stop,” Motown’s “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg” by the Temptations, “Reach Out, I’ll Be There” by the Four Tops and “You Can’t Hurry Love” by the Supremes.

 

Bobby Hebb and the Cyrkle, among the opening acts on that final Beatles tour, each nearly topped the national singles chart with “Sunny” and “Red Rubber Ball,” respectively. There was great soul music from Wilson Pickett (“Land Of 1000 Dances”), Lee Dorsey (“Working In The Coal Mine”), the Capitols (“Cool Jerk”), and Billy Stewart (“Summertime”).

 

A vocal group from New Jersey, the Happenings, put a Four Seasons-style spin on the end-of-summer ’50s hit “See You In September” while the Seasons themselves were re-interpreting Cole Porter’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.”

 

Donovan, who emerged in 1965 as a Dylan-esque folkie, re-emerged with a new pop sound, courtesy of producer Mickie Most, and a chart-topping single with “Sunshine Superman” while Brill Building-trained singer/songwriter Neil Diamond had his breakthrough hit, “Cherry Cherry.” And there was so much more…

 

And, by the second week in September, the No. 1 album in the U.S. was an amazing, transformative LP by The Beatles, awash with creativity from London. Revolver opened a new chapter in their already-revolutionary career.

 

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Revolver Deep Dive Part 7: She Said She Said

Revolver

Side One, Track Six

“She Said She Said”

 

by Jude Southerland Kessler and Christine Feldman-Barrett

 

Through 2023, the Fest for Beatles Fans blog has been enjoying some time well spent with the songs on The Beatles brilliant LP, Revolver. This month, Christine Feldman-Barrett joins Jude Southerland Kessler, the author of The John Lennon Series, for a fresh, new look at one of the most beloved Beatles tracks of all time. Christine Feldman-Barrett is a youth culture historian and Beatles scholar.

 

Originally from the United States, she is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Humanities, Languages and Social Science at Griffith University in Queensland, Australia. She is the author of A Women’s History of the Beatles, which was published with Bloomsbury in 2021 and was awarded the 2022 Open Publication Prize by the Australia-New Zealand branch of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM). Her other publications include “We are the Mods”: A Transnational History of a Youth Subculture (Peter Lang, 2009) and – as editor – Lost Histories of Youth Culture (Peter Lang, 2015) and The Life, Death, and Afterlife of the Record Store: A Global History (Bloomsbury, 2023). Feldman-Barrett and her work have been featured in the Washington Post, the Guardian, the BBC, and ABC radio Australia. She has appeared as a guest on numerous Beatles podcasts and is on the editorial board of The Journal of Beatles Studies, which is published by Liverpool University Press. And best of all, Christine will be at the New York Fest for Beatles Fans, 9-11 February 2024! Come meet her in person!!!

 

 

What’s Standard:

 

Dates Recorded: 21 June 1966

Time Recorded: 7.00 p.m. – 3.45 a.m.

Studio: EMI Studios, Studio 2

Tech Team:

Producer: George Martin

Engineer: Geoff Emerick

Second Engineer: Phil McDonald

 

 In Studio 2, The Beatles worked for 9 (number 9!) hours to record this final song for the Revolver LP. “She Said She Said” came into the session unnamed and unrehearsed. Through 25 takes, the boys assembled all the elements and honed the song. The rhythm track of Take 3 was deemed “best” and onto this, John superimposed his lead vocal…and John and George dubbed in their backing vocals. As Mark Lewisohn explains in The Beatles Recording Sessions, “A reduction mix vacated one of the four tracks where an additional guitar and organ part (played by John) were soon taped.” (p. 84) The role of Paul and the bass line heard on this song will be discussed in the “What’s Changed” segment of this blog.

 

Instrumentation and Musicians:*

John Lennon, the composer, is playing either his 1961 Fender Stratocaster or his 1965 Epiphone ES-230 TD, Casino.

Paul McCartney says he did not sing or play an instrument on this track. (See “What’s Changed”)But many sources still list him as providing the bass on his Rickenbacker 4001S before having an argument with one or more of The Beatles and walking out of the session.

George Harrison is playing either his 1961 Fender Stratocaster with synchronized tremolo, his 1964 Gibson SG Standard with Gibson Maestro Vibrato, or his 1965 Epiphone ES-230TD, Casino with Selmer Bigsby B7 vibrato.

Ringo Starr is playing his 1964 Ludwig Oyster Black Pearl “Super Classic” drum set.

*This information is from Hammack’s The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, 154.

 

Sources: Lewisohn, The Complete Beatles Chronicle, 226, Lewisohn, The Beatles: The Recording Sessions, 84, The Beatles, The Anthology, 209, Margotin and Guesdon, All the Songs, 336-337, Winn, That Magic Feeling, 27-28, Womack, Long and Winding Roads, 142-143, Hammack, The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Vol. 2, 154-156, Rodriguez, Revolver: How The Beatles Reimagined Rock’n’Roll, 149-151,  Turner, A Hard Day’s Write, 111, Davies, The Beatles Lyrics, 164-165, Miles, Many Years From Now, 288, Spizer, The Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records, 215, Spizer, The Beatles Rubber Soul to Revolver, 219, MacDonald, Revolution in the Head, 168-169, Mellers, Twilight of the Gods, 75-6, Spignesi and Lewis, 100 Best Beatles Songs,186-188, Spitz, 581, and Riley, Tell Me Why, 188-189.

 

What’s Changed:

 

  1. Experimentation with Meter – A month ago, if someone had asked me which Beatle most experimented with meter and tempo changes, I would have swiftly responded, “Oh, Paul McCartney.” But as it turns out, that is not true. Here are the songs in which John Lennon experimented with meter change: “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite,” (4/4 in the verses, 3/4 waltz in the instrumental bridge), “All You Need is Love,” (intricately alternates between 4/4 and 3/4), and “Across the Universe” (Verse One is 4/4 until it reaches the last bit of the verse, “across the universe,” and that is 5/4. Verse Four repeats almost the same thing but this time the words “way across the universe” are in 5/4.) Of course, John also employed myriad meter changes in “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” and “Happiness is a Warm Gun” (2/4, 3/4, and 4/4!!!)

 

Two of the earliest Lennon/McCartney songs to dabble in meter change were “We Can Work it Out” (recorded during 20 October 1965) and “She Said She Said” from June of 1966. As Ian MacDonald points out in Revolution in the Head, “She Said She Said” is “rhythmically one of the most irregular things Lennon ever wrote.” (p. 169) It not only features a signature change into 3/4 during the “She said, ‘You don’t understand what I said.’ I said, ‘No, no, no, you’re wrong,’” portion of the song. The disjointed, otherworldly sensation of a hazy dream state or an LSD fog – accentuated by the eerie consideration of “what it’s like to be dead” – manifests in an erratic, herky-jerky zombie-esque arrangement. Dreamlike – nightmarish, really – the strange tempo pushes and pulls, threatening to obliterate sanity. It’s a powerful tool placed alongside the unusual instrumentation and The Beatles’ vocal elements.

 

  1. Possible Limited McCartney Input – Although “She Said She Said” was the closing track for Side One of Revolver, it was actually the final song recorded for the LP. The Beatles had begun work on Revolver on Wednesday, 6 April 1966, (Lewisohn, The Beatles: The Recording Sessions, 70) and they’d been working quite closely together, hours on end for almost four months. So, it’s no surprise that on this final evening, tensions were running high. Paul recalls, “I think we’d had a barney or something, and I said, ‘Oh, fuck you!’ and they said, ‘Well, we’ll do it.’ I think George played bass.” (Margotin and Guesdon, 337) Note: In The Beatles Lyrics, Hunter Davies qualifies this by saying, “…Paul does not appear on that track, not as a singer anyway, though he might have added a bit of bass afterwards.” (p. 164)

 

However, John C. Winn in That Magic Feeling states, “Paul became the first Beatle to walk out on a session when he had an unspecified argument with the others, although not before contributing to the rhythm track.” Hammack in The Beatles Recording Reference Manual agrees, saying that on the 21st of June, “Take 3 was best, and a good thing, too, because afterwards, McCartney got in a fight with Lennon and left the studio.” (p. 154) But in Many Years From Now, Paul firmly states that he did not perform on the track: “I think it was one of the only Beatles records I never played on.” (Miles, 288) Did he, or didn’t he? This shall remain one of the great mysteries of Beatles history.

 

  1. Lyrics by Lennon and Harrison – On 21 June 1966, in an interview with Melody Maker (which would appear in the magazine on the 25th) John revealed that he still had one song to record for the new LP, but that he had only written “about three lines so far.” George Harrison recalls trekking over to Kenwood during that time frame to help John “wrap up the composition.” George recalls that he suggested John incorporate a waltz-tempo fragment of a song (“When I was a boy, everything was ri-ight/Everything was ri-ight…”) that John had formerly created and had left unused. George says they worked together to link this song fragment to the rest of “She Said She Said.” (Winn, That Magic Feeling, 27)

 

  1. A “Story” Version of Lennon’s Lifelong Theme – John insisted that while Paul wrote “songs about other things,” John mainly wrote about himself. And in “She Said She Said,” John is still focusing on his autobiographical pain: the devastation that death leaves in its wake, the chaos of sorrow and loss. However, in “She Said She Said,” John shares this torment via the story of a woman whom he supposedly encounters…a strange female who tells him that she “knows what it’s like to be dead,” that she “knows what it is to be sad” – a woman who makes him feel as if he’s “never been born.” In Twilight of the Gods, Mellers admits that this appears to be an older woman, perhaps “an aunt or mother.”

 

Indeed, although the line, “I know what it is to be dead” was inspired by a comment from Peter Fonda at a 1965 Los Angeles pool party, Fonda has nothing to do with the subject of this song. John is once again singing his heart, bemoaning the devastating loss of Julia Lennon, “the girl in a million my friend.” But here – for the first time – he is doing so in a narrative format. In this story-song, the familiar woman who rules his entire musical catalog appears as surreal: as a ghost, a spirit, or a figment of his imagination.

 

This is unique territory for John, who up to this point has stuck very closely and literally to the poignant narrative of Julia’s loss twice in his life: first, when he was separated from her in childhood and later, when as a teenager he lost her a second time, to death.  In “Help!,” “I’ll Cry Instead,” “Not A Second Time,” “(You’ve Got To) Hide Your Love Away,” “Nowhere Man,” “I’m A Loser,” “Julia,” and so many more, John consistently poured out his heartbreaking tale without imaginative embellishment. But here, the old story – no less painful in an artful form – is entangled in the bizarre trappings of a dream state. The same fears, pain, and anguish are merely housed in a unique presentation.

 

A Fresh New Look:

 

It was a joy to work “across the universe” (she, in Australia and I, in Louisiana) with Dr. Christine Feldman-Barrett to trace the musical and storyline innovations inherent in Lennon’s brilliant “She Said She Said.” Christine will be at the February 9-11, 2024 New York Fest for Beatles Fans to share her respected work on A Women’s History of The Beatles. We welcome Christine to the Fest Blog and can’t wait to hear her speak in just a few months!

 

 

Jude Southerland Kessler: “She Said She Said” has been called one of John’s most revealing biographical songs. Tim Riley in Tell Me Why states, “the singer is wrestling with feelings he barely understands – inadequacy, helplessness and a profound fear. Because Lennon so obviously feels these emotions as he plays and sings them, the music is a direct connection to his psyche.” (p. 188)  What is your reaction to this assessment?

 

Christine Feldman-Barrett: Unless someone had insider information at the time, no one in The Beatles’ audience circa 1966 would have known that the song was about one of John’s first LSD experiences – nor that that some of its lyrical content was about a ‘he,’ namely, actor Peter Fonda. Instead, what comes through in the lyrics is very much a sense of emotional confusion. That feeling is certainly key to the words of “She Said She Said.” However, there’s also an element of intellectual detachment to the narrator’s telling of this story. Unlike 1965’s “Help!,” which is lyrically direct in showcasing Lennon’s vulnerability, “She Said She Said” is very much head over heart. Needless to say, a “heady” reading of the song makes perfect sense once listeners know it’s about John Lennon taking a hallucinogenic drug.

 

The track’s psychedelic origin story aside, what’s especially interesting upon first listen is that it seems the narrator is having a deep and meaningful – if also somewhat esoteric – conversation with a woman. I don’t think I had ever encountered that kind of male-female dialogue in a song before I listened to “She Said She Said.” And though the “he said” parts of the lyrics are seemingly critical of what the woman is saying, the man in the song is nonetheless hooked into this conversation for a while (until, that is, “he’s ready to leave”). As Jacqueline Warwick states in her 2002 book chapter, “I’m Eleanor Rigby: Female Identity and Revolver,” the song seems to be about “a woman who will not stop talking and a man who doesn’t want to listen (but has difficulty tearing himself away).” (p. 61)The fact that something “she” says makes the song’s male protagonist want to question his existence was something completely different to my young ears in 1979, and it is definitely something that would have been atypical for a rock song in 1966.

 

Even when I was a child listening to this track, I liked the idea that the woman in the song – and her purpose within the lyrical story – is unusual, mysterious. She does not come across as a love interest, as would hold true for other, earlier Beatles songs or songs by other artists circa 1965 or 1966. Instead, this woman is an enigmatic character who wants to discuss life and death with her conversation partner – even if it upsets him – and even if it makes him question his entire sense of self and the world as he knows it.

