Side Two, Track Last
“Run for Your Life,” The “Excellent” Potboiler Closer
by Jude Southerland Kessler and Jim Berkenstadt
For the last 18 months, the Fest for Beatles Fans blog has explored the intricacies of The Beatles’ remarkable 1965 LP, Rubber Soul. This month the Rock and Roll Detective, Jim Berkenstadt, author of Black Market Beatles, Nevermind Nirvana, The Beatle Who Vanished, and his recent best-seller, Mysteries in the Music: Case Closed, joins Jude Southerland Kessler, author of The John Lennon Series, for a fresh, new look at the raucous early-Beatles-sounding final track of this creative LP. Jim – who served as the official historian for the Harrison family in the making of George’s biopic film, “Living in the Material World” – has been the Featured Author at Beatles at the Ridge and is a long-time Guest Speaker the Fest for Beatles Fans. We’re honored to have him with us.
Date Recorded: 12 October 1965 (the first day of recording for Rubber Soul)
Time Recorded: 2:30 – 7:00 p.m. (In his Complete Beatles Chronicle, Mark Lewisohn says this was the time frame spent on “Run for Your Life.” The session continued until 11:30 p.m., but the rest of the time was spent on John’s “This Bird Has Flown.”)
Studio: EMI Studios, Studio 2
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Norman Smith
Second Engineer: Ken Scott and Phil McDonald
Stats: Recorded in 5 takes
Instrumentation and Musicians:
John Lennon, the composer, sings double-tracked lead vocals and plays his 1964 Gibson J-160E acoustic guitar. At the outset of the EMI tapes for the day, you can hear John talking to Paul about his “Jumbo Gibson.”
Paul McCartney, sings accompanying double-tracked vocal harmony, plays bass on his 1963 Hofner 500//1 Violin Bass, and according to Hammack, tambourine. (Hammack refers to the tambourine work as “a dominant part of the backing track,” p. 61)
George Harrison sings double-tracked backing vocal harmony and plays either his 1963 Gretsch G6119 Chet Atkins Tennessean electric with Gretsch Bigsby vibrato (more preferred) or his 1961 Fender Stratocaster electric with synchronized tremolo.
Ringo Starr plays one of his Ludwig Oyster Black Pearl Super Classic drum sets and according to some experts, tambourine.**
**This information is from Jerry Hammack’s The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Vol. 2, p. 61.
Sources: The Beatles, The Anthology, 193-199, Lewisohn, The Complete Beatles Chronicle, 202, Lewisohn, The Recording Sessions, 63, Kruth, This Bird Has Flown: The Enduring Beauty of Rubber Soul, Fifty Years On, 64-68, Womack, The Beatles Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, 796-797, Margotin and Guesdon, All the Songs, 308-309, Winn, Way Beyond Compare, 362-363, Hammack, The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, 61-62, Miles, The Beatles Diary, Vol. 1, 216-218, Turner, A Hard Day’s Write, 98, MacDonald, Revolution in the Head, 129, Riley, Tell Me Why, 170-171, Womack, Long and Winding Roads, 125, and Harry, The Ultimate Beatles Encyclopedia, 570.
- Unpolished Performance – In his book, Revolution in the Head: The Beatles’ Recordings and the Sixties, Ian MacDonald says of “Run for Your Life”: “The performance is slapdash, Lennon muffing the words and “ popping” the microphone several times by getting too near to it. The guitar-work, some of which is badly out of tune, is similarly rough…” Likewise, in Way Beyond Compare, John C. Winn notes that “…a thumping sound [is present] during the guitar solo.” (p. 362)
Whilst one might assume that The Beatles were getting “sloppy” in their artistry, we must remember that these are characteristics of the Please Please Me LP, which was designed to sound like a raw, unpolished Cavern Club performance. On the “Please Please Me” single, for example, we recall that Paul and John sang completely different lyrics on the “Last night I said these words to my girl” follow-up, and the bobble was kept intact, despite the fact that many “helpful” fans wrote the boys to alert them of their “error.” (Smile.) The glitch, according to Martin, added charm.
It is true that in the autumn of 1965, the boys were under tremendous pressure to get Rubber Soul recorded and polished quickly. Barry Miles in The Beatles Diary, Vol. 1 comments: “The Beatles were trapped on a deadline-powered treadmill.” (p. 216) They hadn’t paused once all year from the making of their United Artists film “Help!” and its accompanying LP to their European Tour to the July movie premieres and a live Blackpool show for the ever-demanding BBC to the 1965 North American Tour and the impending 1965 UK Tour. So, time was a commodity of which The Beatles had precious little.
But that did not stop Rubber Soul from being one of their most artistic, incredible LPs. In fact, John Lennon commented, “We were…getting better, technically and musically…we finally took over the studio. On Rubber Soul, we were sort of more precise about making the album…” (p. 21) Thus, the glitches in “Run for Your Life” seem to have been left in the song intentionally. They gave the track an early Beatles flavor. On an album replete with new outlooks, new instruments, and new sounds, here at last, fans could find “the lads from Liverpool.” For many, it was a refreshing, “ahhhhhh!” moment.
- John Lennon (instead of Paul McCartney) “does Elvis” – One wonderful feature of The Beatles’ Cavern Club shows was Paul’s talented homage to Elvis in songs such as “That’s All Right, Mama.” Able to closely imitate the American star to a “T,” McCartney always brought down the house with his Presley renditions. Here, it was John Lennon’s turn to pay tribute to the icon. Indeed, John wrote this entire song based on two lines from one of Elvis’s classic rockabilly tracks (“Baby, Let’s Play House,” composed by Arthur Gunter): “I’d rather see you dead, little girl/ than to be with another man.”
Then, employing a jagged, halting vocal style, John performs “Run For Your Life” a la E! In fact, in All the Songs, Margotin and Guesdon tell us that “In the first take, John’s voice was wrapped in a slap-back echo, which [gave] a rockabilly feel to the piece.” (p. 308-309) And to make the sound even more authentic, the song was laced with George Harrison’s “chord slides,” to enhance that 1950s Elvis sound. Having met and talked with Presley in his Los Angeles mansion only a few weeks earlier, John offers this Rubber Soul nod to his hero, of whom he had often quipped, “Before Elvis, there was nothing.”
- A Glimpse Back at The Early Beatles – As we’ve observed in songs such as “Drive My Car,” “Norwegian Wood,” “Girl,” “What Goes On,” “You Won’t See Me,” and even “Michelle” (who doesn’t even know the adoring male exists), the women of Rubber Soul are not the up-on-a-pedestal, helpless women in “Ask Me Why,” or “Do You Want to Know a Secret” or “I Need You.” Rubber Soul’s women are strong, independent, and many times, unemotional. And their romantic relationships are quite complicated. In “Run for Your Life,” for example, the female is suspected of infidelity.
John’s reaction to her unfaithfulness, however, isn’t as open-minded or “as 1965” as the other songs on Rubber Soul seem to be. Lennon reacts like John of old: John of the Casbah, John of the Cavern boards, John of gritty Hamburg. He reveals himself as the jealous “Northern man” that he’s always been. His attitude is inappropriately edgy, as are his threats, founded in wounded machismo. And in later years, John regretted and apologized for these lyrics.
But the “antiquated attitude” John expressed was not intended as an anti-feminist statement. As Tim Riley points out in Tell Me Why, this is merely Lennon “let[ting] off steam.” (p. 170) According to John, “‘Run for Your Life’…was just a song I knocked off” (Kruth, p. 66), “just a sort of throwaway song of mine that I never thought much of.” (Riley, 170). It’s merely a hard-charging, angst-filled rock anthem that gets the blood pumping. On an LP featuring sitars, melodies that hint at a droning tabla sound, exotic French lyrics, baroque orchestration, and elevated themes embracing the agape love of mankind, “Run for Your Life” sweeps the listener back to an earlier era. (Arthur Gunter wrote “Baby, Let’s Play House” in 1954, and Presley released it in 1955.) Here, in this final track of an extremely metamorphic LP, we encounter our band of old: The Beatles. As Jerry Hammack so aptly observed in his Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Vol. 2, “ ‘Run for Your Life’ might have been a warning shot across the bow of expectation that these were still the same lovable mop tops that had burst upon the scene just three years earlier.” The past was still a part of them all – and of John, in particular.
A Fresh New Look:
Recently, John Lennon expert Jude Southerland Kessler sat down with the Rock and Roll Detective, best-selling author Jim Berkenstadt, to talk about this LP-closing rocker. Accustomed to routing out rock’n’roll’s greatest mysteries in books such as Black Market Beatles, consulting to the late George Harrison and The Beatles Apple Corps Ltd, and his latest release, Mysteries in the Music: Case Closed, Jim agreed to give us his unique perspective on “Run for Your Life.”
Jude Southerland Kessler: Jim, thank you for taking time out from the making of the new movie based on your book The Beatle Who Vanished to talk with our Fest Family about “Run for Your Life.” You know, in John Kruth’s book This Bird Has Flown, The Enduring Beauty of Rubber Soul, Fifty Years On, he tells us that if one listens to the EMI tapes for 12 October 1965, one can hear John – preparing the band to record “Run for Your Life” – directing the others to “make it heavy!” (p. 63) Kruth says this was “years before anyone had heard the term heavy metal, or used the term heavy instead of profound.” (p. 63) So, what is John Lennon after here, Jim? And how do The Beatles accomplish that “heavy” goal?
Jim Berkenstadt: Thanks, Jude.
Even though many have described this track over the years as a toss away or album filler, I loved this song the first time I heard it, which was Christmas Day, 1965. I will never forget get it.
The musical and vocal elements are what make the song “heavy”. I don’t think Lennon meant heavy in the sense of the future genre “heavy metal.” I think he meant that suggestion as a way to get the entire band to play it as a hard rocker. Clearly, his recent visit with Elvis in LA, and John’s love of early Elvis recordings was on his mind when he began to write the song. It is interesting that The Beatles recorded the song exactly 10 years after Elvis released his song, “Baby Let’s Play House.”
I believe John wanted a tougher rock sound to match the macho, edgy vocals and jealous lyrics he was writing. Even the acoustic strumming at the start sets the driving pace, as the loud opening lead guitar riff kicks in, pulling the listener in to pay attention to Lennon’s opening and threatening lyrics. At the same time, we hear a very hard 2 and 4 backbeat from Ringo on drums and Paul overdubbing the driving tambourine. I think the double-tracked backing vocals and harmonies in the chorus are very strident, crisp and aggressive too. At the same time, they are beautiful and precise in their execution. The guitar slides that accompany the tough lead guitar solo by George are amazing. All of these elements combine to push the listener to pay attention. The song achieves its “heavy” goal with its driving passion and sound. Musically it is very hooky and catchy. You cannot get the song out of your head after only one listen.
Kessler: Kruth also says that “Run for Your Life” was “tacked on at the end of the record, stashed behind a second Harrison number (on the U.K. version).” (p. 66) But traditionally, George Martin had always given special attention and consideration to the closing “pot-boiler” on each of The Beatles’ LPs. Tell us about some of the other exceptional closing songs, please, Jim. And do you think “Run for Your Life” measures up?
The Sgt. Pepper LP featured “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band (Reprise),” which has a similar hard-charging feel that provides us with another closing “Pot Boiler” like “Run for your Life.” And my favorite LP-ending song by The Beatles will always be “The End,” from Abbey Road, with the group trading solos in a rousing farewell to their fans. But, it is important to recall that The Beatles matured and changed with each album they created. I think Rubber Soul was a transitionary album that drew a bit from the old days and also shared a more mature future musical direction as well. For that reason, comparing closing numbers is a bit of “apples and oranges.” However, I think “Run For Your Life” really holds up as a great album closer 27 years on.
Kessler: Okay, the elephant in the room! Our friend Ken Womack, in Vol. 2 of his Beatles Encyclopedia informs us that in 1992, Ottawa’s radio station CFRA banned “Run for Your Life” for its misogynistic lyrics. When Beatles fans wrote in to inform the station that the offensive line was a direct quote from Elvis’s “Baby Let’s Play House,” that song was then banned as well. But CFRA did not ban Jimi Hendrix’s “Hey Joe” or Nancy Sinatra’s version of “Run for Your Life” in which she sings “I’d rather see you dead little boy than to be with another woman.” They did not ban Johnny Cash’s “Cocaine Blues” or the Rolling Stones’ “Under My Thumb” or Dylan’s “Just Like a Woman.” For that matter, they didn’t ban female rockers performing songs such as the Crystals’ “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss)” or Joanie Summers performing “Johnny Get Angry.” So, what’s really at play here, Jim? Does John Lennon’s penchant for being constantly censured figure into the mix?
Censorship of music has always been a slippery slope. In my new book, Mysteries in the Music: Case Closed, I reviewed 100s of pages of de-classified FBI investigation documents into whether the song “Louie Louie” by The Kingsmen was in fact obscene. In that case, the FBI and the Governor of Indiana (who basically banned the record from radio in violation of the First Amendment) were pre-disposed to find something wrong with the song. I detailed their sloppy investigations which were an embarrassment. The 3-year FBI witch-hunt cost taxpayers around $62 million dollars in today’s money, and never found any evidence of obscenity. The details I revealed in the book demonstrated what they failed to find and what they should have discovered. Readers will enjoy this fresh new deep-dive on the topic of music censorship.
The censorship of John Lennon’s song doesn’t necessarily indicate that they were picking on Lennon per se. Censorship really is a totally subjective process. Perhaps the station chose Lennon for a public relations reason? Admittedly, Lennon and The Beatles were bigger than all of the other artists they could have picked on. By selecting him, perhaps they thought they might gain more listeners from the controversial publicity? Or maybe someone didn’t like The Beatles at that station? We may never know the motive behind this action. I think the only way to truly answer this question would be to locate all of the decision makers at the station in 1992, and ask them about their motives in the censorship of Lennon’s song and try to determine why they chose the Lennon/ Beatles song and not the others.
Ironically, the biggest pop song of last year was not investigated by the FBI for obscenity. It was a Cardi B hit called, “WAP.” I will let your readers look up what that stands for. LOL.
