I’m Only Sleeping

Revolver album artworkWritten by: Lennon-McCartney
Recorded: 27, 29 April, 5, 6 May 1966
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Geoff Emerick

Released: 5 August 1966 (UK), 20 June 1966 (US)

John Lennon: vocals, acoustic rhythm guitar
Paul McCartney: backing vocals, bass
George Harrison: backing vocals, lead guitar
Ringo Starr: drums

Available on:
Revolver
Anthology 2

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.

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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’.
Maureen Cleave

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.
Paul McCartney
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.

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19 Responses to “I’m Only Sleeping”

  1. Joseph Brush

    The “tape operator” who threaded the tape into the tape machine the wrong way was John.
    This occurence was revealed in the Special Features dvd in the Anthology series.

    Reply
  2. BeatleMark

    This is one of my favorite songs on Revolver. There are at least 4 different mixes of this song with different backwards guitar at different parts during the song. The U.K. mono edition has the most.

    Reply
  3. Vonbontee

    I’ve read three different accounts of how the backwards-recording thing came to be! (George Martin and John both take credit)

    Reply
  4. mjb

    Everett’s take:

    The Beatles first taped Rickenbacker bass, drums, John’s Gibson Jumbo which were all reduced to a single track. John then sang his lead vocal taped at 45 cps for replay at 50 cps creating a dreamy timbre. This track was sent, with ADT, to both left and right channels.

    George then taped two slithering reversed guitar parts – one with distortion – which later became one track. The eventual fourth track with Paul’s descant vocal and weightless backing vocals by Paul and George throughout which are heard left and right with ADT.

    Several alternate mixes contain different reversed guitar parts.

    Reply
  5. StarrTime

    If I had to guess I would say either Paul or George played the vibes, probably Paul. It’s probably not Ringo, although I suppose it could have just been another take over his basic drum track…you can hear an acoustic guitar which is most likely John, and I can’t really tell if there is a bass part…or maybe it could be some random person like George Martin…or maybe it’s John…who really knows? But it does sound good.

    Reply
    • aak

      There’s definitely a bass part. It’s actually a nice bass part. It kinda sounds like two acoustic guitars, but I think the sound could be accomplished with one. Either way, it’s a great rhythm part.

      Reply
  6. Rich

    I’m surprised that weren’t any comments from John about this song. This is one of those songs that seems like it would be basically impossible to dislike.

    Reply
  7. rocky0912

    Is it possible that there is more than just guitar, bass, and drums in the backing track?
    At “Everybody seems to think I’m lazy” at about 0:35 in both the mono and the stereo mixes, there is a prominent “flute organ” like sound that can be heard. It fades but is still audible throughout the track. It is possible that this is really the backing vocals, but when heard in the other parts of the song, the backing vocals are of a very different tone.

    Reply

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