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"I WANT YOU (SHE'S SO HEAVY)"
(John Lennon – Paul McCartney)
One of the greatest strengths The Beatles possessed was their lyric writing. John and Paul, especially, developed the knack of conveying a story that the average listener could easily relate to, many times with only three minutes to work with.
Witness “Yesterday” in which Paul simplistically expresses the immense heartbreak of abandonment, something almost everyone on the planet has experienced at one time or another. In “Help!,” John vividly relates the need for emotional support because of the uncertainty of life that we experience as we age. Even “I Am The Walrus” achieves greatness in its use of absurd wordplay purposely woven to confound listeners who look for deep meaning in their lyrics, these lyrics being sung convincingly as if there were indeed a mystery here to unravel when there really wasn't any.
Then, in 1969, John experiments with writing lyrics that convey deep emotion without hardly using any words at all! Could this be done? In “I Want You (She's So Heavy),” a track that approaches eight minutes in length and is the longest song in the entire Beatles catalog (“Revolution 9” is nearly half a minute longer, but can arguably be viewed as more of a “sound collage” than an actual song), John tells a desperate story of his deep emotional feelings for his new love Yoko Ono using a total of only fifteen words! These words, most of them repeated many times over, are “I/ want/ you/ so/ bad/ it's/ driving/ me/ mad/ she's/ so/ heavy/ babe/ know/ yeah.” Even the shortest song in the Beatles cannon, “Her Majesty,” which ranks in at a mere 23 seconds in length, has a total of thirty-eight words, some of these being repeated as well.
What is unique with John's “I Want You (She's So Heavy)” is that there was no need for any more words to convey the intense and profound impact that Yoko was having on John's life at the time. Everyone listening could understand. Enough said!
"Lennon's passion for Ono had shaken him to the core," states author Ian MacDonald in his book "Revolution In The Head." "His long dreamed-of erotic mother had finally arrived and the reality was almost too much for him. Sexually addicted to her, he was helplessly dependent...Lennon is literally obsessed."
John's lyrical references to Yoko can be easily detected in his 1968 compositions that appear on the “White Album,” such as “Julia,” “Happiness Is A Warm Gun” and “I'm So Tired.” As of early 1969, however, it appears that his dependence on their relationship had become obsessive to the point that that was the only subject he felt impelled to write about at all. “Don't Let Me Down” was his plea for her to never forsake their relationship, and the “All I want is you” chorus of “Dig A Pony” relates this message loud and clear as well.
“I Want You (She's So Heavy),” which was premiered to The Beatles toward the end of the January 1969 rehearsals for what became the “Let It Be” album and film, continued in this same pattern. “That's me, about Yoko,” he explained when asked in 1980 about the authorship of the song. His near-demented desire for her this time around lyrically consisted of not much more than the title of the song repeated various times and in various ways, in many cases screamed at a feverish pitch.
Many throughout the years have held the song in derision because of its minimal use of lyrics, the popular BBC TV current affairs program “24 Hours” even reading off the lyrics on air back then as an example of the banalities of pop music. As related in Steve Turner's book “A Hard Day's Write,” Lennon responded to this by saying that the song's “simplicity made it superior to 'Eleanor Rigby' and 'I Am The Walrus.' To him, this was not a reversion to mindless monosyllabic pop but simply economy of language.” And to Rolling Stone magazine, John stated: “Simplicity is evident in 'She's So Heavy.' In fact a reviewer wrote: 'He seems to have lost his talent for lyrics; it's so simple and boring.' When it gets down to it, when you're drowning, you don't say, 'I would be incredibly pleased if someone would have the foresight to notice me drowning and come and help me,' you just scream!” He has even stated his wish to compose a “perfect song” using only one word, not unlike Yoko's published poem of 1964 which consisted of only one word: 'Water.'
