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“THINK FOR YOURSELF”
George Harrison’s growth as a songwriter had become ever more evident on the December 1965 release of the Beatles’ “Rubber Soul” album. While his first ever composition, “Don’t Bother Me,” was proudly displayed on the British “With The Beatles” album just over two year prior, it took another 21 months for him to reveal more written material on the August 1965 “Help!” soundtrack. The two “Harrisongs” premiered on this British album, namely “I Need You” and “You Like Me Too Much,” were also suitable examples of standard Beatlemania for the time.
However, the ideas that emerged from his lyrical pen on “Think For Yourself” smacked of a pointed confidence unlike what he or his more prolific band-mates had tackled before. While the work of the Lennon/McCartney team was maturing by leaps and bounds by late 1965, George Harrison stepped up his game to match wits with the best of them. Remembering that this was only his fifth published song, the lyrical depth and structural complexity of “Think For Yourself” proved that George Harrison would assuredly have a lot to say as a songwriter.
“We’d had our cute period and now it was time to expand…that was the feeling about ‘Rubber Soul.’” This quote from Paul McCartney couldn’t be any more applicable than in regards to George’s “Think For Yourself.” This song was anything but the cute “She Loves You” Beatles that the world had grown accustomed to. Instead, the lyrics were biting and the melody was abrasive.
It’s obvious from listening to these lyrics that George had someone definite in mind that he was speaking to. Surprisingly, he had never revealed the true recipient of these pointed lyrics in this lifetime. In his book “I, Me, Mine,” which was first published in 1980, he explains why: “It must be about ‘somebody’ from the sound of it. But all this time later, I don’t quite recall who inspired that tune. Probably the government!”
While the bulk of the lyrics could easily have been addressed to the ‘powers that be,’ George undoubtedly slipped in some content that made it seem as if he was speaking to a woman, thereby continuing the Beatles established and acceptable trend of writing songs about relationships. Lennon and McCartney still bowed to this pressure as well, turning the autobiographical “In My Life” from a trip down memory lane to an ode to his current love; hence the lyrics “in my life I love you more.”
In this case, with the key phrase “think for yourself ‘cause I won’t be there with you,” George would have us believe that the song was addressed to a woman who he was leaving because of the “misery” she creates. In this way, with Brian Epstein’s strict policy of avoiding anything overtly political in their music or interviews, George was able to express his views undetected. This opinion is, of course, if the song was indeed about the government as he supposes. But since he honestly couldn’t remember, we need to revert back to his statement about his early Beatles compositions: “The early ones were just any words I could think of.”
George’s 1965 statement that it usually takes him “about three months before I finish one song” gives us an estimate of August to November of 1965 for when the writing of the song took place.
The Beatles in EMI Studio Two, 1965
On November 8th, 1965, the Beatles entered EMI Studio Two at 9 pm for what turned out to be a six hour recording session that only produced one releasable album track for the “Rubber Soul” album. After much rehearsal, only one take was needed to record the rhythm track for “Won’t Be There With You,” as the song was called at the beginning of the session. This track consisted of George on electric rhythm guitar, Paul on bass and Ringo on drums with no vocals being recorded at this time.
This being accomplished, they set out to record overdubs, the lead and harmony vocals being recorded first. An unusual practice took place recording this overdub, this being that George Martin kept a separate tape rolling to record the Beatles attempts to get the vocals right. Why this was recorded is unknown although, because they were to record their “Third Christmas Record” after the song was complete on this day, George Martin may have thought that they may say something humorous enough to make it on that fan club release. They didn’t. Nonetheless, the tape box was labelled: "This will eventually be issued." One thing that did get released, though, was a six second segment of George and Paul practicing their harmony on the line “and you’ve got time to rectify” which was repeated over itself and appears in the movie “Yellow Submarine.”
Since it took much practice for them to perfect, it was decided to record each harmony section of the song separately, John being the one having the most trouble. “I’m sorry, sometimes I feel less than useless at these sessions, I really do,” John said as caught on tape. “Of course, Cynthia understands. I often talk to her about it when we get home. I say, ‘Sometimes, you know, Cynthia, I just can’t get the note.’”
Immediately after this overdub was complete, a decision was made to repeat the process, double-tracking both the lead and harmony vocals as a separate overdub. Further overdubs were then added, including Ringo on tambourine and maracas, John on Hammond organ, and one ingredient which gave the song its’ most unusual and identifying element.
