The Paul McCartney Project

I Want To Tell You

Written by George Harrison

Album This song officially appears on the Revolver (UK Mono) Official album.
Timeline This song has been officially released in 1966
Sessions This song has been recorded during the following sessions

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Song facts

From Wikipedia:

I Want to Tell You” is a song by the English rock group the Beatles from their 1966 album Revolver. It was written and sung by George Harrison and marked his third composition on the album after “Taxman” and “Love You To“. Working titles for the song were “Laxton’s Superb” and “I Don’t Know“. Inspired by his experiences with the hallucinogenic drug LSD, the song’s lyrics convey what Harrison later termed “the avalanche of thoughts that are so hard to write down or say or transmit“. The recording marks the first time that Paul McCartney played his bass guitar part after the rhythm track was complete, a method that became common on the Beatles’ subsequent recordings.

Harrison performed “I Want to Tell You” as the opening song throughout his 1991 Japanese tour with Eric Clapton, a version from which appeared on his Live in Japan album. At the Concert for George tribute in November 2002, a year after Harrison’s death, the song was used to open the Western portion of the event, when it was performed by Jeff Lynne. Ted Nugent and Thea Gilmore are among the other artists who have covered the track.

Background and inspiration

George Harrison wrote “I Want to Tell You” in 1966, the year in which his songwriting matured in terms of subject matter and productivity. As a secondary composer to John Lennon and Paul McCartney in the Beatles, Harrison began to establish his own musical identity through his absorption in Indian culture, as well as the perspective he gained through his experiences with the hallucinogenic drug lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD). According to author Gary Tillery, the song resulted from a “creative surge” that Harrison experienced once he had found a regular supplier of LSD in England, at the start of 1966.

In his autobiography, I, Me, Mine, Harrison says that “I Want to Tell You” addresses “the avalanche of thoughts that are so hard to write down or say or transmit“. Authors Russell Reising and Jim LeBlanc cite the song, along with “Rain” and “Within You Without You“, as an early example of the Beatles abandoning innocent or “coy” statements in their lyrics and instead “adopt[ing] an urgent tone, intent on channeling some essential knowledge, the psychological and/or philosophical epiphanies of LSD experience” to their listeners. Writing in The Beatles Anthology, Harrison said of the perspective he achieved as a result of taking the drug: “My brain and my consciousness and my awareness were pushed so far out that the only way I can begin to describe it is like an astronaut on the moon, or in his spaceship, looking back at the Earth. I was looking back to the Earth from my awareness.

Musical structure

I Want to Tell You” is in the key of A major. It is driven by bass fours and a catchy, persistent piano discord: a short, distinctive guitar melody opens and closes the song and recurs between verses. Harrison’s voice is supported by John Lennon and Paul McCartney in close harmony.

The song was about the frustration we all feel about trying to communicate certain things with just words. I realised that the chords I knew at the time just didn’t capture that feeling. I came up with this dissonant chord [E7♭9] that really echoed that sense of frustration.

Like “Eight Days a Week“, the song begins with a fade-in. The vocals open (on “When I get near you” with a harmonious E-A-B-C#-E melody note progression against an A chord, but dissonance soon arises with a II7 (B7) chord pointedly mirroring the lyrics on “drag me down“. The dissonance is immediately further enhanced by the rare use of an E7♭9 chord (at 0.46-0.53 secs). According to musicologist Dominic Pedler, this chord became “one of the most legendary in the entire Beatles catalogue“. When interviewed about the “weird, jarring chord at the end of every line that mirrors the disturbed feeling of the song“, Harrison replied: “That’s an E7th with an F on top played on the piano. I’m really proud of that as I literally invented that chord … John later borrowed it on I Want You (She’s So Heavy) [at] “It’s driving me mad.” Walter Everett emphasises McCartney’s “finger-tapping impatience” on the piano (at 0.25-0.32) which is countered by the lyric “I don’t mind … I could wait forever. I’ve got time.

During the song’s ending fadeout (a reprise of the song’s guitar intro featuring a prominent group vocal harmony), McCartney makes use of melisma while chanting ‘I’ve got time‘, revealing the song’s subtle Indian influence. The three singers form a cappella chorale, ululating on “I’ve got time“. Everett considers that the closing on “maybe you’ll understand” pointedly involves a descent to a “perfect authentic cadence“.