Musically, the verses of the song appear to be patterned after the 1962 Mel Torme hit “Comin' Home Baby,” which was substantially successful in Britain that year, peaking at #13. Otherwise, John had admitted to Yoko's influence on his new style of songwriting during that time. “This is very heavy,” George stated in interview in 1969 about the song. “This is good, because it's really basically a bit like a blues. The riff that he sings and plays is really a very basic blues-type thing. But again, it's very original to a John-type song. And the middle bit is great. John has an amazing thing with his timing. He always comes across with sort of different timing things. For example, 'All You Need Is Love,' which just sort of skips beats out and changes from three-four to four-four, all in and out of each other. But when you question him as to what it is, he doesn't know. He just does it naturally. And this has got - the bridge section of this is a bit like that. And it's got a really very good chord sequence that he uses.”
For readers who may be in a quandary as to what is meant by the word “heavy” in the context of the song's lyrics, the “60's Slang” dictionary defines the word as “deep, cool, chaotic, controversial.” And as for narrowing down the time of writing, by the time of its first official recording session on February 22nd, 1969, the song was composed in its completed form. This indicates the song as having been written between January and February of 1969. Paul has never claimed any part of the songwriting credit, but upon listening to the first run-through of the song on January 28th, 1969 in Apple Studios, keyboardist Billy Preston could possibly be sited as fleshing out the feel of the song with John on that day and thereafter.
The Beatles recording "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" in Trident Studios, February 22nd, 1969
As mentioned above, January 28th, 1969 was the first day that John brought "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" to The Beatles in Apple Studios. The group was then ending their month-long set of rehearsals for what eventually became the "Let It Be" album and film.
Four versions of the song were rehearsed on this day, it being merely a jam at this point that consisted of the “I want you” verses only. One version features John on lead vocals mimicking the notes played on a distorted electric guitar, not unlike what ended up on the released version, Billy Preston on piano and response vocals, and Ringo on drums. This enjoyable funky version lasted nearly six minutes long. Later that day, they rehearsed the song again with John alternating the lyrics from “I want you” to “I need you,” Billy Preston moving to organ and this time refraining from providing vocals, while someone joined in with a shaker (possibly George). Yet another rehearsal that day consisted of John and George jamming the song on guitar.
The following day, January 29th, 1969, they rehearsed “I Want You (She's So Heavy)” twice more, one of which was a mostly instrumental jam with John again on distorted guitar but only singing briefly off microphone. Billy Preston, however, played keyboards and added some improvised “I had a dream” vocals on this rendition. It was on this day, incidentally, that the decision was made to perform a few of their newly written and rehearsed songs on the roof of the Apple building the next day, although “I Want You (She's So Heavy)” was nowhere near ready at this point and was held off to be worked out more fully at a later time. However, this didn't stop John from briefly playing the “I Want You” guitar riff in between songs during the rooftop performance on January 30th, 1969.
On the following day, January 31st, 1969, when they recorded and filmed the remainder of their new material as promo performances for what would eventually be the released “Let It Be” movie, they once again ran through what they had of “I Want You (She's So Heavy)” so far. Once they were done with the main songs that they wanted to set in stone, they ran through a good number of other compositions, such as “Lady Madonna,” “Oh! Darling,” The Foundations hit “Build Me Up Buttercup” and “I Want You (She's So Heavy).” The instrumentation this time around was John and George on guitar, Paul and Billy Preston on keyboards, and Ringo on drums, Paul occasionally chiming in with some vocals.
About three weeks later, on February 22nd, 1969, The Beatles entered Trident Studios in London to start officially recording the song, which was simply titled “I Want You” at this point. John had fleshed out the arrangement to its finished state within the previous three weeks and was now confident enough in the song to officially set it to tape.
In their minds, the January “Get Back / Let It Be” sessions needed more material to get it to a finished state for release as an album. This was the first recording session they booked for supplying additional material for the project, Ringo being busy filming the movie “The Magic Christian,” George being hospitalized for the removal of his tonsils, and both producer Glyn Johns and Billy Preston being in America earlier in February. This was the first chance they had to continue work on the album, Trident Studios being booked possibly because EMI Studios may not have been available at this short of notice.
The Beatles and Billy Preston arrived at 8 pm on this day. They ran through 35 'takes' of the song with John and George on guitars, Paul on bass, Ringo on drums and Billy Preston on organ. John sang lead on most of the takes, Paul experimenting as lead vocalist on one of the takes. By 5 am the following morning, they were happy enough with the results to call it a night.
