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“IF I NEEDED SOMEONE”

(George Harrison)

“I first saw The Beatles on television in 1963, in New York. It was the clip with all the screaming girls. I loved the music! I got it right away and started playing folk songs with a Beatle beat down in Greenwich Village.”

This quote from Roger McGuinn of The Byrds is typical of the majority of the popular musical artists that emerged in the mid sixties and beyond.  In fact, a large percentage of professional musicians in any era after 1964 will at least give partial credit to the influence The Beatles had on them during their formative years.

However, what is unique regarding The Byrds is that, not only did The Beatles influence their sound, the Rickenbacker 12-string twang being the most noteworthy comparison, but The Byrds were also instrumental in being an inspiration to The Beatles.  George Harrison in particular was so taken by the groups’ sound that he wrote his “Rubber Soul” classic “If I Needed Someone” with their music in mind.  The Beatles were always keen to mimic what they liked in modern music but, since their appearance on the scene in the mid sixties, many times they ended up mimicking someone who was mimicking them back!

                       

The Byrds

Songwriting History

The Beatles were very impressed with the music of The Byrds – so much so that, when they had a few days rest in Los Angeles between August 23rd and 27th of 1965 in-between stops of their American tour, they attended a recording session by the group.  This may very well have been arranged by The Beatles former press agent Derek Taylor who at that point was a publicity agent for The Byrds.  The Beatles had become quite social with members of The Byrds as well, inviting David Crosby of the band to their vacation house at 2850 Benedict Canyon Road during these few days.

Undoubtedly because of him being quite taken by the groups’ music, George Harrison wrote a song specifically inspired by one particular song of theirs.  “It was based on the twelve-string figure from ‘The Bells Of Rhymney’ by The Byrds,” Harrison stated in New Musical Express just after the song was released.  While he had stated around this time that he usually takes “about three months” to write a song, it seems apparent that, because of The Beatles’ recent infatuation with the band, he probably narrowed this one down to about two months (estimating from August to October of 1965 when the song was recorded).

George also stated that the song “was like a million other songs written around one chord, a D chord actually.”  In 1980 he elaborates even further about its’ formation derived from the D chord:  “If you move your fingers about you get various little melodies.  That guitar line, or variations on it, is found in many a song, and it amazes me that people still find new permutations of the same notes.”

Harrison did not hide the fact that he borrowed the guitar phrasings from “The Bells Of Rhymney,” instead considering it a tribute of sorts.  “George was very open about it,” states Roger (Jim) McGuinn.  Referring to an acetate copy of The Beatles recording of “If I Needed Someone,” Roger continues, “He sent it to us in advance and said, ‘This is for Jim’ – because of that lick.”

Another group that received an early recording of the song was The Hollies, who very quickly recorded their own version of the song and released it as their next single at the end of 1965.  Although it charted quite lower than their recent British hits, it did reach #20, making it the first George Harrison composition to make the charts.

Not that George was pleased about this.  Speculation circulated that he had actually written the song for The Hollies, which was a rumor he was quick to set straight.  “I didn’t write it for The Hollies,” he stated at the time.  “They’ve done it as their new single, but their version is not my kind of music.  I think it’s rubbish the way they’ve done it.  They’ve spoilt it.  They are all right musically, but the way they do their records, they sound like session men who’ve just got together in a studio without ever seeing each other before.  Technically they’re good, but that’s all!”  I don’t know – it sounds pretty good to me, especially the trademark Hollies harmonies and the excellent drum work. 

 

Recording History

George had this Byrds-ish song written and ready to record early on during the sessions for “Rubber Soul.”  Therefore, on October 16th, 1965, which was the third day of recording sessions for the album, George premiered the song in EMI Studio Two to record the rhythm track.  This didn’t happen, though, until the new Lennon/McCartney masterpiece “Day Tripper” was fully complete and ready to adorn their next single.  Approximately the first eight-and-a-half hours of this day were spent perfecting this gem, while the last hour, from 11 pm till midnight, was deemed suitable for rehearsing and then recording one take of the rhythm track for "If I Needed Someone."

They apparently hit the nail on the head the first time the tapes were rolling, the rhythm track comprising George on his brand new Rickenbacker 12-string guitar (with a capo applied to the seventh fret), John on rhythm guitar, Paul on bass and Ringo on drums.  Some sources claim that George Martin also played harmonium on this rhythm track although it can’t be detected in the finished product.  With much overdubbing to be done, they left this for another day.

