I Want To Tell You

Revolver album artworkWritten by: Harrison
Recorded: 2, 3 June 1966
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Geoff Emerick

Released: 5 August 1966 (UK), 8 August 1966 (US)

George Harrison: lead vocals, lead guitar, handclaps
John Lennon: backing vocals, tambourine, handclaps
Paul McCartney: backing vocals, bass, piano, handclaps
Ringo Starr: drums, maracas, handclaps

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I Want To Tell You, George Harrison's third song on Revolver, was, he later said, "about the avalanche of thoughts that are so hard to write down or say or transmit".

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The song was recorded under the working title Laxton's Superb, a type of apple. It later became known as I Don't Know, after George Martin enquired of Harrison whether he had come up with a title.

In the studio

The Beatles began recording I Want To Tell You on 2 June 1966. Mark Lewisohn's The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions notes this exchange prior to take one:

Martin: What are you going to call it, George?
Harrison: I don't know.
Lennon: Granny Smith Part Friggin' Two! You've never had a title for any of your songs!

Laxton's Superb was engineer Geoff Emerick's idea, a pun on Granny Smith, the working title of Love You To.

One really got the impression that George was being given a certain amount of time to do his tracks whereas the others could spend as long as they wanted. One felt under more pressure when doing one of George's songs.
Geoff Emerick
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn

Their progress bears this out. On the first day The Beatles recorded five takes of the rhythm track, featuring piano, drums and guitars. The third of these was the best, and onto this were overdubbed George's lead vocals, backing vocals from John and Paul, and tambourine, maracas, handclaps and more piano.

On 3 June they overdubbed a bass track, as Paul had played piano on the rhythm tracks. I Want To Tell You was then complete, and mixed for the Revolver album on this day and on 6 June.

46 responses on “I Want To Tell You

  1. Michael

    This is one of three George “I” songs. It was almost as if he were trying to interject. Given the power of Lennon-McCartney, I suppose that’s exactly what he was doing?

  2. mjb

    First taped were George’s Leslied guitar (the fade-in would be supplied during mixing), drums, Paul’s compressed piano and John’s tambourine. Overdubbed maracas were added and all reduced to one track.

    A second track, with George’s lead vocal and handclaps was compressed, sped up, divided by ADT and sent to both left and right.

    A third track has backing vocals from John and Paul and the fourth has Paul’s bass line.

        1. Joseph Brush

          The Beatles nailed This Boy on live national TV on the Ed Sullivan Show.
          The Beatles nailed the vocal harmonies for the recording of “If I Needed Someone” and “This Boy” in one day for each song!
          If they were to aim for a harmony vocal they would have accomplished it.
          This particular song presented another musical option and they went for it.

          1. beat

            I’m not actually being critical of the slight out-of-tuneness. It’s actually a pleasing effect. But I don’t think was intentional, just as I don’t think some of Paul’s bass being out of tune on many tracks was intentional (Golden Slumbers, Get Back) or occasionally George’s guitar (What goes on). That’s what makes the Beatles so endlessly listenable. The performances were full of raw genius, but not note-perfect, like if they had been session players. I find I can listen to the songs over and over and hear new things, and it’s because of the unintended imperfections.

            1. Davey

              Truly, one would think that the flat high notes would be a mistake. A good example of how George’s songs were rushed, said by Geoff Emerick. Paul, George, and John all really appear to be struggling, which is quite unusual, as they nailed “This Boy” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand” live, which both have incredible noted high climbs.

              However, I trust that though some songs aren’t recorded as well as others, and they are often critical of their own songs, that something this large in a song would be allowed by each other, or George Martin.

              I believe the answer of this song lies in another one of Georges song: “Only A Northern Song.”
              George wrote this song out of a small bit of anger due to the harsh criticism of his singing, playing, and song writing abilities. He was denouncing the publishing business, and his treatment within it. In this song, the original lines were much more personal, he used “I wrote it like that” instead of he. One of the lines is “If you think the harmony, is a little dark and out of key” which perfectly reflects the high notes of “I Want To Tell You”.

              Really, I think that the Beatles and George wanted the notes to be flat. The lines in “Only A Northern Song” really do reflect the fact that people criticized George’s songs, but he wasn’t always struggling; sometimes, he just wrote the song like that and it’s how he wanted.

      1. Joseph Brush

        We are not talking about a “version” of this song, we are talking about the original!

        The Beatles use dissonance and melisma (by Paul) when they recorded I Want To Tell You.

        I Want To Tell You by the Beatles is an adventure. Just like the rest of Revolver.

        Jeff Lynne’s version is a rendition and nothing more.

        1. paulsbass

          Listen to the original and tell me Paul is just having a good time, “experimenting” with dissonances!
          His voice sounds totally strained, and the three part vocals are out of tune – just a bit, but they are.

          Yes, the perfect cover proves that the harmonies were intended to sound like that but they just didn’t get it right that day in the studio.