 

Along these lines – with a conflict between man and woman in the lyrics – I also think about how Cynthia Lennon’s 2005 memoir John addresses how her husband’s LSD use affected their marriage. Cynthia had no interest in the drug and found it frightening while John found it profoundly life changing and affirming – maybe because it brought him out of his “known self” or challenged his sense of himself as a Beatle. In Cynthia’s estimation, however, LSD drove a wedge through their marriage (see, for example, her thoughts on this in Chapter 13 of John). If John’s perspective of himself and the world was forever altered, it created a new type of relational space in which Cynthia likely felt she no longer truly belonged.

 

Kessler: Christine, the closing song on Side One of a Beatles LP was traditionally something rather remarkable. On Please Please Me, it was the title track, “Please Please Me.” On A Hard Day’s Night, it was the Ivor Novello award-winning, “Can’t Buy Me Love.” On Help!, the closer was “Ticket to Ride.” What elements of “She Said She Said,” in your opinion, recommend it into this pivotal position on Revolver?

 

Feldman-Barrett: That’s a great question. It makes me think about how the other closing track on Revolver, “Tomorrow Never Knows,” is the one that often vies for the spot of “Best Beatles Song” (alongside “A Day in the Life”) in most rankings and lists I’ve come across. But for my money, “She Said She Said” should be near the top as well. One of the reasons it’s remarkable is because The Beatles – John first and foremost – are trying to sonically achieve something really very difficult with this song: relaying the experiences of an acid trip.

 

While we take the notion of “psychedelic rock” for granted today, the idea of replicating such a singular experience in musical form could not have felt straightforward or easy. While Lennon was able to describe to George Martin the sound and feel he wanted for “Tomorrow Never Knows” (i.e., monks chanting from atop a mountain) – and he had Paul’s tape loops to assist – how would it be possible for just guitars, drums, and vocals to aurally mirror LSD’s effects? Though I have never taken LSD myself, reading anecdotes about acid trips and having had others share their experiences of them with me, it’s clear that this song is trying to create a sonic representation of something that is often described as comprising many visual sensations and hallucinations. For example, in The Beatles as Musicians: Revolver through Anthology (1999), Walter Everett theorizes that the lead guitar’s echoing of the vocal melody throughout the song is a motif meant to intimate the visual trails that are said to occur while taking LSD. (p. 66) Moreover, the unusual and changing rhythms of the song – clearly led by Ringo’s drumming – seem to capture the oddity of time itself while tripping.

 

While all music deals with and works within time signatures, trying to get the feeling of psychedelic time distortion just right – and without the whole song falling apart – is such an interesting thing for The Beatles to have attempted here. And the fact that it’s mostly achieved through just their playing and singing – without any overt studio tricks like with “Tomorrow Never Knows” – is phenomenal. For all these reasons, “She Said She Said” definitely deserves this pivotal position on the Revolver LP.

 

Kessler: Christine, this was the final song recorded for Revolver, and Ian MacDonald says “Lennon pull[ed] off a last-minute coup with this track, going some way towards evening up the score in his on-going competition with McCartney.” (Revolution in the Head, 169) Although Paul has more songs to his credit on the LP than John does, MacDonald says, “‘She Said She Said’ is the outstanding track on Revolver.” (p. 169) Your reaction?

 

Feldman-Barrett: I absolutely agree with Ian MacDonald’s reading of “She Said She Said,” and I am always surprised when I hear Beatles aficionados dismiss it as a kind of throwaway track. I know that for some, this has to do with the claim that Paul didn’t play bass on it (though the claim is disputed). In any case, that dismissive view of this song is difficult for me to understand. Then again, I am a particular fan of The Beatles’ late ’65 to early ’67 sound, and – to me – this song typifies everything I love about that period of their music-making.

 

It’s clear that McCartney’s songs on Revolver are magnificent examples of his artistry in so many ways – and that he was really growing as a songwriter with this album – but when I think of Revolver – I tend to think of John’s songs first, with “She Said She Said” and “Tomorrow Never Knows” the two that immediately spring to mind. They are both oddly thought-provoking and memorable. While Paul’s songs on Revolver are filled with pathos and are finely crafted “story songs,” I find the otherworldly aural beauty of Lennon’s contributions more intriguing listen after listen. And of all the “John songs” on Revolver, “She Said She Said” is the ultimate earworm. Its melody is nothing short of addictive. Little wonder that MacDonald also suggests Lennon is at his creative peak with The Beatles during this time. His songs on Revolver – though fewer in number than those led by McCartney – are landmark moments in rock music history due to their sheer inventiveness.

 

Kessler: Christine, when this song debuted, I was a pre-teen living in small-town North Louisiana, and I remember being utterly bewildered by the track. Now, thanks in large part to Robert Rodriguez’s book Revolver: How The Beatles Re-Imagined Rock’n’Roll, I can appreciate the layered artistry of the work. But it still isn’t one of my favorite Beatles songs. How did you respond when you first encountered “She Said She Said,” and how do you see it now?

 

Feldman-Barrett: I was  seven (almost eight) years old when I first heard this song in 1979, and I loved it straight away. As an adult looking back on this moment, my initially enthusiastic first reaction to “She Said She Said” kind of  bewilders me on the one hand, as it doesn’t seem the kind of Beatles track a little girl listening to Revolver would necessarily enjoy. On the other hand, I’ve always been drawn to a jangly guitar sound, which is so prominent in this song. I know it’s been said that this was the Byrds’ influence on the song, but I don’t think I had heard the Byrds’ music yet by this time.

 

In any case, George’s lead guitar line, which opens the track, commanded my attention to such a degree that I could not help but be intrigued by the rest of the song. Also, while the song showcases a dramatic change in rhythm and meter, it’s nonetheless always been a Beatles song that makes me want to get up and dance. The lyrical content of “She Said She Said” was not something I thought much about until I was a teenager. Being part of the Goth subculture during those years – and a Goth who hadn’t abandoned The Beatles – I know the brooding, existentially angsty nature of the song’s lyrics was definitely appealing. Despite its attractiveness to me at that time, “She Said She Said” is a  song that has traveled really well with me throughout my life. It always gels with or complements other music I enjoy.

 

Since my sister held onto the Revolver LP she bought for us in 1979, I ended up buying it on CD soon after watching The Beatles Anthology when it first aired on American TV in November 1995. I’d play “She Said She Said” on repeat in my car driving around Los Angeles, which is where I lived at the time. Since the song’s origin story took place in LA, I suppose that was fitting  – but, mainly, it made sense that I wanted to hear it a lot, given that I was also listening to Britpop bands like Oasis and Blur. There’s such a clear A-to-B line from “She Said She Said” to the sound of those bands, most all of whom cite The Beatles as one of their greatest inspirations. And it still remains my favorite Beatles song. There’s something magical about The Beatles’ early psychedelic songs that make me return to them again and again. For me, “She Said She Said” has all the elements that make me love their mid-period sound best: catchy guitar lines, inventive drumming, and vocal melodies that always makes me want to sing along.

 

For more information on Christine Feldman-Barrett, HEAD HERE or HEAD HERE

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For more information on Jude Southerland Kessler and The John Lennon Series, HEAD HERE

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Revolver Deep Dive Part 6: Yellow Submarine

Revolver

Side One, Track Six

We  Dive  Deep  With  A  “Yellow Submarine”

 

by Jude Southerland Kessler, Laura Cortner, and Dr. Bob Hieronimus

 

Through 2023, the Fest for Beatles Fans blog has been enjoying some time well spent with the songs on The Beatles brilliant LP, Revolver. This month, Laura Cortner and Dr. Bob Hieronimus, authors of Inside The Yellow Submarine and It’s All in the Mind: Inside The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine, Vol. 2 join Jude Southerland Kessler, the author of The John Lennon Series, for a fresh, new look one of the most beloved Beatles tracks of all time. Laura and Bob have collaborated on several books that have been translated into multiple languages. In addition to their research into the Yellow Submarine, their titles include Founding Fathers, Secret Societies (2006), United Symbolism of America (2008) and Secret Life of Lady Liberty: Goddess in the New World (2016). As an artist and symbologist, Robert R. Hieronimus, Ph.D., has been on a mission since 1968 to discover the hidden reality behind The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine, and he has lectured on the subject around the world including at Abbey Road Studios in London. His doctoral research on the symbolism of the Reverse of the Great Seal of the United States has been used by the White House, State Department, Department of the Interior, and published in the Congressional Record, and his radio interview program, 21st Century Radio®, exploring consciousness and alternate realities, has been on the air since 1988.

 

 

What’s Standard:

 

Dates Recorded: 26 May 1966

Time Recorded: 7.00 p.m. – 1.00 a.m.

Studio: EMI Studios, Studio 3

In 4 takes, a basic rhythm track was recorded featuring Ringo on drums, John on the Gibson Jumbo, Paul on bass and George on tambourine. Ringo’s lead vocal and the backing vocals provided by his mates were overdubbed onto this fourth “best” take.

Tech Team

Note: On this night, George Martin was absent due to food poisoning. However, he sent his soon-to-be wife Judy Lockhart-Smith to make sure The Beatles had all they required.

Producer: Geoff Emerick

Engineer: Geoff Emerick

Second Engineer: Phil McDonald

 

Date Recorded: 1 June 1966

Time Recorded: 2.30 p.m. – 2.30 a.m.

Studio: In Studio 2, The Beatles were joined by Brian Jones and Mick Jagger, Marianne Faithfull (Jagger’s girlfriend), Pattie Boyd Harrison, Beatles chauffeur Alf Bicknell, Mal Evans and Neil Aspinall, and of course, George Martin, Terry Condon, and John Skinner “mucking in and making all manner of noises” (as Mark Lewisohn phrased it in The Complete Beatles Chronicle, 223) to enhance the basic track with vocal embellishments. These included John’s superimposed “nautical” voices and a whole host of special trappings from the EMI sound effect boxes.

Tech Team

Producer: George Martin

Engineer: Geoff Emerick

Second Engineer: Phil McDonald

 

Instrumentation and Musicians:*

Paul McCartney, the composer, played bass on his 1964 Rickenbacker 4001S and sang backing vocals.

John Lennon, who also contributed to the song’s creation, as you will see in the “Fresh, New Look segment,” played rhythm guitar on his 1964 Gibson J-160-E acoustic and sang backing vocals. He supplied spoken vocal superimpositions on 1 June.

George Harrison sang backing vocals and played tambourine.

Ringo Starr wrote “about 5 words” of the song, sang lead vocal and played his 1964 Ludwig Oyster Black Pearl “Super Classic” drum set.

*This information (with the exception of the information about Lennon’s lyrics) is from Hammack’s The Beatles Recording Reference  Manual, Vol. 2, 141.

 

Sources: Lewisohn, The Complete Beatles Chronicle, 223-224, Lewisohn, The Recording Sessions, 80-81, Margotin and Guesdon, All the Songs, 334-335, Winn, That Magic Feeling, 22-23, Womack, Long and Winding Roads, 140-141, Hammack, The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Vol. 2, 141-143, Turner, A Hard Day’s Write, 108-109, Davies, The Beatles Lyrics, 162-163, Spizer, The Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records, 214, Spizer, The Beatles Rubber Soul to Revolver, 217, MacDonald, Revolution in the Head, 165, Mellers, Twilight of the Gods, 75, Kruth, This Bird Has Flown, 154, Riley, Tell Me Why, 187-188, and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbara_Moore_(vegetarian_activist)

 

What’s Changed:

 

  1. A True Group Effort – Another genius of the 1960s, Ray Kroc (the founder of McDonald’s) once said, “None of us is as good as all of us.” And that adage is proven by the creative dibs and dabs contributed by The Beatles (and friends) to complete “Yellow Submarine.” The song has always been attributed primarily to Paul – coming to him in a dream (as did his “Yesterday”). But in our “Fresh, New Look Segment,” Laura Cortner and Dr. Bob Hieronimus add to our knowledge of this subject.

 

Furthermore, a plethora of musicians and friends added special flourishes to the song. Ringo gifted Paul the line “Every one of us has all we need.” John suggested repeating the lyrics, in Goon fashion, of the third couplet; he also wrote the introductory poem (later discarded). Donovan says that one evening Paul stopped by his house, asking for a couple of suggestions for the closing lines of the song, and Donovan accommodated with: “Sky of blue, sea of green.” Then, as Laura and Dr. Bob will tell us in more detail, The Beatles threw a fête in studio to happily trim the song in a bevy of uncommon sound effects. Truly, this song came to life “with a little help” from Paul’s friends.

 

  1. A Recurring Sense of Nostalgia – 1965 and 1966 were successful, hectic, creative, and remarkable years for John, Paul, George, and Ringo. But those days were also harried, unrelenting, and beleaguered. And as the four young men persevered, they began to reflect on their past and write about the “good ole days” – the simpler times. “When I was younger, so much younger than today/I never needed anybody’s help in any way,” John reflected in “Help!” Just a few months later, on the Rubber Soul LP, he reminisced: “There are places I remember/All my life, though some have changed.” And here, in “Yellow Submarine,” Paul looks back to the unpretentious joys of “little girl and boy land,” recalling his childhood in the seaport of Liverpool. “Yellow Submarine” is loaded with colorful images of imagination, play, and innocent joy.

 

In Twilight of the Gods, Mellers comments that “the music [of ‘Yellow Submarine’] has a talismantic function, recalling a Liverpool childhood” that all four boys shared. He reminds us that in the song, “The departure for the Sea of Dreams is from Liverpool Pier Head.” (p. 75) Increasingly in 1966, The Beatles longed for the lost magic of childhood: the thickly limbed trees of Strawberry Field, the busy hum of the Penny Lane roundabout, the Docker’s Umbrella (the overhead railway under which workers used to gather during the rain), and the choppy, green Mersey giving way to the Irish Sea. As the pressures of Beatlemania and the music industry bore down upon the lads, those halcyon days of “yesterday” when all their problems “seemed so far away” increasingly became a safe haven.