This other day was their very next recording session on October 18th, 1965 in EMI Studio Two.  Just over three hours were booked on this day, from 2:30 to 5:45 pm, with approximately only the first ninety minutes being required to finish what was the priority of the day, namely the overdubs for “If I Needed Someone.”  George recorded his lead vocals and then double-tracked them, which ended up on “track three” of the four-track tape.  John and Paul then sang harmony vocals and double-tracked them as well, adding a low bass vocal during the instrumental section of the song.  These vocals all ended up on “track four” of the four-track tape.  George also overdubbed more jangly guitar leads on his capoed Rickenbacker 12-string guitar throughout the song with Ringo overdubbing some nice tambourine work on the same track.  By about 4 pm, the song was complete, the next hour-and-a-half or so utilized for rehearsing and recording another “Rubber Soul” masterpiece, “In My Life.”

The only mono mix of “If I Needed Someone” was made on October 25th, 1965 in the control room of EMI Studio Two by producer George Martin and engineers Norman Smith and Ken Scott.

The first stereo mix was done the following day, October 26th, 1965, while the group was busy receiving their MBE’s at Buckingham Palace.  This mix was also made in the control room of EMI Studio Two by Marin, Smith and 2nd engineer Ron Pender.  The entire rhythm track is heard in the left channel except for the bleed-through of the studio speaker while all the vocal tracks were being recorded, all of which is heard entirely in the right channel.  In fact, there is some noticeable “phasing” that can be detected at times in the right channel of the stereo mix that possibly appears due to the bleed-through of the studio speaker during the multiple vocal overdubs.  The lead guitar/tambourine overdub track is also entirely on the left channel except during the instrumental section and conclusion of the song where it was quickly switched over entirely to the right channel.  The switch is so abrupt that the very beginning of the lead guitar/tambourine track in the conclusion is still heard in the left channel before it makes it over to the right.

A second stereo mix of the song was done in 1986 by George Martin in preparation for the “Rubber Soul” compact disc.  All of the above elements are exactly the same except that the vocal tracks are positioned slightly more to the left so that they can be detected somewhat in that channel.

Not to be forgotten is the live recording of the song done sometime in the first half of December, 1991, by George Harrison and his band.  This recording appears on the album “Live In Japan” and features two extended solo sections performed by band-mate Eric Clapton.

 

George Harrison playing "If I Needed Someone" live with his capoed Rickenbacker 12-string guitar.

Song Structure and Style

When reading the above quote from George that the song was written around the D major chord, musicians will very quickly point out that the key of “If I Needed Someone” isn’t D at all but A major.  While this is obviously true, observing their live performances of the song point out a noticeable fact.  George does play the song with the fingering of a D major chord when the home key is played but with a capo placed quite high on the neck of his guitar.  John plays his guitar without a capo using the A major chord fingering.  Obviously the song was written in D but then altered to A, possibly to get the song in a key more in the range for George to sing.

The structure is somewhat typical for Beatles compositions up to this point, consisting of verses and a repeating bridge.  The actual format is ‘verse/ verse/ bridge/ verse/ verse (instrumental)/ verse/ bridge/ verse’ (or aabaaaba).  Note that, with the instrumental section of the song, an unusual three-verses-in-a-row appears.  Added to the mix is a short intro and nearly similar conclusion.

The intro is four measures long and consists of a two-measure guitar riff that is repeated twice.  The first time it is heard by the guitar alone (although double-tracked) not unlike “Day Tripper” which was recorded on this same day.  On the third measure, therefore being the second time the riff is played, the full band appears to take us into the main body of the song.  An overdubbed tambourine also begins at the point which continues through the entire song.  However, it now is just being accented on the two- and four-beats of each measure.

The first verse begins immediately thereafter, which is eight measures long.  It starts with George singing solo (although double-tracked) right on the downbeat of the first measure.  Funnily enough, this word “if,” which is also heard in the sixth measure, and the word “you’re” that is heard on the downbeat of the third measure, are the only words that are sung on a straight beat.  All of the rest of the lyrics are sung on the off-beat, or in syncopation.  While the melody line George is singing is engaging, it only comprises a range of four notes being sung mostly in a ‘stair step’ (up and down) pattern.

Other interesting features of this verse are the change to G in the fifth and sixth measure.  While the guitars make this change, Paul’s bass playing continues the same rising-and-falling pattern that he has been playing while the A chord has been heard throughout the verse thus far.  Ringo spices up the sixth measure with accented eighth notes on his snare and bass drum while the title of the song is being sung, climaxing with a cymbal crash on the downbeat of the seventh measure.  Also, when the title of the song is heard, it is sung in three-part harmony by George, Paul and (prominently) John.  During all this time, the beginning guitar riff is continued as a mimic to the melody line that George is singing.

A second eight-measure verse then appears which is identical in structure to the first with the exception that three-part harmony is heard throughout.