Lyrics

In “I Want to Tell You“, Harrison sings of the inadequacy of words in conveying genuine emotion. The frustration he expresses in the lyrics is reinforced by the song’s dissonant atmosphere, a product of numerous elements, including the continuous piano chord in the background and the contrast between Harrison’s modest lead vocal and Lennon and McCartney’s descant harmonies. Dave Laing writes of the song’s “serene desperation” in its “attempt at real total contact in any interpersonal context“.

The bridge reveals some of Harrison’s thinking at the time, reducing his internal difficulties to conflicts within his being:

Laing interprets the entities “me” and “my mind” as, respectively, “individualistic, selfish ego” and “the Buddhist not-self, freed from the anxieties of historical Time“. In I, Me, Mine, however, Harrison attributes the opposite meaning to each of the two terms; he states that, with hindsight, the verse’s second line should be reversed, since: “The mind is the thing that hops about telling us to do this and do that – when what we need is to lose (forget) the mind.” He changed that line to “It’s not me, it’s just my mind” when performing the song during his Japanese tour in December 1991.

Recording

Untitled at the time, “I Want to Tell You” was the third Harrison composition recorded for the Beatles’ 1966 album Revolver – the first time he had been permitted more than two songs on one of the group’s albums. The opportunity came about due to Lennon’s inability to write any new material over the previous weeks. Exasperated by Harrison’s habit of not titling his compositions, Lennon jokingly named it “Granny Smith Part Friggin’ Two” – referring to the working title, derived from the Granny Smith apple, for another Harrison song from the Revolver sessions, “Love You To“. Seizing on this, Geoff Emerick, the Beatles’ recording engineer, suggested “Laxton’s Superb” after another variety of apple.

The Beatles taped the main track, consisting of guitars, piano and drums, on 2 June 1966 at EMI’s Abbey Road Studios in London. Five takes were recorded before Harrison selected take 3 for further work. After reduction to a single track on the four-track master tape, their performance consisted of Harrison on lead guitar, treated with a Leslie effect, McCartney on piano and Ringo Starr on drums, with Lennon adding tambourine. The group then overdubbed vocals, more percussion, additional piano (at the end of the bridge sections and over the E7♭9 chord in the verses) and handclaps.

The final overdub, McCartney’s bass part, was added on 3 June. The process of recording the bass separately from a rhythm track allowed for greater flexibility when mixing a song, and allowed McCartney to better control the harmonic structure of the music by defining chords. As confirmed by the band’s recording historian, Mark Lewisohn, “I Want to Tell You” was the first Beatles song to have the bass superimposed onto the recording. This technique became commonplace in the Beatles’ subsequent work. During the session, the song was temporarily renamed “I Don’t Know“, which had been Harrison’s reply to a question from producer George Martin regarding what he wanted to call the track. The eventual title was decided on by 6 June, during a remixing and tape-copying session for various tracks from Revolver.

Neil Innes of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band (and later the Rutles) recalls being at Abbey Road Studios while the Beatles were recording “I Want to Tell You” and his band were working on a 1920s vaudeville song titled “My Brother Makes the Noises for the Talkies“. Innes said he heard the Beatles playing back “I Want to Tell You“, blasting it at full volume, and appreciated then, in the words of music journalist Robert Fontenot, “just how far out of their league he was, creatively“. Innes has since included his recollection of this episode in his stage show.

Release and reception

EMI’s Parlophone label released Revolver on 5 August 1966. “I Want to Tell You” was sequenced between Lennon’s song about a New York doctor who administered amphetamine doses to his wealthy patients, “Doctor Robert“, and “Got to Get You into My Life“, written by McCartney as what he later termed “an ode to pot“. Commenting on the unprecedented inclusion of three of his songs on a Beatles album, Harrison told Melody Maker that he missed having a collaborator as Lennon and McCartney were to one another. He added: “when you’re competing against John and Paul, you have to be very good to even get in the same league.

