I'm Only Sleeping
|"I'm Only Sleeping"|
Cover of the Northern Songs sheet music (licensed to Sonora Musikförlag)
|Song by the Beatles|
|Recorded||27 and 29 April, 5 and 6 May 1966|
"I'm Only Sleeping" is a song by the English rock band the Beatles from their 1966 studio album Revolver. In the United States and Canada, it was one of the three tracks that Capitol Records cut from the album and instead included on Yesterday and Today, released two months before Revolver. Credited as a Lennon–McCartney song, it was written primarily by John Lennon. The track includes a backwards (or backmasked) lead guitar part, played by George Harrison, marking the first time that such a technique had been used on a pop recording.
Since the standardisation of the Beatles' catalogue for its international CD release, in 1987, the song has appeared on Revolver in North America. The 1996 Anthology 2 compilation includes outtakes of the song from the Revolver sessions, including an instrumental version that features the Beatles' first use of a vibraphone. In 2018, the music staff of Time Out London ranked "I'm Only Sleeping" at number 12 on their list of the best Beatles songs.
Background and inspiration
The first draft of Lennon's lyrics for "I'm Only Sleeping", written on the back of a letter from 1966, suggests that he was writing about the joys of staying in bed rather than any drug euphoria sometimes read into the lyrics. While not on tour, Lennon would usually spend his time sleeping, reading, writing or watching television, often under the influence of drugs, and would have to be woken by McCartney for their songwriting sessions. In a London Evening Standard article published on 4 March 1966, Maureen Cleave, a friend of Lennon, wrote: "He can sleep almost indefinitely, is probably the laziest person in England. 'Physically lazy,' he said. 'I don't mind writing or reading or watching or speaking, but sex is the only physical thing I can be bothered with any more.'"
The recording of the song began at EMI Studios on 27 April 1966 with eleven takes of the rhythm track, comprising two acoustic guitars, bass and drums. Five further takes of the song were recorded but they were not used. Take 11 was chosen as the master and two days later Lennon added his lead vocals. On 5 May, George Harrison wrote and recorded the double guitar part. The next day the recording was completed by Lennon, McCartney and Harrison's backing vocals.
The song features the then-unique sound of a reversed guitar duet played by Harrison in a five-hour late-night recording session with producer George Martin. Harrison perfected the part with the tape running backwards so that, when reversed, it would fit the dreamlike mood. One guitar was recorded with fuzz effects, the other without. Engineer Geoff Emerick described the meticulous process as "interminable". "I can still picture George hunched over his guitar for hours on end", Emerick wrote in 2006, "headphones clamped on, brows furrowed in concentration."
During the break before the second bridge, the sound of a yawn can be heard, preceded by Lennon saying to McCartney, "Yawn, Paul."
"I'm Only Sleeping" was first released on 20 June 1966 as the second track on the US album Yesterday and Today and on 5 August 1966 as the third track on Revolver, the album for which the song was originally intended. The US version of Revolver did not include the song as it had already been released: US Beatles releases frequently differed from the British versions.
- US mono version (mixed on 12 May 1966): No backwards track during the second verse but a quick fragment is heard on the "time" in "taking my time" and "ceiling" in "lying there and staring at the ceiling". The track is fully intact during the instrumental break and continues into the words "please don't" in "please don't spoil my day". Near the end of the song the backwards track starts four beats after the last word "sleeping".
- US rechannelled stereo version: This version was mixed from the US mono version of the song but has far more reverb. It was used only on the initial pressing of the Yesterday and Today album.
- US stereo version (20 May): Backwards track on "running everywhere at such a speed" and "till they find there's no need". The track fades in two bars into the solo but continues into the word "please" in "please don't spoil my day". At the end of the song, the track starts immediately after the word "sleeping".
- UK mono version (6 June): Backwards track on "where at such a speed", "there's no need" and "staring at the ceiling". The track stops at the end of the solo and at the end of the song, starts immediately after the word "sleeping". Of the five mixes of "I'm Only Sleeping", this version features the most extensive amount of backwards guitar.
- UK stereo version: Backwards track on "everywhere at such a speed" and "find there's no need". The track stops at the end of the solo and at the end of the song, starts immediately after the word "sleeping".
The Beatles' pioneering studio effects on Revolver proved highly influential on other contemporary artists. Musicologist Walter Everett cites the inclusion of backwards guitar parts on Crosby, Stills & Nash's 1969 song "Pre-Road Downs" as an apparent "homage" to "I'm Only Sleeping".
Since the release of the Beatles' music on CD in 1987, the UK stereo version of the album has become the standard version in the US. Part of an instrumental rehearsal of the song featuring a vibraphone and the first take of the song from 29 April 1966 were released on the 1996 album Anthology 2. The inclusion of the vibraphone part marked the Beatles' first use of this instrument and reflected the band's experimentation with new sounds during the Revolver sessions. The UK mono version of "I'm Only Sleeping" was released on CD as part of the 2009 The Beatles in Mono remastered box set.
Artists who have covered the song include Rosanne Cash, America, Vince Welnick, Quorthon, Jeff Tweedy, Suggs, Yonder Mountain String Band, and Stereophonics with Oasis. Arctic Monkeys covered the song at their first live performance. Thom Bishop issued a version of the track on his 2013 album A Little Physics and a Lot of Luck. In the description of Jim Heald of No Depression magazine, Bishop's musical arrangement borrows from later Lennon psychedelic songs such as "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds", "Because" and "Sun King", and builds in intensity from a soft acoustic backing as if to convey "the ratcheting up the tension as the dreamer resists being awakened".
According to Ian MacDonald:
- John Lennon – lead and harmony vocals, acoustic guitar
- Paul McCartney – bass, harmony vocals
- George Harrison – acoustic guitar, backwards lead guitars, harmony vocals
- Ringo Starr – drums
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