Kessler: Jim, so many Beatles experts link this 1965 song to earlier Lennon “insecurity” tracks such as “No Reply” and “You Can’t Do That.” Others see “Run for Your Life” as a precursor to “Jealous Guy,” “I’m Losing You,” and “Crippled Inside.” There is an obvious common denominator in John’s life story…the story he tells us over and over and over throughout his career. Talk a little about that, please, Jim, and what other songs do you see as part of this “Lennon Litany of Loss”?
Sadly, as many Beatles fans know, John lost his mother two times. The first time was after his parents broke up and John went to live with his Aunt Mimi. This alone would have been traumatic enough for a young boy to see his mom get together with another man and start a new family without him in the home. But then, as he was starting to spend more time in his teens with his mom, and she was teaching him guitar chords and giving him his first guitar, she was sadly killed by an off-duty drunken officer who hit her with his car. The loss of family at a young age can create a lifelong trauma, not easily remedied. I think John’s trauma did lead to many songs of loss, sadly. Perhaps the most poignant song he ever wrote was “Mother.” Who can forget the grief-filled and chilling lines of John’s Plastic Ono Band song:
Mother, you had me but I never had you,
I wanted you,
You didn’t want me
So I, I just got to tell you
Father, you left me but I never left you,
I needed you,
You didn’t need me
So I, I just got to tell you
This is such a broken-hearted song. It is my belief that John did benefit from putting his grief and feelings of loss into his music. In a way, it was a healthy form of therapy. And it probably served to help others who had similar childhood traumas to relate to Lennon’s honest and brave “Litany of Loss” songs.
Kessler: Jim, thank you so much for your insights into this controversial but (as Margotin and Guesdon observed) “excellent song.” (p. 309) I’m enjoying your intriguing Mysteries in the Music: Case Closed book so much! And I can’t wait to see you in Chicago in just a few weeks for the Fest!
For more information on the Rock and Roll Detective Jim Berkendstadt, go to:
Mysteries in the Music: Case Closed (free excerpt download and signed copies)
The Beatle Who Vanished (free excerpt download and signed copies)
You can meet Jim in person at the Chicago Fest for Beatles Fans, Aug. 12-14 at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare where he’ll be discussing and signing his most recent book, Mysteries in the Music, Case Closed.
To purchase Jim’s books, go to: Amazon.com: Jim Berkenstadt: Books, Biography, Blog, Audiobooks, Kindle and www.thefest.com
“There is no p-l-a-s-t-i-c in Rubber Soul”
by Jude Southerland Kessler and Rande Kessler
What a thrill to have my husband Rande Kessler with me this month to explore the artistry of Rubber Soul’s unique cover. Rande is a respected Louisiana artist who was selected as The Caroline Dorman Artist of the Year and featured in a one-man show in Shreveport’s Norton Art Gallery. He won the Melrose Arts Festival and his multi-media sculptures of The Beatles were featured at The GRAMMY Museum of Mississippi’s Beatles Symposium. and he has drawn the unique portraits of John Lennon that grace the covers of She Loves You, Should Have Known Better, and Shades of Life, part 1 (Vols. 3, 4, and 5 in The John Lennon Series.) Rande is the owner of OnTheRockBooks and co-hosts the Focal Points webinars with me. Here are his insights into this magical, unique Beatles album cover!
Date Released: 3 December 1965 in the U.K. as the sixth studio album by The Beatles. 6 December in the U.S.
Date Photographed: Late 1965
Location: Many sources state that the location for the photo shoot was John Lennon’s Kenwood garden in Weybridge, Surrey, U.K. (according to Robert Freeman and Bill Harry, The Ultimate Beatles Encyclopedia, 255, and Spizer, The BEATLES Rubber Soul to Revolver, 192-196.)
Photographer: Robert Freeman; graduated from Cambridge in 1959. Before beginning his professional career as a photographer, he worked for a short time as Director of Contemporary Arts in London. In 1963, Freeman, who was noted for artistic portraits of jazz musicians, “made a chance phone call to Dick Fontaine” a friend of his in Manchester. Fontaine had filmed The Beatles in the Cavern Club and suggested that if Freeman wanted to photograph musicians, he should “have a look at them, as they were a talented band…” (Freeman, p. 8) So, after contact, Freeman was asked by Brian Epstein to send photo samples to Wales to show the boys. He assembled a portfolio of portraits he had taken of jazz musicians, such as Dizzy Gillespie and John Coltrane. On 20 August 1963, at Epstein’s request (and after the boys had seen the work), Freeman traveled to meet them. (Freeman, p. 9) His artistic focus on musicians’ portraits and musicians in concert, was the “flash” that highlighted his photographic talent for the Fab Four.
John Lennon, sporting a brown suede jacket, second from the left on the cover, obviously taking a “selfie,” looking at the camera with scrutiny and a hint of panache. There was a small, loose thread on his right shoulder which was airbrushed out on most covers (Spizer, The Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records, p. 206 and http://webgrafikk.com/blog/uncategorized/lennons-thread/ You can see the thread in this…thread).
Ringo Starr, also wearing a brown suede jacket, with a blank stare to his right.
Paul McCartney, again with a suede jacket, this time more charcoal-colored, seems concerned with something George spotted.
George Harrison, barely in the picture (as was often his complaint) looks concerned about being too close to the edge of the album cover. He is quoted as saying about the album, however, “…The picture on the front is pretty good.”
Background: Rhododendron bush, not marijuana. And no LSD was harmed in the creation of the Rubber Soul artwork.
Sources: The Rubber Soul album covers, both EMI and Capitol; Lewisohn, The Beatles Recording Sessions, 69, Spizer, The Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records, 204-206; Spizer, The BEATLES Rubber Soul to Revolver, 192-196; Freeman, The Beatles, a private view, 8-9 and 64, Martin, The Beatles Diary, Vol. 1, 216; Kruth, This Bird Has Flown: The Enduring Beauty of Rubber Soul Fifty Years On, 37-42, and Harry, The Ultimate Beatles Encyclopedia, 254-255.
- The times – According to Spizer’s compilation and as stated by Freeman himself, Freeman was searching for “…another angle on the group and a different tonality…“ (Freeman, p. 64). Kruth (This Bird Has Flown, p. 37) discusses this change in angle and tonality as compared to Freeman’s previous photo work on Beatles for Sale. Freeman, of course, had been photographing The Beatles since Meet the Beatles, making Rubber Soul his fifth cover endeavor, albeit his last.
- No matching outfits…and no ties – The Beatles are not in a “posed band” or photo-promo shot. And the boys “stood shoulder to shoulder, huddled together in the cool autumn air.” (Kruth, p. 37) Indeed, to quote Robert Freeman: “Uniformity was out.” (p. 64)
- An album as artwork rather than simply “a collection of singles” – According to George Martin, the intention was to present “a new Beatles to the world…And Rubber Soul was the first to emerge that way.” (Martin, p. 216) Robert Freeman, it seems, was achieving that by first developing a photographic moment in dissolving light, perhaps to show a dissolving from “Beatles before to The Beatles after”? Next, Freeman adds graphic distortion to the photograph, which happened by accident, but was liked by The Beatles (Freeman p. 64). Viewers were now seeing The Beatles’ images as reflections in a chrome door knob. Perhaps, as we reached for them, Freeman was inviting us to open the door to a new album experience.
- No “nametag” – The group’s name does not appear on the cover for the first time in Beatles history. (Spizer, p. 204) I think the time had arrived to acknowledge four individual artists creating music as a band, versus “a band” of four talented musicians. Cheers. Everybody knew their name.
This “say no more” license was repeated again with the advent of the White Album. As The Beatles’ ninth LP, it was officially released in 1968 as “The Beatles.” But fans quickly identified the record according to the look of the white jacket instead, without need for “the” band name!
A Fresh New Look:
Rande Kessler has been part of our Fest Family for the last 15 years. He has produced the over 45 Power Point presentations that Jude has given during that time. His “Shine On” Beatles original T-shirt and John Lennon “Should Have Been There” T-shirt have been bestsellers, and Rande’s “Doors of Liverpool” art poster of unique photographs of each Beatle home and venue has been a Fest favorite. Kessler’s work has been featured in the “Artists of the Wiregrass” showcase and in Dothan magazine.
Jude Southerland Kessler: Rande, I know you are…um, quite familiar with The Beatles. As an artist, musician, and photographer yourself, does anything come to mind that you’d like to share about the cover of Rubber Soul?
Rande Kessler: The Beatles, oh yes, that group from Liverpool!! They are, fortunately, in my life. I have T-shirts that say “Give Peas a Chance,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Hey Jude,” (of course), and “Lived a Man Who Sailed the Sea.” I do have some thoughts about the Rubber Soul cover.
Robert Freeman said about all his cover photographs, “My intention was to keep the compositions simple, so that the focus of attention would always be on The Beatles as personalities.” With the Rubber Soul cover, I think the intention was to wash their personalities across another new canvas of Beatles music and art. I think when author John Kruth said of Freeman’s photography work, “The effect was to stretch the perspective…” he nailed it. (Kruth, p. 39)
Kruth goes on to say Freeman believed “the distorted effect was a reflection of the changing shape of their lives.” Rubber Soul was, as typical of The Beatles, a game-changer from cover-to-songmanship-to cover. The title with its equally transitional graphic also melded well with the photo work to depict the depth of The Beatles’ forever fluid offerings to the world. As usual, there was no shallow depth to that pool. In an article for The Daily Beatle, Patrick Roefflaer points out the Rubber Soul clever wordplay on ‘Plastic Soul.’” He elaborates that “plastic soul” was an expression “that black musicians were using to describe The Rolling Stones.” Mark Lewisohn adds: “Paul frequently repeated the words, ‘Plastic soul, man, plastic soul!’ And then, for the benefit of the other Beatles, and now history, he went on to explain that it was a phrase coined by black musicians to describe Mick Jagger.” (The Beatles Recording Sessions, p. 69)
The “rubber” component was explored further by graphic designer Charles Front (contacted by Freeman for the lettering) using his “innovative typography,” as Kruth puts it. Front researched rubber processing and successfully added the graphic look of rubber to the letters themselves. Front said, “If you tap into a rubber tree, you get a sort of globule…” (Spizer, The BEATLES Rubber Soul to Revolver, p. 192) And voila!
So, here we have an album cover, graphics, and title that encompassed The Beatles’ history and love of black rhythm and blues, The Beatles’ competitive and respectful musicians’ dance with The Rolling Stones, The Beatles’ introduction of albums as art collections, The Beatles’ transition from “the way they was,” and even the triple entendre of mixing rubber vs plastic, soul vs sole, and fluid graphic to fluid sound. Who knows, maybe they even thought, “Hey, Rubber Soul begins with “R – S” for more axe-play with “R-olling S-tones”?
The cover was subtle, and obvious, and fluid: an artistic portrayal of a transition, and of the four unique individuals involved in that change. Much detail about the cover development process and edits is provided by Spizer and Freeman – and explored by Kruth – but the artistic view of the cover art challenges us to see beyond the clever cover creation and into the creativity it presents.
What individual personalities do each of us see in Robert Freeman’s photograph? What messages are being conveyed? How does the cover encourage us to use new perspective when we pull the LP from the sleeve and listen? The artistry of the best photograph is to capture myriad descriptions in one still scene: to make a statement. In the case of the Rubber Soul cover, it also captures the observer. Instead of reacting to the cover art with stagnant appreciation, we react with dynamic processing. We think, “Hmmm, what’s this about?”
Freeman wanted to use his skill to present us with four Beatles pens and one signature, to introduce us to the full art potential of album covers, and to tease our sense of reality with distortion. And when we look at the Rubber Soul cover, Lennon clearly tasks us to try to keep our balance.
Side Two, Track Six
“If I Needed Someone”
Through 2021 and 2022, the Fest for Beatles Fans blog has explored The Beatles’ remarkable 1965 LP, Rubber Soul. This month, Lanea Stagg, author of The Recipe Records Series including the original Recipe Records, Recipe Records: Sixties Edition, Recipe Records: A
Culinary Tribute to The Beatles, and The Rolling Scones: Let’s Spend the Bite Together joins Jude Southerland Kessler, author of The John Lennon Series, for a fresh, new look at the exciting next-to-last track on this unique, creative LP.
Date Recorded: 16 October (superimpositions added 18 October)
Time Recorded: Late in the evening of 16 October, probably around 11.30 p.m. Most of the session (from 2:30 p.m.-midnight) had been spent on “Day Tripper.” In Way Beyond Compare, John C. Winn says, “Before going home for the night, The Beatles also started work on a George Harrison composition, “If I Needed Someone.” (P. 364) And Mark Lewisohn in The Complete Beatles Chronicle gives us a time stamp by saying that the boys turned to George’s creation “with the clock ticking towards midnight…” .
Studio: EMI Studios, Studio 2
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Norman Smith
Second Engineer: Ken Scott
Stats: Backing track (of bass, drums, rhythm guitar, and twelve-string electric guitar) recorded in one take on 16 October 1965. (p. 364)
Then, on 18 October, George double-tracked the lead vocal, accompanied by John and Paul’s harmonies to create the famous Beatles 3-part harmony. Then, Ringo on tambourine and George were on lead guitar recorded together on another track.
Instrumentation and Musicians:
George Harrison, the composer, sings lead vocal, plays on his 1965 Rickenbacker 360/12 (12-string electric guitar).
John Lennon sings harmony vocals and plays rhythm on his 1961 Fender Stratocaster with synchronized tremolo.
Paul McCartney sings harmony vocals and plays bass on his 1964 Rickenbacker 4001S bass.
Ringo Starr plays one of his Ludwig Oyster Black Pearl Super Classic drum sets and plays tambourine in superimposition.[i]
Sources: Lewisohn, The Complete Beatles Chronicle, 202, Lewisohn, The Recording Sessions, 64, Gunderson, Some Fun Tonight! The Backstage Story of How The Beatles Rocked America: The Historic Tours of 1964-1966, 90-91, Everett, The Beatles as Musicians: The Quarry Men through Rubber Soul, 318-319, Margotin and Guesdon, All the Songs, 306-307, Winn, Way Beyond Compare, 364, Hammack, The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Vol. 2, 71-72, Miles, The Beatles Diary, Vol. 1, 218, Turner, A Hard Day’s Write, 98, Spizer, The Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records, 203, Babiuk, Beatles Gear, 167-168, Womack, Long and Winding Roads: The Evolving Artistry of The Beatles, 125, and Mellers, Twilight of the Gods: The Music of The Beatles, 61.
