Written by: Lennon-McCartney
Recorded: 22 February; 18, 20 April; 8, 11 August 1969
Producers: George Martin, Glyn Johns, Chris Thomas
Engineers: Barry Sheffield, Jeff Jarratt, Tony Clark, Geoff Emerick, Phil McDonald
Released: 26 September 1969 (UK), 1 October 1969 (US)
I Want You (She’s So Heavy) was written by John Lennon and closed side one of the Abbey Road LP. A cry of love in several parts, it was recorded over a six month period between February and August 1969.
The Beatles had, in fact, first played the song on 29 January during the ill-fated Get Back sessions. Originally with the working title I Want You, the group returned to it less than a month later, as the first song to be recorded for Abbey Road. It was also one of the final songs on the album to be completed.
Coming in at just under eight minutes, I Want You (She’s So Heavy) also contains some of John Lennon’s simplest lyrics since the days of Love Me Do. A direct outpouring of his all-consuming love for Yoko Ono, the song contains just 14 different words.
A reviewer wrote of She’s So Heavy: ‘He seems to have lost his talent for lyrics, it’s so simple and boring.’ She’s So Heavy was about Yoko. When it gets down to it, like she said, when you’re drowning you don’t say ‘I would be incredibly pleased if someone would have the foresight to notice me drowning and come and help me,’ you just scream. And in She’s So Heavy I just sang ‘I want you, I want you so bad, she’s so heavy, I want you,’ like that.
Rolling Stone, 1970
The obsessiveness of the lyrics is reflected in the repetitiveness of the music. The song contains the same phrases played over a number of rhythmic, tempo and time signature variations. Perhaps the sheer otherness of I Want You explains why it was so well-liked by all members of The Beatles.
Most remarkable, however, is the grinding three-minute finale, featuring Lennon’s and Harrison’s massed overdubbed guitars multitracked many times over the same relentless chord pattern, which was slashed at full volume to give the impression that it could have gone on forever. Lennon also used the white noise generator from a Moog synth to get the howling wind effect.
In the studio
The Beatles taped 35 takes of the basic rhythm track at Trident Studios in London’s Wardour Street on 22 February 1969. The next day, again in Trident, a composite edit was assembled, consisting of the early part of take nine, take 20 for the middle eight, and take 32 for the rest of the song.
On 18 April the multitracked guitars for the finale were recorded by Lennon and Harrison.
John and George went into the far left-hand corner of [studio] number two to overdub those guitars. They wanted a massive sound so they kept tracking and tracking, over and over.
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn
On 20 April a Hammond organ part was added, as were congas, brought into the studio by The Beatles’ assistant Mal Evans especially for the song.
I Want You (She’s So Heavy) wasn’t then worked on until 8 August, the day the cover photos for Abbey Road were also taken. John Lennon added a Moog synthesiser part, plus the white noise heard during the finale, and Ringo Starr added more drums.
Unusually, these overdubs were added to the original Trident master, not the reduction mix that had been created on 18 April.
On 11 August, the day I Want You (She’s So Heavy) was renamed from its working title of I Want You, and Lennon, McCartney and Harrison recorded their repeated “She’s so heavy” harmony vocals, recorded twice to give the effect of six voices.
And with that the recording was complete, although the final version – including the distinctive cut-off ending – wasn’t made until 20 August, when the mixes from 18 April and 8 August were edited together.