“The Beatles were always looking for new sounds,” George Martin remembers, “always looking to a new horizon and it was a continual but happy strain to try and provide new things for them. They were always waiting to try new instruments even when they didn’t know much about them.”
“Paul used a fuzz box on the bass on ‘Think For Yourself,’” George Harrison explains. “When Phil Spector was making ‘Zip-A-Dee Doo-Dah’ (by Bob B. Soxx And The Blue Jeans), the engineer who’d set up the track overloaded the microphone on the guitar player and it became very distorted. Phil Spector said, ‘Leave it like that, it’s great.’ Some years later everyone started to try to copy that sound and so they invented the fuzz box. We had one and tried the bass through it and it sounded really good.”
Although The Beatles experimented with an early marketed version of this device, the Gibson Maestro Fuzztone, as early as 1963 (the same box used by The Rolling Stones on “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”), the device used on “Think For Yourself” was called “The Tone Bender,” a unit created by Gary Hurst who personally gave it to the group sometime in 1965. Although engineer Ken Townsend explains in the book “The Beatles Recording Sessions” that they used an EMI-made distortion unit at times, it was not used by The Beatles until later. Of course, distortion played a much bigger role with the Beatles in the not-too-distant future (see “Revolution”).
Although sounding like a lead guitar part played on the lower strings, Paul actually played a virtual repeat of the bass part he played on the rhythm track for the second time using his newly acquired Rickenbacker bass. After the overdubs were complete, the song’s title had been changed to “Think For Yourself” and they then proceeded to record their third Christmas record before heading home at 3:00 in the morning. Approximately five hours, from 9 pm till 2 am, were utilized to fully record the song.
Both the mono mix and the first stereo mix were done the following day, November 9th, in Room 65 at EMI Studios by George Martin and engineers Norman Smith and Jerry Boys. Both of these mixes were the ones made available throughout the world in December of 1965, although the left channel of the stereo mix does show some signs of a defective tape at the end of the song.
Another interesting feature to this original stereo mix is the decision to totally separate the double-tracked vocals, the first overdub on the left channel and the second overdub on the right channel. While this is quite unorthodox for Beatles mixes up to this point, it makes for interesting examination when the song is listened to on each channel separately.
In preparation for the first “Rubber Soul” release on compact disc, George Martin went back to the drawing board in 1986 to make a new stereo mix of “Think For Yourself” which stands as the most widely available mix of the song as of this day. Once again, the double-tracked vocals are kept on separate channels.
A third stereo mix of the song was made in 1999 at EMI Studios expressly for its inclusion on the “Yellow Submarine Songtrack” album of that year. While George Martin was not involved, engineers Peter Cobbin, Paul Hicks, Mirek Stiles and Allan Rouse were. This time around, all vocals are centered in the mix to give an incredibly full sound.
The Beatles, November 1965
Song Structure and Style
Within the framework of this song we see a strident step away from, rather than a modification of, an existing song structure. Yes there are verses and choruses, but the chord patterns and melody lines George introduces are hardly of the predictable sort. At first listen, as well as with repeated listening, it’s hard to pick out the home key. As it turns out, the introductory chord, this being G major, is the home key but the twists and turns of the verses may make you wonder.
The combination of the melody line, the harmonies and the bass line even has you question whether the song is in G major or G minor. John Lennon apparently had trouble identifying this as well since, when he was playing acoustic guitar while they were rehearsing the harmonies, George had to correct him because he was playing G minor instead of G major.
At any rate, the format consists of ‘verse/ chorus/ verse/ chorus/ verse/ chorus/ chorus’ (or abababb) with a quick introduction and conclusion thrown in. Even though this is the brainchild of the lead guitarist in the group, he opted to omit a solo of any kind.
A simple two-measure introduction sets the song in motion, which premiers the menacing “fuzz bass” and sets the tone for the accusatory lyrics that follow. The rhythm guitar as well as drum accents also begin on the downbeat but the second half of the second measure debuts a feature of the song that will be reoccurring frequently within the next two minutes and sixteen seconds, that being the slow triplet. This first occurrence is emphasized with crashing cymbals, tambourine hits and an ascending bass line that takes us directly into the first verse.