 

  1. A Discarded Introductory “Verse Melody” – So much is unique in “Yellow Submarine” that we’re not at all surprised to discover that the original version of this song began with a poem or a “verse melody” as John C. Winn calls it in That Magic Feeling, 22. This unusual intro was written by John in the style of In His Own Write or A Spaniard in the Works and then read on the recording by Ringo. The ditty was a tribute to Dr. Barbara Moore, who in 1960 completed a rather remarkable walk for charity from John O’Groats to Land’s End in 23 days. (MacDonald, 165) Originally, the song began with Ringo reading: “Yellow Submarine. And we will march till three the day to see them gathered there. From Land O’Groats to John O’ Green, with Stepney do we tread. To see a yellow submarine. We love it.” (In The Beatles Rubber Soul to Revolver, p. 217, Spizer notes that the next to last line of lyrics are: “to see his yellow submarine.”) You can hear this discarded introduction on the “Real Love” Maxi CD single.

 

  1. Song Released Simultaneously as a Single and as a Track on a Beatles LP – “Yellow Submarine” was released as a double-sided A-track single with “Eleanor Rigby” whilst also filling the fourth track slot on Side One of Revolver. This practice was very rare; however, it wasn’t the first time that The Beatles had placed a single on an LP.

 

In The Beatles Rubber Soul to Revolver Bruce Spizer points out that the boys had released “A Hard Day’s Night” on a single as well an including it in the LP by that name. But he goes on to say, “What made the ‘Yellow Submarine’ c/w ‘Eleanor Rigby’ single so different was it was not plugging a film. In addition, the decision by EMI to release the ‘Yellow Submarine’ single was made after Capitol Records had already decided to release the songs as a single. The Beatles did not object because by that time they were tired of other artists scoring hits from their album tracks. After all, ‘Michelle’ by the Overlanders went to Number One in the U.K. As George Harrison put it: ‘We just thought we may as well put it out instead of sitting back and seeing dozens of cover versions all getting hits. Well, we might as well cop the hit as well as anybody else.’”

 

  1. A Children’s Song For Us All – Although the appeal of “Yellow Submarine” is ageless and universal, Paul’s original intent was to write a children’s song. Hunter Davies points out that Paul intentionally employed “short words and short sentences, so that children would easily be able to learn it.” (Beatles Lyrics, 163) For me, Paul’s success in doing precisely that was, “measured out in years” a little over three decades later. In September of 2001, I lived in Morrisville, PA, located about 40 miles from Ground Zero, New York City. The pilot of the second plane that hit the Twin Towers resided one street over from my house, and our town (like every town in America) was completely devastated. Silent. In mourning.

 

In the stillness that covered everything – especially without the accustomed sound of planes winging overhead – I set out to paint my deck. It was work I would have ordinarily enjoyed with music booming in the background. But in those days, everything was eerily quiet.

 

And then I heard it…from two doors down…the sound of children playing in an autumn backyard. Children “ringing around the rosie” or skipping rope or engaging in some other fond, old ritual that required a happily-metered backdrop. At first, their song was hushed, but as they sang, the sound swelled and danced and found its way to me.

 

Tears filling my eyes, I stopped painting, paused, and listened:

 

“We all live in a yellow submarine,

Yellow submarine, yellow submarine…”

 

And there it was: the sound of hope. The sound of the world rallying. The sound of The Beatles reminding us all that over loss and fear and tragedy and even grief, peace prevails.

 

I realize that through the years The Beatles must have heard his song covered by the best of the best. But I would have given anything for them to be there on that emotion-filled afternoon…to hear those children in joyful chorus. Still today, when someone mentions 9/11, I flash back to that backyard moment when the aching sadness of those lonely weeks was lifted and once again, I began to believe in a world “where everyone of us has all we need.” The Beatles had created a “children’s song” for the child in all of us.

 

A Fresh New Look:

 

Recently, we sat down with Fest friends and noted authors Dr. Bob Hieronimus and Laura Cortner to discover what is going on behind the scenes in “Yellow Submarine.”

 

Jude Southerland Kessler: Laura and Bob, to me this seems to be the third song in a trilogy of songs about Liverpool, the other two being “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane.” The latter songs are set in the suburbs of Woolton, where John and Paul grew up. (Paul was from Allerton, which is quite close by.) But “Yellow Submarine” is so attuned to Liverpool. Do you see that connection?

 

Laura Cortner and Dr. Bob Hieronimus: Yes! But your question is prescient because now we can see the connection even more clearly since the release of the box set of Revolver last year.  One of the most talked about outtakes in the 50th anniversary of the Revolver album was the new version of the song “Yellow Submarine.”  This work tape had never been heard before: it had never been bootlegged; it had not even been rumored about.  What is astonishing is the revelation that “Yellow Submarine” is not entirely a Paul song as we have all believed up until now. I think even Paul and John remembered it wrong themselves.  This song started as one of those amazing collaborations that the two of them did so well, combining one song fragment John was working on, together with another, seemingly unrelated song fragment that Paul was working on. Somehow, with that particular Beatles magic, the combination and the result is a much greater sum than the parts.  John contributed the familiar melody we know from the beginning of “Yellow Submarine” and the first few words, but he was headed into a minor key with very personal lyrics:

 

“In the place

Where I was born

No one cared

No one cared

 

”In the town

Where I come from

No one cared

No one cared…”

 

Listening to these outtakes can change your feelings about this song “Yellow Submarine,” and as you say, you immediately hear it as a song about Liverpool. The fact that they joined this snippet to a child-like sea shanty that Paul was working on about a yellow submarine further compliments your theory. Ringo’s lead vocals with his strong accent creates an echo back to the folk songs the lads must have heard from the sailors on the docks surrounding their childhood homes.

 

Producer Giles Martin was as astounded as anyone to discover these new work tapes.  He enjoyed mostly the sharing and collaboration dynamic, which he points out is even more prevalent “on the next album, Sgt. Pepper’s, where Paul has this endless enthusiasm of singing, ‘It’s getting better all the time’ and John sings, ‘It can’t get much worse’ back. [laughs] That’s the way they were. And I think that this whole [Revolver] album is them being individuals, but they have complete empathy for each other’s talents and they’re not challenged by their individuality, if that makes sense.”

 

Rolling Stone’s reporting on this surprising discovery last October uncovered a 1966 radio interview that verifies it was a collaborative song: “I seem to remember, like, the submarine,” John tells Paul. “The chorus bit, you coming in with it. And wasn’t the other bit something that I had already got going, and we put them together?” Paul agrees, “Right. Yeah.”

 

 

To us, as experts in the film Yellow Submarine, John’s melancholy lyrics remind us of “Nowhere Man” and “Strawberry Fields.” Their haunting tone makes us wonder what would have happened if…. If John had kept working on his song, instead of handing it over to Paul to transform into a jaunty children’s song, we quite possibly might never have had a Yellow Submarine movie!

 

***Footnote: You can hear John and Paul working on “Yellow Submarine,” inventing their beautiful harmonies, and revealing chit chat HERE and HERE on The Beatles’ YouTube channel.

 

 

Kessler: Guys, please tell us a bit about the “mad cast party” that The Beatles threw to enhance their song with colorful characters and sound effect realism. Who did what and where and when? And why?

 

Cortner and Hieronimus: As we say, we are experts in the film, but of course it all began with the song; so, when we wrote volume one of our now two-volume set on who made the film, we were fortunate to land several in-depth interviews with Sir George Martin to talk about the score. He took us track-by-track through the B-side of the album, which features his own orchestral compositions. It’s fascinating to hear him describe the state of film he was given from the animation production company TVC throughout those few rushed months of the film’s production. Sir George really pitched in with his time and considerable talent to help out the struggling team of artists who were getting almost no support from their heroes The Beatles as they toiled away, cramped over their drawing tables.

 

Sir George also gave us his own personal memories of what he called the “good, good fun” of recording the song “Yellow Submarine.”

 

“It was very much a bootlace affair. Abbey Road in those days was a fairly primitive place by today’s standards. In those days, of course, there were no such things as samplers or digital effects or even tape cassettes. You’d use recorded effects, and they’d generally have to come off discs. We tried to make our own, and we used to have all sorts of things. The trap room at Studio Two was under the stairs that went down into the studio. It was full of general sorts of percussion instruments, like you get in the kitchen of a symphony. There were tambourines, and the odd gong and that kind of thing, and all sorts of weird things, whistles and even a little cupboard with a door that opened and shut. It was really a junkyard more than anything else. It was like an old-fashioned antique shop with lots of little pieces and bits of pieces. You didn’t know what they did. What we used to do was to make up our effects as we went along. In “Yellow Submarine” we used chains and all sorts of bowls and things. Of course, we used bowls of water, and bottles with straws, blowing them into the water to get the effect of submarines surfacing, that kind of thing. It was nice to do because we were all being very inventive. It was fun. It was like a party almost!”

 

In Mark Lewisohn’s book The Beatles Recording Sessions: The Official Abbey Road Studio Session Notes, 1962-1970, engineer Geoff Emerick remembers some of the trap room items as: “chains, ship’s bells, hand bells, tap dancing mats, whistles, hooters, wind machines, thunderstorm machines, and a metal bath filled with water in which metal chains were swirled about.” Although no official log of who was present survived, Sir George remembered some of the Rolling Stones and possibly Brian Jones, and Mrs. Martin-to-be, now Lady Judy. Geoff Emerick remembered Brian Jones, Marianne Faithfull, Patti Harrison, George Martin, Neil Aspinall, and Mal Evans.

 

We interviewed Lewisohn for our volume one Inside The Yellow Submarine, where he told us: “It was pretty much everyone who was around in the studio that day, the first of June, 1966. From what I can gather, listening to the tapes, it was just a bit of a free-for-all. That included the Beatles’ assistants, Neil Aspinall and Mal Evans, and the people who worked at the studios, even the people who run security at the front desk. They came down and helped add to the sound effects. They were all encouraged to march around the studio and pick up anything they could find that would make a noise and generally join in the fun of the thing, which sounded pretty good to me listening to the tapes. What you don’t get when you listen to the tapes is the identity of all the people who were there. Ken Townsend remembered Mal Evans marching around the studio wearing a huge bass drum on his chest, with everyone else in line behind him, conga-style, singing “We all live in a Yellow Submarine!”

 

 

Kessler: John Lennon pours his own zany flavour into the “Yellow Submarine” mix – his unique comedy rooted in The Goons. Who were the Goons and how did their wit influence this song?

 

Cortner and Hieronimus: We were really interested in the Goons/Beatles connection in particular because it revealed the source behind the film’s tag line “It’s all in the mind, y’know,” featured prominently on the U.S. poster for the film Yellow Submarine.

 

“It’s all in the mind, you know,” is first heard inside The Beatles’ strange house when George Harrison’s character demonstrates what it means by changing our perception of the color of the car he is driving. This manipulation completely befuddles Ringo who is relying too much on physical reality as the ultimate truth.

 

It’s commonly agreed The Beatles had picked up the phrase “It’s all in the mind” from listening to the Goons, popular on British radio broadcasting in the post-World War II era. The Goons would often use it as the punchline to the end of a zany skit. Radio as an entertainment medium really took off after WWII, and listeners engaged with their imaginations set free, where on radio, it was all in the mind.

 

“The Goons” were Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers and Harry Secombe, who developed a loud, boisterous radio show full of the similarly sharp and witty humor that set The Beatles apart in their early days. Think of The Beatles’ Christmas messages to their fans – very Goon-like. In his memoir, The Last Goon Show of All, Spike Milligan explained why they repeated that phrase so often: “It’s all in the mind, you know…. That was what ‘The Goon Show’ was – all in the mind. We used to pack so much energy into a show, and all our ideas and thoughts went into the show, everything we had. We were just so keen to let people hear what was going on in our minds. This crazy sort of strange fantasy that used to take place in our minds.”

 

In a later quote, he observed how the public reacted to them, in a description that could have been stated by one of The Beatles (except for the last bit): “It’s amazing because people have read into ‘The Goon Show’ far more than there was. It was the product of a number of minds of youngsters who all had a similar experience of the appalling things in war. It was that hatred of pomposity. We were heretics. It wasn’t the age of hype. We never had T-shirts or mugs or paraphernalia. Totally unexploited, but it made it very pure in a way. It made it unsullied by commerciality.”

 

So, to answer your question, I’m not sure that the wit of the Goons specifically influenced the song “Yellow Submarine,” but their style of humor and their exaggerated use of the sound effect to paint imagination pictures was certainly something that The Beatles absorbed and learned from and turned into their own.

 

Kessler: Of course, there are always people who will claim that any Beatles song featuring imaginative imagery is written about drugs. Paul flatly denied this claim (even though he had no qualms whatsoever about saying that “Got to Get You Into My Life” referenced marijuana). Is there any solid evidence to convince us that “Yellow Submarine” was a thinly-veiled promotion for drug usage?

 

Cortner and Hieronimus: We addressed this question in depth in both volumes of our Yellow Submarine books because the film, even more than the song, attracted this conspiracy theory. We found it the one rumor that was both furthest from the truth and the hardest to squelch: that the Yellow Submarine was made on drugs as a message to encourage the listener or viewer to do the same.

