‘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 first played the song several times in January 1969, during the Get Back/Let It Be 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 (She’s So Heavy)’ 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 George 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 first played ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’ on 28, 29, 30, and 31 January 1969, in the basement studio at their Apple HQ at 3 Savile Row, London. These were the final four days of the Get Back/Let It Be sessions.
Billy Preston was accompanying the band at this time. During one performance on 29 January, Preston sang in one of the verses – in an echo of Dr Martin Luther King Jr’s “I have a dream” speech – “Black or white, we all deserve equal rights. I had a good dream, a very good dream…”
The Abbey Road recording was begun at Trident Studios in London’s Wardour Street on 22 February 1969. The Beatles taped 35 takes of the basic rhythm track, many of them incomplete. One of these early takes, combined with the end of a later eight-track reduction mix, can be heard on some formats of the 50th anniversary reissue of Abbey Road.
The Beatles recorded ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’ on eight-track tape. John Lennon’s guitar was on track one; Ringo Starr’s drums were recorded on two and three; George Harrison’s guitar on four; Paul McCartney’s bass guitar on five; and Lennon’s vocals on seven.
The next day, again in Trident, a composite edit was assembled, consisting of the beginning of take nine, take 20 for the middle eight, and take 32 for the rest of the song.
On 24 February 1969 a session at Trident saw overdubs of two piano parts, tambourine, additional guitars, and backwards cymbal. These were all unused on the final recording. Another tape, with the same date on the box, was discovered in 2019. It contained a faster version of ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’, recorded at EMI Studios and lasting 6:23. That tape box was marked “New mixer tape”; the performance had tones, clicks, and mains hums across the tracks, and The Beatles’ performance appears to have been made to enable studio engineers to test new equipment.
On 18 April a reduction mix was created from the Trident edits. Named take one, it combined Lennon’s vocals and guitar on track eight. The multitracked guitars for the finale were then 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
Lennon added a Moog synthesiser part, plus the white noise heard during the finale, and 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.