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, 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 as a disposable track by the band, 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, the Grateful Dead, All About Eve and the Church are among the other artists who have recorded or performed the song.
Composition, lyrics and musical structure
"It's All Too Much" reflects 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 "describes 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.
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". There may be a connection between this musical constancy of the tonic and the song's lyrics such as "It's all too much for me to see, a love that's shining all around here / The more I am, the less I know, and what I do is all too much". Musicologist Alan Pollack states that the refrain appears to utilise IV (C major) ii minor (Am) chords but insists "there is no root chord change anywhere in this section; that 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 contains lyrical and musical quotes from other works. The line "With your long blonde hair and your eyes of blue" was taken from the Merseys' "Sorrow", and at one point on the recording, the trumpets emulate Jeremiah Clarke's "Prince of Denmark's March".
The Beatles began recording "It's All Too Much" on 25 May 1967 at De Lane Lea Studios, located at 129 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. 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. "It's All Too Much" is one of the few tracks by the Beatles that were not recorded at EMI's Abbey Road Studios. The group returned to De Lane Lea on 2 June, when the trumpets, percussion, handclaps and backing vocals were overdubbed.
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 John Lennon played electric guitars. Following the intro to "I Feel Fine", in 1964, this is a notable example of the Beatles using feedback on a recording. The track had the working title of "Too Much". Referring to the relaxed nature of the De Lane Lea sessions, Mark Lewisohn writes that Lennon and 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." Running to nearly six-and-a-half minutes, "It's All To Much" is the longest Harrison composition that the group recorded.
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 released officially, but has been found on many bootleg recordings.
The best-known version of the song was further edited down to over six minutes long and appears on the soundtrack album to the Beatles' animated film Yellow Submarine. The version that appeared in the film itself is slightly different and 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.
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. Robert 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". In addition, Harrison and Lennon had both publicly sworn off LSD and psychedelic drugs in September 1967, in favour of Transcendental Meditation.
Reception and legacy
Among the reviews of the album in 1969, Beat Instrumental considered that "It's All Too Much" and Harrison's "Only a Northern Song" "redeem" side one, while Barry Miles of International Times wrote of the song: "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 classics 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), a reviewer 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".
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".
"It's All Too Much" has also 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. Other artists who have recorded the track include the Church, All About Eve, the House of Love, Jeremy Morris, Paul Gilbert, the Violet Burning, Yukihiro Takahashi, Rich Robinson, Senator Flux and, in a heavily rewritten version, Journey.
- George Harrison – lead vocal, Hammond organ, lead guitar, maracas
- John Lennon – harmony vocal, lead guitar, tambourine
- Paul McCartney – backing vocal, bass, cowbell
- Ringo Starr – drums
- David Mason and three uncredited – trumpets
- Paul Harvey – bass clarinet
Personnel per MacDonald
- Miles, p. 329.
- Doggett, p. 79.
- Rodriguez, p. 57.
- Harrison, p. 106.
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