 

In so many reviews of the Yellow Submarine film, you’ll read the conjecture that the artists must have been tripping when they made this film. And yet, if you know anything about how exacting the skill of animation was in the late 1960s, then you know it’s not possible to perform while high or tripping. Some of the pens were as fine as a human hair, and the artists had to have a steady hand. You’ve read our books, so you know we enjoy a good conjecture as much as anyone, but when it comes to the theory that either the song or the movie was designed to promote drug usage, we do draw the line.

 

The 1966 Revolver album was the first to contain songs that were not overtly love songs, in particular “Nowhere Man” and “Yellow Submarine.” “Yellow Submarine” was such a departure from the lyrics of a traditional pop song – it was more an attempt at a mythology or a sea shanty, as you pointed out – that it set many fans to wondering. It is probably one of the most overly-analyzed songs in Beatles history. Long before the film came out, therefore, “Yellow Submarine” was the subject of much fan speculation about hidden meanings. Many listeners decided a song about a yellow submarine must be a veiled reference to Nembutal, a popular barbiturate that came in a yellow capsule. The yellow submarine resembled a pill capsule and therefore must be a reference to the hallucinogenic drugs that would “take you to Pepperland.” They then transposed this idea to the conclusion that The Beatles were giving their blessing to the drug culture.

 

The rumor linking drugs to the Yellow Submarine carried over to the film in 1968. There was certainly marijuana smoked by the overnight Trace and Paint department, which was largely staffed by art students bussed in to do the job, but the main creative staff did not imbibe anything stronger than alcohol, though admittedly, quite a bit of that. Designer Heinz Edelmann’s daughter remembers him telling her with some condescension that he would never try LSD, “because it was a ‘white-collar drug.’ The blue-collar thing really meant something to him.”

 

But Edelmann did consciously attempt to recreate the psychedelic experience of a hallucinatory trip, as he told us in some detail. Even though he had never experimented with anything stronger than whiskey himself, he was well-read. One of his fondest John Lennon memories was the afternoon they spent discussing the book Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley. Edelmann and Lennon were both fascinated to learn that psychoactive drugs can be useful in treating psychiatric disorders and as an aid to meditation and spiritual practices. Before experimenting with mescaline, Huxley had published The Perennial Philosophy, where he showed how the mystic branches of all world religions were founded on the same fundamental principles. His books also discussed how indigenous peoples stimulated the visionary experience through local plants and building elaborate rituals around them. Edelmann determined to emulate what he had read about the psychedelic experience of these hallucinogens by overloading the senses of the viewer. He estimated he included 10% more color and design detail than he usually did, and, with the speed of the frames, certainly more than most viewers could register consciously. That’s probably why so many people describe the film as “trippy.”

 

Kessler: Finally, why do you like this song? What appeals to you almost 60 years after the fact?

 

Cortner and Hieronimus: Jude, I don’t think we could do any better than the way you ended your piece. Your story of hearing “Yellow Submarine” sung by children soon after 9/11, showing you that hope still lived was awe-inspiring.  People all over the world know this song (even fetuses know that song, as Ringo says) and they sing it to feel happy, and to feel connected to one another, from nursery schools to nursing homes. We all live in a Yellow Submarine. We are one people on one planet. We are all together now. Love is all you need. How many more ways did The Beatles repeat this cosmic truth?  Every one of us has all we need.

 

For more information on Laura Cortner and Dr. Bob Hieronimus and their books HEAD HERE (only place for autographed copies and bonus prizes). The books are also available on Amazon and can be ordered from any bookstore or library

Follow them on Facebook at Yellow Submarine Book HERE

And X (Formerly Twitter) HERE

And Instagram (@yellowsubmarinebook)

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Why We (Beatles)Fest

A decade ago or more, it seemed as if ages and ages crawled by between Fests. The span of time between the New Jersey and Chicago events dragged on forever! But now, the days seem to fly by, and I’ve barely unpacked before it’s time to find my Beatles sweatshirts, buttons, hats, and paraphernalia…and head right back again.

 

 

“You’re going to another Fest?” my hairdresser said (as I asked her to “put the fire back in those locks!”).

 

“Yep, as fast as my car can drive me!” I smiled.

 

“But…I mean…don’t you get tired of…it’s just…you go all the time, it seems like.”

 

“Well,” I really thought about it for a moment, “I know it seems that way to an outsider, but to those of us in what we call ‘The Fest Family,’ there can never be too many in a year. It’s never enough…”

 

Why?” She skeptically closed one eye at me. “What’s so special? Why do you…um, fest?”

 

And just like that, the question was on the table.

 

I mumbled my pat answer – I said that the Fest was like Thanksgiving for all of us. But, over the next few days, I really began mulling her question over. I thought about it as I mowed the yard, planned my book release party, drove to the grocery store, and worked on my Chicago presentations. And the answer finally came to me one night as I was running…a direct answer, in fact, – not from our own Liddypool boys – but from the Eagles!

 

They sang the answer into my earbuds…those haunting, beautifully immortal words from “Hotel California: “Some dance to remember…some dance to forget.” Yes, that was it! Dead right!

 

At times, we go to the Fest for Beatles Fans to remember…to recall the night we sat glued to our parents’ enormous black’n’white TV set while Ed Sullivan swept his arm across his body and shouted, “The Beatles!” We Fest to remember how it felt to see John, Paul, George, and Ringo scamper quickly off the concert stage after what we presumed (though no one could hear a note) was “Long Tall Sally.” We Fest to conjure up that rush we felt when the needle hit the first groove of Sgt. Pepper….to relive those Christmas mornings when even the shiny foil paper and full satin bows failed to disguise the latest Capitol album from our Fab Four.

 

We Fest to remember who we are…not grandparents or businesspeople or mothers or fathers or husbands or wives…but our truest selves: that young man proudly wearing the pale grey, pocketless jacket, Cuban heels, and “long hair” of his heroes; the giddy girl skipping school to trek out to JFK; the frightened but determined school reporter penning the essay defending John Lennon against the out-of-context Datebook quote…and ending up in the principal’s office for being so “disappointingly radical.” At The Fest, we are still the young, bright-eyed Sam Goody employee counting the seconds ’til the stroke of midnight when the next Parlophone LP will finally be released! We are the still young mother singing a “No Reply” lullaby to her child or the scared young dad pacing with his baby in the dark and weakly crooning, “Beautiful Boy.”

 

At the Fest, we return to who we are. We cross the barrier of time and age. We become US again.

 

A few years ago, I was crossing the Chicago lobby when someone shouted at me, “Hey Lennon Chick!” I chuckled. I wasn’t offended…or insulted or diminished or threatened. Instead, I smiled to know that someone saw me for who I was…not a studious author buried in research, manuscripts, and conference presentations…but a fan who loved John Lennon and wasn’t afraid to let the world know it.

 

Indeed, we Fest to remember.

 

But just as importantly, we Fest to forget.

 

“The world is too much with us, late and soon,” wrote British poet, William Wordsworth. Day after bitter day, we are being pummeled by the world…by politics, divisiveness, anger, and hatred. There are dark accusations lurking around every corner and enough suspicion and blame to make even Kent State look tame. Our world is madly enraged.

 

And so, we Fest to retreat from it all. We need to hear, “Give Peace a Chance” and “Love is All You Need.” We need to “Come Together” and “Let it Be.” We need to find common ground instead of fault. We need to hug our friends on both sides of the aisle and find in each other’s eyes a bond and not a barrier. We Fest to forget…if only for one weekend.

 

In many ways, I think, the quick, pat answer that I tossed out to my hairdresser was accurate. The Fest is my Thanksgiving (and yours) – a chance to sit down and share deep dish pizza at Giordano’s with a loud, rowdy group of people we love. It’s our chance to catch up on their lives and to tell stories of our own. We Fest to cry on each other’s shoulders and share the photos in our phones and stay up too late and tell too many corny jokes and secrets. Without a doubt, the Fest is our Thanksgiving.

 

But more than that, it’s the place at the end of the long and winding road where we are happy just to dance…some to remember, some to forget.

 

I hope to see you in Chicago. You can wear your favorite jeans or bell-bottoms. I’ll wear those same, old be-jeweled flip-flops that enable me to stand for 11 hours in my booth. I know you’ll still believe that Paul is the genius. And I’ll believe it’s John…and secretly, we’ll both agree that it took “two to tango.” But we’ll never admit that out loud. We’ll stick to our guns, because we’ll be at the Fest. And at the Fest, we aren’t grandparents or businesspeople or mothers or fathers or husbands or wives. We are BEATLES FANS…and that, dear friends, is what calls us to the dance.

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Revolver Deep Dive Part 4: Love You To

Side One, Track Four

“Love You To:” Now For Something Completely Different

 

by Jude Southerland Kessler and Susan Shumsky

 

Through 2023, the Fest for Beatles Fans blog has been moving track-by-track through The Beatles’ incredible 1966 LP, Revolver. This month, author Susan Shumsky, D.D., who has 20 books in print in English, 39 foreign editions, and 49 book awards, and has recently released The Inner Light: How India Influenced The Beatles, will provide our “Fresh New Look” at this pivotal George Harrison song.

 

Shumsky studied and lived in the ashrams of The Beatles’ mentor Maharishi Mahesh Yogi for two decades, spending six of those years on his personal staff. A spiritual teacher and producer of holistic conferences at sea, spiritual retreats, and tours to sacred destinations, she has done over 700 speaking engagements and 1300 media appearances, including Cosmopolitan magazine, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Fox News TV, and William Shatner’s “Weird or What?” In addition, she has appeared in several films, including the Beatles documentaries “The Beatles and India” and “Here There and Everywhere.” Susan has been an essential part of our Fest Family for years, speaking at both the New Jersey and Chicago Fests.

 

For our June study, Susan joins Fest blogger Jude Southerland Kessler, author of the five-volume John Lennon Series – and the new audiobook of She Loves You (Vol. 3 in the series) – for this in-depth look at “Love You To.”

 

What’s Standard:

 

Date Recorded: 11 April 1966

Time Recorded: 2:30 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. (Lewisohn, The Beatles Recording Sessions, 72)

Studio: EMI Studios, Studio 3

Tech Team

Producer: George Martin

Balance Engineer: Geoff Emerick

Second Engineer: Phil McDonald

 

In That Magic Feeling, John C. Winn tells us that on 11 April 1966, this was recorded:

A1 – George recorded the basic rhythm track by singing and accompanying himself on acoustic guitar (identified by Margotin and Guesdon as his Gibson JE-160). Paul provided backing vocals on the last word of each verse.

A2 – Paul played fuzz bass, using a volume pedal to “swell the notes.”

A3 – Then, the sitar, tambura, and tabla are overdubbed. Anil Bhagwat plays the tabla.

A4 – A second sitar and fuzz guitar are overdubbed. (Some sources state George played this fuzz guitar. Jerry Hammack in The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Vol. 2 states that George used either the “1961 Fender Stratocaster with a synchronized tremolo, [the] 1964 Gibson SG Standard with Gibson Maestro Vibrola vibrato, [or the] 1965 Epiphone ES-230TD.” (p. 114) Other sources have indicated that John Lennon might have played the fuzz guitar here.)

 

Furthermore, Winn tells us that on this same day, “a 34-second edit piece was taped for the song’s intro, consisting of…sitar. At the end of the day, a rough mono mix of take 6 was made for George to take home.” (p. 9)

 

Date Recorded: 13 April 1966

Time Recorded: 2:30 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.

Studio: EMI Studios, Studio 3

Tech Team

Producer: George Martin

Balance Engineer: Geoff Emerick

Second Engineer: Richard Lush (In his Beatles Recording Sessions, Lewisohn notes, “Eighteen-year-old Richard Lush, another Abbey Road apprentice with a promising future, made his recording session debut as Beatles tape operator on this day.” p. 73)

 

On the 13th, take 6 was reduced to take 7 as A1 and A2 were combined. Then, A3 and A4 were combined. (Winn, That Magic Feeling, 9)

 

Paul then added a new tape on which he sang high harmony on the lines, “They’ll fill you in with all their sins you’ll see.” (Lewisohn, The Beatles Recording Sessions, 73).  However, both Lewisohn and Rodriguez tell us that Paul’s high harmony part eventually “fell by the wayside.” (Rodriguez, Revolver: How The Beatles Reimagined Rock’n’Roll, 114)

 

Also, on the 13th, Ringo played the tambourine.

 

Date Recorded: 25 April

John C. Winn informs us that the 34-second intro piece was added to “Love You To” on this day.

 

Editing was done on 20 June and 21 June. During this time frame, George Harrison decided on the title of “Love You To,” supplanting its working title (supplied by Geoff Emerick) of “Granny Smith” – Emerick’s favorite apple. (Winn, 9 and Emerick, 123)

 

 

Instrumentation and Musicians:

George Harrison, the composer, sings lead vocals and plays an acoustic guitar, an electric guitar, and possibly, the sitar. (Some music critics question the latter. In Revolution in the Head, for example, Ian MacDonald states that a “sitarist [is]now thought to have played most of what was attributed to Harrison.” p. 155).***

Paul McCartney plays bass on his 1964 Rickenbacker 4001S bass in the early stages of the song and possibly provides backing vocals.

Ringo Starr plays tambourine.

Anil Bhagwat plays tabla.

***Note from Susan Shumsky: Anil Bhagwat swears that George played the sitar throughout.

Ayana Deva Anagadi on sitar. (Womack, Long and Winding Roads, 139)

Several other accomplished musicians from the North London Asian Music Circle play tambura.