          1. Joseph Brush

            Since Revolver is an album of experimentation, it is not unfeasible to extend that to this particular song.
            George is not on record complaining about Paul’s efforts on this song.
            If you are not comfortable with musical references that explain the song then that is your problem.

  3. robert

    OK, I’m sorry and I’m usually not this “harsh”, but I gotta say that the Paul strained vocals – regardless of whether they were intended in the moment that they happened – you have to believe that during play back they said, “Yea its great let’s keep it.”

    By the time of Revolver these guys didn’t release a note they didn’t want on record. They had quit touring for the purpose of recording.

    If you have ever actually recorded in a studio, then you know that there are “unplanned moments” that happen and you keep them because they work.

    Paul’s strained vocal is on the song because they wanted it on the song. We’re talking about a band who at this point in their recording career was fixing a single note that was wrong.

    The version on Revolver is the version they and George wanted. To think they just steamrolled George on this song and didn’t bother to “clean it up” is contra-logical to the very intensity of quality and intent that made the Beatles the Beatles – ESPECIALLY at the time of Revolver and forward.

    Does anyone really think that John or Paul at this point in their recording career really said, “Oh screw it, it’s just a George song.”? We are talking about the time period when Beatle product meant everything to them.

    Bottom line, that song sounds exactly the way they wanted it to.

    Find me even one comment from any of them saying different.

    1. paulsbass

      I agree with everything you said!
      Especially in Paul’s bass parts there are soooooo many “wrong” notes – but he kept them, for he liked the “feeling”.
      I guess they did like the result back then, otherwise, they obviously would’ve changed it.

      The vocals are STILL out of tune in most of the “high” parts. Without checking, I think the third one is the “cleanest”, but I could be wrong.

      I’ve never read ANY comment on that song, which would support my theory it wasn’t their most important song to them…

      If you like it that way, as they seem to have then, good for you!

      I find it annoying, because it DOES sound totally strained and it IS out of tune, and that’s why it’s my second least favourite Beatles song (least would be “Don’t pass me by”, in the slow version. The fast mono one even beats this one.).

      1. Rigby's quartet

        To my ear, it seems that George in the lower register is flat on just about every one of the sustained triads. Maybe something to do with his vocal being prominent in the recording? Whoever is at fault, it’s definitely out of tune.

    2. paulsbass

      Sorry, I’d also like to add the quote to support my “rush” theory:

      “One really got the impression that George was being given a certain amount of time to do his tracks whereas the others could spend as long as they wanted. One felt under more pressure when doing one of George’s songs.”
      Geoff Emerick

        1. paulsbass

          1) Eeeeeh, yes, of COURSE Emerick’s quote is HIS opinion, and by using it I supported MY opinion (we disagree about other things, as you know). I don’t really get your point…
          2) It still supports my opinion and not yours.

          I feel as if Joe is going to put this into the forum as well…

  4. carlos

    Pay attention, George contributes for once with 3 songs on this album, the largest amount for a single album. And of course I don’t agree at all about John & Paul giving him less time to record his own repertoire. About the harmonies I can hear a sort of indian style, so I believe they were actually experimenting.

    1. Holsety

      Keep in mind that this early on they didn’t perform songs they all didn’t like.. later on by the White Album they’d given that up but Paul would have kept it off the album if they didn’t like it.

  5. DB

    This is a good song, but not one of George’s best Beatle’ numbers. Paul makes it interesting, though, with his jangling piano, bass and unique harmonies. I think he always gave 100% to his mates’ songs when they got to them, and I think he complemented George’s voice and music very well. It’s a shame that George and Paul weren’t close during a lot of George’s solo career, as I think Paul would have helped his songs. Paul’s harmonies and musical talents gave George’s Beatles’ numbers depth and texture that some of his solo numbers lacked. And George contributed very well to Paul’s Beatles’ numbers (Drive My Car, And I Love Her for example) when Paul let him.

  6. Mustard

    This is a superb song on perhaps the greatest album the Beatles ever made. This is one of the few songs they could have performed in concert. It has some bits that must have jarred listeners, such as the use of Harrison’s guitar and Starr’s drums. It is one song that I never get tired of hearing.

  7. Melissa

    I think George had developed an individual musical voice years before Lennon/McCartney. I believe he was a better musician than the others, or at least, he had a more refined ear. His explorations of what’s now called “World Music,” such as his studying with Ravi Shankar, to me show a broader musical mind. I don’t think he cared to share it with the others, either, which might explain their lack of patience. With Paul and John always one-upping the other, George must’ve just been, like, “OK, I’ll do my own complicated thing over here and see if you can keep up.” And they pooh-poohed it rather than try to learn anything new from the kid. When you have a unique and novel voice, it’s hard to collaborate with a bunch of loudmouths. This is all conjecture, of course. But just listening to the albums you can hear that George’s stuff came out of his own muse rather than some idea of “popular music.” While they all loved rock-n-roll, it was obvious John wanted to be Dylan for awhile, and Paul was all caught up in 1920’s music hall .George’s music came out of the ether.