According to Beatles biographer Nicholas Schaffner, Harrison’s contributions to Revolver – “I Want to Tell You“, “Taxman“, which opened the album, and the Indian music-styled “Love You To” – established him as a songwriter within the band. Author Inglis writes that “Revolver has often been cited as the album on which Harrison came of age as a songwriter.” In a contemporary review for the NME, Allen Evans wrote that “The Beatles’ individual personalities are now showing through loud and clear” and he admired the combination of guitar and piano motifs and vocal harmonies on “I Want to Tell You“. In their combined album review in Record Mirror, Richard Green found the track “Well-written, produced and sung” and added, “Love the harmonising“, while Peter Jones commented: “Nicely plodding instrumental lead-in here, and the vocal line is very strong. The deliberately off-key sounds in the backing are again very distinctive. Adds something to a toughly romantic number.

In America, as a result of the controversy there surrounding Lennon’s remark that the Beatles had become more popular than Christianity, the initial reviews of Revolver were relatively lukewarm. While commenting on this phenomenon in September 1966, KRLA Beat’s reviewer described “I Want to Tell You” as “unusual, newly-melodic, and interesting” and lamented that, as with songs such as “She Said She Said” and “Yellow Submarine“, it was being denied the recognition it deserved. […]

From The Usenet Guide to Beatles Recording Variations:

  • [a] mono 3 Jun 1966.
    UK: Parlophone PMC 7009 Revolver 1966.
    US: Capitol T 2576 Revolver 1966.
  • [b] stereo 21 Jun 1966.
    UK: Parlophone PCS 7009 Revolver 1966.
    US: Capitol ST 2576 Revolver 1966.
    CD: EMI CDP 7 46441 2 Revolver 1987.

The piano comes through more noticeably in mono.

Last updated on May 10, 2016

Lyrics

I want to tell you
My head is filled with things to say
When you're here
All those words they seem to slip away

When I get near you
The games begin to drag me down
It's all right
I'll make you maybe next time around

But if I seem to act unkind
It's only me, it's not my mind
That is confusing things
I want to tell you
I feel hung up and I don't know why
I don't mind
I could wait forever, I've got time

Sometimes I wish I knew you well
Then I could speak my mind and tell
Maybe you'd understand

Officially appears on


Revolver (UK Mono)

Official album • Released in 1966

2:28 • Studio versionA • Mono

Paul McCartney:
Backing vocals, Bass, Handclaps, Piano
Ringo Starr:
Drums, Handclaps, Maracas
John Lennon:
Backing vocals, Handclaps, Tambourine
George Harrison:
Handclaps, Lead guitar, Lead vocals
George Martin:
Producer
Geoff Emerick:
Engineer

Session Recording:
Jun 02, 1966
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Session Mixing:
Jun 03, 1966
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road


Revolver (US Mono)

Official album • Released in 1966

2:32 • Studio versionA • Mono

Paul McCartney:
Backing vocals, Bass, Handclaps, Piano
Ringo Starr:
Drums, Handclaps, Maracas
John Lennon:
Backing vocals, Handclaps, Tambourine
George Harrison:
Handclaps, Lead guitar, Lead vocals
George Martin:
Producer
Geoff Emerick:
Engineer

Session Recording:
Jun 02, 1966
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Session Mixing:
Jun 03, 1966
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road


Revolver (US Stereo)

Official album • Released in 1966

2:30 • Studio versionB • Stereo

Paul McCartney:
Backing vocals, Bass, Handclaps, Piano
Ringo Starr:
Drums, Handclaps, Maracas
John Lennon:
Backing vocals, Handclaps, Tambourine
George Harrison:
Handclaps, Lead guitar, Lead vocals
George Martin:
Producer
Geoff Emerick:
Engineer

Session Recording:
Jun 02, 1966
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Session Mixing:
Jun 21, 1966
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Three, Abbey Road


Revolver (UK Stereo)

Official album • Released in 1966

2:28 • Studio versionB • Stereo

Paul McCartney:
Backing vocals, Bass, Handclaps, Piano
Ringo Starr:
Drums, Handclaps, Maracas
John Lennon:
Backing vocals, Handclaps, Tambourine
George Harrison:
Handclaps, Lead guitar, Lead vocals
George Martin:
Producer
Geoff Emerick:
Engineer

Session Recording:
Jun 02, 1966
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Session Mixing:
Jun 21, 1966
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Three, Abbey Road

Live performances

Paul McCartney has never played this song in concert.


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