Wednesday, May 25, 2011

"I Want to Tell You"

"I Want to Tell You" is a Beatles song on the 1966 album Revolver. It was written by George Harrison and recorded on June 2, 1966 (with the bass overdubbed on June 3). Working titles were "Laxton's Superb" and "I Don't Know."

The song marks the first time the band included three Harrison songs on a Beatles album, reflecting his growing stature as a songwriter.

Guitar Riff

Although a melodic pop song similar to the others on the album, the song hints at Indian influences, although less overtly so than "Love You To", another Harrison composition from the same album. It is largely built around a drone, rarely straying from its home key of A major, not even for the bridge. It features a flat Harrison vocal, supported heavily by Lennon and McCartney on backup vocals, in a fashion similar to Harrison's earlier "If I Needed Someone". It is largely driven by the bass and the persistent, almost hypnotic, piano pounding throughout the song. A distinctive guitar part opens and closes the song and recurs between verses, which lends the song some structure where it might otherwise sound formless (given the subtle variation).

Interestingly, it is one of the few Beatles songs to begin with a fade-in ("Eight Days a Week" being another notable example). The ending — where the group repeats the line "I've got time" over the opening guitar riff — makes notable use of melisma by McCartney (recalling, again, the song's understated Indian influences, as well as adding an increasing sense of disarray as the ensemble falls apart).

In I Want to Tell You, Paul's bass is overdubbed separately which allowed for specific treatment as opposed to being lumped on the rhythm track. This would become more common during the years that followed.


The lyrics are, in Harrison's own words, "about the avalanche of thoughts that are so hard to write down or say or transmit." The frustration in the lyrics is reinforced by the song's dissonant atmosphere — a product of numerous elements, including the continuous piano chord in the background and the contrast between Harrison's modest lead vocal and Lennon and McCartney's descant harmonizing — which creates an air of uneasiness.

The bridge reveals some of Harrison's thinking at the time, reducing his internal difficulties to conflicts within his being:

But if I seem to act unkind
It's only me, it's not my mind
That is confusing things

In his 1980 autobiography I Me Mine, Harrison suggested that the second line be reversed. "The mind is the thing that hops about telling us to do this and do that — when what we need is to lose (forget) the mind."


* John Lennon — tambourine, harmony vocal, hand-claps
* Paul McCartney — bass, piano, harmony vocal, hand-claps
* George Harrison — double-tracked lead vocal, lead guitar, hand-claps
* Ringo Starr — drums, maracas

Other versions

An upbeat live version of the song opens Harrison's Live In Japan album, recorded and released in 1992 (see 1992 in music). Harrison and bandmate Eric Clapton extend the song with a few guitar solos. Harrison uses the lyric reversal mentioned in his autobiography, singing the bridge "it isn't me, it's just the mind."

George played this song during his Concert For The Natural Law Party on April 6`th 1992 as the opening song.

Another notable live recording was played by Jeff Lynne at the Concert For George — again opening the main set and again featuring Clapton as a sideman — in 2003 (see 2003 in music) for the then-recently deceased Harrison.

This song was covered by Ted Nugent on State of Shock (1979) and is also on Super Hits (1998).

This song was also covered by The Grateful Dead during their tour in the Summer of 1994 and the Jerry Garcia Band in their 1976 and Winter 1986-7 tours.

This song also was covered by The Smithereens on their 1999 release, "God Save The Smithereens" deluxe edition.


On his recent tours, Neil Innes of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band (and later The Rutles) said the Bonzos' first studio experience was at Abbey Road Studios while the Beatles were recording "I Want to Tell You". Innes said he took a break in one of the studio's hallways and heard The Beatles playing back the song, blasting it at full volume. Innes recounted that he was in a state of immense awe over the song's beauty, and sheepishly returned to the Bonzo session, where they were recording the 1920s Vaudeville song "My Brother Makes the Noises for the Talkies".

Album: Revolver
Released: 5 August 1966
Recorded: Abbey Road Studios, 2 June 1966
Genre: Rock
Length: 2:29
Label: Parlophone
Writer: George Harrison
Producer: George Martin


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