 

Sources: The Beatles, The Anthology, 209, Lewisohn, The Complete Beatles Chronicle, 217, Lewisohn, The Beatles Recording Sessions, 72-73, Shumsky, The Inner Light: How India Influenced The Beatles, 69-77, Spizer, The Beatles Rubber Soul to Revolver, 216, Rodriguez, Revolver, How The Beatles Reimagined Rock’n’Roll, 66-67 and 114-115, Hammack, The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Vol. 2, 113-114, Everett, The Beatles as Musicians, 40-42, Margotin and Guesdon, All the Songs, 330-331, Winn, That Magic Feeling, 9-10, Emerick, Here, There, and Everywhere, 123-124, Turner, A Hard Day’s Write, 106, Turner, Beatles ’66, 147-149, Riley, Tell Me Why, 186, MacDonald, Revolution in the Head, 155, Womack, Long and Winding Roads: The Evolving Artistry of The Beatles, 139-140, and Hunter Davies, The Beatles Lyrics, 156-157.

 

What’s Changed:

 

The better topic to address might be “What Hasn’t Changed?” In this fourth track on Revolver, nothing is familiar!!! No guitars, no drums, no standard four-chord rock progression. Everything we thought we knew about The Beatles has altered. Let’s take a look:

 

  1. A Second Harrison Track on Side One – Gone are the days of the obligatory “one-track-per-album” Harrison allotment. On Revolver, not only does George perform three songs, but he also scores the opening track! And here, George comes back strong with a second original offering for Side One, even though Lennon and McCartney have, thus far, performed only one song each.

 

In his book Here, There, and Everywhere, EMI Engineer Geoff Emerick observed, “I noticed a definite maturing of George Harrison during the course of the Revolver sessions. Up until that point, he had played a largely subordinate role in the band…But he ended up recording three original songs on this album.” (p. 125)

 

  1. The “Integration of Foreign Musical Cultures” –  Tim Riley uses these words to quantify the unique sound of Harrison’s second track on Revolver. Riley goes on to say, “It’s a bold move from [George], trading in the religion of Chuck Berry’s guitar for Ravi Shankar’s meditative sitar.” (Tell Me Why, 186)

 

Bold move, indeed! For most fans, the melody of “Love You To” was utterly alien. As Hunter Davies aptly observes in The Beatles Lyrics, “The shock of the music – to our naïve, primitive, virgin 1966 ears, accustomed to guitar-based rock’n’roll – rather overshadowed the words. And it still does.” (p. 156)

 

“Love You To” was replete with instruments that Beatles fans had never heard. Yes, there had been a bit of sitar in “Norwegian Wood,” but a glimpse only. Now, Harrison was introducing the tabla and tambura. On a grander scale, even the tone, meter, and musical progression of “Love You To” sounds unusual to untrained Western ears. Harrison truly was stepping out – introducing not just a new song but a revolutionary new genre and a new way of thinking!

 

  1. Emerick’s Revolutionary Close-Miking of the Tabla – In Emerick’s own words, “I had never miked Indian instruments before, but I was especially impressed with the huge sound coming from the tabla (percussion instruments similar to bongos). I decided to close-mic them, placing a sensitive ribbon-mic just a few inches away, and then I heavily compressed the signal. No one had ever recorded a tabla like that – they’d always been miked from a distance. My idea resulted in a fabulous sound, right in your face….” (Here, There, and Everywhere, p. 125)

 

The employment of the ribbon-mic, Jerry Hammack explains, was radical in and of itself. He says, “As another departure from Norman Smith’s recording techniques, ribbon microphones wouldn’t normally be used in close proximity as they were sensitive to rapid changes in air pressure such as those created by a drum (the tabla being a pair of hand drums)….” (The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Vol. 2, 113) Even the recording techniques of “Love You To” issued in a new era at EMI.

 

  1. A Dramatic Change of Meter – As “Love You To” nears its close, the meter decidedly changes pace, a sound that Walter Everett tells us “was a normal event for Indian listeners.” But for Western ears, this accelerated whirlwind of sound was “something entirely different.” (The Beatles as Musicians, 40) This change of pace would begin to influence John’s songs within just a few weeks, Everett states. After being largely ignored for a few years, George Harrison was now emerging as a trendsetter.

 

  1. A Change of Attitude – Music experts point out that many of Harrison’s early songs express a mistrustful, “leave-me-alone” attitude. As Robert Rodriguez observes in Revolver, How The Beatles Reimagined Rock’n’Roll, “Thematically, George’s material [before Revolver] tended toward conveying disapproval (“Don’t Bother Me,” “You Like Me Too Much,” “Think For Yourself”) – not usually the stuff of which pop hits were made.” (p. 66)

 

Yet, here in “Love You To,” Harrison’s newfound interest in Indian music and religion seems to have altered his course. As a lifelong pragmatist, George is still fully aware that “each day just goes so fast/You turn around it’s past.” But Harrison’s reaction to the fleeting nature of existence is no longer depression or resentment. Instead, George wants to celebrate each day with song and love-making: “Make love all day long! Make love singing songs!”

 

Furthermore, although George is still conscious of the fact that:

 

“There’s people standing round

Who’ll screw you in the ground,

They’ll fill you in with all their sins, you’ll see…”

 

George opts to ignore those individuals…to take the high road and live a life full of passion and celebratory music. He isn’t oblivious to reality; he has learned to cope with life’s downside in a new and positive way.

 

 

A Fresh, New Look:

 

Jude Southerland Kessler: Susan, for years, Beatles music experts have told us about unique elements in this song that made it very special. But most people – unfamiliar with the terms these experts used – still didn’t understand exactly what was happening in the song musically. So, if you don’t mind, please walk us through what these terms mean and how they relate to “Love You To.”

 

Susan Shumsky:

 

Sitar – Indian musical instruments were played on the soundtrack of The Beatles movie Help!, a parody about ancient Indian highway robbers and murderers called “thuggees.” The first time George Harrison encountered the sitar was in Twickenham Studios while filming Help! in February 1965. He described, “We were waiting to shoot the scene in the restaurant when the guy gets thrown in the soup, and there were a few Indian musicians playing in the background. I remember picking up the sitar and trying to hold it and thinking, ‘This is a funny sound.’” (Havers, “The Making of George Harrison’s ‘Within You Without You,’” Udiscovermusic.) Later that year, Jim McGuinn and David Crosby of The Byrds introduced George to the music of Indian sitar virtuoso Pandit Ravi Shankar. Soon afterward, George visited Indiacraft, a shop in London on Oxford Street, where he purchased a second-rate sitar, which he plucked on the song “Norwegian Wood.”

 

George said, “When I first heard Indian music, I just couldn’t really believe that it was so, so great. And the more I heard of it, the more I liked it. And it just got bigger and bigger, like a snowball.” (D’Silva, The Beatles and India, directed by Ajoy Bose and Peter Compton, Renoir Pictures). “You can get so much more out of it if you are prepared really to concentrate and listen. I hope more people will try to dig it.” (Beatles and Roylance, The Beatles Anthology, 209)

 

“Love You To” was the first song George wrote for Indian musical instruments. He said, “The sitar sounded so nice and my interest was getting deeper all the time. I wanted to write a tune that was specifically for the sitar.” (Beatles and Roylance, The Beatles Anthology, 209)

 

Sitar is a stringed Indian instrument of the lute family. About four feet long, it has a deep pear-shaped gourd body; a long, wide, hollow wooden neck; metal strings, and both front and side tuning pegs. There are usually five melody strings, one or two drone strings that accentuate the rhythm, and up to 13 sympathetic strings beneath the frets that are not played by the performer but resonate in sympathy with the playing strings, creating a polyphonic timber. Twenty arched movable convex metal frets are tied along the neck. Musicians pluck the strings with a wire plectrum on the right forefinger while the left hand presses or pulls the strings with subtle pressure on or between the frets.

 

Today, sitar is the dominant instrument in Hindustani music; it is played as a solo instrument and in ensembles with tambura (drone lute) and tabla (drums). George Harrison popularized the sitar in the West because he studied with Ravi Shankar.

 

Sitar is played on the following Beatles records: “Norwegian Wood,” “Love You To,” and “Within You Without You.” In George’s solo career, sitar appeared on many of his albums, usually played by Ravi Shankar.

 

After George gave up recording songs with sitar, he began imitating sitar sounds by playing glissando riffs on a slide guitar. A few samples include “My Sweet Lord,” “Wah Wah,” “I Dig Love,” “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth),” “Someplace Else,” “Free as a Bird,” “Marwa Blues,” Lennon’s “How Do You Sleep,” Badfinger’s “Day After Day,” and Ringo’s “Back Off Boogaloo.”

 

Tabla – The tabla is two drums (bass and snare) played by one performer. Both drums have compound skins onto which a black paste of flour, water, and iron filings, called siyahi, is added to alter the resonance frequency. The smaller, higher-pitched drum is the dayan, usually made of heavy lathe-turned rosewood. The larger drum, called bayan, is made of metal or pottery. An off-center siyahi on the bayan allows the performer to vary the pressure, changing the pitch with the palm while striking with the fingertips.

 

The first time that tabla appeared on a Beatles song was “Love You To.” It is also played on “Within You Without You.” Tabla tarang (an ensemble of 10 to 16 dayan drums—each tuned to a different note) is heard on “The Inner Light.” Tabla was played widely in George Harrison’s post-Beatles projects and was also used by other solo Beatles.

 

Tambura – The tanpura or tambura is a long, four-stringed fretless lute made of light hollow wood, with either a wood or gourd resonator. Tambura typically plays the background rather than the melody. It accompanies, supports, and blends with the tones sung or played on the lead instruments and/or vocals by providing a continuous harmonic drone. The tambura player plucks the strings in a continuous loop rather than in rhythm with the piece. This repeated cycle is the sonic canvas on which the melody is painted.

 

Tambura is played on the following Beatles records: “Love You To,” “Within You Without You,” “Tomorrow Never Knows,” “Getting Better,” and “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” George sometimes used a harmonium or organ as a drone instrument to mimic the tambura, most notably on “Blue Jay Way.”

 

Swarmandal –  Although some noted sources have stated that Swarmandal (a plucked box zither) was used in “Love You To,” it was not played on this song. It is played on the following Beatles records: “Within You Without You” and “Strawberry Fields Forever.”

 

Sitarist Ted Morano (see below re. his bio) told me: “The only error that I found in your book The Inner Light is the mention of swarmandal being used on the track ‘Love You To’ (the glissando that opens the track). That is not a swarmandal, it is the taraf (sympathetic) strings on the sitar. The taraf strings are 11-13 strings that run under the frets, and are tuned to the raga being performed. It is common for a sitarist to strum the taraf strings at the beginning of a performance.

 

“Here are examples from Ravi Shankar recordings:

 

Khyal – Although some sources state that “Love You To” was George’s first khyal, this style is not really relevant to the song “Love You To.” In khyal, the vocalist and instrument, such as sarangi (Indian violin) or harmonium, play the same melody in heterophony. George tried to copy the khyal style on the echoing parts of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” (starting with “cellophane flowers,” etc.). George said, “For ‘Lucy’ I thought of trying that idea [of melody played in unison with voice], but because I’m not a sarangi player, I played it on guitar along with John’s voice. I was trying to copy Indian classical music.” (Beatles and Roylance, The Beatles Anthology: www.beatlesebooks.com/lucy-in-the-sky.) George was also inspired by Khyal in “Within You and Without You,” where dilruba (an Indian cello similar to sarangi) mirrored the same melody as George’s vocal, note for note.

 

 

Kessler: Susan, we know that George Harrison requested that the North London Asian Music Circle accompany him in performing the melody of “Love You To.” Tell us more about them, please.

 

Shumsky: In 1946, Indian writer and activist Ayana Angadi and his British wife Patricia Fell-Clark founded the Asian Music Circle (AMC), at their home in Fitzalan Road, Finchley, North London. The organization promoted Asian arts and culture. Inspired by meeting Ravi Shankar in India, American violin virtuoso Yehudi Menuhin became president of AMC in 1953. By inviting B. K. S. Iyengar (founder of Iyengar Yoga) to teach at AMC, Menuhin introduced yoga to Britain.

 

In 1955, AMC hosted the first classical Indian music concerts in the West at the “Living Arts of India Festival” in New York, which introduced Ali Akbar Khan (on sarod), Ravi Shankar (Khan’s brother-in-law, on sitar), and Vilayat Khan (on sitar). This led to the first Indian music album in the West: Music of India: Morning and Evening Ragas (Angel 1955), and to Ravi Shankar’s popularity in the jazz community.

 

George Martin, staff producer at EMI’s Parlophone Records, had previously gotten referrals from AMC’s Ayana Angadi to hire local Indian musicians for film and recording work. In 1962, Martin began working with The Beatles when they signed with Parlophone. Under Martin’s influence, their film Help! featured an Indian-themed script and musicians.

 

As George Harrison was playing sitar on “Norwegian Wood” in the recording studio on October 21, 1965, a string broke. Martin suggested contacting Ayana Angadi for a replacement. Ringo made the phone call and Angadi’s daughter asked loudly, “Ringo who?” Angadi rushed to the phone, and then brought the string, along with his wife and four children, to EMI’s Abbey Road Studios, to watch The Beatles record. (Newman, Abracadabra! The Complete Story of the Beatles’ Revolver, 23.)