    1. Joseph Brush

      George wanted to be the Byrds for awhile. Listen to their The Bells Of Rhymney then play If I Needed Someone. George also dedicated two songs to Smokey Robinson in the 1970’s sounding just like Robinson. Harrison indeed was influenced by “popular music” just like everyone else. They all listened to Ravi Shankar at that time, even Ringo. Lennon and McCartney were not “a bunch of loudmouths”, like you proclaim, if it wasn’t for their songwriting talent you would have never heard of George Harrison in the first place.

  8. Dreww

    Count me with those who think it was intentional. It goes with the stained sound in Paul background vocals throughout. Which to me has always spoken to the tension inside the song. The writer wants to tell us something, but isn’t saying it, and there is tension and anxiety in the fact that he’s not saying it!

    It also goes with the piano, which has always fascinated me. The piano always seemed out of tune or out of time, adding to the awkwardness of the narrator. It’s like the narrator is fumbling around. I always pictured him having a crush on a girl but afraid to make his move.

    And the Beatles were absolute masters in the studio by this point. You can also make the argument that Paul McCartney is the greatest background singer in the history of music. I certainly believe that. Paul was not only a master of feeling but a technical virtuoso. Guaranteed that if they didn’t like the result they would have quickly changed that.

    And I’ll go further, for it seems to me, for the feel of the song, that vocal straining and breaking is EXACTLY what they were going for!

    1. Pete

      It’s also possible that it was intentional but not premeditated. They may have chosen this take over others because the out of tune harmonies worked for the mood of the song.

  9. Paolo

    I think that Paul’s melisma in the fade out shouldn’t be confused with the general slightly out of tune backing vocals. It’s pretty obvious that McCartney there is intentionally trying to do ‘something Indian’ with his voice. Nevertheless, the general tuning of the voices is not as accurate as usual, just because they were in a rush.

  10. Janet Gilmore

    Just happening on to this discussion but I would concur with Dreww that even the piano sounds dissonant and that was what they wanted. The whole song is raucous and crazy compared to most anything else they had put out at that time. I totally remember listening to this and thinking “what?” Today this song came to me as a spiritual conversation between George and his guru. I had to look it up to see if that had any merit. Perhaps not. Love you, George.

    1. Tim Cox

      The dissonance is obviously intentional, but dissonance and out of tune are very different. I think the hasty nature of recording attributed to it. I, however, also believe they listened back and probably thought it was a neat sound!

  11. Sam

    With this song, George demonstrates his ability to turn the mundane into the profound. This might be the most ephemeral Beatles song: very dark, very twisted, and yet it defies explanation as to why that is the case.

    Note how he rhymes the final word of one line with the second-to-final word of the next (“Sometimes I wish I knew you well/Then I could speak my mind and tell you”), this is consistent with the song’s overall off-key-ness and supports the “it was intentional” side of the argument.

    In fact, the intentional off-key-ness is explicit in the lyrics themselves, just like Northern Song only subtler: when we’re here, all his words “they seem to slip away” (slip out of key), our games “begin to drag him down” (drag him down out of key. It’s only him, it’s not his mind, “that is confusing things”, translation: we may be baffled, but George knows *exactly* what he’s doing.

  12. Tim Cox

    Upon close inspection, it is very evident that George’s lead is off during the harmonies. That being said, I’m fairly sure Paul is off as well. The big issue here is that a vocal take can sound very nice until you add harmony, then suddenly bad notes become more apparent.

    1. k. cain

      I love this song. Always have- Always will. Of course its out of key, the harmonies, piano, bass, vocals. I LOVE IT!!!! This band had the BALLS to listen to the playback and say there you go. DONE!! If you listen to REVOLVER ALMOST every track is out of key somewhat. Revolver is one of my favorite beatles albums. One thing, I do not hear john on this song. At the fadeout you get George sturgging to hold the note (TIME). Then two paul vocals. Paul holding on real well with the word (time) and paul doing his melisma on the word (time). Its just great. MONO version is much better. Say what you want, but out of tune is alright by me. And that’s my 2 cents.

  13. Graham Paterson

    Lovely track by George Harrison off”Revolver”.George was on the verge of a great new awareness and creativity and this song signals that. I love the fade out. Lyrics are great and I love the fade out. The Byrds and The Beach Boys influence is there.

  14. Sergioq

    I don’t want t get dragged into this tit for tat, intentional or not, rushed or not, etc.But someone brought up a great point. Paul did some really nice work for George on Taxman. That’s an excellent guitar solo and George even acknowledged that he appreciated that Paul wrote it with an Indian style.

    So maybe Paul did give his all to at least all the songs on this album. (minus She Said, She Said of course)

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