The first eight-measure bridge is then heard which is sung solo (double-tracked) by George and is also mostly sung in syncopation, the words “had,” “it” and “but” being the only lyrics sung on the downbeat.  George stretches the melodic range somewhat for the bridge, but it still only comprises five notes.  The tambourine playing changes from just accents to an eighth-note shaking rhythm for the bridge.

A third eight-measure verse then appears following the same structure as the other two, which is quickly followed by the instrumental section played to the chords of a verse.  Since the rhythm of the guitar riff doesn’t alter, this can be more considered as an instrumental break than an actual solo, although the range of the melodic notes does make some interesting reaches.  The tambourine changes back to its eighth-note shaking rhythm and Ringo still does his eighth-note accents in the sixth measure even though the title of the song is not heard at that time.  What is unmistakably present, however, is four sets of four-part (listen for the low note) harmony “ahh”s that stretch throughout the entire instrumental section.

John’s guitar playing on the rhythm track alters to an interesting finger-picking style during this break.  It’s interesting to note that, while he doesn’t play this pattern in the break during their live performances, he does a similar pattern through the chord changes of each bridge, which sounds very impressive.

After an identical repeat of the second verse and bridge, the third verse is then repeated, which is nearly identical as well.  The only difference here is that Ringo forgets (or alters for redundancy sake) the eighth-note accents in the sixth measure.  Following this, a short four-measure conclusion is heard which somewhat copies the introduction.  The guitar riff is one and the same but the full band is heard throughout with two three-part “aah” harmonies filling out the landscape.  A final suspended chord with crashing cymbal ends the song with a satisfying thud.

George’s sullen vocals work well with the sentiment of the song and are performed well in pitch.  His showcase, of course, is his haunting guitar passages that permeate the entire two-and-a-quarter minutes.  Paul comes up with an interesting but simple bass figure that accentuates the arrangement nicely without being gaudy, not to mention being easy to play live.  Ringo, as always, could be counted on for a steady hand on drums and tambourine, keeping the steady metronome rock beat going with simple fills to accentuate the arrangement.

John may not have shown himself very cooperative with Harrison songs on later occasions, but he is very present and puts in a concerted effort here.  His guitar work, while somewhat low in the mix, is carried out well as is his syncopated singing.  We might remember his struggle with this exercise back in February of 1965 with “Tell Me What You See.”  Those near-disastrous results have now been refined to perfection, as were his syncopated harmonies on George’s similarly phrased “Think For Yourself,” the next Harrisong to be tackled in November of that year.

With the exception of the love-lorn romanticism of “I Need You” from earlier that year, George continues his usual quirky spin on relationships with “If I Needed Someone.”  The reality of Beatlemania seems to be depicted candidly in the lyrics of this song, with girls standing in single-file line for each band member with aspirations to be their next girlfriend or lover.  But George just didn’t “need” anyone at this time because he was “too much in love” at the moment.  (I’m assuming this would be Patti, since they were married three months later!)  But, if he “needed someone to love,” he assures this particular bird: “you’re the one that I’d be thinking of,” quickly reiterating “…if I needed someone” to make sure she doesn’t get her hopes up too high.

Being unfaithful to who he is in love with doesn’t seem to be much of an issue as he contemplates:  “If I had some more time to spend…I’d be with you,” making sure he forthrightly but bluntly includes the phrase “I guess.”  She apparently just caught him at a bad time, since “some other day…it might not have been like this.”  But he isn’t counting out the future possibility of hooking up with her.  He advises her:  “Carve your number on my wall and maybe you will get a call from me.”  Love comes and goes, you know.  With this girls’ phone number carved into the wall of his home, there’s a good chance he’ll remember her…unless, of course, many girls are in the habit of carving numbers on his wall.  :-)

 

American Releases

Although the song was recorded back in October of 1965 and was released in Britain on the “Rubber Soul” album in December of that year, “If I Needed Someone” was one of four songs Capitol Records held off of the American release of that album.  US audiences hadn’t heard the song until June 20th, 1966, which was the date of release for the make-shift American album “Yesterday…And Today.”  Positioned between “And Your Bird Can Sing” and the ever-popular “We Can Work It Out” made the song stand out much more prominently than as the next-to-last song on the British album.  "Yesterday...And Today" was then released on January 21st, 2014, as an individual compact disc, both the mono and stereo versions of the album being included on a single CD.  Incidentally, this release featured both the "trunk" cover and the "butcher" cover.

November 19th, 1976 was the next release of the song on the album “The Best Of George Harrison.”  While each of the individual Beatles had “greatest hits” packages released around this time, this was the only one to feature actual Beatles songs in the set list.  Side one contains seven songs that George wrote and sang in The Beatles, “If I Needed Someone” being the second song on the list.  While it only peaked at #31 on the Billboard albums chart, it did become a Gold record.

