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“I’VE JUST SEEN A FACE”
(John Lennon – Paul McCartney)
Always in the frame of mind to try something new, the Beatles returned to the recording studio in June of 1965 after a month break to record their first ever fully-acoustic song. While previous tracks, such as “And I Love Her” and “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away,” kept strictly to acoustic guitars, Paul always accompanied John and George with his electric Hofner violin-shaped bass guitar for the low end.
This time around, however, no bass guitar is played at all. Instead, Paul himself joins them on acoustic guitar and, with Ringo on brushed snare drum and maracas, the song “I’ve Just Seen A Face” becomes “The Beatles Unplugged” for the very first time!
“That’s Paul,” was the statement from John Lennon in 1980 when asked about the authorship of “I’ve Just Seen A Face.” Paul agrees: “I think of this as totally by me.”
There is a certain unknown element involved in outlining the time of writing for this song. This is due to the fact that Paul had been known to play an instrumental version of this song on piano at family get-togethers for some time. His Antie Gin (the relative that was immortalized in his 1976 hit “Let ‘Em In”) was quite fond of it at the time, which led to Paul referring to the piece as “Antie Gin’s Theme.” This fact was known by George Martin, who released an orchestrated version of the song using that title in America on his album “George Martin And His Orchestra Play Help!”
It is a known fact that Paul had been dabbling at writing and performing songs on the keyboards for many years. This is evidenced by his performing a piano rendition of “When I’m Sixty Four” during the Beatles Hamburg shows whenever the electricity went out. And that song was said to have been written when he was “about 15,” dating it either in 1957 or 1958. This being the case, the melody to “I’ve Just Seen A Face” could possibly date back that far as well.
Another piece to the puzzle, however, is that Barry Miles, co-author of Paul’s book “Many Years From Now,” indicates twice that the song was written at 57 Wimpole Street in London. This was the residence of the Asher family where Paul lived during his long courtship with their daughter Jane. Since Lennon/McCartney songwriting didn’t occur here until the latter months of 1963, the lyrics and final conception of the song couldn’t have happened until after this time. Being that the lyrics to this song seem to be talking about his love for Jane Asher, this all seems to fit together.
Since the song didn’t appear in the studio until June of 1965, however, it appears reasonable that these finishing touches didn’t get done until the mid-May to mid-June period of 1965 as the Beatles were taking a needed rest period after filming for the movie “Help!” was completed. Having a natural bent to extend the musical boundaries of the Beatles from the usual four-piece electric guitar R&B mentality, Paul developed this previously written piano exercise into something different for the group.
“It was slightly country and western from my point of view,” Paul stated. “It was faster, though, it was a strange uptempo thing. I was quite pleased with it. The lyric works: it keeps dragging you forward, it keeps pulling you to the next line, there’s an insistent quality to it that I liked.”
It had been over a month since the Beatles set foot into a recording studio, May 10th of 1965 being their last session which produced “Dizzy Miss Lizzy” and “Bad Boy” strictly for Capitol Records to include on their “Beatles VI” album. After a rest period from most Beatles-related projects, they ushered back into EMI Studio Two on June 14th of that year with the sole intention of recording the remainder of the soon-to-be-released “Help!” soundtrack album.
The first of two sessions on this day ran from 2:30 to 5:30 pm and resulted in two excellent Paul McCartney songs being recorded, the first being “I’ve Just Seen A Face.” The all-acoustic line up for this song included George on 12-string guitar ringing out the bass notes, John on 6-string rhythm guitar, Paul doing the jangly lead part in the introduction on 6-string guitar as well as lead vocals, and Ringo on brushed snare drum. After six takes, the rhythm track was complete.
Overdubs were then performed, which included Paul doubling his jangly introductory lead part, Ringo adding maracas during the refrains as well as the instrumental section of the song, and Paul harmonizing with himself on the refrains. He also harmonizes during the last verse, but a decision was apparently made to forgo this ingredient during the mixing sessions. You can, however, faintly hear bits of this harmony part in the right channel of the stereo mix.
With these overdubs complete, the song was finished at approximately 4 pm. The following hour-and-a-half of this recording session was taken up with fully recording Paul’s second song of the day, the ear-shattering “I’m Down.” And, after another hour-and-a-half to recuperate, they returned to the studio for a second session on this day to record the acoustic guitar and vocals to Paul’s beautiful “Yesterday.” All in all, this one day resulted in three excellent songs in three diametrically opposed genres all written by Paul McCartney, showing his immense versatility.