- Influence of the Byrds and the Folk Rock Sound – During the 1965 North American Tour, when Capitol’s Alan Livingston threw a party for The Beatles and invited stars such as Edward G. Robinson, Groucho Marx, Eddie Fisher, Jack Benny, and Rock Hudson, George opted to “go his own way” for a meeting with the chart-topping folk-rock group, the Byrds. The California group’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” (written by Bob Dylan) had hit Number 1 on 26 June 1965, and the Byrds had said in several interviews that they liked The Beatles’ music, were inspired by them, and in fact, played the exact same instruments that The Beatles played.
Indeed, Harrison’s 12-string Rickenbacker lead became an important part of the Byrds’ signature sound. Honored by this homage, George wanted to get to know the group and made the effort to visit them. As a result of this meeting, plus a second visit to the Byrds in studio (on 27 August, this time accompanied by Paul), George began to compose a new song in West Coast folk-rock genre. In fact, Harrison specifically stated that the guitar riff of the Byrds’ “The Bells of Rhymney” and the melody of their song “She Don’t Care About Time” inspired “If I Needed Someone.” (Turner, 98) More about this coming up in Lanea Stagg’s “Fresh, New Look.”
However, “If I Needed Someone” isn’t at all derivative of these two Byrds compositions. Instead, George’s second original song on the Rubber Soul LP is actually a study written around the D chord. George marveled that “a million other songs” had also been written around the D chord. He said, “If you move your fingers about, you get various other melodies…it amazes me that people still find new permutations of the same notes.” (Margotin and Guesdon, 306 and Turner, 98) And yet, the influence of the Byrds’ jingle-jangle sound – enhanced by Ringo’s work on tambourine – gives “If I Needed Someone” a unique timbre.
- George’s New Guitar – On the 1965 North American Tour, at the end of the Minneapolis press conference, a special presentation took place. The co-owners of a local music store named B-Sharp gifted George with a Rickenbacker Fireglo (red sunburst) 360/12 (12-string electric guitar). Both Andy Babiuk in Beatles Gear (pp. 168-169) and Chuck Gunderson in Some Fun Tonight! The Backstage Story of How The Beatles Rocked America: The Historic North American Tours, 1964-1966 (p. 91) give us the backstory for this presentation. They say that when Liverpool’s Remo Four had visited the shop some weeks before The Beatles landed in Minneapolis, the group spotted the instrument and commented, “George [Harrison] would love this!” Right then and there, owners Randy Resnick and Ron Butwin decided to give the Rickenbacker to George when The Beatles arrived in Minneapolis on 21 August. George was thrilled! And as a result, both Butwin and Resnick were given VIP seats in the Twins dugout for the concert in Metropolitan Stadium. It is this new guitar that George uses on “If I Needed Someone.”
- Toughness in Romantic Relationships – As we’ve discussed previously, all of the songs about women on Rubber Soul are 180-out from the early Beatles’ head-over-heels attitudes in “She Loves You,” “From Me to You, “Ask Me Why,” “Do You Want to Know a Secret,” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” On Rubber Soul, love has become complicated. “Drive My Car” featured a hard-charging female determined to get to the top and only interested in a man who can “drive her car.” “Girl” shone a light on a callous woman who “put you down when friends are there/you feel a fool.” The girlfriend in “You Won’t See Me” doesn’t “treat me right,” and even the enchanting “Michelle” doesn’t realize that her suitor exists! In “If I Needed Someone,” however, the problem isn’t rejection of the male. It’s his (rather reluctant) rejection of her with the wistful caveat that “Had come some other day/Then it might not have been like this/But you see now I’m too much in love.” Rubber Soul’s relationships are clearly not simple or sweetly romantic. As Wilfred Mellers points out, “In all these songs, there’s a toughness, beneath lyricism or comedy that is not evident in other songs.” (p. 61)
A Fresh New Look
Note from Jude Kessler: It has been my distinct pleasure to work hand-in-hand with author Lanea Stagg almost daily for the last ten years. Together we produce the monthly podcast “She Said She Said” on Apple Podcasts, Podbean, and Spotify. In our five years with that show, we’ve been blessed to interview Julia Baird, May Pang, Ken Mansfield, Roag Best, Helen Andersen, Chas Newby, Leslie Cavendish, and so many others in The Beatles family as well as a host of Beatles experts and authors. From 2012-2019, Lanea and I co-chaired the Authors and Artists Symposium for Walnut Ridge, Arkansas’s “Beatles at the Ridge.” And in 2016, we worked together to chair the GRAMMY Museum of Mississippi’s Beatles Symposium. Lanea is not only the author of the Recipe Records Series, but is also the author of two successful children’s books, Little Dog in the Sun and Little Dog About Town. She has been a Guest Speaker at the Chicago Fest for Beatles Fans, Abbey Road on the River, and the Monmouth University White Album Conference. Her articles have appeared on the All Music website and in 2021, she worked with Angie and Ruth McCartney to feature her recipes @GourmetNFTOfficial. I was so thrilled to be able to sit down and chat with Lanea about George Harrison’s second song on Rubber Soul.
Jude Southerland Kessler: In the “What’s New” segment of this blog, we discussed the strong influence of the Byrds on this George Harrison number. What elements of the “jingle-jangle folk rock” movement has Harrison employed in “If I Needed Someone”?
Lanea Stagg: It is a very curious musical event when one band gives another “the nod” by borrowing another band’s riff, or other sound. When we hear that curiosity today, we don’t really think of this as “a nod,” but more as stealing!
George’s song, “If I Needed Someone,” actually contained “the nod” to California band the Byrds, who were comprised of Roger McGuinn (known as “Jim” at that time), David Crosby, Gene Clark, Michael Clarke, and Chris Hillman. But…the Byrds (as Jude noted in the “What’s New” segment) had created their sound based upon influence from The Beatles’ music, specifically from the film A Hard Day’s Night. McGuinn was very taken with the sound of Harrison’s 12-string Rickenbacker, so he acquired one as well. Chris Hillman stated in 2008 for Central Coast Magazine, “McGuinn saw George playing a Rickenbacker 12-string in A Hard Day’s Night. McGuinn had been playing a Gibson acoustic 12-string when he saw Harrison,” and the rest became history.
When George met up with the Byrds in California, they discussed their sounds. The Byrds had released “The Bells of Rhymney” in June 1965, and George was very fond of the jangly 12-string Rickenbacker riff. George incorporated the riff as “a nod” back to the band.
I recommend listening to “The Bells of Rhymney,” and it won’t take long to recognize the riff. The song is a very old story, and quite sad, about a coal mining disaster in Wales. Harrison loved the sound McGuinn used with the Rickenbacker, and he “borrowed” the riff for “If I Needed Someone.”
In a 2004 interview for Christian Music Today, Roger McGuinn said, “George Harrison wrote that song [“If I Needed Someone”] after hearing the Byrds’ recording of ‘Bells of Rhymney.’ He gave a copy of his new recording to Derek Taylor, The Beatles’ former press officer, who flew to Los Angeles and brought it to my house. He said George wanted me to know that he had written the song based on the rising and falling notes of my electric Rickenbacker 12-string guitar introduction. It was a great honor to have in some small way influenced our heroes, The Beatles.”
Curiously, “If I Needed Someone” was not on the U.S. release of Rubber Soul. It wasn’t released in the U.S. until June of 1966 when it appeared on the LP Yesterday and Today. So, it was a BIG DEAL for George to send a copy of his recording to Roger McGuinn!
So, here we have George writing a song where he was inspired by the Byrds, and in “turn, turn, turn,” the Byrds were first inspired by The Beatles.
Kessler: Lanea, many music experts have tagged “If I Needed Someone” as the precursor to “Within You Without You” and “Love You To.” Some have even noted that it might have served as a springboard for John Lennon’s “Tomorrow Never Knows.” What musical connections do you see between this 1965 composition and George’s later Indian-inspired melodies?
Stagg: Musicology is not for the faint of heart! With so many elements to digest in a song – especially a Beatles’ piece – the casual ear might miss a tasty morsel.
I find this to be the case in George’s “If I Needed Someone.” First, we hear the satiny smooth jingle-jangle of the Ric as well as a steady bass, which is greeted with George’s declaration: “If I needed someone to love/You’re the one that I’d be thinking of.” The frosting on this delicacy is the harmony by John and Paul as well as Ringo’s tambourine. That all happens in 20 seconds!
What develops further in this song is quite full. As mentioned earlier in the “What’s Changed” segment, the song is built around the D chord. This produces a rather dronish sound…which conjures up the possibility of adding a sitar (which George was learning to play). However, here he chose not to.
Musician/songwriter Rande Kessler stated that George “was enjoying a playfulness around only a few chords, climbing and descending a small scale to produce a lilting, droning, chanting effect. It is almost a repetitive “humming” sound that is sung along with his Ric 12-string, more or less emulating a sitar. The melody doesn’t stray far from the original chord, and the bridge simply floats a variation that brings the melody back to the beginning. To me, ‘Within You Without You’ essentially takes that same lilting chord-orbit that George started with and uses the sitar to play along with the chanting melody…as an evolution from “If I Needed Someone” and its sitar-sounding capoed Ric 12-string.”
In Hunter Davies’s The Beatles Lyrics, George states: “[Rubber Soul] is my favorite. We certainly knew we were making a good album. We were suddenly hearing sounds that we weren’t able to hear before, everything was blossoming at the same time, including us, because we were still growing.”
Kessler: Many music experts have referred to this song as “a tribute to Pattie Boyd” (who became Pattie Harrison in January 1966). And yet, George’s response to the flirtatious “other” in this song is rather coy and complicated. I see a bit of a parallel between “if I Needed Someone” and another 1965 hit written by The Lovin’ Spoonful entitled “Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind?”. Do you? And do you think that this song serves as a tribute to Pattie Boyd?
Stagg: Many sources state this song is a tribute to Pattie Boyd. However, if I were Pattie Boyd, I would hope not! George Harrison is clearly leaving the door open for one, or perhaps more, potential love interests…in case things do not work out with Pattie.
George does proclaim, “I’m too much in love,” and therefore, announces to the ladies that his heart has been stolen away by the gorgeous Miss Boyd. Remember, George was only 22-years-old when he penned “If I Needed Someone.” He had been swarmed by women for years, and I’m sure had played a lot of games. Perhaps he was unsure if Pattie would continue to be in love with him, especially knowing the challenges attached to being a “Beatle wife.” He had seen how difficult that was for John. So, perhaps George is keeping one foot in the door…just in case!
“If I Needed Someone” is the beginning of George’s effort to pen meaningful lyrics. The song was released on the UK Rubber Soul LP almost one year after the release of The Beatles’ album Beatles for Sale, where George gave a cover performance of Carl Perkins’s “Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby.” We envision George singing, “Everybody’s trying to be my baby,” over and over…and perhaps he really was experiencing the deluge of women trying to be his baby! Was that part of the inspiration for his 1965 lyrics: “Carve your number on my wall…”? Could George have written a follow-up to his experiences during that year where there was ALWAYS someone trying to be his baby? George was enveloped in Beatlemania and the avalanche of women trying to get to him.
While Lennon and McCartney were able to create intricate lyrics as easily as taking a breath, George had to work harder at it. His early songs were rather unpolished and at times, even bland. On Rubber Soul, he penned lyrics for not only “If I Needed Someone,” but also “Think for Yourself.” “Think for Yourself” is a rather somber statement to fans as opposed to the syrupy songs they were used to from Lennon/McCartney. The tune is peppy, but the lyrics, not so much.
The boys were faced with many choices, and it feels as if George is choosing to “make up his mind” to pick up on Pattie and leave the other birds behind.
Kessler: Lanea, “If I Needed Someone” is ranked #54 in Spignesi and Lewis’s 100 Best Beatles Songs – a rather impressive rating! The song is so appealing that it has been covered by the Kingsmen, Cryin’ Shames, Hugh Mackels, Michael Hedges…and the Hollies. However, George Harrison despised the Hollies’ version of his song. He said, “I think it’s rubbish the way they’ve done it. They’ve spoilt it.” (Womack, Long and Winding Roads, The Evolving Artistry of The Beatles, 125) What do you hear in the Hollies’ version of “If I Needed Someone” that supports or refutes George’s appraisal?
Stagg: I concur with George Harrison. Hearing the version released by the Hollies is a let-down, and if I were George, absolutely would not consider it a compliment!
While the Hollies perform the song in their unique and typical sound, they come off sounding tinny, and George’s beautiful riff was now played on what sounded like a plastic guitar! The Beatles’ brilliant performance of harmonies on George’s song really cannot be matched or recreated. The Hollies lack the crisp, clean, and more pure harmonies that The Beatles flawlessly added to George’s song. I think George was right, and I would send the Hollies back to the “Bus Stop!”
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[i] Instrumentation information from Jerry Hammack’s The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Vol. 2, 71.
Side Two, Track 5
“Wait”…and They Did!
by Jude Southerland Kessler and Piers Hemmingsen
Through 2021 and the first few months of 2022, the Fest for Beatles Fans blog has been walking through The Beatles’ artistic and pivotal 1965 LP, Rubber Soul. This month, Piers Hemmingsen, author of The Beatles in Canada: The Origins of Beatlemania! (known as “The Red Book”) joins Jude Southerland Kessler, author of The John Lennon Series, for a fresh, new look at the only song on the LP “left over” from the Help! soundtrack recordings. Piers, who is busy completing the second volume of his series (“The Blue Book”) will be attending the April 1-3 New York Metro Fest for Beatles Fans. Please come by and chat with him when you’re there. But for now, let’s discover why The Beatles made the decision to wait on “Wait.” Read on…
Date Recorded: 17 June 1965 (and 11 November 1965)
Studio: EMI Studios, Studio 2
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Norman Smith and Ron Pender
Second Engineer: Phil McDonald and Ken Scott
Stats: Recorded initially for the Help! LP in 4 takes.
Instrumentation and Musicians: ***
John Lennon, co-composer, sings lead – except for the middle eight – and plays his 1965 Rickenbacker 325 Capri electric guitar.