Next was the compact disc version of the original British “Rubber Soul” album with the song in its intended place as the next-to-last track on the album.  This was released on April 30th, 1987 and was then re-mastered and re-released on September 9th, 2009.

On January 24th, 1996, “If I Needed Someone” got its first and only release on a single.  The Capitol Cema series of “For Jukebox Only” singles paired the song as the b-side to “Norwegian Wood” and was printed on both black and green vinyl.  This is quite a rare find today.

The box set “The Beatles In Mono” was released on September 9th, 2009, which features the excellent mono mix as re-mastered along with the entire Beatles catalog.

The song also appeared on the George Harrison album “Live In Japan,” which featured a grand total of nine songs he sang during The Beatles years.  While the album wasn’t much of a success in the US (peaking at #126 on the Billboard album chart), it understandably did quite well in Japan (reaching #15).

 

The Beatles in Detroit, August 13th, 1966

Live Performances

“If I Needed Someone” has the privilege of being the one and only George Harrison composition to have been performed live by The Beatles.  Previous Harrison vocal songs performed in concert by the group have been either cover songs (such as “Chains” and “Roll Over Beethoven”) or Lennon/McCartney compositions (such as “Do You Want To Know A Secret” and “I’m Happy Just To Dance With You”).  But as of late 1965, George earned the right to have one of his own grace the stages of the Beatlemania world.

First off, their brief final British tour of December 3rd through 12th of 1965 included it in its eleven song set list.  Highlights of this tour included Glasgow, London, Manchester and, on December 5th, their final appearance in their hometown of Liverpool.

Their very next time on a concert stage was on May 1st, 1966 for the “New Musical Express Annual Poll-Winners’ All-Star Concert” in Wembley.  Only five songs were performed for their portion of the program, “If I Needed Someone” being the fourth of the five.  While the show was filmed for British television, a managerial dispute with ABC Television prohibited The Beatles performance being filmed so the cameras were turned off when they were on stage.

On June 24th, 1966, their final international tour commenced which featured George’s song in a flattering third spot in the eleven song set list.  This brief tour, which began with three dates in West Germany, is most famously known for their stops in Japan and The Philippines.  By July 4th of that year, the tour was complete, John swearing that they’ll “never go to any nut houses again.”

August 12th, 1966 was the start date for their final American tour, which was also their final tour anywhere.  Without bothering to rehearse any newly recorded songs, they set out with the exact same set list as their previous international tour.  Therefore, their live performances of “If I Needed Someone” were witnessed in Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Cincinnati and Los Angeles among others, even making it to New York City for their triumphant return to Shea Stadium.  On August 29th, 1966, their final show in San Francisco also included this George Harrison gem.

George Harrison was persuaded to return to the concert stage with a brief tour of Japan which stretched from December 1st through 17th, 1991.  An exciting set list included many of his Beatles compositions, including “If I Needed Someone” and many others.  The tour was well received and reportedly enjoyable for George himself although, with no new album to promote, this was his final tour.

 

Conclusion

“If I Needed Someone” may not be the first song to come to mind when a fan is asked what his favorite George Harrison composition is in The Beatles catalog.  However, up to that point in their history, George reached a songwriting milestone regarding exposure and popularity.  Experiencing this song reaching the British Top 20 (by The Hollies) as well as being featured extensively in all of their live performances for nearly a year, the boost in confidence was surely instrumental in his creative output within the band for the next four years. 

Song Summary

If I Needed Someone

Written by:  George Harrison 

  • Song Written: August - October, 1965
  • Song Recorded: October 16 & 18, 1965
  • First US Release Date: June 20, 1966
  • First US Album Release: Capitol #ST-2553 “Yesterday…And Today
  • US Single Release: Capitol Cema #S7-1888-A (green or black vinyl)
  • Highest Chart Position: n/a
  • British Album Release: Parlophone #PCS 3075 “Rubber Soul
  • Length: 2:19
  • Key: A major
  • Producer: George Martin
  • Engineers: Norman Smith, Ken Scott 

Instrumentation (most likely): 

  • George Harrison – Lead Vocals, Lead Guitar (1965 Rickenbacker 360-12)
  • John Lennon - Rhythm Guitar (1961 Sonic Blue Fender Stratocaster), Harmony Vocals
  • Paul McCartney - Bass Guitar (1964 Rickenbacker 4001S), Harmony Vocals
  • Ringo Starr –  Drums (1965 Ludwig Super Classic Black Oyster Pearl), tambourine

 Written and compiled by Dave Rybaczewski

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