 

For the next six months, George and Pattie spent every weekend at the Angadi home, immersed in Indian music. They attended recitals at AMC and watched Ravi Shankar perform at the Royal Festival Hall. (Turner, Steve. Beatles ‘66: The Revolutionary Year) With enthusiasm to master sitar, George began studying with an AMC sitar player. (Rodriguez, Robert. Revolver: How the Beatles Reimagined Rock ’n’ Roll, 114)

 

Kessler: Robert Rodriguez, in Revolver: How The Beatles Re-imagined Rock’n’Roll, tells us, “Some believe that the apparent complexity heard on ‘Love You To’ was beyond [George’s] capabilities, at least in spring 1966. But others point to his single-minded diligence in mastering the instrument [the sitar], as well as his study through private lessons, proximity to accomplished musicians, and close listening to pertinent records.” Where do you stand in this discussion? Do you think George ceded most of the responsibility to the North London Asian Music Circle, or could he function as lead performer?

 

Shumsky: Ted Morano earned an MFA Degree in North Indian Classical Music, Sitar performance, from the California Institute of the Arts. He is a master at sitar, surbahar, tabla, dilruba, pakhawaj, and tambura, a dhrupad vocalist, and a highly respected Indian music teacher. He performed “Within You, Without You” and “The Inner Light” many times with the Beatles Magical Orchestra and other groups (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cTG7M6sEZfQ). He also recorded the dilruba tracks for “Within You, Without You” for Geoff Emerick as part of his “The Sessions” show.

 

After the remix of Revolver was released, Ted concluded that George was definitely the sole sitarist on “Love You To.” He said, “The 2022 remixed edition of Revolver has excellent sound quality, and this clarity makes it easier to hear the different layers in the song. Now it is easy to hear that George double-tracked sitar on the main riff, to give it a bigger sound. The way George strums the sitar strings at the start of his brief alap, and also plays harmonics, is not characteristic of how a trained Indian sitarist would play. The structure of his solo later in the song is also not how a trained Indian sitarist would play. Most revealing was hearing the mono mix of the song, which is several seconds longer than the stereo version, and George can be heard in the fade-out playing several figures which, while very musical and creative, are not something that a trained Indian sitarist would play.

 

Morano goes on to say: “More important info came to light regarding the sitar that George used on the recording. It is not the same sitar that is used on ‘Norwegian Wood.’ George obtained a better sounding and playing instrument after the recording of Rubber Soul. According to Pattie, he spent most of their honeymoon obsessively practicing sitar. Although this was before he began learning from Ravi Shankar, he did receive some basic instruction in London that enabled him to make significant progress on his own. This can clearly be heard on ‘Love You To.’”

 

Kessler: Similarly, Harrison selected a distinguished percussionist, Anil Bhagwat, to perform with him on the track. Give us some background info about this notable musician, if you don’t mind.

 

Shumsky: “Love You To” was the first pop song to present Indian music in an authentic classical Hindustani structure and arrangement, which earned George the title “The Mystic Beatle.” George’s hypnotic, drone-like vocals augmented the Indian effect. For the recording session on April 11, 1966, George hired unidentified musicians referred by the Asian Music Circle to play the Indian music track. Instruments on the track included sitar, tabla, and tambura.

 

Anil Bhagwat was hired to play tabla—the first time that tabla ever appeared on a Beatles song. Bhagwat recalled, “Angadi called and asked if I was free that evening to work with George. He didn’t say it was Harrison. It was only when a Rolls Royce picked me up that I realized I’d be playing on a Beatles session.

 

“When I arrived at Abbey Road, there were girls everywhere with Thermos flasks, cakes, sandwiches, waiting for The Beatles to come out.” “George told me what he wanted and I tuned the tabla with him. He suggested I play something in the Ravi Shankar style, sixteen-beats, though he agreed that I should improvise. Indian music is all improvisation. It was one of the most exciting times of my life.” (Womack, The Beatles Encyclopedia: Everything Fab Four, 310)

 

Other than Anil Bhagwat, AMC musicians that performed on “Love You To” have never been identified. However, Bhagwat claimed, “I can tell you here and now—100 percent it was George on sitar throughout.”

 

In my book The Inner Light: How India Influenced The Beatles, I quoted sitarist Ted Morano as saying that to strengthen what George played, another sitarist probably overdubbed the main melody and also played the fadeout at the end. However, on November 25, 2022, Morano changed his mind: “It is a fortuitous coincidence that the new Revolver editions also came out this week. There is a lot of Beatle frenzy right now. In fact, after listening to the clearer mix, and the out-take of George rehearsing ‘Love You To,’ I am convinced that it is only George playing sitar. There were no overdubs by another sitarist.”

 

Kessler: In The Beatles Lyrics, Hunter Davies observes, “The shock of the music – to our naïve, primitive, virgin 1966 ears, accustomed to guitar-based rock’n’roll – rather overshadowed the words.” Agree or disagree? And is this true today, do you think?

 

Shumsky: I agree that the intensity of the double-tracked Indian music and the relentless beat of the tabla were probably quite a shock to Western ears, and it overshadowed the song’s lyrical message. In fact, double-tracking Indian music had never previously existed in India, so it would have even been a shock to Indian ears. I feel that few people listening to this song paid attention to the lyrics, as they were trying to accustom to what they probably perceived as deafening, strange sounds of cacophonous instruments.

 

Kessler: Finally, what is the message of this song? To me, it’s equivalent to Robert Herrick’s 1648 poem, “To the Virgins, To Make Much of Time,” with a shot of inspiration from John Lennon’s line in “Dizzy Miss Lizzy”: “Love me ’fore I grow too old!” Or, as Ken Womack suggests, it’s about “the fleeting nature of existence.” (Long and Winding Roads: The Evolving Artistry of The Beatles, 139) Yet, Tim Riley asserts the lyrics are about “the Eastern philosophy of time as a dimension to be passed through.” (Tell Me Why, 186) What’s going on in this song? Is it about all of one of these things, some, or none? Do tell.

 

Yes, I feel that “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may” conveys a similar message as “Love you To.” This idea of the ephemeral nature of our physical world, along with the urgency to make the most of every moment, parallels both Herrick’s poem and George’s lyrics. He often sang about the fleeting duality of the material world and its contrast with the eternal oneness of the spiritual world. On the physical plane, “all things must pass.”

 

Also, in the context of 1966, during which this song was composed, The Beatles were influenced by the psychedelic Flower Power philosophy of “Make Love, Not War,” espoused by San Francisco hippies at the time. This slogan became the cornerstone of hippie philosophy. The message of “Love You To” swings from free love and the embracing of spiritual awakening to cynicism and the rejection of materialistic society.

 

Indian philosophy tells us that material life is not permanent and therefore not real. This corporeal body we temporarily inhabit is not our true eternal nature. Attachments to the physical plane bind us to chains of ignorance. Only one thing is eternal. It is not the material world. It is the unmanifest consciousness, beyond space, time, and causation.

 

We believe ourselves to be our physical body, thoughts, feelings, intellect, ego, or experiences. But that is not who we really are. We are the unbounded, undifferentiated radiance of Brahman—pure consciousness. Divine love, free from ego attachment, is key to letting go of material bonds. By embracing the simplicity of pure love, we realize our true divine nature—absolute bliss consciousness (satchitananda), beyond the physical. It is never born and never dies.

 

For more information on Susan Shumsky or her new book, The Inner Light: How India Influenced The Beatles, HEAD HERE and HERE

 

Follow Susan on Facebook HERE and on Twitter HERE

 

Come meet Susan in person at The Chicago Fest for Beatles Fans, Hyatt Regency O’Hare, August 11-13, 2023!

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Revolver Deep Dive Part 3: I’m Only Sleeping

Revolver

Side One, Track Three

“I’m Only Sleeping”…or So He Said!

 

by Jude Southerland Kessler, Don Jeffries, and Bob Wilson

 

Through 2023, the Fest for Beatles Fans blog will explore the intricacies of The Beatles’ astounding 1966 LP, Revolver. This month, Don Jeffries and Bob Wilson of the fascinating new book on the “Paul is Dead” controversy, From Strawberry Fields to Abbey Road: A Billy Shears Story, join Jude Southerland Kessler, author of The John Lennon Series, for a fresh, new look at track three of this landmark LP.

 

What’s Standard:

 

Dates and Times Recorded, Studios Used:

27 April 1966 (Studio 3 from 11.30 p.m. – 1.00 a.m.)

29 April 1966 (Studio 3 from 5.00 p.m. – 1.00 a.m.)

5 May 1966 (Studio 3 from 9:30 p.m. – 3.00 a.m.)

6 May 1966 (Studio 2 from 2.30 p.m. – 1.00 a.m.)

Source: Lewisohn’s The Complete Beatles Chronicle and The Beatles Recording Sessions

 

Tech Team:

Producer: George Martin

Engineer: Geoff Emerick

Second Engineer: Phil McDonald

  

 Instrumentation and Musicians:

John Lennon, the composer, sings double-tracked lead vocals and plays acoustic guitar on his 1964 Gibson J-160E.

Paul McCartney sings harmony vocals and plays bass. Some sources claim he used his 1964 Rickenbacker 4001S bass. Others, just as adamantly, state Paul used his Hofner. Rodriguez says the Hofner was used to get “those tiptoeing bass sounds.”  In The Anthology, George Martin states that Paul played the lead line with George Harrison. In Here, There, and Everywhere, Geoff Emerick seconds this assertion. (p. 124)

George Harrison sings harmony vocals and plays lead guitar. However, no source, including Babiuk’s Beatles Gear, identifies the guitar Harrison was using for the dramatic “backwards” guitar solo. And if, as Martin and Emerick insist, Paul played lead simultaneously, we do not know what instrument Paul was employing either.

Ringo Starr plays his 1964 Ludwig Oyster Black Pearl “Super Classic” drum set.

 

Sources: The Beatles, The Anthology, 211, Lewisohn, The Complete Beatles Chronicle, 219-220, Lewisohn, The Recording Sessions, 77-78, Emerick, Here, There, and Everywhere, 124, Rodriguez, Revolver: How The Beatles Reimagined Rock’n’Roll, 129-132, Margotin and Guesdon, All the Songs, 328-329, Winn, That Magic Feeling, 15 and 18, Hammack, The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Vol. 2, 132-134, Turner, A Hard Day’s Write, 106, Mellers, Twilight of the Gods: The Music of The Beatles, 71-73, MacDonald, Revolution in the Head, 161, Riley, Tell Me Why, 185-186, O’Toole, Songs We Were Singing: Guided Tours Through The Beatles Lesser Known Tracks, 116-118, Spizer, The Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records, 200, Davies, Beatles Lyrics, 150-153, Womack, Long and Winding Roads: The Evolving Artistry of The Beatles, 129 and 139, Spignesi and Lewis, 100 Best Beatles Songs, 180-182 and Cardinale, “The Spark of Inspiration” found at https://medium.com/synapticalchemy/the-spark-of-inspiration-2e51272d0dcd.

 

What’s Changed:

 

As Kenneth Womack perceptively observed in Long and Winding Roads: The Evolving Artistry of The Beatles, “Where Rubber Soul is about The Beatles’ self-conscious redefinition of themselves and their art, Revolver is about taking those new-fangled models of themselves and their art out for a proverbial spin. This album is about revving up the engines of their musicality…about The Beatles’ desire to push the boundaries of their achievement, to experiment…” (p. 129)

 

And experimentation is precisely what John Lennon is about here in “I’m Only Sleeping” as he cleverly recreates his favorite place: the enchanted world of sleep-inspiration, the birthplace of that cherished “spark of after-midnight.”

 

In his blog “The Spark of Inspiration,” Stephen Cardinale poetically observes: “The spark of inspiration is…a force that pulls you from your slumber and won’t allow you to rest until you’ve imprinted the ground with that spark from the heavens.” Very early on, John Lennon discovered and utilized this field of somnambulant stimulation, and throughout his career, he would credit it with the stimulus for songs such as “Across the Universe” and “Watching the Wheels.” In the slim space between wake and slumber,  John encountered the shadowy land where (for him) great ideas exist.

 

In “I’m Only Sleeping,” John utilizes every “bell and whistle” at his disposal to recreate the fertile fog of semi-consciousness. Calling upon the genius of The Beatles and the musical acumen of George Martin and Geoff Emerick to help him bring this world to life,  Lennon employs sophisticated technical tricks – and a few simple ploys – to set an elaborate stage for us all…and to wave a welcoming hand toward his “Land of Nod.”

 

Robert Rodriguez, in Revolver, How The Beatles Reimagined Rock’n’Roll, states, “Just as when you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail, so it was in 1966: if you were a Beatle, every sound was fair game to be sped up, slowed down, turned backwards, doubled, and otherwise sliced and diced.” And here, John and the band do precisely that; they create extraordinary sound effects that pull us into Lennon’s exotic reality. These devices include:

 

  1. Frequency Modulation – On page 15 of That Magic Feeling, John C. Winn tells us, “On 27 April, The Beatles…taped 11 takes of John’s new composition, ‘I’m Only Sleeping.’ These were played in the key of Em, but with the tape running fast.” (At 56 cycles, Lewisohn tells us in The Beatles Recording Sessions, p. 76) “This gave the song a more languid, dreamy quality when played back” at normal speed, at 47¾ cycles, Lewisohn states. (The Beatles Recording Sessions, p. 76) The resulting exotic harmonies skew away from the harmonies of “This Boy.” They are equally lovely, but now also haunting.

 

Rodriguez explains that John’s vocal was recorded with the tape rolling more slowly than customary. (In The Beatles Recording Sessions, p. 77, Lewisohn tells us it ran at 45 cycles.) Then, when the tape proceeded at normal speed in playback mode, John’s voice became “more dreamlike,” more ethereal, and removed. (pp. 130-131)

 

The Beatles had become fascinated with frequency modulation in making “Rain.” And here it was carefully applied to veil John’s sleepy song in the drowsy cobweb of half-consciousness.

