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