nb: I’m getting ready go to to Poland, which involves writing two talks (Warsaw and Cracow residents, be warned) as well as doing a book, so posting this week will be largely devoid of deep thought.
I’ve finally sat down and made a list of my favorite Beatles songs that I’ve not yet put up, and there are 19 in all. That was far more than I envisioned posting, but going through their music I found it impossible to distill the best into a week of songs. So, for better or worse, you’ll have endure one a day for nearly three more weeks.
Although I’m a big fan of the early Beatles, which is when I fell in love with them (I actually lived in Germany when they became big there, before they were popular elsewhere), I’ve found that nearly all of my favorites come from the Rubber Soul album or after. I suppose that’s when they became purely sui generis, with a style of music that, although influenced by earlier blues and rock, also had an element that was completely new.
This song, “I Want to Tell You,” is one of the two types of love songs the Beatles wrote: the soft ballads (“Yesterday,” “In My Life”, “If I Fell”) and the harder-driving amorous songs (“Got to Get You Into My Life,” “Any Time at All”). This one fits in the second category, and appeared on “Revolver” (1966). For reasons I don’t understand, it’s not on Rolling Stone‘s list of the 100 best Beatles songs. It’s dissonant but beautiful, and nobody had written anything like it before.
The song came out when I was in high school and the psychedelic era was just reaching the East Coast. Imbued with drugs, romanticism, and the sense that I was a more complex person than I really was (psychedelics will do that), I thought the lyrics really spoke to me. Ah, but I was so much older then; I’m younger than that now.
Wikipedia gives a bit about the song’s 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.
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). This chord has been termed “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. 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 that really echoed that sense of frustration. John later borrowed it on I Want You (She’s So Heavy) [at] “It’s driving me mad.” 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 notable use of melisma while chanting ‘I’ve got time’, revealing the song’s subtle Indian influence. Everett considers that the closing on “maybe you’ll understand” pointedly involves a descent to a “perfect authentic cadence.” Neil Innes of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band (and later The Rutles) said the Bonzos’ first studio experience was at Abbey Road Studios while The Beatles were recording “I Want to Tell You”. Innes said he took a break in one of the studio’s hallways and heard The Beatles playing back the song, blasting it at full volume. Innes recounted that he was in a state of immense awe over the song’s beauty, and sheepishly returned to the Bonzo session, where they were recording the 1920s Vaudeville song “My Brother Makes the Noises for the Talkies”.