It's All Too Much
|"It's All Too Much"|
|Song by the Beatles from the album Yellow Submarine|
|Released||13 January 1969 (US)
17 January 1969 (UK)
|Recorded||25–26 May and 2 June 1967
De Lane Lea Studios, London
|Genre||Psychedelic rock, raga rock, acid rock|
|Yellow Submarine track listing|
"It's All Too Much" is a song written by George Harrison, released on the Beatles' 1969 Yellow Submarine film soundtrack album. It was recorded in May 1967, shortly before the release of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Harrison wrote the song as a celebration of his experiences with the drug LSD.
While viewed by the band as a disposable track, and a means to help satisfy their contractual obligations to the film company United Artists, "It's All Too Much" has since received praise from commentators and music critics. Barry Miles described it as "the most striking piece of psychedelia The Beatles ever recorded", while Mojo contributor Peter Doggett considers it to be "one of the pinnacles of British acid-rock". Steve Hillage, Journey, the Grateful Dead and the Church are among the other artists who have recorded or performed the song.
Background and inspiration
"It's All Too Much" reflects George Harrison's experimentation with the hallucinogenic drug Lysergic acid diethylamide, commonly known as LSD or "acid". Author Robert Rodriguez describes the track as "gloriously celebratory", with a lyric that conveys "his acid revelations in a childlike way". Rather than the song being purely drug-related, Harrison states in his 1980 autobiography that the "realisations" brought about by his LSD experiences were also applicable to meditation.
Together with his Beatles bandmate John Lennon and their wives, Harrison first took acid in March 1965. He subsequently likened the heightened awareness induced by the drug to, variously, "a light-bulb [going] on in my head" and "gaining hundreds of years of experience within twelve hours". In a 1977 interview with Crawdaddy magazine, Harrison also credited LSD with being "the key that opened the door" to his interest in Indian classical music, particularly the work of Ravi Shankar, and Eastern spirituality. Harrison wrote "It's All Too Much" during a period when the Indian sitar had replaced the guitar as his favoured musical instrument, as he received tuition from Shankar and one of the latter's protégés, Shambu Das. As with his other songs for the Beatles in 1967, however, he composed the melody on a Hammond organ, which allowed him to replicate the drone-like sound of the harmonium commonly used in Indian vocal pieces.
Composition and musical structure
The song is in the key of G major, with a simple melodic emphasis on scale notes 2 (A) and 7 (F#) and no restless key and harmonic movement. Such movement characterises many of Harrison's spiritually oriented Beatles songs, such as "Long, Long, Long" and "The Inner Light". Musicologist Alan Pollack writes that the chorus appears to utilise IV (C major) and II minor (A minor) chords yet, rather than formal chord changes, "it all boils down to neighbour tone motion in the inner voices superimposed on to the pedal tone of G in the bass."
AllMusic contributor Tom Maginnis writes that the lyrics "reflect the idealist optimism of the soon-to-be-labeled 'summer of love' and the kind of chemically enhanced mind-expanding euphoria that pervaded the new 'hippie' youth culture". The song quotes a line ("With your long blonde hair and your eyes of blue") from the Merseys' "Sorrow", and at one point on the recording, the trumpets play part of Jeremiah Clarke's "Prince of Denmark's March". The Beatles' use of quotations here pre-empts "All You Need Is Love", which was written by Lennon and recorded in June 1967 for their appearance on the One World television broadcast.[nb 1] While noting also the similar ideological theme behind the two compositions, author Ian Inglis writes of Harrison and Lennon "presenting alternative accounts of the same subject" in the manner of French Impressionists such as Monet, Renoir and Manet, each of whom painted their own interpretations of sites in Paris and Argenteuil.
The Beatles began recording "It's All Too Much" on 25 May 1967 at De Lane Lea Studios, located on Kingsway in central London. With producer George Martin not in attendance that day, nor for the subsequent session, on the 26th, author Ian MacDonald suggests that the band produced the recording themselves. The track had the working title of "Too Much", a phrase that journalist Robert Fontenot terms "beatnik vernacular for an experience that was exceptionally mindblowing".
MacDonald characterises the sessions as "chaotic" and typical of a period when, due partly to the individual member's drug intake, the group's focus was diminished following the completion of their album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band late the previous month. On the Sunday following the session for "It's All Too Much", the four Beatles attended a party at their manager Brian Epstein's house in Sussex, where Lennon and Harrison introduced music-industry publicist Derek Taylor to LSD.[nb 2] The group returned to De Lane Lea on 2 June, with Martin now participating. That day, the trumpets and bass clarinet parts, played by four session musicians and conducted by Martin, were added to the track, after percussion and handclaps had been overdubbed by the Beatles on 26 May.
