Think for Yourself
|"Think for Yourself"|
|Song by the Beatles from the album Rubber Soul|
|Released||3 December 1965|
|Recorded||8 November 1965,
EMI Studios, London
"Think for Yourself" is a song by the English rock band the Beatles from their 1965 album Rubber Soul. It was written by George Harrison, the band's lead guitarist. The song's lyrics reflect the Beatles' more sophisticated subject matter at this stage of their career and advocate independent thinking. In the narrative, Harrison appears to dismiss a lover in a tone that some commentators liken to Bob Dylan's song "Positively 4th Street".
The Beatles recorded "Think for Yourself" in November 1965, towards the end of the sessions for Rubber Soul. In a departure from all precedent at the time, the recording includes two bass guitar parts – a standard bass, and one played through a fuzzbox. The group overdubbed their harmony vocals during a fun-filled session that was also intended to provide material for their 1965 fan-club Christmas disc. A short clip from the latter session appears in the Beatles' 1968 animated film Yellow Submarine. The song was included on the 1976 compilation The Best of George Harrison and on the 1999 Yellow Submarine Songtrack album.
Background and inspiration
In his 1980 autobiography, I, Me, Mine, Harrison recalls little about the inspiration behind "Think for Yourself". He says that the song "must be about 'somebody' from the sound of it – but all this time later, I don't quite recall who inspired that tune! Probably the Government." The lyrics invite interpretation as both a political commentary and a statement on a failing personal relationship.
As the song was recorded about six weeks after Pete Best's libel suit against Ringo Starr, the Beatles, and Playboy magazine was filed, and contains such lyrics as "You're telling all those lies / About the good things that we can have if we close our eyes", "I left you far behind / The ruins of the life that you have in mind" and "I know your mind's made up, you're gonna cause more misery", some have speculated that it might be about Best – which Harrison likely would have been reluctant to ever admit.
The musical key of "Think for Yourself" is a combination of G major and G minor. According to musicologist Dominic Pedler, while G major appears to be the central key, the song's musical premise involves permanent tonic key ambiguity and restless root movement through extensive borrowing from the parallel minor key. The G7 introduction appears to be grounded in G major (G Mixolydian mode), yet the verse opens with a ii chord (A minor) that suggests A Dorian mode or even A Aeolian mode, with the following move to a D minor chord being a iv rather than a v in G major. The immediate shift to a B♭ chord (♭III in G major) and the subsequent C chord (IV in G major) creates further ambiguity, as these chords seem to hint at a ♭VI–♭VII rock run in D Aeolian. In the chorus ("Think for yourself …"), the anticipated tonic-identifying V–I (D7–G7) shift is preceded (pointedly on "Think") with an unexpected ♭VI (E♭/B♭) chord in second inversion that undermines its tonal direction. The verse and chorus also contrast from each other in terms of their respective rhythm pattern. Musicologist Walter Everett describes the composition as "a tour de force of altered scale degrees", adding that, such is the ambiguity throughout, "its tonal quality forms the perfect conspirator with the text's and the rhythm's hesitations and unexpected turns." This overlapping of major and minor harmony and restless root movement is an intriguing characteristic of Harrison's songwriting as far back as "Don't Bother Me".
In its lyrical content, the song reflects the influence of Bob Dylan, whose work had inspired the Beatles, particularly Harrison, to address more sophisticated concepts than the standard love song. The message recalls that of Dylan's 1965 single "Positively 4th Street" as Harrison appears to be ending a relationship, possibly with a lover. The lyrics adopt an accusatory stance from the opening line: "I've got a word or two to say about the things that you do." Author Ian Inglis describes the song as "a withering attack" in which "Harrison's blunt 'I left you far behind' and Dylan's 'It's not my problem' [from 'Positively 4th Street'] could be spoken by the same voice." Harrison also incorporates Dylan-esque surrealism in his reference to "opaque" minds and in the line "the good things that we can have if we close our eyes".
When read as a narrative in which the singer is farewelling his lover, the lyrics express the view that their relationship is based on a false reality, whereby the individual is submerged within the bounds of the relationship. In the final verse, Harrison urges his partner to "try thinking more", confident that she too will come to see the emptiness in the life choices she espouses. While adhering to this particular interpretation of "Think for Yourself", author James Decker writes that "Harrison and the Beatles have thus raised the stakes from the naïve idealism of hand-holding" that typified love songs of the period.
The Beatles recorded "Think for Yourself" towards the end of the sessions for Rubber Soul, at which point they were under pressure to meet the deadline for completing the album. Recording for the song, which had a working title of "Won't Be There With You", took place at EMI's Abbey Road Studios on 8 November 1965. The group achieved a satisfactory performance of the basic track in one take, comprising two electric guitars, bass guitar and drums. John Lennon's guitar contribution does not appear on the completed recording, however; instead, he overdubbed a keyboard part, played on either a Vox Continental organ or an electric piano. Other overdubs included a second bass part by Paul McCartney, which he played through a fuzz box effect known as a Tone Bender. In addition to typifying the Beatles' willingness to experiment with sound on Rubber Soul, this riff-dominated part serves the role of a lead guitar throughout the song. While the distorted, fuzz-tone sound had been a prominent element in the Rolling Stones' 1965 hit "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction", Harrison credited the Beatles' use of this effect to Phil Spector's 1962 production of "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah", by Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans.[nb 1]
Since the band also had to have their annual fan club Christmas disc completed at this time, their producer, George Martin, instructed the studio engineers to tape the Beatles as they rehearsed and recorded their vocal parts for the song. The tapes captured the three vocalists – Harrison, Lennon and McCartney – engaging in humorous banter and often unable to remember their parts. As a rare record of the group at work in the studio, the "Think for Yourself" rehearsal tape has invited comparison with the Beatles' Let It Be documentary film, made in January 1969. Whereas that film documents a period of acrimony among the band members, the 1965 tape shows them, in author Mark Hertsgaard's description, "clearly [taking] joy in one another's company".[nb 2] Once the vocals had been recorded successfully, and then double-tracked, Ringo Starr overdubbed tambourine and maracas.