At 6:30 pm the following day, February 23rd, 1969, they returned to Trident Studios to listen to what they had recorded of the song the previous day and decide what to use. A decision was made to edit segments of three different takes to form one official 'master take.' 'Take nine' had the best Lennon vocal for the early part of the song, 'take 20' had the best middle section, or 'bridge,' and 'take 32' was deemed best for the remainder of the track. Producer Glyn Johns and engineer Barry Sheffield edited those 'takes' together appropriately and then prepared a rough mono mix for John to take home and listen to. At midnight, all left for the night, possibly thinking they had a finished song.
On the next day, February 24th, 1969, time unknown, engineer Barry Sheffield made a trip to Trident Studios to make an eight-track safety copy of the edited master of “I Want You,” this undoubtedly being the copy used by The Beatles for future overdubs on the song in EMI Studios.
The recording of “I Want You” was put on hold for the next month and a half, only sporadic recording being done by the group during this time, the most noteworthy being both sides of their latest single, namely, “The Ballad Of John And Yoko” and “Old Brown Shoe.” In the early morning hours of April 19th, 1969, after putting the final touches on “Old Brown Shoe” in EMI Studio Three the evening before, John and George, along with producer Chris Thomas and the engineering staff, entered EMI Studio Two at 1 am with the intention of performing overdubs on the Trident master tape of “I Want You.” “John and George went into the far left-hand corner of number two to overdub those guitars,” engineer Jeff Jarratt recalls. “They wanted a massive sound so they kept tracking and tracking, over and over...I was getting a bit of pick-up so I asked George to turn it down a little. He looked at me and said, dryly, 'You don't talk to a Beatle like that.'”
Having filled up all of the open tracks on the eight-track safety copy of the Trident master with overdubbed guitars during the final hypnotic minutes of the song, the engineering staff needed to make a reduction mix of the tape, called 'take one,' in order to open up yet more tracks for overdubbing. This being done, John and George, on their Epiphone Casino and Gibson Les Paul respectively, once again huddled in the corner of the studio to overdub yet more guitars onto this final section of the song. After they were sufficiently happy with the results, or they were tired enough, they called it for the night, allowing the engineering staff to make a stereo mix of the song as it stood thus far. Possibly thinking that the song was now complete, the studio finally closed its doors at 4:30 am.
It was determined that more was yet needed to finish off “I Want You,” the April 20th, 1969 session being partially utilized for this purpose. The Beatles arrived in EMI Studio Three at around 7 pm, along with roadie Mal Evans with a set of conga drums, for them to be played as an overdub onto the song, undoubtedly by Ringo. Also overdubbed onto the song was Hammond organ, which was presumably played by John. This being accomplished by approximately 8 pm, the assumption probably being made yet again that the song was complete, attention turned to recording the basic tracks to Paul's song “Oh! Darling,” this taking up the remainder of the sessions which ended at 12:45 am the following morning.
It was decided, just prior to July 1st, 1969, that The Beatles would record and release one final album that would encompass songs they had been recording early that year, “I Want You” being a prime candidate. After John had introduced various other songs for inclusion on this final album, as well as other songs from the other band members, John thought that more touching up needed to be done on “I Want You.” Therefore, with a deadline looming, a decision was made to add more overdubs onto the dramatic ending of the song on August 8th, 1969.
After they took the famous “Abbey Road” album cover in the morning hours of the day, they entered EMI Studio Two at 2:30 pm and began by adding some overdubs to the song “The End” before giving attention to “I Want You.” “Later that day, we continued the work at hand,” engineer Geoff Emerick recalls. “George set up the Moog synthesizer at John's request and twiddled the knobs as the great behemoth spit out white noise, tacked onto the end of 'I Want You (She's So Heavy).'” John explained in 1969: "It's pretty heavy at the ending, you know, because we used the Moog synthesizers on it, and the range of the sound is from minus whatever to way over...Well, you can't hear it. That instrument, the Moog synthesizer, can do all the sounds, you know, all ranges of sounds, and we did that on the end. If you're a dog, you can hear a lot more." Ringo also added some spectacular cymbal crashes, among other things, to the dramatic ending of the song, while Paul escaped to Studio Three to add some overdubs on his song “Oh! Darling.”