The first verse, as all the verses, is twelve measures long and comprises some uncharacteristic chord changes (at least for the Beatles catalog thus far). The melody line consists of two phrases which have George singing solo on each first half and three part harmony for each second half, which is mostly sung in syncopated time. Paul’s bass line three times repeats the slow triplet heard in the introduction while the tambourine and maracas keep a straight 4/4 beat as an interesting contrast. The tambourine keeps a tidy pattern of three eighth note hits in the third beat of each measure throughout the entire verse. Also present is John’s thumping organ overdub which chops away throughout the entire song.
Another interesting feature of the verses is the extended second phrase that segues into the chorus. The end of the first phrase, on the words “about the things that you do,” brings us comfortably back to the home key of G major. You would expect this to happen again at the end of the second phrase, and it predictably does on the words “that we can have,” but it extends beyond this with the words “if we close our eyes,” which also pushes us into a further chord change just before the chorus begins. Quite interesting but unusual.
After a simple drum fill from Ringo, we’re brought full force into the eight-measure chorus with double-time maraca beats and a strident 4/4 rock beat on the drums. George sings the first line by himself while Paul provides a higher harmony for the rest of this entire section. The melody line George is singing in this chorus turns the home chord of G major into G minor, which is a subtle nod to previous Lennon/McCartney tracks that also dance back and forth between major and minor, such as “I’ll Be Back” and “And I Love Her.”
Another distinctive feature of the chorus is the double slow triplet played by both Paul and Ringo while the maraca keeps flailing away in straight 4/4 time. The chorus ends on the home key and, like the introduction, finishes off with the ascending crashing triplet while the maracas shake violently.
A second verse then begins which is structurally identical to the first with Paul’s bass still insisting on accenting the slow triplets throughout. Another chorus is then heard which appears structurally the same but there are some subtle differences. Ringo mistakenly plays a slow triplet at the end of the second measure but forgets to (or chooses not to) play the double triplet with Paul’s bass in the fourth measure. Instead he adds a couple of snare accents to cover up the mistake (if it was one).
A third verse is then heard which shows Paul changing things up slightly by not playing the triplet in the sixth measure, replacing it with a similar sounding eighth note run. The chorus that follows shows Ringo remembering to play the double triplet with Paul once again in the sixth measure, even throwing in another unnecessary triplet in the last measure.
To inform the listener that the end is near, the chorus is repeated a final time which may catch listeners by surprise. It apparently caught Paul by surprise as well since, on his bass in the rhythm track, he starts the first measure off in the wrong key but quickly corrects himself hoping no one would notice. There is also an unexpected chord change in the seventh measure which also catches Paul off guard on the bass in the rhythm track. Ringo misses the double triplet in the sixth measure again as well, showing that the arrangement was new to them and was quickly learned for the first time during the session that day.
This final chorus is actually extended to twelve measures in order to, as the Beatles were prone to do, repeat the hook line of the song to imbed the title in the listeners mind. The final measure, with its violently shaken maracas, is actually cut short to a syncopated end because of the four eighth-note accents that ends the song, which is nearly identical to how George concluded his 1968 “White Album” track “Savoy Truffle.”
George confidently puts in a vocal that is by far superior to anything he’s done prior to this in the Beatles cannon. His double-tracking is nearly flawless and works well to deliver his venomous lyrics. His rhythm guitar work goes mostly unnoticed because of the emphasized presence of the vocals and fuzz bass but is adequately played as a guide in the rhythm track. (Listen to the left channel of the stereo mix by itself to check it out.)
Paul is next to be worthy of mention with two complete bass tracks on one song, the first one buried in the rhythm track and the second prominently displayed as the focal point of the instrumentation. One could argue that Paul plays “lead bass” on “Think For Yourself.” While his high harmonies during the verses are as flawless as usual, his harmony work in the choruses was a little shaky the first time around. They come across much better after they were double-tracked. (Once again, listen to the left channel of the stereo mix to see what I mean.)
Although John apparently didn’t play during the rhythm track (his not being acquainted with the chords while they were rehearsing the harmonies proves he wasn’t playing the guitar on the rhythm track), he did add a distinctive ingredient to the song with his Hammond organ overdub. And while he had a good degree of trouble getting the harmonies right in the verses, he ended up nailing it. Ringo was also kept quite busy during this session with learning a somewhat complicated arrangement on the drums and then adding maracas and tambourine as overdubs.