Paul McCartney, co-composer, sings lead vocal on the middle eight and plays bass on his 1962-63 Hofner 500/1.
George Harrison plays lead guitar on his 1963 Gretsch G6119 Chet Atkins Tennessean electric guitar. He is using a Gretsch Bigsby vibrato (and tone pedal).
Ringo Starr plays one of his Ludwig Oyster Black Pearl Super Classic drum sets. He also plays tambourine and maracas.
***from Hammack’s The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Vol. 2, 57.
Sources: Lewisohn, The Complete Beatles Chronicle, 196, Lewisohn, The Recording Sessions, 60, Harry, The Ultimate Beatles Encyclopedia, 682, Davies, The Beatles Lyrics, 133, Margotin and Guesdon, All the Songs, 394-395, Winn, Way Beyond Compare, 363, Hammack, The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Vol. 2, 57-58, Turner, A Hard Day’s Write, 99, Riley, Tell Me Why, 168-169, Miles, Paul McCartney, Many Years From Now, 278, Womack, The Beatles Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, 969, and MacDonald, Revolution in the Head, 128.
- Debated Composership, Again – As with “In My Life,” “Wait” has been claimed by both John and Paul. In later life, Paul recalled young American actor Brandon de Wilde watching Paul create the song in the Bahamas. Paul stated, “I seem to remember writing ‘Wait’ in front of him, and him being interested [in seeing] it being written.” However, many experts (including Tim Riley in Tell Me Why, 168) state that “Lennon wrote the verses and the refrain and relied upon Paul for the bridge.” “Wait” appears to be a collaboration, and Bill Harry says it was, “jointly written by John and Paul.” (The Ultimate Beatles Encyclopedia, 682) In Revolution in the Head, MacDonald calls it “the first fifty-fifty Lennon-McCartney collaboration.” (More to follow on this topic in our “Fresh, New Look” segment.)
- Debated Dedication – If one assumes that Paul wrote the song, “Wait” becomes a song directed to Jane Asher, as Margotin and Guesdon assert in All the Songs. If one assumes that John penned it, then it’s dedicated to Cynthia, waiting back at home. And if you accept the song as a collaboration, then it is both.
It’s interesting to observe that people often cite this song as evidence of John’s infidelity, when in fact Paul sings the line, “I’ve been good…as good as I can be.” Listeners can easily discern that Paul sings (and therefore, has written) the more optimistic lines in “We Can Work It Out,” and John (sings and therefore, has written) the more pessimistic view of “Life is very short and there’s no time for fussing and fighting, my friend” in that same song. But in “Wait,” some seem confused about the fact that John is singing (and therefore, wrote) the lines about longing for his wife, while Paul is singing (and therefore, penned) the lines hinting at a bit of mischief. Perhaps “Wait” deserves another listen.
- Percussive innovation – Of all the songs on Rubber Soul, “Wait” is one of the least innovative. You find The Beatles playing their customary instruments and performing their customary tasks. As Hunter Davies comments, the boys are “head-to-head, as they used to do in the old days.” (The Beatles Lyrics, 133) Compared to the sitar-trimmed “Norwegian Wood” or the elegant harmonium-embellished “In My Life,” “Wait,” hearkens back to a simpler time in the band’s history.
However, the song is not without innovation. For example, the “silvery sound” that permeates “Wait” is supplied by Ringo’s generous use of tambourine which rises into a shiver of maracas and then, into drums. And when John (almost desperately) cries, “Wait!” that plea is punctuated a second later by a heavily-struck guitar chord, for emphasis. Finally, just before the chorus, Tim Riley tells us, “Ringo hits the crash cymbal before his roll on the tom-toms (a backward fill).” (Tell Me Why, 168) Furthermore, George’s implementation of his tone pedal adds to the richness of sound. This is achieved by John manually turning the volume knob on George’s guitar, just as he did on “I Need You.”
Even on a song that many experts deem a mere “album filler,” The Beatles’ careful attention to detail make the work unique. Beatles fans are accustomed to an extremely high bar and expect much from the Fab Four. But “Wait” is certainly as good as some of the songs on the 1965 Billboard Top 100, including Dino, Desi, and Billy’s “I’m A Fool,” Bobby Goldsboro’s “The Little Things,” or Brenda Lee’s “Too Many Rivers.” By any other band, “Wait” would have been applauded.
A Fresh New Look:
Recently, Jude Southerland Kessler sat down with noted Beatles expert Piers Hemmingsen, the author of The Beatles in Canada: The Origins of Beatlemania! to talk about this song. Piers grew up in England and moved to Canada in August 1963, with as he says “our Beatles records (the Parlophone Please Please Me LP and the From Me To You 45) in tow.” It is so interesting to hear his perspective, honed in two different corners of the world!
Piers, the last Rubber Soul track that we examined in our Fest Blog, “In My Life,” was a highly-contested creation. John claimed to have written both the lyrics and the melody. Paul said he created the melody. However, this next track, “Wait,” is as Jerry Hammack states in The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, “as clear a demonstration of the duo’s songwriting partnership as one could ask for.” Who did what on this song?
Listening to “Wait” with a critical ear takes me back to early 1966 when I first got the “latest” Beatles album from the Capitol Record Club…Rubber Soul. I had heard it at my neighbour’s house next door because he bought it straight away. My first impression was that it defined “cool”…a huge leap forward from my beloved Help! album, and I had to have my own copy and right away. Starting with Help! a few months before, we listened to an entire album to take us somewhere very different for a half hour or more. When listening to Help! or Rubber Soul then, we weren’t listening so much for which Beatle wrote which part of a particular song. But here goes my best try for “Wait,” all these years later:
Well, the opening is a vocal by John, almost more spoken than sung, so I can only assume that is John’s own introduction. Like his other “insecure” songs from 1965, like “Help!” or “Day Tripper,” I think John liked opening his inwardly-looking songs straight way with his own vocal. John’s vocal on “Wait” is very clear and direct. There’s no voice other than his. He’s speaking directly about his fidelity with his partner…in this case the “waiting at home” Cynthia.
Issues of fidelity and trust from the singer’s absence is affecting the couple’s relationship. Word fragments such as “forget the tears we cried,” “turn me away,” and “oh, how I’ve been alone,” are very personal word signatures in John’s first two verses.
But when the first chorus of “I feel as though…” rolls around, it sure sounds a lot more upbeat and positive. And it’s Paul singing it and so it just has to be his contribution to what I can only assume is a song that John brought to Paul with two verses waiting for a good chorus. John sings the verses. Paul adds vocals to his bridges.
As noted in Jerry Hammack’s Recording Reference Manual, George Harrison adds new sounds with his guitar, and Ringo adds unique percussive elements. (More detail is provided in the answer to Question 2.) When I think of how The Beatles evolved in 1965, one important thing that stands out in The Beatles’ recordings is the pioneering new sounds coming straight from George’s guitar … that all really started at the end of 1964 with his opening of “I Feel Fine.”
You know, Piers, few of the tracks on Rubber Soul are “silly love songs.” And the relationship on which “Wait” is based is clearly anxiety-ridden. In fact, Tim Riley in his book Tell Me Why says, “‘Wait’ is doubtful, anxious, uncertain.” How is this angst-ridden love affair reflected in the music of the song (as opposed to just the lyrics)?
On “Wait,” the vocals by John and Paul are sung in a direct and intended way to get the message of angst across to the listener. On Rubber Soul, “Wait” is an upbeat track that has almost military-march timing. The ringing guitars, tambourine, and drum rolls carry the vocals along. How so? Well, as noted earlier in the blog, that really effective ringing guitar sound was accented by George’s volume pedal, whereas, Ringo enhances the track with his maracas and tambourine.
The sound they get was crafted together at the eleventh hour, but it has all the new sound elements that made Rubber Soul a big step forward from Help! “Wait” is hardly the best song on Rubber Soul, yet it fits in because it was made in the Rubber Soul sound factory, if that makes any sense. There was definitely osmosis from the other Rubber Soul songs leaking into “Wait.”
To this fan – who took the Rubber Soul song trips in early 1966 – The Beatles had managed to release a 1966-sounding album in late 1965…a few months ahead of everyone else. It is likely why Rubber Soul pulled in the college crowd who had ignored the mania of the group in 1964 and 1965.
Piers, John Lennon tackled this exact theme in his infectious, popular LP opener to With The Beatles, “It Won’t Be Long.” But somehow, neither The Beatles nor George Martin had much faith in “Wait.” They rejected it for the Help! LP and only added it to Rubber Soul as a last-minute album-filler. What is missing in “Wait” that made “It Won’t Be Long” so appealing?
“Wait” had been a leftover track from earlier in 1965 as you suggest. As the Rubber Soul Christmas LP deadline loomed, and the group was short a track or two, it has been suggested that they went back to the earlier take of “Wait” from the Help! sessions to see if they could somehow re-use it to pad out Rubber Soul. If that were the case, then it was pure and simple “Beatles work” to make this older track fit in with the rest of Soul. The track was literally recorded within three weeks of the album’s U.K. release date. But new Beatles work in late 1965 was quite different from the new Beatles work earlier in 1965 on Help!
Perhaps what is missing in “Wait” was the call-and-answer technique that was used in “It Won’t Be Long” in 1963. That song-writing technique was lifted from early Motown songs like “Please Mister Postman.” In the case of “Wait,” the lyrics are all sung in first person, and there is no response from the person who has had to “Wait” while their lover/partner has been away. It is all sung from one person’s point of view, and maybe here on “Wait” it was the wrong point of view. The LOVE expressed by two people in this song is missing altogether. The other element that is missing is the LONGING. The longing that comes from waiting for a love letter to arrive in the post-box (mail box) seems more effective in song composition than the longing of waiting, waiting for someone who is returning from a concert tour where there has been so much temptation to cheat on their lover.
“Wait” was written in the winter of 1965 when The Beatles were in The Bahamas making the film “Help!” In November of 1965, “Wait” is (only out of necessity) added to Rubber Soul. What events had changed The Beatles so dramatically in those nine months that made “Wait” almost an immature offering for them? What had matured them so rapidly?
Well, for starters, The Beatles had completed another bout of touring which meant that “married Beatles,” like John who was married in August 1962 and Ringo who got married in February 1965, were both now facing marital pressure to be faithful while they were away on tour.
A small point is that when The Beatles were on tour in 1965, the two married Beatles John and Ringo usually shared a room. Paul and George shared a room as they were “single Beatles.” George would not get married until January 1966. Paul would not get married until March 1969.
In addition to the marriage fidelity issue, John and George had taken their first LSD trip in April 1965. Drugs were something new to the mix when recording Rubber Soul…and it is the big difference from Help!
Then, just a month later – in May 1965 – The Beatles had seen Bob Dylan in concert at the Royal Albert Hall. Dylan’s songwriting was another major influence on Rubber Soul. In comparison to the new Dylan songs on Highway 61 Revisited, “Wait” appears simple, both in its construction and message.
“Think For Yourself,” “In My Life,” “Norwegian Wood,” “If I Needed Someone,” and “The Word” reflect more adventurous song writing styles of The Beatles. “Wait” doesn’t really do that but somehow it is not out of place on Rubber Soul.
So, marriage and fidelity were song topics for John’s “Wait.” Drugs and Dylan did not impact “Wait” as much as they did for the other, “better” songs on Rubber Soul.
Where does “Wait” fit in the greater catalogue of Beatles songs?
“Wait” is clearly not the BEST song on Rubber Soul. But, looking back to November 1965, it is one background component of what was a Beatles master work. Removing it would be like removing a brush stroke from a Van Gogh painting. Each component is necessary to make a whole. “What Goes On” from Rubber Soul also shares something with “Wait,” in that it also generally falls short of its objective. Both tracks are “almost” great. However, they each lack something that holds them back from being great Beatles tracks.
But if we want to pigeonhole “Wait” in The Beatles’ catalogue, then it is in good company with The Beatles’ less stellar pre-1966 album filler tracks like “Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby,” “Tell Me Why,” “Yes It Is,” “Any Time At All,” “When I Get Home,” and “I‘m Happy Just To Dance With You.”
And in the end, “Wait” is at least an integral component of the finished Rubber Soul album, and so it rates a better class of filler than earlier Beatles “album filler” tracks.
Meet Piers in person at the New York Metro Fest for Beatles Fans, April 1-3, at the Hyatt Regency, Jersey City, New Jersey. And to learn more about The Fest and the Special Guests who will be there, HEAD HERE
For more information on The John Lennon Series, HEAD HERE
Side Two, Track Three
“In My Life”
by Jude Southerland Kessler and Susan Ryan
Throughout 2021 and the first few months of 2022, the Fest for Beatles Fans blog has been exploring some of the finer points of The Beatles’ innovative 1965 LP, Rubber Soul. This month, a lifelong friend of the Fest, Susan Ryan, joins Jude Southerland Kessler, author of The John Lennon Series for an in-depth consideration of “In My Life.” Susan is the co-author of The Beatles Fab Four Cities, a new release thoroughly exploring the lives of The Beatles in Liverpool, Hamburg, London, and New York City. Susan is also an experienced New York City Beatles Tour guide and the owner of Fab Four Walking Tours. In her role as a noted public speaker, Susan has served as Emcee for Beatles at the Ridge and The Fest for Beatles Fans. Susan and Jude hope you enjoy this “fresh, new look” at Lennon’s masterpiece, “In My Life.”
18 October 1965 – The Beatles recorded the base track for the song: the two guitars, bass, and drums in three takes. On Take 3, John recorded his double-tracked vocals; Paul and George added backing vocals.
22 October 1965 – As per John’s request for “something baroque,” George Martin recorded an original piano solo for what John referred to as the song’s “middle eight.” Martin did this by playing half-speed on a normal piano and then speeding it up to create the sound of a harpsichord.
Studio: Both recordings took place in EMI Studios, Studio 2
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Norman Smith (and according to some sources, Ron Pender)
Second Engineer: Ken Scott
Stats: Recorded in only four takes. “Best” take was Take 4. However, a plethora of overdubs completed the song in later sessions.