Curiously, these “I Want You” overdubs were performed onto the original February master recording from Trident Studios, not the version that included the organ and conga drums that were overdubbed in April 20th in EMI Studio Three. Nonetheless, the sessions on this day were over by approximately 9:45 pm. “We ended the session fairly early,” Geoff Emerick continues. “There was a summer weekend ahead, and we all had plans. I was going fishing.”
After the summer weekend was over, The Beatles met again in EMI Studio Two on August 11th, 1969 at 2:30 pm for more work on what became their “Abbey Road” album. They arrived at EMI Studio Two around 2:30 pm and began with overdubs on the song that only now was called “I Want You (She's So Heavy)” instead of just “I Want You.”
One of the overdubs performed on this day was the harmony vocals of John, Paul and George of the phrase “she's so heavy,” which were recorded onto tracks four and seven of the April 18th 'take one' reduction mixdown. With the addition of these harmonies, John appropriately decided that these words should actually be added to the title of the song. This was then overdubbed to become what Mark Lewisohn's book “The Beatles Recording Sessions” calls “tremendous harmony vocals.” This basically completed the recording of the song which resulted in a tape copy being made but, as noted above, the original master tape of the song, originally recorded at Trident Studios, contained the massive guitar overdubs of John and George as well as the “white noise” effect from the Moog synthesizer. Since John couldn't decided at this point which version of the song should appear on the album, he had the “she's so heavy” harmony vocals edited into the other version as well. He would later decide which version he would include on the “Abbey Road” album. After overdubs on other recently recorded songs were accomplished, the session ended around 11:30 pm.
By August 20th, 1969, John came to a decision as to which version of “I Want You (She's So Heavy)” would adorn the “Abbey Road” album. Since he liked elements of both, his decision was to edit segments of them together. “In the end, Lennon had me edit together two of them,” Geoff Emerick explains in his book “Here, There And Everywhere.” “The splice comes right after his last 'She's so...' It was like working on “Strawberry Fields Forever” all over again, but this time around, thankfully, both takes were in the same key and at the same tempo.”
The Beatles met in the control room of EMI Studio Three at 2:30 pm with producer George Martin and engineers Geoff Emerick, Phil McDonald and Alan Parsons to get this done. This entailed creating a stereo mix of 'take one' (eight attempts being made) as well as the Trident Studio master (two attempts being made) and then editing them together at the proper place.
Another overdub was recorded on this song as well onto the original Trident master tape, as outlined in Geoff Emerick's book “Here, There And Everywhere.” “The remainder of the week was spent doing final mixing and sequencing. Despite the presence of most of The Beatles most of the time, everything went uneventfully, until the day it came to tackling John's 'I Want You (She's So Heavy).' Lennon was so enamored of the white noise that George Harrison had overdubbed from his Moog synthesizer that he actually had Ringo supplement it by spinning the wind machine secreted in the Studio Two percussion cupboard. As we sat in the control room mixing the track, he started becoming almost obsessed with the sound. 'Louder! Louder!!' he kept imploring me. 'I want the track to build and build and build,' he explained, 'and then I want the white noise to completely take over and blot out the music altogether.'”
Emerick continues: “I looked over at John as though he were crazy, but he paid me no mind. Over one shoulder I could see Yoko smiling a taut little smile, her tiny teeth gleaming in the light. Over the other, I could see a dejected Paul, sitting slumped over, head down, staring at the floor. He didn't say a word, but his body language made it clear that he was very unhappy, not only with the song itself, but with the idea that the music – Beatles music, which he considered almost sacred – was being obliterated with noise. In the past, he would have said something – perhaps just a diplomatic 'Don't you think that's a bit too much, John?' - but now Paul seemed too beaten down to argue the point with a gleeful Lennon, who seemed to be taking an almost perverse pleasure at his bandmates's obvious discomfort.”