Maginnis describes the opening of the song as "a burst of howling guitar feedback and jubilant, church-like organ", adding: "The atmosphere hints at Harrison's fascination with Indian music and Hindu philosophy at the time, having a distinct, Eastern-flavored, droning undercurrent." Harrison played Hammond organ on the track, and he and Lennon played electric guitars. Following the intro to "I Feel Fine", in 1964, "It's All Too Much" is a notable example of the Beatles' use of feedback on a recording. Author and critic Kenneth Womack credits this guitar part to Harrison, who played his Epiphone Casino using "the instrument's Bigsby [tremolo] bar in searing, full vibrato force". Referring to the relaxed nature of the De Lane Lea sessions, Mark Lewisohn writes that Lennon and Paul McCartney's backing vocals "started to waver a little, the chanted 'too much' eventually becoming 'tuba' and then 'Cuba'. It was that sort of a song." In a 1999 interview Harrison said of the brass accompaniment: "To this day I am still annoyed that I let them mess it up with those damn trumpets. Basically, the song's quite good but, you know, messed up with those trumpets."
The Beatles carried out final mixing on "It's All Too Much", again at De Lane Lea, on 12 October 1967, while the band were completing work on their Magical Mystery Tour EP. In the intervening months since recording the song, Harrison had sworn off acid after visiting the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco in August, with Pattie Boyd, Derek Taylor and others, and finding himself disillusioned at how, rather an enlightened micro-society, Haight-Ashbury appeared to be a haven for dropouts and drug addicts. On 29 September, Harrison and Lennon appeared on David Frost's weekly television show, during which they publicly disavowed LSD, and espoused the benefits of Transcendental Meditation.
A mono mix, over eight minutes long and containing all of the lyrics plus a much longer ending than the eventual released versions, has never been issued officially, but has been found on many bootleg recordings. The released version of the song was a six-minute edit of the track, included on the soundtrack album to the Beatles' animated film Yellow Submarine. The song was remixed for this release, on 16 October 1968. The version that appeared in the film itself contained a lyric that was cut from the album version: "Nice to have the time to take this opportunity / Time for me to look at you and you to look at me." However, this lyric remains in the eight-minute mono mix. Just before this lyric is another refrain not used in either the movie or the soundtrack albums: "It's all too much for me to take/There's plenty more for everybody / The more you give, the more you get / The more it is and it's too much." In 2009, the mono mix was released for the first time on Mono Masters, but was shortened to the same six-minute length.
"It's All Too Much" was issued on the Yellow Submarine album in January 1969, six months after the film's London premiere. Before then, according to music journalist Danny Eccleston, the song had been considered for inclusion in the Beatles' 1967 TV film Magical Mystery Tour. Discussing the various underground influences in the Yellow Submarine film, author Stephen Glynn refers to the segment featuring "It's All Too Much" as being among "its most daring sequences" and an attempt to "replicate" Unlimited Freak Out (UFO), "a 'happening' that sought to create a totalising mind-expanding environment involving music, light and people". The song appears during a pivotal scene late in the film, when, in Womack's description, "the Beatles vanquish the evil Blue Meanies and celebrate as the colorful beauty of friendship and music have been restored to Pepperland." Speaking in 1999, Ringo Starr said of "It's All Too Much": "that's the [track] that really sets the mood of the movie … that's where the music and the movie really gel."
The track was among four new Beatles songs on the Yellow Submarine soundtrack, in line with the group's contractual obligations to United Artists, while side two of the LP consisted solely of orchestral pieces by George Martin. Rodriguez comments that, with the Beatles having long moved on from their psychedelic phase, "It's All Too Much" was "by then well past its sell-by date". Referring to the drug-inspired imagery that led Rank to pull the film early from its UK cinema run, Glynn writes: "Indeed, the imagery accompanying [Harrison's] "Only a Northern Song" and 'It's All Too Much' only 'makes sense' when read as attempting an audio-visual recreation of the hallucinogenic state …"
Reception and legacy
Among the reviews of the album in 1969, Beat Instrumental described "It's All Too Much" and "Only a Northern Song" as "superb pieces" that "redeem" side one. Barry Miles of International Times wrote at length of the song, saying: "Endless, mantric, a round, interwoven, trellised, tessellated, filigreed, gidouiled, spiralling is It's All Too Much [–] George's Indian-timed, with drums fading-in-and-out, spurts of life to a decaying note, multi-level, handclapping number … High treble notes flicker like moths around the top register. Happy singalong music." In his 1998 book The Beatles Diary, Miles praised it further as "the most striking piece of psychedelia The Beatles ever recorded" and "a spirit-of-'67 freak-out that won fresh acclaim from a later wave of acid-rock adventurers in the late Seventies and early Nineties". Miles concluded: "Discordant, off-beat and effortlessly brilliant, the song was (alongside 'Taxman') Harrison's finest piece of Western rock music to date."