Instrumentation and Musicians:
John Lennon, the lyrical composer and, he states, the musical composer (Lennon stated to David Sheff that “All Paul added to the song was the middle eight and the harmony.”) sings lead vocals and guitar on his 1961 Fender Stratocaster electric. (Hammond, The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Vol. 2, 73)
Paul McCartney, who also claims to be the musical composer, sings backing vocal and plays bass on his Rickenbacker 4001S. In his Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Vol. 2, Hammack points out that the Hofner 500/1 “was available, but probably unused.” (p. 73)
George Harrison sings backing vocals and plays lead guitar on his 1961 Fender Stratocaster electric, an exact match for John’s guitar. (Hammack, 73) Harrison plays the memorable and lovely introduction to this song. (Womack, Maximum Volume, The Life of Beatles Producer George Martin, 291)
Ringo Starr plays one of his Ludwig Oyster Black Pearl Super Classic drum sets (Hammack, 73 and Womack, 291)) and tambourine.
George Martin, plays the baroque “middle eight.” The complete story of this solo is covered in the “What’s Changed” section below. (Womack, Maximum Volume, The Life of Beatles Producer, George Martin, 290-291.)
Sources: The Beatles, The Anthology, 194, Lewisohn, The Complete Beatles Chronicle, 202-203, Lewisohn, The Recording Sessions, 64-65, Womack, Long and Winding Roads: The Evolving Artistry of The Beatles, 122-124,Womack, Maximum Volume, The Life of Beatles Producer George Martin, 290-291 and 294, Womack, The Beatles Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, 462-464, Margotin and Guesdon, All the Songs, 302-303, Winn, Way Beyond Compare, 365 and 367, Hammack, The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Vol. 2, 73-75, Turner, A Hard Day’s Write, 96-98, Spizer, The Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records, 203, Coleman, Lennon, 299, MacDonald, Revolution in the Head: The Beatles’ Records and The Sixties, 136-137, Riley, Tell Me Why, 166-168, Sheff, The Playboy Interviews, 149 and 151, Norman, John Lennon: The Life, 417-418, Miles, Paul McCartney, Many Years From Now, 276-278, Babiuk, Beatles Gear, 169-170, and Spignesi and Lewis, 100 Best Beatles Songs, 33-34, and In My Life” by The Beatles. The in-depth story behind the songs of the Beatles. Recording History. Songwriting History. Song Structure and Style. (beatlesebooks.com)
- Overt autobiographical references set to a solemn melody –
Although many (if not most) of John’s songs prior to 1965 had been highly autobiographical, hits such as “I’ll Cry Instead,” “Tell Me Why,” and “Help!” had been accompanied by up-tempo music that made them seem happy, light-hearted, and upbeat. Even when John’s confessionals were backed by more somber music – as in the case of “If I Fell,” “I’m a Loser,” and “Not a Second Time” – the public perceived them merely as universal love songs, songs that could apply to anyone. Few guessed that rich, powerful, successful John Lennon was singing about his own wounds and fears.
“In My Life,” however, was at last quite completely candid about the joys and sorrows John had experienced. Spurred on by journalists John respected (including Maureen Cleave and Kenneth Alsop) who encouraged John to be more openly autobiographical and literary…and validated by the nature of Dylan’s popular “Freewheeling” LP, John summoned the courage to make “In My Life” an overtly personal release. He didn’t try to buoy it up with lively music or brush it off as nonsense or gobbledygook. John owned “In My Life” as “my first real major piece of work.” (Sheff, The Playboy Interviews, 151) Without excuse or camouflage, John laid bare his heart.
- Inclusion of a classical sounding (“Bach inversion”) piano solo –
John had originally envisioned a guitar solo as the instrumental solo for “In My Life.” He had even devised an intricate melody line for this part of the song. And in keeping with his wishes, a guitar solo was recorded. In his book, The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Jerry Hammack states that this might have been a dual solo, recorded by Harrison and Lennon. He writes: “…the solo appears to have been played by two different guitars. Harrison recalled that on October 22nd, he and John played a dual solo on ‘Nowhere Man,’ so the dual performance is a distinct possibility.” (p. 74) However, this solo just didn’t turn out to be as poignant or effective as John wanted it to sound, and he expressed those misgivings to George Martin.
In Kenneth Womack’s, Maximum Volume, The Life of Beatles Producer George Martin, we are told, “Lennon and Martin set about the business of recording a keyboard solo for ‘In My Life’…To Lennon’s mind, the solo was an essential feature – a highly melodic means of underscoring the song’s nostalgic power. With a Hammond studio organ on hand, Lennon opted for a classical sound in the manner of J.S. Bach. As The Beatles lacked the ability to score music…Martin sat beside Lennon in Studio 2. As Lennon sang the notes of a potential keyboard solo, Martin doubled the sounds on the grand piano with one hand while charting them in his notebook with the other. With the keyboard solo having been fully realized, Martin sat before the Hammond organ as Norman Smith cued up the existing first and second takes of ‘In My Life.’ But as he listened to the playback with Smith and The Beatles, Martin was decidedly underwhelmed [with the solo]…The organ sounded thin and lifeless in contrast with the song’s moving lyrics…”(p. 291)
So, the evolution of the lovely solo that John had composed did not end there. Womack goes on to say, “…on Friday, October 22…the band’s producer turned his attentions back to ‘In My Life.’ George was determined to unseat the Hammond organ solo that he had recorded…a stunning song and glorious song such as ‘In My Life’ deserved a much grander fate.”
To find out “the rest of the story” (as journalist Paul Harvey used to say), join Susan Ryan later in this blog for “A Fresh New Look” at the so-called “middle eight.”
- Highly-contested authorship and performance debates –
In the early years, The Beatles admittedly collaborated quite frequently on songs such as “She Loves You” and “From Me to You.” But as time went along and they lived further from one another, they began to write the body of a song singly, later altering that song with words or phrases deftly supplied by the other Beatles (such as John’s endorsement of “the movement you need is on your shoulder” in “Hey Jude”) or tweaking a composition here or there, with a little help from their friends. (Pete Shotton, for example, claimed to have contributed significantly to “I Am the Walrus”).
Of course, there were always some true collaborations such as “We Can Work It Out” and “A Day in the Life,” but these partnership productions were less prevalent post-1964 than they had been in the group’s ingenue years. Therefore, it was rare for a song’s authorship to be debated. “In My Life” is one of the few songs in contention. As Ken Womack points out in Long and Winding Roads, The Evolving Artistry of The Beatles, “It was certainly a song over which claiming authorship was a worthy goal indeed.” (p. 124)
More on this topic as we now join Beatles author Susan Ryan for…
A Fresh New Look:
Jude Southerland Kessler was thrilled to be able to interview Susan Ryan, for this deep-dive into John Lennon’s “In My Life.” When considering Lennon’s masterpiece – a song that Philip Norman has called “a superlative achievement” (John Lennon: The Life, 417) and Ken Womack has dubbed “John Lennon’s…exquisite composition.” (Maximum Volume, 290) Ryan has conducted tours of John Lennon’s New York City for many years as part of her company, Fab Four Walking Tours, and she is featured in the DVD “John Lennon’s New York City.” Kessler commented, “It would be difficult to find anyone who would know John Lennon better than Susan Ryan!” Here is their recent conversation:
Jude Southerland Kessler: Susan, congratulations on your new book co-written with David Bedford and Richard Porter, The Beatles Fab Four Cities! I’ve read it cover-to-cover and am really impressed with the depth of research and the wealth of Beatles history in its pages. I know you’re busy promoting it on podcasts, radio programs, social media, and so forth. So, thank you for taking time out to join us for this consideration of “In My Life!”
Susan Ryan: Thanks for asking me to help with this project, Jude! Rubber Soul is pretty much my favorite Beatles album, and being able to discuss “In My Life,” a song that has been one of my favorites forever, is a true privilege. I’m also glad to hear that you are enjoying The Beatles Fab Four Cities! Working on that book with David and Richard has also been a true joy, allowing us to share our personal passions as tour guides in our individual cities with all Beatle people!
Kessler: Well, let’s jump right into the heart of this beautiful Lennon ballad, “In My Life.” Susan, Ray Coleman in Lennon has this to say about John’s work on Rubber Soul: “For Lennon, particularly, this album marked a personal progression in his craft. Personal honesty and confession, which were to characterize his later work, were inherent. His songs are marked by a more poetic approach, and he was beginning to find his own voice.” How is Coleman’s observation well-illustrated in John’s poignant Side Two creation, “In My Life”?
Ryan: Certainly, by the time Rubber Soul and “In My Life” came out, John’s songwriting was maturing at rapid rate. His lyrics had already begun to exhibit a much more personal bent, less of the “I love you; you love me; she loves you” of earlier works. “In My Life” is absolutely an intensely personal reflection, a look back on simpler days and the people and things that were near and dear to John’s heart, and much more straightforward than previous “personal” songs that were covered up by cheerful pop melodies.
It is also interesting that the song came from someone so young – normally, a listener would not expect a man of just under 25 years of age to be able to craft such a heartfelt song about “looking back,” but John manages it, and you can hear his longing for times gone by, even if those times were not so very far in his past. Given everything that The Beatles had been through up to this point, becoming virtual prisoners of their fame, it’s not surprising that he would be wishing for the way things had been before they were swallowed up by fame and fortune. It is also a definite step towards the sometimes brutal honesty that would characterize so many of John’s later songs, both with The Beatles and solo – songs like “Julia” on the White Album, where he sings about his mother, but also inserts his hope for the future with Yoko, or the songs on the John Lennon Plastic Ono Band album, nearly all of which are personal to the point of pain.
But it is with songs like “In My Life,” however, where the seeds for those songs and others begin to take root, and where his ability to craft beautiful, passionately personal songs that were destined to endure as pop standards began to emerge, although he could (and did) still write perfect bits of more commercial pop as well. It’s no wonder this song means so much to so many people – even though they are John’s memories, there’s a universality to the lyrics, set to the lovely melody, that resonates with so many people and their lives.
Kessler: John wrote a third verse for “In My Life” that specifically mentioned places in Liverpool he so vividly recalled. However, he removed this bit because he said it felt too much like a “What I Did on Summer Vacation” essay. Share that verse with us, please, and if you don’t mind, please give us your reaction to the lyrics that were omitted.
Ryan: Here’s the omitted verse:
Penny Lane is one I’m missing
Up Church Road to the clock tower
In the circle of the Abbey
I have seen some happy hours
Past the tram sheds with no trams
On the 5 bus into town
Past the Dutch and St Columbus
To the Dockers Umbrella that they pulled down.[i]
Frankly, anyone who hears this song in its final form would have to agree with John; it reads like a travelogue or a “guide to Liverpool landmarks.” If it had been left in, it would have made what is a poignant, universally accessible song into something a little too personal and specific. By omitting this verse, the song becomes something else – it takes on a life as a song any listener can relate to, no matter who they are or where they’re from. Everyone looks back at some point in their lives to “people and things that went before,” or remembers “friends and lovers….some (who) are dead and some (who) are living.” But not everyone is from Liverpool – and while the places mentioned specifically in those omitted lyrics may have meant something to John personally, or to the other Beatles or other Liverpudlians, they just would not have the same resonance to someone from New York or Los Angeles or any other place.
Removing this verse and leaving the form of the song as we know it was a brilliant move, whether originally intended or not, because even though the song remained intensely personal as far as John was concerned, it allowed other people to hear it and put themselves in the situation – the best way to create a “standard.” There’s a reason this song is sung at weddings and funerals and other life-cycle events – it means something to everyone precisely because it is not time- or place-specific.
Kessler: Susan, John admitted that several influences led him to write this very autobiographical song in 1965. Tell us about those people who encouraged him to be more introspective.
Ryan: Prior to this song, although John had definitely written songs that were personal, he’d hidden that behind catchy pop melodies or found other ways to disguise the fact. By the time he was working on this song, however, he’d done a couple of interviews with people who had asked him outright why he didn’t write more sophisticated, introspective songs. One of these was Maureen Cleve of the Evening Standard, who quite literally asked him why he “didn’t ever write songs with more than one syllable?” A second journalist, Kenneth Allsop, asked him why his songs didn’t contain the same kind of depth and meaning that his poetry and prose did when interviewing him after the publication of In His Own Write. All of this led John to begin thinking about doing something more serious and personal.
Add to this the release of Bob Dylan’s seminal work, “Freewheeling,” which was full of autobiographical songs, and John realized that if he wanted to do something more serious, he had to take that leap and be willing to share things of a more personal nature in his work. For a man who most often carried his most intense personal feelings close to the vest, it was a huge step into the unknown, but as I mentioned above, it was also the seed that grew into so many other personal, autobiographical, confessional songs later in his life. The beautiful, tender melody also brought out a softer side of the man who had previously been perceived by many as the “rocker” of the group.
Kessler: All right, let’s address the elephant in the room. John was very proud of “In My Life.” In fact, he said it was “his first real major piece of work.” John emphatically said that Paul didn’t even see the song until the lyrics were finished and that “[Paul’s] contribution melodically was the harmony and the middle eight.” Paul, just as insistently, claims to have written the melody. This is the short version of this disagreement. Give us the details, please.
Ryan: Wow, Jude, you really want to open a can of worms here, don’t you?
There are numerous interviews where John states that he wrote the lyrics to the song first and the music later. This was frequently how he wrote – he’d start with an idea and then come up with the music. In the group’s early years, both John and Paul emphasized their “collaborative” songwriting, stressing the idea that every song they created was a totally collective endeavor by “Lennon and McCartney.”
However, in later years, both of their recollections about who wrote the actual melody began to diverge. In a 1980 interview, John said, “There was a period when I thought I didn’t write melodies; that Paul wrote those and I just wrote straight, shouting rock ‘n’ roll. But of course, when I think of some of my own songs – “In My Life” or some of the early stuff….I was writing melody with the best of them.”[ii] In that same interview, he stated unequivocally that “Paul helped with the middle eight.” But there was controversy as early as 1976-77 – when Paul was shown a list of Lennon-claimed songs by Hit Parader Magazine, the only one he disputed was “In My Life,” claiming that he’d written the whole melody from beginning to end, inspired by Smokey Robinson.
This claim to the authorship of the melody continued when Paul reiterated his statement in 1998, in Barry Miles’ biography of him, Many Years From Now, disputing previous statements by John insisting that his contributions to the song were minor. The fact that John died in 1980 and isn’t here to clarify these claims certainly makes it difficult to discern who was the real author of the music, but given that the song is so intensely personal, it seems logical that John wrote the majority of the song, with only small contributions from Paul in sections such as the middle eight/bridge.