“To Paul, it must have been like 'Revolution 9' all over again. John was deliberately distorting Beatles music, trying to turn the group into an avant-garde ensemble instead of a pop band. I looked around the room. Ringo and George Harrison seemed to be into what John was doing – they had their eyes closed and were swaying to the beat. It was just Paul looking miserable, staring down at the floor. His isolation from the others never seemed more apparent.”
“The white noise was a great effect, though the way that it just kept building and building rubbed me up the wrong way, both sonically and aesthetically. But it was John's song, and it was going to be done John's way, no matter what Paul or I – or anyone, for that matter – thought.” The book “The Beatles Recording Sessions” explains: “It was to cause EMI engineers great concern in 1987 when they were digitally re-mastering 'Abbey Road' for release on compact disc. On record the noise was tolerable but with the increased dynamic range of CD it posed a real problem.”
The mixing and editing of the song was complete by 6 pm on this day, this becoming the finished stereo master that appeared on the “Abbey Road” album. Then they all immediately relocated to the control room of EMI Studio Two in order to band together the songs in the right order and create tape copies of what would be the released album. Once again, John's instructions concerning “I Want You (She's So Heavy)” was groundbreaking.
“And then there was the matter of how the song would end,” Emerick continues. “When they recorded the backing track, The Beatles had just played on and on, with no definitive conclusion, so I assumed I would be doing a fade-out. John had other ideas, though. He let the tape play until just twenty seconds or so before the take broke down, and then all of a sudden he barked out an order: 'Cut the tape here.'”
“'Cut the tape?' I asked, astonished. We had never ended a song that way, and an abrupt ending like that didn't make any sense unless the track was going to run directly into another one. But that wasn't the case here, because it had already been decided that 'I Want You' would close side one of the album. My protestations had no impact on John: his decision was absolute. 'You heard what I said, Geoff; cut the tape.' I glanced over at George Martin, who simply shrugged his shoulders, so I got out the scissors and sliced the tape at precisely the point John indicated...and that's the way side one of 'Abbey Road' ends. At the time, I though he was out of his mind, but due to the shock factor it ended up being incredibly effective, a Lennon concept that really worked.”
So, to recap, according to the book “The Beatles Recording Sessions”: “The finished article has 'take one' for the first 4:37 and the original Trident tape for the remaining 3:07, the break occurring after the vocal line 'she's so...'...Actually, the tape would have run out at 8:04 but the suddenness of the ending was powerful.”
In fact, at this point there were two variations of the running order of the album, sides one and two being reversed being one of them. If this ended up being the case, the abrupt ending of “I Want You (She's So Heavy)” would have been the final ending of, not only the “Abbey Road” album, but the entire Beatles recording career as we know it.
Another matter that needs to be addressed concerning the song is John's scream “Yeeaahhh!” at 4:32 in the song, which is the loudest point of the entire album and which audibly distorts, something that EMI engineers usually work hard to avoid. The book “The Beatles Recording Sessions” explains: “There remains to this day a myth about 'I Want You (She's So Heavy)': that one can hear a muffled shout of disapproval from the control room after John Lennon, all but tearing his larynx to pieces, shouts...during the recording...the inference being that someone was instructing John to keep his voice down. Never, never, would anyone have issued such an instruction about a vocal in such a fashion! Close scrutiny of the original Trident tape reveals the indecipherable shout to belong to a fellow Beatle, off-microphone, taped on 22 February, and that it was certainly not one of disapproval.” So much for the rumor of my teenage years that someone was yelling for John to “Shut Up!”
Sometime between 2004 and 2006, George Martin and his son Giles Martin returned to the master tapes of “I Want You (She's So Heavy)” for inclusion in two mash-ups that would be included on the compilation album “Love.” First, the song “Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite! / I Want You (She's So Heavy) / Helter Skelter” feature the heavy guitars of the original track, while Paul's bass line on the song is heard on the track “Here Comes The Sun.”
Recording "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" in Trident Studios, February 22nd, 1969.