 

  1. Use of Backwards Tracks – The Beatles used 17 seconds of backward guitar in the body of “I’m Only Sleeping” and another ten seconds in the fade-out. That’s all. And to capture this beautifully bizarre sound, it took six hours of intense work. Geoff Emerick claims it was nine hours of labor (p. 124), and Hunter Davies, in The Beatles Lyrics, claims it took 12 hours. (p. 151) This may seem rather extravagant, but as Spignesi and Lewis state, when The Beatles “wanted an effect, they moved earth and sky to achieve it.” (p. 181) The curiously curling and writhing guitar is the essence of the sleep soundtrack: the stuff of dreams.

 

Here is how George Martin explained the “very strange” technique employed to achieve the sound: “In order to record the backward guitar on a track like ‘I’m Only Sleeping,’ you work out what your chord sequence is and write down the reverse order of the chords – as they are going to come up – so you can recognize them. You then learn to boogie around on that chord sequence, but you don’t really know what it’s going to sound like until it comes out again. It’s hit or miss, no doubt about it, but you do it a few times, and when you like what you hear, you keep it.” (Spignesi and Lewis, 180) That sounds logical – doable, even.

 

But in Here, There, and Everywhere, EMI Engineer Geoff Emerick claimed the process was “one hard day’s night!” (p. 124) He says it “turned out to be an interminable day of listening to the same eight bars played backwards over and over and over again.” (p. 124)

 

As mentioned earlier, Beatles scholars disagree about whether or not Paul joined George in playing the backwards line. But all agree that two guitar parts were recorded. In The Beatles Recording Sessions, Lewisohn says, “[The Beatles] made it doubly difficult by recording two guitar parts – one ordinary and one a fuzz guitar – which were superimposed on top of one another.” Similarly, O’Toole in Songs We Were Singing, states, “Martin…had to conduct Harrison beat by beat, with the guitarist ultimately recording two separate solos – one with fuzz effects or distortion, and one without. Martin then laid the tracks on top of one another…” However, Hammack in The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Vol. 2 says that “on May 5th, McCartney and Harrison added lead guitars to the song…The solos (one with fuzz distortion added) were recorded simultaneously.” One guitarist or two? We may never know definitively. But the artistry and care given to this song is just shy of miraculous.

 

  1. 3. Simple Sound Effects – Of course, not all of The Beatles’ “sound effects” in “I’m Only Sleeping” were groundbreaking. At 1:57 in the song, you can hear someone (presumably, John) say, “Yawn, Paul.” And at 2:01, Paul yawns. It’s not a highly complex maneuver, but it adds the perfect final touch in the recreation of John’s Muse-inhabited realm of sleep. And as O’Toole remarks, “…it represents [The Beatles] at their most experimental to date…nothing was off limits for this 1966 masterpiece.” (Songs We Were Singing, 116)

 

A Fresh New Look:

 

Don Jeffries is the author of myriad books including Bullyocracy: How the Social Hierarchy Enables Bullies to Rule Schools, Work Places and Society at Large; On Borrowed Fame: Money, Mysteries, and Corruption in the Entertainment World, and Hidden History: An Expose of Crimes, Conspiracies, and Cover-Ups in American History. Don is a lifelong Beatles fan, and we’ve shared many in-depth conversations about Beatles music on his popular I-Heart Radio show, “The Don and Ella” show.

 

Bob Wilson is well-known in The Beatles World for his very popular podcast with Warren Brown, “Tomorrow Never Knows” and his intriguing solo podcast, “Don’t Pass Me By.” He has also contributed several articles to Beatles Magazine.

 

This month, Don and Bob Wilson are releasing their first venture into Beatles investigative research. After interviewing numerous Beatles friends and experts about the “Paul is Dead” controversy, they will soon be releasing From Strawberry Fields to Abbey Road: A Billy Shears Story. Here are their insights on “I’m Only Sleeping.”

 

Jude Southerland Kessler: Don and Bob, John wrote many songs about sleep in his Beatles and solo career. Sleep was a muse to him, a mystical place to seek inspiration.  And sometimes, it was simply a place to escape. How do you view sleep in this particular rendition? Is John talking about shutting out the world or letting in creativity?

 

Don Jeffries and Bob Wilson: We know that John loved to sleep and also to lie in bed. Apparently, his bed was a kind of refuge for him. It’s no accident that the “Give Peace a Chance” video took place during John and Yoko’s “Bed-In for Peace.” John would touch upon the theme of sleep in other songs, such as “I’m So Tired.” During his solo career, he wrote both the scathing attack on Paul McCartney, “How do you Sleep?”(on which Harrison also played) and the aptly titled “Number 9 Dream.”

 

But John’s “bed-in” time didn’t necessarily note slothfulness. In fact, In “I’m Only Sleeping,” to quote author Hunter Davies in Beatles Lyrics, “The words are sharp and succinct, not at all the mark of a lazy lyricist. John loved his bed. When he wasn’t sleeping, he was often propped up on pillows, writing…John loved to stay in bed creating and writing.”

 

Lennon needed sleep to create; many of his songs touch on this. John famously described how “Nowhere Man” came to him, “the whole damn thing, as I lay down.” Similarly, the words to “Across the Universe”  came to him as he lay in bed after an argument with Cynthia. Here, John lauds the creative process he always enjoyed in “half-sleep.” Sam Kemp of Far Out magazine referred to  “I’m Only Sleeping” as “an ode to the importance of being idle.” But this sort of idleness is equivalent to receptiveness, not oblivion. John is listening, thinking, and creating.

 

Kessler: I so agree! We  are alerted to John’s wakefulness from the very first line of the song when he sings: “When I wake up early in the morning…” And as the song progresses, John reminds us that he is  “keeping an eye on the world going by my window.” Clearly, John is not sleeping but existing in that dozing state in which ideas flow freely.

 

What do you like about “I’m Only Sleeping”? What’s its charm for you?

 

Jeffries and Wilson: I almost always love Lennon’s melodies. His voice here, as it regularly does, draws the listener in. I consider Lennon to be the greatest vocalist in the history of popular music. He could make any song contagious.

 

As he would do in his song “I’m so Tired,” Lennon seemed to have a special talent for melodies that make the listener think of sleep, or even feel sleepy. All anecdotal evidence suggests that Lennon’s inordinate amount of time spent in bed made him an expert on the subject.

 

The dreamlike sound in “I’m Only Sleeping” was enhanced by its E minor key. Furthermore, as Jude indicated in the “What’s New” segment of the blog, new studio tricks were used to create that very atmosphere. The backing track, as she explained, was recorded faster and then slowed down when played back at average speed. This evoked the image of  “running through deep water” or “moving in a dream.” (And, of course, John’s lead vocal was processed in the opposite way to produce a high-pitched, far-away sound.)

 

Simpler techniques in the recording also catch my attention. For example, Paul actually yawns during the song. And John’s word choices cleverly evoke a “hussssshed” feeling of sleep: lazy, crazy, speed, staring, ceiling, shake me. The song’s repeated “s” and “sh” sounds lull us.

 

However,  I’m not the only one who admires this song. Steven Spignesi and Michael Lewis, in The 100 Best Beatles Songs, rate it at #57. They call it: “One of the band’s drowsiest, most lethargic songs” but point out that it has “John’s cleanest and most well-written lyrics.” (p. 182) And in Revolution in the Head, noted author Ian McDonald says, “‘I’m Only Sleeping’ with its dreamy multitracking, a dim halo of slowed cymbal sound, and softly tiptoeing bass is…deep in artifice. The Beatles…[created] a new sonic environment.” And while admitting that the song’s theme is sleep and lethargy, MacDonald notes that “I’m Only Sleeping” was “more active than anything [John Lennon] had written since ‘Girl.’”

 

Kessler: Don and Bob, some music critics have claimed that this song is about drug usage, not sleep. Which theory do you support and why?

 

Jeffries and Wilson: I don’t think there are any drug inferences here, although certainly, the ethereal nature of the song might lend itself to being listened to while smoking marijuana. People have often claimed drug messages in Lennon’s songs. Lennon’s lyrics were sometimes ambiguous enough to be open to multiple interpretations, but in this case, it seems pretty clear that it’s a simple song about the joys of half-sleep and the creativity found there.

 

In his book Long and Winding Roads: The Evolving Artistry of The Beatles, Dr. Kenneth Womack notes that a big difference is observed when John is writing about drugs and when he’s writing about sleep. When he’s writing about drugs, John is adrift, floating downstream. For example, “In ‘Tomorrow Never Knows,’ you turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream….truly surrender to the void.” However, in “I’m Only Sleeping,” John is floating upstream, awake and aware of what’s going on outside his window. This has nothing to do with drugs.

 

For more information on From Strawberry Fields to Abbey Road: A Billy Shears Story, HEAD HERE

For more information on Don Jeffries, HEAD HERE

For more information on Jeffries’ publications, HEAD HERE

Follow Don on Twitter HERE

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Revolver Deep Dive Part 2: Eleanor Rigby

Revolver

Side One, Track Two

“Eleanor Rigby” Lives On

 

by Jude Southerland Kessler and Simon Weitzman

 

Through 2023, the Fest for Beatles Fans blog will be delving into the fine details of The Beatles’ astounding 1966 LP, Revolver. This month network TV director, producer, and author, Simon Weitzman – best known in The Beatles’ World for his beloved film A Love Letter to The Beatles: Here, There, and Everywhere –  joins John Lennon Series author Jude Southerland Kessler for a fresh, new look at a track that literally changed all we had come to know about The Beatles! Simon is co-author, with Paul Skellett, of four remarkable Beatles books: Eight Arms to Hold You, All You Need is Love, The Mad Day Out with Tom Murray, and The Beatles in 3D. We’re thrilled to have Simon with us this month and in person, in just a few days, at the New York Metro Fest for Beatles Fans!

 

What’s Standard:

 

Date Recorded:

The Home Demo was recorded by Paul in late March 1966 at Ringo’s flat in Montague Square (Winn, 7)

 

First EMI session, 28 April 1966, Studio Two

5 p.m.- 7:50 p.m. (Lewisohn, The Beatles Recording Sessions, 77)

 

Second EMI session, 29 April 1966, Studio Three

5 p.m. – 1 a.m. (Lewisohn, The Beatles Recording Sessions, 77)

 

Third EMI session, 6 June 1966 in Studio Three (control room only)

7 p.m. – 12 a.m. (Lewisohn, The Beatles Recording Sessions, 82)

 

Tech Team

Producer: George Martin

Engineer: Geoff Emerick

Second Engineer: Phil McDonald

 

Stats: On 28 April, a professional string octet (members listed below) recorded 14 takes. On 29 April, as John C. Winn tells us in That Magic Feeling, “Paul added his lead vocal on track 4, and then he, John, and George harmonized for the choruses on track 3.” (p. 24) That evening, the tape recorder was slowed a bit to achieve a higher pitch when played at regular speed. Finally, on 6 June (spilling over into the small hours of 7 June), Paul re-recorded his vocal, employing a unique concept provided by Martin. Martin had suggested Paul “sing the chorus in counterpoint to his final vocal refrain.” (Winn, That Magic Feeling, 24)

 

Instrumentation and Musicians:

Paul McCartney, the composer, sings lead vocal.

John Lennon sings backing vocals.

George Harrison sings backing vocals.

String Octet including violinists Tony Gilbert (first violin) Sidney Sax, John Sharpe, and Jurgen Hess; violists
Stephen Shingles and John Underwood, and cellists Derek Simpson and Norman Jones. Musical arrangement by George Martin. (Hammack, 136)

 

Sources: Lewisohn, The Complete Beatles Chronicle, 219, Lewisohn, The Recording Sessions, 77, Martin, All You Need is Ears, 199, Emerick, Here, There, and Everywhere, 127, Rodriguez, Revolver: How The Beatles Reimagined Rock’n’Roll, 167-169, Davies, The Beatles Lyrics, 144-149,  Margotin and Guesdon, All the Songs, 326-327, Winn, That Magic Feeling, 7 and 24, Hammack, The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Vol. 2, 136-137, Turner, A Hard Day’s Write, 104-105, Riley, Tell Me Why, 184-185, Spizer, The Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records, 213, Spignesi and Lewis, 100 Best Beatles Songs, 93-95, McCartney, Paul McCartney, The Lyrics, 157-163, Sheff, The Playboy Interviews, 118-119 and 151, Shotton, John Lennon: In My Life, 123-124, and MacDonald, Revolution in the Head, 162-163.

 

What’s Changed:

 

Absolutely Everything!!! If you knew nothing at all about The Beatles, and heard “Love Me Do” followed by “Eleanor Rigby,” you would vow that those two songs were not composed by the same band! Even if we juxtaposed 1965’s “Help!” against 1966’s “Eleanor Rigby,” the differences would still be myriad and vast. The second track on Revolver truly changed so much that we know about The Beatles. It was a dramatic 180-degree pivot. Here are just a few of the meteoric changes:

 

  1. Instrumental Personnel – Paul sings the lead vocal while John and George sing back-up, but nary a Beatle plays an instrument on this track. The instruments are manned by a professional string octet, but not by John, Paul, George, and Ringo. That is certainly “something new”!

 

  1. Instruments – four violins, two violas, two cellos. And that is all. To quote Clang: “Shocking!”

 

  1. “A Complete Change of Style” – This quote regarding “Eleanor Rigby” (and “Tomorrow Never Knows”) is from Sir George Martin. And of course, he said it perfectly. Both songs propelled us headlong into “the new direction.” Prior to Rubber Soul and Revolver, Beatles music had been upbeat if not always optimistic. Even songs expressing crushing depression (such as “I’ll Cry Instead” and “Help!”) sound hopeful, if not downright joyous.

