Released: 5 August 1966 (UK), 20 June 1966 (US)
I’m Only Sleeping, John Lennon’s most soporific contribution to Revolver, was inspired by Paul McCartney’s habit of having to wake him up for afternoon songwriting sessions at Lennon’s house.
The subject matter was close to Lennon’s heart. His lack of routine while away from the rigours of touring left him content to while away the hours at his home in Weybridge, often under the influence of drugs.
In an interview with Lennon, published in the Evening Standard on 4 March 1966, journalist Maureen Cleave wrote of Lennon:
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’.
In the studio
Recording began on 27 April 1966, when 11 takes of the rhythm track were put to tape. Two days later Lennon added his lead vocals.
One of I’m Only Sleeping’s defining features is the backwards guitar. This was, in fact, two parts, conceived and performed by George Harrison during a five hour late-night session on 5 May. Harrison first wrote down the notation for the solos he wanted, reversed them, and recorded them twice – one with fuzz effects, and the other unadorned.
The idea for the backwards solos came about after a tape operator accidentally threaded a tape into the machine the wrong way.
It played backwards, and, ‘What the hell is going on?’ Those effects! Nobody knew how those sounded then. We said, ‘My God, that is fantastic! Can we do that for real?’… So that was what we did and that was where we discovered backwards guitar. It was a beautiful solo actually. It sounds like something you couldn’t play.
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles
Listen to the section of the song containing the main solo reversed, to hear how the guitar sounded as it was recorded:
I’m Only Sleeping was completed on 6 May. Lennon, McCartney and Harrison added their harmony vocals, along with a somewhat apt yawn at the two-minute mark.