Another fascinating thing is that the handwritten lyric sheet of the completed song, which is in John’s handwriting, has only one credit at the bottom – John Lennon! When songs were more collaborative, they’d sign them with both their names.
I did find an interesting tidbit that said that in 2018, Harvard University applied an artificial intelligence model to the music of the song, and determined, by their calculations, that there was a “.018% possibility of McCartney having written the whole of the music.” They gave John an 81.1% certainty of having written the verses, and Paul a 43.6% certainty of writing the middle eight, which means that although the song did contain some obvious collaboration, the vast majority of it was written by John. I’m inclined to agree.
Kessler: As Ian MacDonald points out, there really is no bridge in this song. However, there is an instrumental bridge, artfully created by George Martin. It wasn’t the first bridge composed for the song, however. Please tell us about both bridges and how, by strange coincidence, they “come together.”
Ryan: As Jude mentioned earlier in the “What’s New” segment of this blog, “In My Life” doesn’t really have a “middle eight” as people who are familiar with the songs of Lennon and McCartney would recognize. Instead, it has an instrumental bridge, played by George Martin on what is credited on the album cover as a harpsichord. More on that later…
The song was recorded on October 18, 1965, during what was a relatively short studio session for The Beatles. By the end of the day, they had completed most of the song, but there was a section in the middle that was left out because John couldn’t decide what to put there. Originally it was a guitar piece by George Harrison, but that didn’t hit the right note. George Martin left a gap in the song and John suggested that he supply one himself. In a 1970 interview, John stated, “In ‘In My Life’ there’s an Elizabethan piano solo. We’d do things like that. We’d say, ‘play it like Bach,” or ‘could you put twelve bars in there?’”
With that rather vague instruction, George Martin was left to his own devices to create something to place into that section of the song. He worked on the section four days later, on October 22, 1965, when he wrote and recorded something he described as being “like a Bach inversion.” He recorded it first on a Hammond organ, but then did it again on the piano because he didn’t like the sound of the organ. It’s here where George Martin’s genius really shows through, because he used a technique called the “wind-up piano,” with the solo recorded at half speed and an octave lower. When played at normal speed, this made the piano sound like a harpsichord – an auditory trick that no one even realized at the time! When he played it back for the Beatles when they came back to the studio, they loved it, and left the “harpsichord” solo that we all know and love as part of the song.
Kessler: Susan, amazing work! I’ve so enjoyed this. Thank you for taking time out of your preparations for the New Jersey Fest coming up on April 1-3 to be with us this month for the Fest Blog!
Ryan: Thanks again for this opportunity, Jude! It’s been a true pleasure! I’m looking forward to hearing what people think about our discussion of this special song, and to seeing folks at the New Jersey Fest in April!
For more information on Susan Ryan and The Beatles Fab Four Cities:
The Beatles Fab Four Cities by Ryan, Bedford, and Porter had been acclaimed as “a must for every Beatles fan” by Billy J. Kramer. To find out more about the book, HEAD HERE
To purchase The Beatles Fab Four Cities, HEAD HERE
To hear Susan Ryan, David Bedford and Richard Porter discuss The Beatles Fab Four Cities on the “She Said She Said” podcast, HEAD HERE
To discover more about Ryan’s Beatles Tours of New York City, HEAD HERE
To follow Susan Ryan on social media, HEAD HERE
[ii] Sheff, David, The Playboy Interviews with John Lennon and Yoko Ono, p. 116-117
Side Two, Track 3
“I’m Looking Through You”… Again!
by Jude Southerland Kessler and Scott Freiman
Last year at this time, we kicked off an in-depth study of The Beatles’ 1965 classic, Rubber Soul, examining what we know about this pivotal LP and then, taking a “Fresh New Look” at many aspects of the album that hitherto have not been considered. We’ve called upon experts in our own Beatles family (such as Kenneth Womack, Bruce Spizer, Tom Frangione, Janet Davis, and many more) to answer in-depth questions about the songs’ lyrics, instrumentation, and public reception. Now, as we move into 2022, the Fest for Beatles Fans blog is thrilled to be able to work with long-time friend of the Fest Scott Freiman. Scott is a noted speaker, the consulting editor for All the Songs: The Story Behind Every Beatles Release, and the creator of Deconstructing The Beatles, and he’s here this month to share insights with us. Scott joins Jude Southerland Kessler, author of The John Lennon Series, for a close examination of Paul McCartney’s “I’m Looking Through You.”
24 October 1965: An acoustic version of the song, employing acoustic and electric guitars, bongos, maraca, wood blocks, organ, and hand claps; in this version, there was no middle eight. The song played out with vocal improvisation, or as John Winn phrases it in Way Beyond Compare, “the song stumble[s] to a halt past the point where it would normally fade.” (p. 368) This was a slower and more “mournful” sounding version of the song. In The Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn comments that this version of the song featured “great, great vocals.” He goes on to say, “To this writer it sounds superb, just as good as the re-remake.” You can hear this version of “I’m Looking Through You” on Anthology 2.
6 November 1965: A second more upbeat version was recorded. This version was closer to the version that was adopted for Rubber Soul. However, Lewisohn tells us that this version was considered by The Beatles to be “perhaps a little too fast and frenetic.” (The Beatles Recording Sessions, 67)
10 November 1965: Once again, the boys attempted to record the song, and this time, all were pleased with the rhythm track, selecting Take 4 as “best.”
11 November 1965: At the end of a 13-hour day, which Lewisohn refers to as “a marathon day” and John C. Winn calls “the penultimate session for Rubber Soul,” The Beatles superimposed the vocals for “I’m Looking Through You” as the very last effort in their heroic and tireless work on the LP. This was the final task on the final day of recording.
Studio: EMI Studios, Studio 2
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Norman Smith
Second Engineer: Ken Scott
Instrumentation and Musicians for 10 November Version (LP Version)
Paul McCartney, the composer, sings lead vocal, plays bass on his 1964 Rickenbacker 4001S, piano, and possibly, lead guitar on his Epiphone Casino (Margotin and Guesdon).
John Lennon sings backing vocals. Some sources merely state that John also plays “rhythm guitar.” Other sources do not have him playing guitar at all on this song, but have John manning the tambourine.
George Harrison plays lead guitar on his 1962 Gibson J-169E. Some sources have George playing the tambourine.
Ringo Starr plays one of his Ludwig Oyster Black Pearl Super Classic drum sets, plays either the Hammond organ (as some sources state) or the 1965 Vox Continental 300 Organ (as other sources state). And, as Jerry Hammack tells us in The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Vol. 2, Ringo also provides “matchbox percussion.” More about that in “What’s Changed.”
Sources: Lewisohn, The Complete Beatles Chronicle, 203 and 205, and, Lewisohn, The Recording Sessions, 65, 67, and 68, Margotin and Guesdon, All the Songs, 300-301, Winn, Way Beyond Compare, 368 and 375, Hammack, The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Vol. 2, 81-83, Turner, A Hard Day’s Write, 96, MacDonald, Revolution in the Head, 140, Spizer, The Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records, 202-203, Harry, The Ultimate Beatles Encyclopedia, 324, and Babiuk, Beatles Gear, 191. Interestingly, Paul does not discuss “I’m Looking Through You” in his Paul McCartney, The Lyrics compendium.
- An increasingly embittered attitude towards Jane Asher – As Steve Turner points out in A Hard Day’s Write: The Stories Behind Every Beatles’ Song, “This was Paul’s most bitter song so far…Paul accuses his woman of changing and holds out the thinly-veiled threat of withdrawing his affection. Love has a habit, he warns, of disappearing overnight.” (p. 96) Paul had sung many songs to Jane about what he considered to be her failure to commit to him. In 1965, she took an acting job in the famous Old Vic Theatre in Bristol and was gone for quite some time. In response, Paul wrote three songs that urged Jane to “try to see it my way.” They were “You Won’t See Me,” “We Can Work It Out,” and “I’m Looking Through You” in which Paul repeatedly asserts, “You’ve changed, you’ve changed, you’ve changed.”
Years later, when asked about “I’m Looking Through You,” Paul commented, “This one I remember particularly as being disillusioned over her commitment.” He went on to say, “I was seeing through her façade. And realizing it wasn’t quite all it seemed.” (Margotin and Guesdon, All the Songs, 300) With each lyrical appeal to Jane, Paul became less tolerant. Bill Harry quotes Paul as stating, “I knew I was selfish. It caused a few rows. Jane went off to Bristol to act. I said, ‘OK then, leave, I’ll find someone else.'” (Harry, The Ultimate Beatles Encyclopedia, 324) And certainly, in both “You Won’t See Me” and “I’m Looking Through You,” Paul is drawing a line in the sand and stating quite clearly that Jane must choose either her acting career or her relationship with him…or else.
In earlier Fest Blogs (see “Drive My Car” with Ken Womack), we’ve discussed the fact that The Beatles’ attitude toward women was changing in late 1965. No longer were women considered adored and adorable…and placed upon pedestals as they were in “I Want to Hold Your Hand” or “I Need You.” Many of the females on the Rubber Soul LP are unkind (as in “Girl”), strong and powerful (as in “Norwegian Wood”), hardline, aspiring go-getters (as in “Drive My Car”) or simply non-compliant, as we see in this song. No innocent “moon-June-croon-spoon” love songs these! On Rubber Soul, relationships have become complex and difficult to maneuver.
- Unique Percussion Instrument – Rubber Soul is replete with never-before-considered instrument choices by the lads. But the percussion instrument employed by Ringo in “I’m Looking Through You” is truly one-of-a-kind! In 1996, Ringo explained to Andy Babiuk, author of Beatles Gear, that in this song alone, he added a special effect “by tapping on a pack of matches with his finger!” (Beatles Gear, p. 191) Additionally, Ringo was asked to supply a bit of percussion at the end of each verse of “I’m Looking Through You” by playing a chord on the organ.
A Fresh New Look:
Recently, we sat down with noted Beatles expert, nationwide lecturer, consultant, and creator of Deconstructing The Beatles, Scott Freiman, to chat about “I’m Looking Through You,” a song Paul does not discuss in Lyrics. Scott is a guru of Beatles music, and this is what he had to say:
Jude Southerland Kessler: Welcome to the Fest for Beatles Fans Blog, Scott. We’re honored to have you with us! You know, as we’ve already discussed, “I’m Looking Through You,” written for Jane Asher, seems to focus on the self-same theme as “You Won’t See Me,” “The Night Before,” “Tell Me What You See,” and “We Can Work It Out.” In fact, that’s why we named this blog, “’I’m Looking Through You’ …Again!” Do you see Paul as becoming more or less hopeful that the relationship can work out successfully, and does he present his case any differently in this November 1965 creation?
Scott Freiman: I think this is one of the most direct songs Paul wrote about where his relationship stood with Jane, and also one of the nastiest. “You don’t look different, but you have changed.” “Love has a nasty habit of disappearing overnight.” “I’m looking through you, and you’re nowhere.” There doesn’t seem to be any effort at reconciliation as in “We Can Work It Out” or “The Night Before.” Together with “You Won’t See Me,” this does not bode well for his relationship with Jane!
Kessler: As you know, our Fest Family loves “Beatles intricacies.” Tell us about the very interesting musical anomalies that you point out to listeners of “I’m Looking Through You” in the book All the Songs: The Story Behind Every Beatles Release.
Freiman: There are a couple of minor mistakes, such as the feedback that occurs around 1:18 (after Paul sings “above me”) and some stray guitar notes around 1:53 (probably from a previous solo that wasn’t completely erased). If you listen closely, you will also hear a few missed handclaps and stray tambourine hits.
However, there is one pretty big difference between the UK and US recordings. There was a false start that began the final version of the song that the folks at Capitol thought was part of the recording. So, the US version of “I’m Looking Through You” begins with the false start, adding an extra six seconds to the song. Not the most exciting six seconds, mind you!
Kessler: You know, to my ear, that “false start” sounds a bit like the intro to The Traveling Wilbury’s “End of the Line.” But that’s neither here nor there.
Scott, please take us through the evolution of “I’m Looking Through You” from the original 24 October version to the final 10-11 November 1965 version that appeared on Rubber Soul.
Freiman: Sure. The first version of the song was recorded on October 24. It took about nine hours. This is the version that is on the Anthology 2 album. It is slower with a different rhythm, and it’s missing the bridge: “Why, tell me why did you not treat me right? / Love has a nasty habit of disappearing overnight.” It also has a classical guitar (played by George), bongos (played by Ringo), and hand clapping. The initial take also included an electric blues jam at the end.
The Beatles began a new version of the song on 6 November, but that version was also not used.
The final version, Take 4, was recorded on 10 November. It featured, as we’ve already noted, Ringo playing a matchbox with his finger! The Beatles added overdubs, including George playing the tambourine and the guitar solo. Yet, the biggest addition was by Ringo. He played two dissonant chords on the organ for a few measures at the end of each verse.
It was 7 AM on the next day, 11 November, when Paul and John overdubbed their vocals, and Paul double-tracked his bass. It was the final recording session for Rubber Soul.
Both mono and stereo versions of the song would be mixed four days later on November 15.
Kessler: And this is really a follow-up question to the one above, Scott. But the genesis of “I’m Looking Through You” reminds me, a bit, of the metamorphosis that John’s ballad “Help!” went through as “Help!” was retooled to be palatable for the film’s opening, title song. Do you prefer the up-tempo version of “I’m Looking Through You” or its original version that we hear on Anthology 2? And why?
Freiman: I think the earlier version is very interesting, but I definitely prefer the version that ended up on Rubber Soul. It’s tighter, more upbeat, and has a better bridge. Plus, I love to hear Ringo slightly out of his element. Only the Beatles would have their drummer play organ and a matchbox!
Kessler: And oddly enough, I prefer the 24 October version. To me, on that slower and less upbeat rendition, Paul sounds truly sad and sincere. On the later November take, he comes across as more vitriolic. But my favorite part of the 24 October version is the “old rock’n’roll” flavor of the song. I know The Beatles wanted to use a more current, mid-Sixties vibe, and the 10-11 November version definitely leans “pop” rather than rock’n’roll, but the guitar lead break in the 24 October version is incredible! Different strokes for different folks, right! That’s why everyone has a favorite Beatle and a different favorite song!