 

But “Eleanor Rigby” is unabashedly a song about painful isolation from which there is no glimmer of rescue. In The Beatles’ catalog, this is a revolutionary theme and sound. As Tim Riley observes in Tell My Why: “The ‘ah’s’ aren’t soothing, they’re aching, and the sudden drop in the cellos after the first line sinks the heart along with it.” Yes, “Misery” was a song of heartbreak but left open the possibility that the wayward girl would “come back to me.” And in “Girl,” the bickering couple only suffer through their troubles because they’re still very much in love.

 

But the world of “Eleanor Rigby” is a place in which “no one was saved.” In Revolver: How The Beatles Reimagined Rockn’Roll, Robert Rodriguez points out that even “Yesterday” holds more hope than “Eleanor Rigby.” He observes: “’Yesterday’ bore obvious commerciality with its time-honored theme of love gone wrong. But ‘Eleanor Rigby’ was a somewhat unsettling composition devoid of traditional romanticism, calculated to stir rather than to soothe.”

 

  1. Contested Authorship of Lyrics – The lyrics of only one other Beatles song – “In My Life” – has been claimed by both John and Paul. Through the years, Paul has always claimed full authorship for “Eleanor Rigby.” In Paul McCartney, The Lyrics, he goes into great detail about several “old ladies” he encountered in his youthful Bob-A-Job-Week chores – ladies who inspired the character. And Paul adds that Eleanor Bron might have reinforced the concept of using “Eleanor” as the character’s name. Then he states, “Initially, the priest was ‘Father McCartney’ because it had the right number of syllables. I took the song out to John at that point, and I remember playing it to him, and he said, ‘That’s great, Father McCartney.’ He loved it. But I wasn’t really comfortable with it because it’s my dad – my Father McCartney – so I literally got out the phone book and went on from ‘McCartney’ to ‘McKenzie.’” (pp. 157-163)

 

However, in the 1980 Playboy Interviews, John Lennon told David Sheff, “Yeah, ‘Rigby.’ The first verse was [Paul’s], and the rest are basically mine…we were sitting around with Mal Evans and Neil Aspinall, and he said to us, ‘Hey, you guys, finish up the lyrics.’…and I was insulted that Paul had just thrown it out of the air. He actually meant he wanted me to do it, and of course, there isn’t a word of theirs in it because I finally went off to a room with Paul and we finished the song.” John then goes into great detail about the writing process of “Rigby,” even stating that “when [he] stepped away to go to the toilet,” George and Paul were working on “Rigby” in his absence, and they came up with the line, “Ah look at all the lonely people.” When he returned, John says, “They were settling on that.” He says that he heard it, loved it, and remarked, “That’s it!” (pp. 118-119)

 

Later in the same interview, John restated his contribution to “Eleanor Rigby,” calling it “Paul’s baby, but I helped with the education of the child.” (p. 151)

 

However, in his book, John Lennon In My Life, Pete Shotton revealed a very different account of the song’s creation. Pete says that he and about 8-10 other people (including Ringo) were spending an evening in John’s home Kenwood when Paul arrived. McCartney presented those gathered with a set of lyrics for “Eleanor Rigby,” and said, “I’ve got this little tune here. It keeps popping into me head, but I haven’t got very far with it.”

 

Pete says, “We all sat around, making suggestions, throwing out the odd line or phrase…[When] Paul got to the verse about the cleric, whose name he had down as ‘Father McCartney,’ Ringo came up with the line about ‘darning his socks in the night,’ which everybody liked.” However, Pete says that he objected to the cleric’s name and pointed out to Paul that fans might think it is Jim McCartney having to darn socks, lonely and all alone. And when Paul agreed, Pete goes on: “…I noticed a telephone directory lying around and said, ‘Give us that phone book, then, and I’ll have a look through the Macs.” And he did. After finding and rejecting the humorous name “McVicar,” Pete says that he asked Paul to “try Father McKenzie out for size, and everyone appeared to like the lilt of it.” (Shotton, 123)

 

Then, according to Pete, Paul told the gathered group: “The real trouble is I’ve no idea how to finish this song.” Ideas and suggestions were thrown out at random. And Pete claims that he suggested having Eleanor die and having Father McKenzie perform the burial. Pete states that he said, “That way you’ll have the two lonely people coming together in the end – but too late.” (Shotton, 124) It was a concept, Pete tells us, that Paul seemed to endorse, but an ending that John did not care for one bit.

 

Quite a different tale! So, where does the truth lie? Who wrote what and when and why?

 

The only thread that is consistent in all accounts is that Paul took the song to John and somehow the two of them – alone or with other people – finished the lyrics as a joint effort. All other details vary, depending upon the teller of the tale. Rarely does this scenario occur with a Beatles song. Credits are shared; nods are given. But the history of “Eleanor Rigby” is much like the record’s namesake, aloof and unknown.

 

  1. Recording Techniques – When Paul McCartney told new EMI engineer Geoff Emerick that he wanted the strings on “Eleanor Rigby” “to sound really biting,” Emerick was a little intimidated. How could he achieve that? In his book Here, There, and Everywhere, Emerick tells us that he devised an outrageous plan to close-mic the strings. He explains: “String quartets were traditionally recorded with just one or two microphones placed high, several feet up in the air so the sound of bows scraping couldn’t be heard.”

 

Defying this unwritten rule, Geoff close-miked the instruments. It was a bold act of genius. And the result was precisely what Paul wanted! Not only did the strings supply melody but they also supplied percussion. And their “harsh realism” brought the strident authenticity of a callous world into this lonely and tragic song. (More on this in Simon Weitzman’s “Fresh, New Look” interview below.)

 

One final note…According to The Beatles, “Eleanor Rigby died in the church and was buried along with her name.” But in 2023, almost 60 years from her appearance in the world of The Beatles, Eleanor lives on. By the mid 2000’s, the song had been covered by over 200 musicians. Ray Charles, for example, hit No. 35 on the Billboard charts with his version of the song. In 1969, Aretha Franklin’s take on the number shot to No. 17 on the Billboard Hot 100. But these two icons are not alone in their respect for the song. Hundreds of other groups recorded their own tributes to Father McKenzie, all the lonely people, and yes, to Eleanor. In 2023, Eleanor is still with us…living on.

 

A Fresh, New Look:

 

We’re thrilled to have Simon Weitzman with us this month for a close and personal examination of “Eleanor Rigby.” Apart from his other many credits, listed earlier in the blog, Simon is working on a documentary about Beatles PA and Rolling Stones Tour Manager, Chris O’Dell. He’s also completing his wonderful film, A Love Letter to The Beatles: Here, There, and Everywhere, which you will be able to enjoy at the New York Metro Fest for Beatles Fans. Taking time out of his hectically busy schedule to discuss “Eleanor Rigby” was a real treat for the Fest staff. Thank you, Simon!!!!

 

Jude Southerland Kessler: Hi Simon, thank you “ooover and oover and oover again” (whoops, wrong band!!) for giving us the gift of your time. We know you’re incredibly busy, so I’ll dive right in. Simon, the 1966 addition of young Geoff Emerick to the production team at EMI certainly made Revolver an edgier, more experimental LP. Please tell us a bit about Emerick’s clever method of making the orchestral segment “hard-biting,” as Paul had requested him to do.

 

Its production is as exquisite as it is different. Paul was a forward-thinker and was amenable to George Martin’s suggestions that classical music be employed. Despite initial misgivings, Paul wisely followed Martin’s lead and brought classical influences firmly into the 20th century. It was familiar ground for George Martin; it enabled him to take a leap of faith with Paul and really push the strings in the recordings, whilst taking inspiration from Bernard Herrmann, who himself innovated the modern film compositions that were to shape cinema throughout the century. Indeed, “Eleanor Rigby” has a soundscape that would very comfortably sit in a number of movie soundtracks today.

 

“I was very much inspired by Bernard Herrmann…[he] really impressed me, especially the strident string writing. When Paul told me he wanted the strings in ‘Eleanor Rigby’ to be doing a rhythm, Herrmann…was a particular influence.”

  • George Martin as quoted in The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn, 77

The sound revolution in “Eleanor Rigby” was further extended by the youthful influence of sound engineer Geoff Emerick. Emerick loved classical music but wasn’t bound by the rules and containment of his predecessors. He was more in tune with Paul’s desire to take what was known from the genre and move it into the contemporary music of the time…in effect, making classical acceptable to the pop genre and vice versa. To achieve this – as Jude noted – Emerick brought the microphones closer to the players, managing to isolate each string in a way that hadn’t been done before, This caused some of the more purist musicians some discomfort during the recordings. You just didn’t do that to musicians in session; well, not until now.  As Emerick clearly stated in his book Here, There, and Everywhere: “On ‘Eleanor Rigby’ we miked very, very close to the strings, almost touching them. No one had really done that before; the musicians were in horror.”

 

The combination of Emerick’s soundscape enthusiasm mixed with Martin’s more orthodox approach worked perfectly to create something that sounded filmic, classical, and modern, all at the same time – just as Paul had always seen it in his mind’s eye.

 

Kessler: Simon, please give us your thoughts on the imagery of the desolate woman and the desperate priest whom no one could hear and whom no one drew near. What do they say to you? Is there hope in this song?

For me, “Eleanor Rigby” is about the mask we put on when we are in social situations and the personas we invent to create our own self-worth. The line: “Wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door” is a face we all wear when we leave our homes and try to interact and connect with the world. “Picks up the rice in the church where a wedding has been, lives in a dream” for me, translates as the daydream in which most of us live as we look at what we perceive to be what we should be doing with our lives…and what we perceive everyone else is doing with theirs, as well as being the outsider who is always trying to conform.

 

“Father McKenzie, writing the words of a sermon that no one will hear, no one comes near. Look at him working, darning his socks in the night when there’s nobody there, what does he care?’” Again, for me the song concentrates on the lifelong search for our self-worth and ultimately, the things we do to satisfy our own perception of achievement. We are conditioned to do things that are recognized. We are educated to believe that the things we do to create our own self-worth don’t count if no one else is watching or listening. Perhaps Paul was also thinking about the apparent futility of everything. Perhaps he, too, was asking, “Does any of it matter?” and “Why are we conditioned to think like this?”

 

“Eleanor Rigby, died in the church and was buried along with her name, nobody came. Father McKenzie, wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave, no one was saved.” These final words remind us that we are all ultimately alone. Although in this case, Father McKenzie – whose life is as lonely as Eleanor’s – is at least there to see her over to the afterlife. There is ultimately someone there to see us through, even if it is after we have passed, if only to acknowledge our existence.

 

Then, there is the final chorus: “All the lonely people, where do they all come from?” This speaks to me and to all of us, I believe, at some stage of our lives, or a lot of stages in our lives. “All the lonely people, where do they all belong?” Where do any of us belong? It’s such a clever observation of the human condition and our need to find our place in the world. It addresses our belief that we only count if we are recognized by others…when the reality is discovering and being at one with our self-worth, however our life turns out. That is ultimately what it’s all about.

 

Kessler: Finally, Simon, why does this song appeal to you, personally?

 

This is a song that I very much identify with as an only child and as someone who lives on his own. Ultimately, we are all ‘lonely people,’ but what Paul McCartney (possibly together with John) tapped into is the ultimate loneliness of us all. Even if we are successful, we are unsure. If we are unsuccessful, we feel remote from those who seemingly find success easier. “Eleanor Rigby” is also about the lives we lead, despite the isolation we encounter in life. It is a song that speaks to so many people, even if they aren’t hardcore Beatles fans.

 

It’s a song that has always made me think. Very few of us get through life without anxiety and self-doubt. I do get very lonely. I suffer from anxiety and issues of self-worth, perhaps like so many of us in this Beatles family. And perhaps that’s why this family exists and why it is so successful…because it is one of the few places in life where we do belong, where we are amongst our own kind and where we can embrace individuality and encourage each other. It feels like this song was designed as a “shout out” to everyone looking for themselves.

 

We all have to go through life trying to exude a confidence we probably don’t have. Look at musicians like Adele, who suffer from imposter syndrome. I think we all suffer from imposter syndrome, unless we lack the humanity that anchors us to the reality of our short lives in the vastness of eternity. It doesn’t matter how much money you have in the bank, how good looking you are perceived to be, or what circles you move in – isolation is the biggest challenge we encounter in life, and it is easy to get lost. Look at the unfortunate people who are homeless and struggle to be seen at all by so many of us. Everyone deserves to be seen.

 

I wonder if Paul ever imagined that the fans of The Beatles would still be together after all these years and that the music and the legend of the group would create such a strong family bond?  Yet, here we are. We are very lucky to have our Beatles family. It’s what keeps many of us sane and gives us a community to feel comfortable with. I think our Beatles community has a bond stronger than The Beatles ever anticipated. It has been the catalyst that unites us and helps us get through the tough times, and songs like “Eleanor Rigby,” for me, remind us where we all are and how lucky we are to have each other. A place where we can belong, be valued, and not feel so lonely.

 

Kessler: Simon, truer words were never penned! Thank you for being an integral part of this special look at “Eleanor Rigby”! We can’t wait to see you in just a few days at the New York Metro Fest for Beatles Fans!

For more info on Simon Weitzman, HEAD HERE or follow him on Facebook HERE or on LinkedIn HERE

 

For more information on Jude Southerland Kessler and The John Lennon Series, HEAD HERE

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