Both the mono and stereo mix of “I’ve Just Seen A Face” were made on June 18th, 1965 in the control room of EMI Studio Two by George Martin and engineers Norman Smith and Phil McDonald. The mono mix unintentionally includes a voice at the very end of the song as the final chord fades away, which probably was due to an engineer not turning down the faders to the other tracks during the mixing session. The stereo mix, however, does not include this voice so it was probably noticed during the mono mix, although they never went back to correct it.
A further stereo mix of the song with added reverb was made in 1986 by George Martin in preparation for the British “Help!” album being released on compact disc for the first time. This mix has also been used on the re-mastered version of the CD, which was released in 2009.
Another session concerning “I’ve Just Seen A Face” occurred during May or June of 1976, but this time by Paul McCartney and Wings. This live recording was included on his “Wings Over America” triple album set, which contained five Beatles songs. Then on January 25th, 1991, Paul recorded the song again during his intimate "Unplugged" concert for MTV. This rendition ended up on his "Unplugged (The Official Bootleg)" album later that year.
Song Structure and Style
The Lennon/McCartney songbook has been, as we’ve seen, chock full of fusing many genres of music together into one. In “I’ve Just Seen A Face,” they appear to have outdone themselves. Country and Western, Bluegrass, Folk, Blues and Pop music ingredients are melded together here within a fast 4/4 time signature that makes your pulse race.
McCartney returns to the use of a refrain (“falling, yes I am falling…”) like his similarly structured “All My Loving” from 1963, although the similarities to this song pretty much end there. The basic structure this time around consists of ‘verse/ verse/ refrain/ verse/ refrain/ verse (solo)/ refrain/ verse/ refrain/ refrain/ refrain’ (or aababababbb). Adding to this a compelling lengthy introduction and a suitable conclusion, we’re treated to a breathless two-minute-and-four-second roller-coaster ride.
It appears that this ten-measure instrumental introduction is of a different time signature than the standard 4/4 that we’ll hear throughout the body of the song, but this is actually an illusion. The double-tracked triplet-styled riffs of Paul McCartney create this effect, as well as there being no backbeat from Ringo as of yet. However, if we use the first two acoustic bass notes from George Harrison’s 12-string guitar as a countdown and disregard the Paul’s triplets, we can hear the introduction as four-in-the-bar just as easily as when Ringo’s brushed snare drum kicks in on the first measure of the first verse.
The home key of A major finally becomes apparent as the first 12-measure verse begins, with Paul rattling off his rapid-fire vocals in excitement about his new love. The melody line only has a range of five notes but is skillfully repeated identically even though the chords change below him. The first nine measures of this first verse, in fact, is competently sung by Paul in one breath and is single-tracked, which suitably adds a personal touch to his story. As if to let his sentiment sink in, he ends the verse with a six-note hummed melody line which, as we’ll see later, becomes the final trademark of the song.
A second verse then begins which is identical in structure although he can’t quite make it through the entire nine measures in one breath this time around – he runs out of oxygen after the words “never beeeen aware.” Another difference is that the ending six-note melody line now appears as “lie-di-di-di-n-di.”
The first eight-measure refrain now occurs, which has the melody line open up beyond the five notes of the verses and also introduce Paul harmonizing with himself throughout. Ringo also adds maracas for the first time in the song, although they stop suddenly as the refrain ends.
After a third structurally identical verse, which show Paul’s voice warble and gasp for air after the words “out of sight,” we hear the joyous refrain repeated as well. The instrumental section then appears which is played above the chord pattern of a verse. George strictly plays the melody line on his 12-string for the first nine measures and then plays a welcome lower version of the six-note ending melody line before ending with a sighing flourish just before the refrain is repeated yet again. To add some depth to the solo section, Ringo maintains his maraca overdub from the previous refrain. Also noticeable is Paul's overdubbed harmony exclaiming an ad-libbed "ay...bob-a-dop-bob" as the guitar solo begins.
The first verse is then heard again as we hear Paul barely make it through all nine measures in one breath this time around, the final work “met” being almost inaudible. The six-note ending melody line is this time a combination of the two used elsewhere in the song, culminating into “mm-mm-mm-lie-di-di.”