Song Structure and Style
While "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" stretches to nearly eight minutes in length, its structure is actually quite simple. It comes out to 'verse/ verse/ refrain/ verse (instrumental)/ refrain/ verse/ refrain' (or aababab). A shortened version of the refrain acts as an introduction while the final refrain indicated above is highly elongated to act as a conclusion.
The shortened refrain introduction is five measures long and is in 6/8 time as all of the refrains are. John's double-tracked rhythm guitar plays a winding single-note pattern while Ringo plays a simple drum pattern with two triple-beat cymbal crash accents that coincide with Paul's concise bass pattern. George comes in with a lead guitar passage in the second measure that continues through the introduction, this being double-tracked as well which then spreads out in the fifth measure to create an impressive harmony with itself. The fifth measure ends with a dramatic pause that hangs in the air, the meter of the song momentarily disappearing in anticipation of John leading the group into his first verse which follows next.
The first verse, as with all of the verses, is (count them) 26 measures long. Since these verses are considered the main framework of the song, and these verses are mostly in 4/4 time as apposed to to refrains which are in 6/8 time, we can say that “I Want You (She's So Heavy)” is primarily in 4/4 time. And if that isn't tricky enough, there are two measures of each verse that are in 2/4 time, these being measures nine and twenty. Consistent with how John composes songs in his head with structural oddities, which George mentions above as being “very original to a John-type song,” the band undoubtedly had to work quite hard to understand and then perfect what he wanted. This awkwardness can be detected right from the early attempts at working out the song in January with Ringo and Billy Preston, as can be heard on bootleg recordings.
This first verse is unique in that it is the only one that utilizes the band accent feature that answers John's lead guitar/vocal phrases. This encompasses the first six measures, John singing and playing a lyrical phrase simultaneously (not unlike what is done by various blues and jazz players and later became a trademark for George Benson) this being followed by staccato accents from the rest of the players. After the first Lennon phrase, three accents are played in the first measure. After the second phrase, four accents are heard in the fourth measure. After the third phrase, three more accents are heard in the sixth measure. Because of the silence between these phrases, tape hiss is quite noticeable, something that any engineering staff tries to avoid at all cost, especially on a Beatles recording that will be heard by the masses. However, due to the circumstances of the arrangement, this is unavoidable and is noticeable even after digital remastering.
After this, the full band kicks in, Ringo plodding along with a subdued beat while riding on the bell of the cymbal as George and Billy Preston take on the rhythm chords on their instruments and Paul follows along appropriately through to the eleventh measure. This measure contains a nice snare drum fill from Ringo in anticipation of the second part of the verse while John hits a couple guitar chords to fill out the measure.
Measures twelve through twenty act as a repeat of the first section of the verse but in a higher key, John ultimately playing and singing the same passages as before but in a higher register for emotional effect. The rest of the players shift gears as well, Ringo switching from hitting the ride cymbal on quarter-beats to eighth-beats as Paul gets a lot more adventurous on bass and Billy Preston plays some descending organ chords for nice effect. The twentieth measure is unique here, this not only being in 2/4 time but played as a triplet by all involved on the ascending phrase “driving me.”
This takes us into the third of the three-part verse, which fall on measures 21 through 26. This startling section can also be broken down into three repeated sections, measures 21 and 22 primarily featuring John, George and Billy Preston pounding out a discordant chord in a broken sequence of seven followed by a 'Beatles break' that is taken over by some fancy bass footwork from Paul. This is then repeated in measures 23 and 24, and then an altered version of the same is heard in measures 25 and 26. This final section has the seven startling chords played equally in a row this time and is followed by another 'Beatles break' where only a simple open hi-hat tap from Ringo is heard. This finally ends the intricate first verse.
Then the entire process is repeated for verse two. This time around, however, the first six measures are played by the entire band instead of the accented answering, Ringo riding on the cymbal with eighth-beats throughout and performing his eleventh-measure drum fill on toms this time around. John excitedly adds extraneous guitar phrases during the open spaces without vocal lines and Paul gets even more adventurous on bass along the way. In the final measure, John, Paul and George sing “She's so...” in the final break in anticipation of the refrain that comes next.