Less impressed, author Mark Hertsgaard cites Martin's view that Yellow Submarine was made up of "bottom of the barrel" material and he dismisses the track as "little more than formless shrieking". Ian MacDonald also holds the song in low regard, describing it as a "protracted exercise in drug-mesmerised G-pedal monotony". Discussing the lyrics, MacDonald considers it to be "the locus classicus of English psychedelia" and he comments that in Britain, unlike in America, "tradition, nature, and the child's-eye-view were the things which sprang most readily to the LSD-heightened Anglo-Saxon mind".
Writing for Rolling Stone in 2002, Greg Kot admired the song, saying: "once again, a raga-flavored groove brings out Harrison's best in the walloping 'It's All Too Much.'" In the fourth edition of The Rolling Stone Album Guide (2004), Rob Sheffield wrote: "Yellow Submarine was a flat soundtrack rather than a real album, but here's a question: Why is George's 'It's All Too Much' not heralded as one of the top five all-time psychedelic freakouts in rock history?" Richie Unterberger of AllMusic similarly considers the album to be "inessential" and describes the track as "the jewel of the new songs … resplendent in swirling Mellotron, larger-than-life percussion, and tidal waves of feedback guitar" and "a virtuoso excursion into otherwise hazy psychedelia". Writing in Mojo 's The Beatles' Final Years Special Edition (2003), Peter Doggett acknowledged the comparative rarity of "It's All Too Much" within the Beatles canon and added: "Yet it's one of the pinnacles of British acid-rock, its sleepwalking rhythm retaining a bizarrely contemporary feel today."
In July 2006, Mojo placed the song at number 85 on its list of "The 101 Greatest Beatles Songs" (between "You Won't See Me" and "Lovely Rita"). The magazine credited the track with influencing the Krautrock genre, while Primal Scream singer Bobby Gillespie described it as "a great piece of music" that, by departing from the Beatles' more regimented approach, evokes "the same feeling you get in 'Be-Bop-A-Lula' or a Muddy Waters or John Lee Hooker tune". Writing for the website Ultimate Classic Rock, Dave Swanson considers "It's All Too Much" to be "one of the band's most captivating works from the psychedelic era, and one of the Beatles' great lost songs".
Former Gong guitarist Steve Hillage recorded "It's All Too Much" for his 1976 solo album, L – a version that Unterberger highlights as "a dazzling cover". Produced by Todd Rundgren, the recording was also issued as a single. In October 1976, Phil Sutcliffe of Sounds magazine described Hillage's adoption of both "It's All Too Much" and Donovan's "Hurdy Gurdy Man" as the "policy statements" for his solo career. Hillage included live versions of the song on albums such as Live Herald (1979) and BBC Radio 1 Live (2001). Reviewing the latter release for AllMusic, Chris Nickson writes that Hillage's reading "not only heightens the Eastern-flavored psychedelia, but lets [the guitarist] unleash some of his most scorching axe work yet, tearing into the song like a starving man given a five-course meal". Journey also issued a recording of the song in 1976, on their album Look into the Future.
"It's All Too Much" has been performed live by the Grateful Dead, by the latter's associated acts Ratdog and Phil Lesh and Friends, and by Yonder Mountain String Band. The House of Love released a cover of the song as the B-side to "Feel", the first single from their 1992 album Babe Rainbow. The previous year, Loves Young Nightmare recorded it (as "All Too Much") for Revolution No. 9: A Tribute to The Beatles in Aid of Cambodia, a multi-artist compilation supplied with Revolver magazine; the album was reissued in the United States in 1997, following the popularity there of Britpop bands such as Oasis. The Church included the track on their 1999 covers album A Box of Birds.
Other artists who have recorded "It's All Too Much" include All About Eve, Paul Gilbert, the Violet Burning, Yukihiro Takahashi and Rich Robinson. A version by former MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer appeared on the Harrison tribute album Songs from the Material World (2003). In what The Village Voice described as a project that blends "gongs, field recordings, and generally orchestrated nirvana" with "Beatlefolk", experimental musician Greg Davis and jazz singer-songwriter Chris Weisman recorded the track for their 2010 album Northern Songs. The Flaming Lips performed it at the George Fest tribute concert in September 2014, providing "the most sonically pleasing song of the night", according to Consequence of Sound's reviewer.
- George Harrison – lead vocal, Hammond organ, lead guitar, backing vocal, handclaps
- John Lennon – harmony vocal, lead guitar, handclaps
- Paul McCartney – harmony vocal, bass, cowbell, handclaps
- Ringo Starr – drums, tambourine
- David Mason and three uncredited – trumpets
- Paul Harvey – bass clarinet
Personnel per MacDonald
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