Recording "I'm Only Sleeping"

Thursday, May 5, 1966 • For The Beatles

Part of

Recording "Revolver"

April 6 - June 22, 1966 • Songs recorded during this session appear on Revolver (UK Mono)

Album Songs recorded during this session officially appear on the Revolver (UK Mono) LP.
EMI Studios, Studio Three, Abbey Road

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This was the seventeenth day of the recording sessions for the “Revolver” album. From 9:30 pm to 3 am, The Beatles continued the work on John Lennon’s “I’m Only Sleeping“.

On April 27, 1966, they had recorded the basic track, with take 11 considered the best. On April 29, they had considered doing a remake of the song but had finally added the lead vocals onto take 11. On this day, they decided to add lead guitar parts, played by George Harrison and Paul McCartney, with a backward effect.

There are two ways of recording backwards instruments, one easy, one difficult. The easy way is to play the instrument normally and then turn the tape around. The other involves working out the notation forwards, writing it out backwards, then playing it as the notation says, so that it comes out back to front. This way, although the sound still has the aural attraction of a backwards tape the instrument is actually playing a melodic run of notes.

The Beatles, of course, chose the latter alternative, hence this near six hour session for just the guitar overdub.

From The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions by Mark Lewisohn, 2004

[Paul McCartney] recalls that George was attempting to record the guitar solo for “I’m Only Sleeping” on May 5th when the tape operator inadvertently put the tape on ‘tails out,’ which created quite a stir when The Beatles heard it played back to them. “It played backwards,” Paul explains as if this was the first time they heard backward guitars. He continues: “and, ‘What the hell is going on?’ Those effects! Nobody knew how those sounded then. We said, ‘My God, that is fantastic! Can we do that for real?’ So George Martin, give him his due, being amenable to ideas like that, being quite experimental for who he was, a grown-up, said, ‘Yes. Sure, I think we can do that.’ So that was what we did and that was where we discovered backwards guitar. It was a beautiful solo actually. It sounds like something you couldn’t play.


Some days, of course, were better than others. There was one especially tedious session where we all wished we had never come up with the concept of backwards sounds. The song was “I’m Only Sleeping,” and George Harrison was determined to play a backwards guitar solo on it. At the best of times, he had trouble playing solos all the way through forwards, so it was with great trepidation that we all settled in for what turned out to be an interminable day of listening to the same eight bars played backwards over and over and over again. Phil McDonald told me later that his arms were sore for days afterward from having to repeatedly lift the heavy tape reels off the machine and turn them over. I can still picture George — and later, Paul, who joined him to play the backwards outro in a bizarre duet —hunched over his guitar for hours on end, headphones clamped on, brows furrowed in concentration. George Martin conducted them from the window of the control room, using grease pencil marks I had put on the back of the tape on each beat as a reference. To borrow Ringo’s phrase, that nine-hour session certainly was one hard day’s night!

Geoff Emerick – From “Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of The Beatles“, 2006

Work on “I’m Only Sleeping” would continue on the following day.

Last updated on October 17, 2022

Songs recorded


I'm Only Sleeping

Written by Lennon - McCartney

Recording • SI onto take 11


Musicians on "I'm Only Sleeping"

Paul McCartney:
Lead guitar
George Harrison:
Lead guitar

Production staff

George Martin:
Geoff Emerick:
Phil McDonald:
Second Engineer

Going further

The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions • Mark Lewisohn

The definitive guide for every Beatles recording sessions from 1962 to 1970.

We owe a lot to Mark Lewisohn for the creation of those session pages, but you really have to buy this book to get all the details - the number of takes for each song, who contributed what, a description of the context and how each session went, various photographies... And an introductory interview with Paul McCartney!

Shop on Amazon

The Beatles Recording Reference Manual - Volume 2 - Help! through Revolver (1965-1966)

The second book of the Association for Recorded Sound Collections (ARSC)-nominated series, "The Beatles Recording Reference Manual: Volume 2: Help! through Revolver (1965-1966)" follows the evolution of the band from the end of Beatlemania with "Help!" through the introspection of "Rubber Soul" up to the sonic revolution of "Revolver". From the first take to the final remix, discover the making of the greatest recordings of all time.

Through extensive, fully-documented research, these books fill an important gap left by all other Beatles books published to date and provide a unique view into the recordings of the world's most successful pop music act.

Shop on Amazon

If we like to think, in all modesty, that the Paul McCartney Project is the best online ressource for everything Paul McCartney, The Beatles Bible is for sure the definitive online site focused on the Beatles. There are obviously some overlap in terms of content between the two sites, but also some major differences in terms of approach.

Read more on The Beatles Bible


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