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.