While a three-times repeat of the key figure of the song has become commonplace in Beatles compositions up to this point (as in “Eight Days A Week” and “What You’re Doing” for example), they actually repeat the full refrain three times in a row this time around. The third time through, however, Paul mixes it up by adding an “oh” just before the one beat to give the effect of actually “falling” as the lyrics depict.
This final refrain is actually extended by one measure to a total of nine in order to include a satisfying conclusion to the song. You guessed it, the six-note melody line that ends each verse becomes the identifying trademark of the song, this time played by George note-for-note on his 12-string. With one final countrified guitar strum, the roller-coaster ride is complete. One only wants to get back in line to ride again!
Paul is in top form throughout this song, with his animated vocal delivery and acoustic guitar versatility. George was also up for the task with his characteristic 12-string bass accents and rhythm work, not to mention his well-crafted solo. John’s rhythm guitar is low in the mix and acts as a backwash to the proceedings while Ringo, ever the Country music fan, knew all too instinctively how to add a convincing bluegrass feel to the song with brushed snare and maracas.
Upon examination, Paul must have worked painstakingly to put together rhymes that fit strategically within the framework of each verse. First of all, looking at the first verse, he rhymed the first beat of the second and fourth measure (“face” with “place”) while rhyming the first beat of the third, fifth and ninth measure (“forget,” “met” and “met”…OK, I guess that wasn’t all that clever).
While going through the same exercise for the second verse, he even had to pronounce words in a certain way to pull it off. For instance, the word “been” became the British exaggerated “beeeen” in order to rhyme (sort of) with “dream.” This verse also pronounces “aware” in British slang as “awere” in order to rhyme with “her.”
The sentiment of the lyrics as a whole, however, is very convincing. He’s so excited about this woman he’s just met that he can’t contain himself. He wants “all the world to see” what a perfect match they are. He also realizes how grateful he is for being so attentive on that day, because “had it been another day, I might have looked the other way” and missed the opportunity of a lifetime. Since the singer views himself as a loner (“I have been alone and I have missed things and kept out of sight”), this experience is very new to him (“I have never known the like of this”). At any rate, we can’t help but be swept away by his experience of being head-over-heels in love.
December 6th, 1965 was the release date for the American version of “Rubber Soul.” Because “I’ve Just Seen A Face” and “It’s Only Love” were the two remaining tracks from the British “Help!” album that hadn’t been heard in America as of yet, Capitol Records saw fit to include them both on the US “Rubber Soul” album, while four of the original tracks from that album were removed and put on hold for the time being.
Capitol thought enough of “I’ve Just Seen A Face” to put it in the flattering position of opening track which, by overwhelming public opinion, was a very wise choice. It plays a big part in giving the illusion that “Rubber Soul” is an acoustic album. Ron Schaumburg, in his book “Growing Up With The Beatles,” describes this US release as “the Beatles ‘wood and smoke’ album,” adding: “It generates for me a feeling of deep-colored, paneled rooms and warm fires, of wine and haze. There is a strong emphasis on acoustic instrumentation throughout, which makes me feel as if the Beatles are sitting around in my living room, un-miked and un-amped, playing spontaneously and with sincerely friendly feeling.”
The next US release of “I’ve Just Seen A Face” didn’t occur until April 30th, 1987 when the song returned to its rightful place on the British “Help!” album. This compact disc included George Martin’s new 1986 stereo mix of the song. The same mix was also used when it was re-mastered and re-released on September 9th, 2009.
On January 24th, 1996, “I’ve Just Seen A Face” was officially released on a single for the first time in the US. The Capitol Cema series of singles “For Jukeboxes Only” paired the song with “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away” and printed it on orange vinyl.
Capitol released the second in a small series of box sets on April 11th, 2006 entitled “The Capitol Albums, Vol. 2.” This set included the entire American “Rubber Soul” album in both stereo and mono as originally heard in 1965, but with one small exception. The mono mix of the song as included on original mono copies of the album in 1965 contained the unintentional voice during the fade-out of the song, while the early pressings of this box set accidentally contained a “fold-down” mix of the stereo version of the song. Therefore, the quiet voice at the songs’ end was not there. (A “fold-down” mix is where both channels of the stereo mix are combined to create a simulated mono mix.) This mistake was corrected in later pressings of the box set.