Going by the assumption that he did write the song about the government, it sounds as if George is addressing Congress from behind a lectern after being told he has the floor. “I’ve got a word or two to say about the things that you do,” he begins. He describes political campaign promises as “lies about the good things that we can have if we close our eyes.” Even though he is able to state his case, he realizes that his argument is futile because they are just “going to cause more misery.”
In what is arguably the only pop song that contains the word “opaque” (correct me if I’m wrong), George apparently infers that the government’s mind is ‘dull, obscure and stupid,’ according to Webster’s College Dictionary (Fourth Edition). Therefore it should “try thinking more.” However, he has hope that things can turn around. “The future still looks good,” he continues, as long as they “rectify all the things” they’ve been doing.
If, in fact, the song was originally inspired by a woman as some of the lyrics suggest, it isn’t a woman that I or anyone should ever want to hook up with.
On December 6th, 1965, America was first exposed to “Think For Yourself” with the release of Capitol’s version of the “Rubber Soul” album. With their omission of the dynamic track “Nowhere Man” from the album which preceded the song on the British album, being held back by Capitol for a future single, George’s song arguably stands out somewhat better. In fact, the 8-track version of the US album featured “Think For Yourself” as the opening song, which definitely gave it due attention.
April 30th, 1987 was the date that the full British “Rubber Soul” album was finally released in America, this being in the compact disc format. George Martin’s 1986 stereo mix was used here and continued to be when the disc was re-mastered and re-released on September 9th, 2009.
Because a small snippet of George and Paul rehearsing the harmonies made it onto the actual 1968 film “Yellow Submarine,” the full song was included on the September 13th, 1999 released album “Yellow Submarine Songtrack.” This album was put together to coincide with the re-release of the film and included all of the Beatles songs that appear in the movie, even partially. The engineers assigned to this project were granted permission to access the original four-track tapes and created new mixes using the new technology of the time, therefore the sound is impeccable. This album brought the Beatles back onto the Billboard charts for the end of the decade, reaching #15 on the US album chart.
Capitol’s second in a short series of box sets, namely “The Capitol Albums, Vol. 2,” was released on April 11th, 2006. It contained the original US “Rubber Soul” album, including “Think For Yourself,” in both stereo and mono, although early copies of the set mistakenly substituted a “fold-down” version of the stereo mix instead of the true 1965 mono mix.
Just prior to the above release, Capitol issued a promotional “sampler” CD for radio airplay. “Think For Yourself” was among the eight songs chosen for this disc, both the stereo and mono versions being contained therein.
To make sure that you own both of the original 1965 mixes of this song, the box set “The Beatles In Mono” is for you. This set includes the entire Beatles catalog that was originally mixed in mono, including the entire “Rubber Soul” album. As a bonus, the original stereo mixes of these tracks are also included. This re-mastered set was also released on September 9th, 2009.
One song was always allotted in their live sets as a vocal contribution from George. However, his other “Rubber Soul” contribution, “If I Needed Someone,” made the grade for their final British tour in December of 1965 as well as their world tour of 1966.
Although George Harrison was relatively new to songwriting as of late 1965, with “Think For Yourself” he proves that he has a voice of his own. The atmosphere within the Beatles during the “Rubber Soul” era was that of stretching the boundaries melodically as well as lyrically. Cranking out a pedestrian pop song like “I Need You” at this point in the game wouldn’t have fit, although it worked nicely on the previous album. From this launching point, George showed himself as a composer with a definite opinion. In the process, he gained the notoriety of being a respected songwriter for the rest of his Beatle years and beyond.
“Think For Yourself”
Written by: George Harrison
Song Written: August to November, 1965
Song Recorded: November 8, 1965
First US Release Date: December 6, 1965
US Single Release: n/a
Highest Chart Position: n/a
British Album Release: Parlophone #PCS 3075 “Rubber Soul”
Key: G major / G minor
Producer: George Martin
Engineers: Norman Smith, Ken Scott
George Harrison – Lead Vocals, Rhythm Guitar (1961 Sonic Blue Fender Stratocaster)
Paul McCartney - Bass Guitar (1964 Rickenbacker 4001S), Harmony Vocals
John Lennon - Organ (Hammond RT-3), Harmony Vocals
Ringo Starr – Drums (1964 Ludwig Super Classic Black Oyster Pearl), maracas, tambourine
Written and compiled by David Rybaczewski
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