Well, Scott thank you for taking time to be with us for this new glance at “I’m Looking Through You.” You are an extremely busy writer, consultant, and speaker. We appreciate the gift of your time…and we sooo hope to see you in person April 1-3 for The Fest for Beatles Fans in Jersey City, New Jersey! God willing, we will all be there!
To learn more about Scott Freiman and Deconstructing The Beatles or to book
Scott to speak at your conference or event, HEAD HERE
Side Two, Track Two
by Jude Southerland Kessler and Robert Rodriguez
Throughout 2021, the Fest for Beatles Fans blog has been exploring the intricacies of The Beatles’ transitional 1965 LP, Rubber Soul. This month, our Fest friend Robert Rodriguez, award-winning author of Revolver: How The Beatles Reimagined Rock’n’Roll and Solo in the 70s: John, Paul, George, and Ringo (1970-1980), as well as distinguished podcast host of “Something About The Beatles,” joins Jude Southerland Kessler, author of The John Lennon Series, for a fresh, new look at the exciting second track of Side Two of this remarkable LP.
Date Recorded: 11 November 1965
Time Recorded: 6 p.m. – 7 a.m. (Work was also done on “You Won’t See Me,” “Wait,” and “I’m Looking Through You”)
Studio: EMI Studios, Studio 2
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Norman Smith
Second Engineer: Some sources say Mike Stone. Some say Ken Scott.
Stats: Recorded in only two takes. “Best” take was Take 2. However, three superimpositions were needed to complete the song. One for Lennon’s lead, one for backing vocals by Paul and George, and the last for George’s concluding solo.
Instrumentation and Musicians:
John Lennon, the composer, sings lead vocal and plays his 1964 Gibson J-160E acoustic guitar
Paul McCartney sings backing vocals and plays bass on his 1964 Rickenbacker 4001S bass
George Harrison sings backing vocals and plays lead in superimposition #3 on his 12-string Framus Hootenanny 5/024
Ringo Starr plays one of his Ludwig Oyster Black Pearl Super Classic drum sets in studio.
Thanks to Jerry Hammack and his superb The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Vol. 2, for this information.
Sources: Lewisohn, The Complete Beatles Chronicle, 205-206, Lewisohn, The Recording Sessions, 68, Womack, Long and Winding Roads: The Emerging Artistry of The Beatles, 121-122, Margotin and Guesdon, All the Songs, 298-299, Winn, Way Beyond Compare, 375-376, Hammack, The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Vol. 2, 96-97, Turner, A Hard Day’s Write, 95, Riley, Tell Me Why, 164-165, Spizer, The Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records, 202, Everett, The Beatles as Musicians: The Quarry Men to Rubber Soul, 310-311, Miles, Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now, 119-120, and MacDonald, The Beatles: Revolution in the Head, 145.
- The introduction of Viennese mandolin and Greek bouzouki sounds as experimentation in The Beatles’ catalogue soars – “Girl” sounded unlike any other Beatles song that fans had ever encountered. John’s high-capo-ed guitar was exotic and was described by MacDonald in The Beatles: Revolution in the Head as very much like the Viennese mandolins that John must have heard on Hamburg radio stations in the first few visits to the German port city. (p. 145) That backing, coupled with George’s unique concluding solo, edged “Girl” as far from the traditional Mersey Beat sound as any Beatles creation had ever dared…thus far.
George Harrison’s striking concluding lead left experts guessing about its creation for years. Early accounts of the 11 November recording session had Harrison playing a Greek instrument, the bouzouki. Even George Martin, at one point, said that he remembered Harrison performing the song’s concluding solo on that instrument. (Spizer, 202) Later, however, Paul McCartney just as adamantly averred that he recalled Harrison using his guitar with the capo placed very high on the neck to produce the unusual and tinny bouzouki sound. Barry Miles quotes Paul as stating, “We did it on acoustic guitars, not bouzoukis.” (Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now, 119-120) Whatever the methodology, the effect was (and is) singular and enchanting.
As Kenneth Womack observed in Long and Winding Roads: The Emerging Artistry of The Beatles, “Simulating a bouzouki-like sound on his Hootenanny, George play[ed] an intricate Greek melody that afford[ed] the track…an Old World resonance.” (p. 122) Rubber Soul had already introduced the sound of the sitar in “Norwegian Wood.” Now, the tone and cadence of another little-known instrument was introduced to listeners by the adventurous Beatles. As the boys moved decidedly away from the “pop” sound that was their staple as late as early 1965, the inclusion of innovative, world music was rapidly becoming John, Paul, George, and Ringo’s “new normal.” (See the chart entitled “Population of The Beatles Early and Experimental Style Features” in Dr. Walter Everett’s The Beatles as Musicians, The Quarry Men to Rubber Soul, p. 311. Also, please read Dr. Everett’s list of instruments that were in the studio during the Rubber Soul sessions on p. 310. The leap into experimentation is dramatic with the advent of Rubber Soul and enhanced with Revolver).
- A penchant toward more acoustic flavors on this LP – The original recording of “Girl” included George Harrison performing on an electric guitar with fuzz distortion. This rendition was removed as the acoustic sound became Lennon’s preferred medium. With extraordinary songs such as “Michelle,” “Norwegian Wood,” “Nowhere Man,” and “In My Life” populating this LP, The Beatles begin to venture away from the merry “tea-cup rattling” of “She Loves You” and “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” In 1966, Revolver would take them even further from the sounds of the early 60s. Rubber Soul gives us “an early clue to the new direction.”
- A tad of naughtiness in a song of desire – John Lennon’s very intimate inhalation (created, George Martin explained, by a special compressor used on Lennon’s voice) wasn’t the only bit of sexy innuendo in this second track on Side Two. Paul and George covertly (they thought) sang “tit-tit-tit-tit” to John’s passionate sigh of “Ah, Girrrrrl!” When George Martin questioned them about the phrase, so the story goes, they claimed to be singing “dit-dit-dit,” but Martin stated that he knew what they were saying. He shrugged and let it pass.
Now, for a “fresh new look” at “Girl,” we turn to author Robert Rodriguez, who invented the Fab Four FAQ series, recently hosted the very successful online conference Fab4ConJam, served as “Featured Author” at Beatles at the Ridge, and has been a beloved Special Guest Speaker at The Fest for Beatles Fans for years. Jude Southerland Kessler recently sat down with Rodriguez to discuss Lennon’s innovative and personal composition, “Girl.”
Jude Southerland Kessler: Robert, it’s a joy to get to work with the remarkable author who opened my eyes to the real significance and importance of Revolver via your incredible book Revolver: How The Beatles Reimagined Rock’n’Roll. That book completely changed my whole perspective on the LP…for the better. It’s a book everyone should read!
But our focus today is on Revolver’s predecessor, Rubber Soul, and specifically on the track, “Girl.” So let me ask you, early on, many listeners assumed that the “sizzle-sound” following John’s intonation of the word, “Girl!” was the sound of a cymbal. Of course, now we know it’s the sound of John’s audible inhale. Tell our readers, if you would, what Norman Smith did to create that vocal effect: the sound of ecstasy.
Robert Rodriguez: For the second time during the production of Rubber Soul, The Beatles requested an unusual manipulation of the EQ to distort the sound; again – as they had with the guitars on “Nowhere Man” – boost the treble up high, creating a sound from John’s intake of air that nearly matched the sound of Ringo’s brushed cymbal work. It is entirely likely that they were simply looking for a cool new sound to add to the track to give it an air of distinction and weren’t going for a particular evocation. However, given that this was the “pot” album, as compared to Revolver, the “acid” album, it would be naive to ignore the possibility of the effect as emulating taking a hit on a joint. The Beatles loved to sneak little inside jokes into their recordings, and in the case of “Girl,” this naughty touch alongside the backing vocal part on the bridge would’ve doubled their (guilty) pleasure.
Kessler: “Girl” is a quite sophisticated song, musically. Naturally, the usual intricate Beatles harmonies are in play, but so much more is at work. Tel us about some of the instruments that are used to create an exotic sound.
Rodriguez: As was often the case throughout the Rubber Soul sessions, The Beatles and their producer – though squeezed for time to write and record the album by deadline – would experiment with ideas to broaden their sonic palette. To their credit, simply having an idea didn’t justify using it; it had to be a good idea to make the final cut, and The Beatles’ recordings are evidence enough of the superb quality control standards they adhered to. Perhaps the ultimate example of this is “12-Bar Original” – a recording that they took seriously enough to spend precious studio time on, rehearsing and tracking a pair of takes before abandoning the experiment as an unremarkable failure.
“Girl” provides a further example of this thinking, in that we now know that though the final released performance features acoustic instrumentation (excepting Paul’s bass), a fuzz-distorted Harrison electric was tried out, but ultimately rejected. (A similar idea was tried out four years later for “Here Comes The Sun” and thankfully shelved). Maybe it was because they came up with a better idea: a sound that has been described by writers who should know better as a Greek bouzouki — an exotic stringed instrument not typically heard much on pop records.
But while the origins of the sound may be Greek-inspired (Paul has said as much), it was actually performed by George on his Framus Hootenanny 12-string guitar. The attack of his picking the strings is sharper than usual, giving a staccato effect (with no ringing out), suggesting an austere sonic tone that matches the lyric describing the title character’s early Christianity teachings: that heaven was for those who suffered deprivation. It’s a brilliant touch that we as listeners can come up with any number of creative suggestions for what the intent behind it was, when – per Occam’s Razor – it was probably nothing more profound than a pleasing sound that was fresh at the time.
Kessler: Cynthia Lennon once said that this song was about her. In April 1995’s Q magazine, she said, “The only song that I thought might be something to do with me was ‘Girl,’ but of course John isn’t here to say anymore.” However, when asked about “Girl” during his life, John claimed that the song was about an ideal girl (although this girl is far from ideal in many ways), a girl who turned out to be Yoko. Once, he stated that the description of the girl in the bridge referred to the Christian church. What’s your take on the identity of this “Girl”?
Rodriguez: Honestly, I find it difficult to understand why any woman would choose to identify with the character described in this song: she’s punishing and apparently warped by early years of religious education. But someone better qualified in psychoanalysis than I can probably provide a more satisfactory answer as to why John identified the character in this song as a “dream girl,” though technically nightmares are dreams, too. As described, the decision to keep this woman around (though he characterizes the choice as hers: “the girl who came to stay”) comes with ambiguity: he’s clear-headed enough to recognize his desire for her as something punitive (“…makes you sorry”), yet he is without regrets. That alone suggests a desire to be punished, which aligns nicely with her own worldview, shaped by the church, that states “pain will lead to pleasure.” Thus, John is describing a situation where he accepts day-to-day unhappiness and being made to feel a fool by her (and in front of his friends, no less) by a woman incapable of graciously accepting a compliment, all for the sake of a future reward, in this world or the next. John’s describing the “girl” he sings about as someone who “turned out to be Yoko” may be more revealing than he intended; he might inadvertently be indicating difficulties in a seemingly faultless relationship.
Kessler: Margotin and Guesdon claim that John waited 15 years to write the sequel to “Girl,” and that song was “Woman.” Robert, do you agree or disagree with this assessment and why?
Rodriguez: For something to be a “sequel,” it has to acknowledge its antecedent and either build upon it or deviate from it, does it not? I think Lennon was trying to come up with a compelling connection between the two songs, but I don’t hear it. Between the two, I hear “Girl” as the much more compelling composition: in addition to everything else it offers as a performance and as a recording, the lyrical ambivalence is a marvel to behold. There is much to unpack in its mixed signals – someone unpleasant and difficult as an ideal – and yet remaining the object of profound desire.
“Woman,” in contrast, is – to my ears anyway – much more facile and shallow, while seemingly striving for the perception of depth. (The opening remark about the other half of the sky sounds profound, without actually saying much of anything). The narrator in “Woman” gushes on and on about the debt of gratitude owed (“…for showing me the meaning of success” – was this a comment on Yoko’s financial acumen, handling their business affairs?) while lamenting his own ingratitude and thoughtlessness. The song takes on the air of a religious hymn, with offers of praise and loads of “I’m not worthy.” As such, it’s hard for me personally to enjoy to any great depth, or to see as anything more weighty than his myriad other mea culpa songs (“Jealous Guy,” “Aisumasen,” “Forgive Me (My Little Flower Princess),” etc).
By the end of his life, in the promotion of Double Fantasy, John projected an air of having figured life out: his relationship with Yoko as being some kind of summit of both ideal romantic love and a wholly-encompassing creative partnership. To me, it rings hollow, especially when contrasted with his former songwriting partner, who made the same point about his own life partner without loudly banging on about it; instead, providing an example that was as interactive with the world as John and Yoko’s was sealed off from it. Contrast this with the 25-year-old Beatle who, throughout Rubber Soul, describes deep social connections (“In My Life,” “The Word”) and his place in society (“Nowhere Man”), as well as a series of women who are apparently self-sufficient (“Girl,” “Norwegian Wood”) that he connects with. Personally, I know which artist I find more interesting.
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Onward to Side Two of Rubber Soul in our Fest for Beatles Fans track-by-track study of this great 1965 LP! With us this month, to dive deeply into the roots of Side Two’s opening track, is our own Liverpool mate, David Bedford, author of Liddypool: The Birthplace of The Beatles, The Fab One Hundred and Four, Finding the Fifth Beatle, and his latest wonderful contribution to Beatles research, The Country of Liverpool. Dave is also the congenial host of the podcast “Liddypod” and is widely acclaimed for his painstakingly accurate bio-film, “Looking for Lennon.” What a joy to explore this Ringo-manned song with Dave, a true Scouser and Beatles expert!
Date Recorded: 4 November 1965 (although it was written in the Quarrymen days and later played for George Martin on 5 March 1963 as a potential “follow up” to the lads’ Please Please Me LP).
Time Recorded: 11:00 p.m. – 3:30 a.m.
Studio: EMI Studios, Studio 2
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Norman Smith and Ron Pender
Second Engineers: Ken Scott and Graham Platt (and according to Margotin and Guesdon, Jerry Boys)
Stats: Recorded in only one take. (After their work on “What Goes On,” The Beatles turned their attention to “12 Bar Original.”)