Just prior to the release of the above box set, Capitol distributed a CD sampler to radio stations containing eight songs from the set in both stereo and mono. “I’ve Just Seen A Face” was the last of these eight songs.
For those who want to assuredly own both the original 1965 mono and stereo mixes of “I’ve Just Seen A Face,” they might want to purchase the box set “The Beatles In Mono,” since this collection includes the entire British “Help!” album as released in December of 1965. This box set was released on September 9th, 2009.
Not to be forgotten are two live albums by Paul McCartney that feature the song. With his band Wings, the triple-album “Wings Over America” includes the song, which was released on December 10th, 1976. Then, the June 4th, 1991 released album “Unplugged (The Official Bootleg)” included a fully acoustic rendition of the song by Paul and his new touring band.
The Beatles in Japan, 1966
As interesting as it might have been to have the Beatles whip out their acoustic guitars and do an intimate performance of “I’ve Just Seen A Face” during their 1966 tours, this was something that just didn’t happen back then. They were known to put on a riveting electric show and that’s just what they continued to do for their final year of touring. Even the ballad “Yesterday” was done with electric guitars.
But with the 70’s came the more established trend to include a small acoustic set within a rock concert. Paul McCartney and Wings did this in their “Wings Over The World Tour” of 1975 and 1976, featuring a re-vamped “I’ve Just Seen A Face” that Paul many times introduced as a “skiffle” song. A recording of the song made sometime between May and June of 1976 was included on the “Wings Over America” album. Interestingly, their concert rendition had many noticeable differences, such as the omission of the intricate introduction as well as the second verse, not to mention repeating the refrain more than usual. Nonetheless, it was refreshing to hear Paul delve back into the Beatles catalog a little.
Seeing that the song fit nicely in an acoustic setting, Paul also included it on his MTV “Unplugged” appearance on January 25th, 1991, which then ended up on his “Unplugged (The Official Bootleg)” album. In promotion of this album, Paul and his current band played six secret unplugged gigs in late 1991 that also included the song.
Paul’s “2004 Summer Tour,” which stretched a brief month from late May to late June of that year, also featured the song. His 2010 "Up And Coming Tour" periodically included the song as well.
While “I’ve Just Seen A Face” was the first fully acoustic song the Beatles ever recorded, they continued this practice immediately. The very same day they recorded this song they recorded their second fully acoustic song, namely the classic “Yesterday,” which featured only Paul on acoustic guitar along with an acoustic string quartet.
This then became an occasional trend for the Beatles, evidenced again with the string arrangement of “Eleanor Rigby” and most noteworthy on the acoustic guitar-based “White Album” tracks “Blackbird,” “I Will” and “Julia.” Many other songs may come to mind but we have to remember that whenever a bass guitar is present, it’s not a fully acoustical recording.
What most will admit, though, about “I’ve Just Seen A Face,” fans and critics alike, is that the Beatles convincingly adapted to a country-and-western style without sounding like a cheap imitation of that genre. In fact, even though they had the ability to transfigure into any style they wanted throughout their career, their whole body of work continues to be labeled as “beatlesque.” No matter what they did, it all sounds like the Beatles!
“I’ve Just Seen A Face”
Written by: John Lennon / Paul McCartney
Song Written: Melody: possibly 1957-1958 - Lyrics: probably May/June 1965
Song Recorded: June 14, 1965
First US Release Date: December 6, 1965
US Single Release: Capitol Cema #S7-18889-A (orange vinyl)
Highest Chart Position: n/a
British Album Release: Parlophone #PCS 3071“Help!”
Key: A major
Producer: George Martin
Engineers: Norman Smith, Phil McDonald
Paul McCartney - Lead and Harmony Vocals, Lead and Rhythm Guitar (1964 Epiphone Texan FT-79)
George Harrison – Lead and Rhythm Guitar (1964 Framus Hootenanny 5/024 acoustic 12-string)
John Lennon - Rhythm Guitar (1964 Gibson J-160E)
Ringo Starr – Drums (1964 Ludwig Super Classic Black Oyster Pearl) with brushes, maracas
Written and compiled by Dave Rybaczewski
The Beatles with manager Brian Epstein
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