Contrary to Martin's hopes, nothing from the rehearsal tape was deemed suitable for the Beatles' 1965 Christmas record. In 1968, however, six seconds' worth of Harrison, Lennon and McCartney's a capella singing – repeating the line "And you've got time to rectify" – was used in the soundtrack of the Yellow Submarine animated film.[nb 3] McCartney subsequently incorporated other segments from the "Think for Yourself" rehearsal into his 2000 experimental album Liverpool Sound Collage.
Release and reception
EMI's Parlophone label released Rubber Soul on 3 December 1965 in Britain, with "Think for Yourself" sequenced as the fifth track, between "Nowhere Man" and "The Word". The album was a commercial and critical success. It also marked the start of a period when other artists, in an attempt to emulate the Beatles' achievement, sought to create albums as works of artistic merit, rather than merely a collection of tracks. Author John Kruth writes that, with its vitriolic tone and an "edge" that was unfamiliar in the Beatles' work, "Think for Yourself" was "somewhat startling" to many listeners.
In a contemporary review of the album, Record Mirror said of "Think for Yourself": "Nice song but a feeling hereabouts that there's a sameness about some of the melody-construction ideas. Maybe we'll lose it later on …" While recognising Rubber Soul as another example of the Beatles "setting trends in this world of pop", KRLA Beat admired the "wonderful sound effect" created by McCartney's fuzz bass and concluded: "a good, strong, driving beat will keep this one on top."
"Think for Yourself" was one of the seven Beatles tracks that Capitol Records included on the 1976 compilation album The Best of George Harrison, released following the expiration of Harrison's contract with EMI. Coinciding with the release of the newly restored Yellow Submarine film in 1999, a new mix of the song was issued on the Beatles' Yellow Submarine Songtrack album.
Retrospective assessment and legacy
Among Beatles biographers, Tim Riley considers the track to be "a step beyond" Harrison's two contributions on Help! yet lacking the "melodic sonorities and layered texture" that distinguishes his other Rubber Soul composition, "If I Needed Someone". Riley adds that "Think for Yourself" merely serves to provide contrast with the Lennon songs either side of it on the album. Conversely, Ian MacDonald finds the song underrated and "less ingratiating but more incisive" than "If I Needed Someone". While he considers that the group's performance could have been improved on, MacDonald admires the "real fervour" in McCartney's vocal over the choruses. Richie Unterberger of AllMusic views both tracks as evidence that Harrison was "developing into a fine songwriter" on Rubber Soul. In 2010, Rolling Stone ranked "Think for Yourself" at number 75 in its list of the "100 Greatest Beatles Songs".
Writing in The Guardian on the 50th anniversary of the album's release, Bob Stanley described "Think for Yourself" as "cool but fierce" and cited it as an example of the sophisticated outlook the Beatles had acquired by 1965, as well as a reason why Rubber Soul would remain "fresh" for another 50 years. Emily Mackay of the NME describes the song as "acerbic" and empathetic with the confused sexual politics of "Norwegian Wood". She also recognises Harrison's "assertion of independent-mindedness" in "Think for Yourself" as having anticipated Lennon's 1968 song "Revolution".
Yonder Mountain String Band have performed "Think for Yourself", featuring a bluegrass arrangement that includes banjo and mandolin. They also contributed a recording of the track to This Bird Has Flown – A 40th Anniversary Tribute to the Beatles' Rubber Soul in 2005. Pete Shelley covered the song for Yellow Submarine Resurfaces, a CD issued with the July 2012 issue of Mojo magazine. Kruth describes Shelley's version as "an exhilarating punk anthem" that includes "crunchy guitar chords reminiscent of the Kinks' 'All Day and All of the Night'".
According to Ian MacDonald:
- George Harrison – lead vocal, electric guitar
- John Lennon – harmony vocal, Vox Continental organ
- Paul McCartney – harmony vocal, bass, fuzz bass
- Ringo Starr – drums, tambourine, maracas
- Harrison had experimented with the Gibson-made Maestro Fuzz-Tone effect since 1963, beginning with the session for "She Loves You", but the Beatles had never used the device on their released recordings.
- Harrison later cited Rubber Soul as his favourite Beatles album. As well as acknowledging the influence of marijuana on the group throughout this period, he attributed the album's success to their "suddenly hearing sounds that we weren't able to hear before", adding: "we were being more influenced by other people's music and everything was blossoming at that time …"
- The excerpt appears in the scene where the Beatles return to Pepperland and awaken the Lord Mayor from the despondency instigated by the Blue Meanies.
- Shea & Rodriguez 2010, p. 175.
- Turner 1999, p. 92.
- Harrison 2002, p. 88.
- Guesdon & Margotin 2013, p. 288.
- Curley 2005, p. 248.
- MacDonald 2005, p. 498.
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- Pedler 2003, p. 663.
- Pedler 2003, p. 664.
- Riley 2002, pp. 162, 171.
- Everett 1999, p. 19.
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- Kruth 2015, pp. 164, 165.
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