Instrumentation and Musicians:
John Lennon, the composer, unearthed this song for Ringo to perform on Rubber Soul. John played rhythm on his 1964 Rickenbacker 325 Capri electric guitar and sang backing vocals.
Ringo Starr sang lead vocal and played drums on one of his Ludwig Oyster Black Pearl “Super Classic” drum sets. Ringo also contributed somewhat to the lyrical composition of the song.
Paul McCartney sang backing vocals and played bass on his 1964 Rickenbacker 4001S (Hammack, 86) or on his Hofner bass (Spizer, 202). When John brought this early song back to life for Rubber Soul, Paul contributed to the lyrics for the middle eight.
George Harrison played lead guitar on his 1963 Gretsch G6119 Chet Atkins Tennessean electric with Bigsby vibrato.
***This information is primarily from Jerry Hammack’s excellent work, The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Vol. 2. However, all other sources have been utilized as well.
Sources: Lewisohn, The Complete Beatles Chronicle, 205, Lewisohn, The Recording Sessions, 67, Harry, The John Lennon Encyclopedia, 971, Miles, The Beatles Diary, Vol. 1, 218, Margotin and Guesdon, All the Songs, 296, Winn, Way Beyond Compare, 372-373, Hammack, The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Vol. 2, 86-87, Turner, A Hard Day’s Write, 95, Riley, Tell Me Why, 163-164, Spizer, The Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records, 202, Everett, The Beatles as Musicians: The Quarry Men through Rubber Soul, 329-330, and Spignesi and Lewis, 100 Best Beatles Songs, 52.
- As with “Michelle,” an old song is rediscovered and renovated —
This catchy rockabilly number is officially credited, for the first time ever, to three Beatles: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and (using his real name) Richard Starkey. But who wrote what? Well, Dave Bedford will fill us in on the complete history of “What Goes On” in his “Fresh New Look” segment.
But just as interesting is the story of John Lennon, Collector and Saver of All Things. As a child, during World War II, John had been steeped in frugality. Indeed, the little boy always reminded his Aunt Mimi and Uncle George to dowse the landing night lamp outside his bedroom with the stern words, “Don’t waste the light.” Similarly, Bettie Birdsall, Head Stewardess on the Electra II chartered plane on which The Beatles traveled throughout the 1964 North American Tour, said that John kept spare squares of torn paper in his right coat pocket. He used these scraps for scribbled notes to be used in his upcoming books of poetry and prose, transferring the slips of paper to his left pocket when he had filled them up.
That tendency to use old, found objects plays into the history of “What Goes On.” In his work, The Beatles as Musicians, The Quarry Men to Revolver, Dr. Walter Everett reminds us that “What Goes On” was a very early song of John’s, saved and then completely transformed in 1965 into something new. Everett calls “What Goes On” “Lennon’s answer to ‘Michelle’” since it was a song from years past that John re-energized…brought to life for Rubber Soul. More to come in Dave Bedford’s history of the song below!
- The traditional Ringo-Side-Two-Opener “ups its game” —
At first glimpse, “What Goes On” seems a bit formulaic in its placement on the record. Yes, exactly like “Act Naturally” on Help!, “What Goes On” is a Country and Western track with an upbeat sound and a Ringo vocal. And yes, it is also strategically located as the opening track on Side Two of the LP. But as Tim Riley in Tell Me Why sagely observes, this go-round, The Beatles didn’t fill that opening track with a mere cover. “Instead of dealing Ringo another cover, [The Beatles] challenge[d] themselves into reworking an old standby,” Riley comments, and he points out that in doing this, the boys upped the bar a notch. He says they made “the commitment to original material more explicit.”
- The divide between EMI and Capitol releases and the air play of Beatles songs in Great Britain and Australia versus America widens —
In 100 Best Beatles Songs, Spignesi and Lewis remind us that in 1966 “What Goes On” (along with “Nowhere Man,” “If I Needed Someone,” and “Drive My Car”) were restricted from airplay in the U.S. because these four songs had not been included on the Capitol version of Rubber Soul and were slated for release on an upcoming Capitol LP. The Capitol execs felt that early airplay of these tracks would dampen sales of the soon-to-hit-the-American-stands album. Indeed, those four restricted songs didn’t reach American listeners until 20 June 1966, when they were included on Capitol’s Yesterday and Today. Thus, the gap between fans in the UK and fans abroad continued to be heightened by Capitol’s firm control over what could and what could not be heard in the States.
- A song is “taught to a Beatle” via a home recording —
Beatles friend and road manager, Neil Aspinall once stated that Paul McCartney devised a quick and easy way for Ringo to learn “What Goes On,” prior to the 4 November EMI studio session. Aspinall claimed that in McCartney’s home studio, Paul (playing lead guitar, bass, and drums…and singing) recorded a demo of the song for Ringo. He then gave the drummer the pre-recorded tape as a learning device.
Interestingly enough, we are informed by Beatles music expert, Bruce Spizer, that “Ringo listened to the tape and added his own ideas.” (Spizer, The Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records, 202) It’s interesting to observe that all of The Beatles were maturing and coming into their own. Ringo had his own concept of what worked and didn’t work for him. And by the autumn of 1965, he wasn’t afraid to speak, er, sing up.
A Fresh New Look:
It was a joy to sit down with Beatles author, podcaster and filmmaker, David Bedford, whose excellent new book The Country of Liverpool zeroes in on the Country and Western roots of The Fab Four. Here is what Dave had to say about “What Goes On”:
Jude Southerland Kessler: Dave, in your remarkable new book, The Country of Liverpool, you trace The Beatles’ firm connection to Country and Western music, dating back to their earliest days together. Do you hear the Fab Four’s fascination with and connection to country music in “What Goes On”?
Dave Bedford: When you listen to The Beatles’ albums and think about Country songs, you automatically think of either “Act Naturally” or “What Goes On.” They are overtly “Country” and the obvious choices. In the past, I hadn’t thought further than that. When I started working on the research for The Country of Liverpool, my primary reason was to tell the story of Liverpool country legend Phil Brady. I knew that Liverpool had a huge Country and Western scene at the same time as The Beatles and Merseybeat. However, I assumed they were distinct from each other. But then, I came across an early Quarrymen business card which proclaimed: “Rock ‘n’ Roll; Skiffle; Country Western.” I had never noticed that before, and it set me on a path to discover the Country roots of The Beatles.
Then, when I started thinking about Skiffle, I realised that the roots of Skiffle were in Country, especially Bluegrass. Then, I considered the groups that influenced The Beatles: Carl Perkins, Buddy Holly and the Crickets, Elvis, The Everly Brothers, Roy Orbison, and many more; these artists were rooted in Country music. When talking with Rod Davis from The Quarrymen, it was clear that Country music was very much a part of their influences. Michael Hill, John Lennon’s school friend, told me how John was a huge fan of Hank Williams, the father of Country music.
With all of this information, I sat down and listened to The Beatles’ albums again with my Country ears on, and I heard so many more Country influences than I expected. It was all there, and yet, I had never noticed it before.
It is similar to when I was working on my first book, Liddypool: Birthplace of The Beatles, when I realised the Fab Four could not have come from any other city. It had to be Liverpool, and the Country music influences are such an important part of the story of The Beatles, which hadn’t been told before. I understand the musical roots of The Beatles so much better now.
Kessler: “What Goes On” has a very long and interesting history with The Beatles, doesn’t it, Dave? Tell us about its journey from 1963 up to Autumn 1965, when it’s finally selected not only to grace an LP but to be the opener for Side Two of the record.
Bedford: “What Goes On” is one of those songs that was mainly written in those very early days. In the Playboy Interviews, John told David Sheff, “That was an early Lennon written before The Beatles when we were The Quarrymen.” (Sheff, All We Are Saying, 158, Riley, Tell Me Why, 163-164, Everett, The Beatles as Musicians, the Quarry Men through Rubber Soul, 329-330, Spizer, The Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records, 202, and Harry, The John Lennon Encyclopedia, 971) Now that we understand those early Country influences on The Beatles, it was natural, especially during those early days, that John would be writing a Country song. When The Beatles were looking to contribute songs to their first album in March 1963, John suggested “What Goes On” to George Martin. But the song wasn’t recorded or even finished properly until they brought it out again in 1965 for Rubber Soul.
Kessler: So, we know that John wrote “What Goes On,” but Paul and Ringo played a part in bringing “What Goes On” to life. Tell us a little about that, please.
Bedford: With John bringing the basic structure of the song to the group for Rubber Soul, it still required some work before it could be considered for the album. John recalled that the song needed a middle eight, which was contributed by Paul and Ringo, though Ringo’s contribution maybe wasn’t as considerable as could be thought. Ringo recalled, “I contributed about five words to ‘What Goes On.’” I haven’t done a thing since.” (Miles, Many Years From Now)
It was an unusual combination in Beatles song-writing and created a unique writing credit: Lennon/ McCartney/ Starkey.
The recording of the song is in a very “Country” style, from John’s rhythm to George’s Carl Perkins-esque picking style on his Gretsch Tennessean — very much in the Nashville style.
Kessler: When The Beatles played the Hollywood Bowl in 1964 and 1965, “I Love Ringo” buttons outsold buttons of all the other Beatles combined times four! Ringo was highly favored in America! What steps did both EMI and Capitol take with “What Goes On” to please Ringo fans?
Bedford: Ringo never claimed to be a great songwriter. He never claimed to be a great singer, compared to his band mates. He even never claimed to be good-looking, yet he was so popular! So, when “What Goes On” was released on Rubber Soul, it opened Side 2; when it appeared on Yesterday and Today, it was the penultimate track.
Capitol Records/EMI released it as a B-side to “Nowhere Man” on 15 February 1966, which peaked at #3 on the Billboard pop chart. “What Goes On” was given a chart placement too, even though it only reached #81. However, when they released the single initially, it was only credited to Lennon/McCartney. When it was pointed out that Ringo was also a contributor, Capitol did a second pressing, crediting the song correctly to Lennon/ McCartney/ Starkey, although the record was already disappearing from the charts, making this a very collectible record indeed.
I have a new appreciation for the song, knowing that it evolved from the Country and Western Quarrymen days of 1957, was considered as the follow-up to Please Please Me in 1963, was finished off by Paul and Ringo in 1965, and was given prime position on their ground-breaking album, Rubber Soul. It was even recorded in only one take!
Since January 2021, we’ve been examining The Beatles’ 1965 work of genius, Rubber Soul, taking deep dives into each track. Having concluded Side One, this month we took a short intermission to stand, stretch, and have a bit of fun.
We invited Fest for Beatles Fans poet Terri Whitney — who has written two books of poetry on The Beatles and other rock’n’roll greats — to serve as one of the judges in a POETRY CONTEST in her honor: The Rockin’ Rhymer Poetry Contest.
Thanks to all who submitted poems. They were all wonderful.
Here are the three winning poems…
Sai Matekar, Winner
In My Life/ Two of Us (or 6th july, 1957, the birth of the Beatles)
6th July, 1957
Woolton church fete, on a beautiful sunny day
Life became a song,
When, John found Paul
Soulmate found soulmate
Music found magic,
Loss found love,
When Paths lead to home,
Wrong Words and banjo chords,
Found lost rhymes and a tuned guitar
Motherless sons, two
Till nothing was left inside,
On a neverending night
Lines, in fully formed songs
Songs, in half written lines
Hands four played one melody,
Strings across searching eyes
Knee to knee,
Growing and healing
On a long road,
John hugged Paul
When the world changed
Changed the world
When Paul hugged John,
On a road, long
and longer memories
Of healing and growing,
Knee to knee
Eyes searching, across strings
One melody played four hands,
Lines written, half in songs
Songs formed fully in lines
On a Night, neverending
Inside, nothing was left
Till they cried,
A tuned guitar and lost rhymes,
Found banjo chords and wrong words
Home lead to paths,
When Love found loss,
Magic found music,
Soulmate found soulmate ,
Paul found John, when
A song came to life
On a beautiful sunny day, Woolton church fete
Phillip Kirkland, First Runner-Up
THE LIFE OF JOHNNY (ABRIDGED)
Born of Mother (partly timey)
Virtual Orphan, Mimi cares
Wayward Johnny, daily howly
Auntie living deep despairs
Cocky muso young McCartney
Teaches roughneck, tuney strings
Jam together, fledgling combo
Rock ‘n’ Roll ‘n’ Blues ‘n’ things
Off to Hamburg, popping Prellies
Playing socks off, kiddies’ cheers
Man, we’re groovy little group now
Playing Cavern, Epstein hears
Richly contract, muchy money
Funny haircut, shiny suit
Liddypool is distant memory
Muchy fame and girls to boot
Arty Yoko, avant gardly
Wide-eyed Johnny, falls in lust
Beatles crumbly, end of era
Golden Apple turns to dust
Uncle Sammy, John and Yoko
Little Sean and baking bread
Starting Over, not for muchly
Mad assassin – Johnny’s dead!
Presley Moffett, Second Runner-Up
Like Mother, Like Daughter
Like mother, like daughter
Music is our common bond
And every moment in our lives is connected to a song
Mom gave me her copy of Sgt. Pepper
She bought the record
Sometime in the ’80s
The vinyl was missing, but the cover was still intact
She gave it to me and said, “I have listened to this album since I was your age in fact.”
Like mother, like daughter
Music is our common bond
And every moment in our lives is connected to a song
On the way to elementary school
Mom and I would listen to the 1 CD
It became a daily ritual
Driving down the street
Me singing my heart out in the backseat
We didn’t have real microphones
So we just used our hands, you know
Like mother, like daughter
Music is our common bond
And every moment in our lives is connected to a song
Even years later
I’m in college about graduate
And we still listen to The Beatles in the car
As soon as the first note starts
We get lost in the lyrics and forget everything else
It’s truly an escape from the chaos this world creates
Like mother, like daughter
Music is our common bond
And every moment in our lives is connected to a song
Sometimes we fight because we care
Because we never want to hurt each other
Or be unfair but
With all the challenges we face
The Beatles have ultimately brought us closer together
Like mother, like daughter
Music is our common bond
And every moment in our lives is connected to a song