The refrain is actually a twice repeated version of the introduction as we had already heard, making the refrain ten measures long and switching the song into 6/8 time once again. The arrangement is virtually the same as in the introduction minus George's lead guitar work but with a few additional elements. Billy Preston goes to town on organ in measures one through three and again in measures six through eight (you can almost see him throwing his head back while listening to this section of the song). Also, starting in measure four, John, Paul and George finish their phrase from the end of the second verse, harmonizing the word “heavyyyyyy” and then repeating the word in measures six through eight in a layered fashion, not unlike what is heard in “Twist And Shout.” First heard is John, then George, and then Paul on the highest note which then falls slightly with the chord change in measure eight. During the break at the end of measure ten, we hear John alter the tone switch on his guitar in preparation for the lead guitar work he'll be performing on the instrumental verse that follows.
This instrumental verse is essentially similar to the second verse but played mostly in a more subdued manner without John's vocals. His lead guitar work is the primary focus which is played soulfully while Ringo alters from tom to snare in a jazz-like rhythm while still riding on the cymbal, playing his eleventh-measure drum fill on the toms. Once again, the final measure includes the incomplete phrase “She's so...” as heard at the conclusion of the second verse. The refrain that follows is a virtual repeat of the first refrain with the exception being the word “heavyyyyy” coming in on the third measure this time instead of the fourth, this still extending into the fifth measure as before. The vocalists then repeat the entire phrase "She's so heavyyyy" instead of just the last word as they had done in the previous refrain, repeating the layered vocals as before.
The fourth and final verse comes next which is somewhat identical to the second verse. Some exceptions include Ringo continuing his jazz-like altering from toms to snare throughout until the final section begins on measure 21. Paul's bass hijinks go even further in this verse, such as with his fast-moving descending notes in measure eleven. Also, John's vocal/guitar interplay gets even fancier as he even adds a few added words this time around, such as “babe,” “you know” and a final “...mad” to complete the “driving me...” phrase in measure 20. He also adds the blood-curdling “YEAAAAAHHHH!” scream in measures 21 and 22, signifying the high point of John's emotional plea to Yoko in the song, followed by the indecipherable voice heard during the break in measure 24.
After John, Paul and George's introductory phrase “She's so...” as heard in the final measure of the last verse, which are the final lyrics heard in the song, we plunge head-first into the final refrain of the song, which is also used as its conclusion. The five measure pattern of the refrain is heard a total of fifteen times which comes to a total of 75 measures, including the final chopped off ending of the song. The double-tracked rhythm guitar pattern played by John is slightly off beat in the first measure but he quickly gets in step by the second measure. At the end of the third measure, the multiple-overdubbed guitars of John and George hone in on Paul's original bass melody line to add an immediate thickness to the sound which permeates the remainder of the song.
A rumbling backdrop of sound, undoubtedly coming from George's Moog synthesizer, becomes apparent around measure twenty while the “white noise” effect from the instrument begins to be detected by measure 25. Ringo begins thrashing around unabashedly on cymbals and with drum fills by measure 40 while Paul goes tastefully off the rails on bass, possibly the most adventurous he's ever been on the instrument during his entire career. As the “white noise” and Ringo's manually manipulated “wind machine” continue to swell in volume and threaten to totally envelop the sound of the main instruments, the tape is cut at the beginning of the 75th measure which brings the entire song to an abrupt halt, this continuing to make the listener's heart skip a beat even after decades of hearing the song.
A lot can be said about the stellar performances of John, Paul and Ringo on this song. John's incredible simultaneous vocal/lead guitar work on the song, while not as perfectly performed as, say, George Benson, shows that he was no slouch as a musician and performer. As stated above, this song was the perfect vehicle for Paul to shine as a bass guitarist, this arguably being the best example of his inventiveness on the instrument in his entire career. While his main melody lines had been worked out in advance, his ad lib canoodling throughout the song is incredible. And as for Ringo, there are other songs in The Beatles cannon that are pointed to as examples of his talent, such as “A Day In The Life,” “Rain” and “The End,” but the final minutes of “I Want You (She's So Heavy)” displays Ringo as unhinged and imaginative on the drum kit, feeling the groove perfectly and expressing himself like the pro that he had become.
Billy Preston was definitely feeling the groove as well, infusing the gospel-tinged expressions and rhythm pads that added an authentic element that The Beatles wouldn't have been able to inject to the song on their own. George may have taken more of a backseat on this song, but his opening lead guitar melody lines and his cooperation with John on adding the army of guitar overdubs for the end of the song are commendable as well.
On October 1st, 1969, the final recorded Beatles album was released in America, simply titled "Abbey Road." "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" was prominently featured as the final song of side one which was an excellent follow-up to Ringo's lovable yet sing-songy "Octopus's Garden," displaying the versatility of the group among its songwriters. The album took only three weeks to jump into the top spot on the BIllboard album chart, raking in a total of eleven weeks in the #1 position. The album first appeared on compact disc on October 10th, 1987, and then as a re-mastered release on September 9th, 2009.
Sometime in 1978, Capitol re-released the “Abbey Road” album as a picture disc. Side one had the iconic front cover while side two contained a close-up of the wall photo of the back cover minus the song title listings. This release quickly went out of print and has become a collector's item.
November 20th, 2006 was the release date for the above mentioned mash-ups of the song made by George and Giles Martin on the album “Love,” which was put together exclusively for the Cirque du Soleil show of the same name per arrangements made by the late George Harrison. This successful album peaked at #4 on the Billboard album chart.
Being well past their touring years, The Beatles never performed “I Want You (She's So Heavy)” live, other than John briefly touching on the guitar riff from the song on their rooftop concert of January 30th, 1969. Neither John nor the other Beatles ever thought to perform the song on any stage during their solo careers either.
It almost appears inconceivable that John Lennon, the writer of such pop classics as "Please Please Me," "Any Time At All" and "All I've Got To Do" would, in only a matter of about six years, push the envelope to such a degree that he would also pen something as gut-wrenching and emotional as "I Want You (She's So Heavy)."
His experience with romance and relationships appears to have been simplistic and uniform up to and including the early Beatle years, going through the motions as all do in their teens and early 20's. However, his relationship with Yoko Ono effected him to the core, inspiring him to compose songs that expressed the raw emotions that he had never felt before. He didn't need many words to convey it – one could say it's difficult to convey in words anyway – but within The Beatles, and then as a solo artist, he had the vehicle to try. With a vast audience of Beatles fans listening, some of which understanding and some not, he bared his soul onto an eight-track recording console for all to hear. The result, especially in this song, is incredible. We all can only dream of experiencing a deep love in our lifetime such as John had for Yoko.
“I Want You (She's So Heavy)”
Written by: John Lennon / Paul McCartney
- Song Written: January and February, 1969
- Song Recorded: February 22, April 19 & 20, August 8, 11 & 20, 1969
- First US Release Date: October 1, 1969
- First US Album Release: Apple #SO-383 “Abbey Road”
- British Album Release: Apple #PCS 7088 “Abbey Road”
- US Single Release: n/a
- Highest Chart Position: n/a
- Length: 7:49
- Key: D minor
- Producer: Glyn Johns, Chris Thomas, George Martin
- Engineers: Barry Sheffield, Jeff Jarratt, Geoff Emerick, Phil McDonald, John Kurlander, Alan Parsons
Instrumentation (most likely):
- John Lennon - Lead and Backing Vocals, Lead and Ryhthm Guitar (1965 Epiphone ES-230TD Casino), Organ (1967 Hammond L100)
- Paul McCartney - Bass (1964 Rickenbacker 4001 S ), backing vocals
- George Harrison - Lead and Rhythm Guitar (1957 Gibson Les Paul Standard), Synthesizer (1967 Moog IIIp), backing vocals
- Ringo Starr - Drums (1968 Ludwig Hollywood Maple), conga drums, wind machine
- Billy Preston - Organ (Hammond RT-3)
Written and compiled by Dave Rybaczewski
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