I’m Looking Through You

Rubber Soul album artworkWritten by: Lennon-McCartney
Recorded: 24 October; 6, 10, 11 November 1965
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Norman Smith

Released: 3 December 1965 (UK), 6 December 1965 (US)

Paul McCartney: vocals, bass
John Lennon: harmony vocals, acoustic rhythm guitar
George Harrison: guitar, tambourine
Ringo Starr: drums, organ, percussion

Available on:
Rubber Soul
Anthology 2

I'm Looking Through You was inspired by a disagreement between Paul McCartney and Jane Asher, and was written at her family home in Wimpole Street, London, where McCartney had his own room in which to compose and sleep.

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I wrote quite a lot of stuff up in that room actually. I'm Looking Through You I seem to remember after an argument with Jane. There were a few of those moments.
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

A number of McCartney's songs of this time, including We Can Work It Out and You Won't See Me, were based upon his relationship with Asher.

As is one's wont in relationships, you will from time to time argue or not see eye to eye on things, and a couple of the songs around this period were that kind of thing. This one I remember particularly as me being disillusioned over her commitment. She went down to the Bristol Old Vic quite a lot around this time. Suffice to say that this one was probably related to that romantic episode and I was seeing through her façade. And realising that it wasn't quite all that it seemed. I would write it out in a song and then I've got rid of the emotion. I don't hold grudges so that gets rid of that little bit of emotional baggage. I remember specifically this one being about that, getting rid of some emotional baggage. 'I'm looking through you, and you're not there!'
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

In his 1968 authorised biography of The Beatles, Hunter Davies recorded McCartney's thoughts while he and Asher were still together. McCartney alluded to the fact that he found it hard to commit to one person, though acknowledged that his harsh words in song were inspired by hurt.

My whole existence for so long centred around a bachelor life. I didn't treat women as most people do. I've always had a lot around, even when I've had a steady girl. My life generally has always been very lax, and not normal.

I knew it was selfish. It caused a few rows. Jane left me once and went off to Bristol to act. I said OK then, leave, I'll find someone else. It was shattering to be without her.

Paul McCartney
The Beatles, Hunter Davies

In the studio

The Beatles first attempted to record I'm Looking Through You on 24 October 1965. They spent nine hours perfecting the song; onto the rhythm track, recorded in a single take, they overdubbed lead and backing vocals, handclaps, maracas, organ and electric guitar.

This first version was released in 1996 on Anthology 2. Aside from different instrumentation, it lacked the 'Why, tell me why' section, was slower than the final version, and contained two bluesy instrumental passages.

The group remade the song on 6 November, recording a faster version in two takes. However, it wasn't until 10 November that they hit upon the final arrangement used on Rubber Soul.

The Beatles recorded the rhythm track in one take, and later overdubbed vocals and an organ, the latter played by Ringo Starr. Ringo also created a percussive sound by tapping a box of matches with his fingers. The song was completed the following day with vocals and handclaps.

45 responses on “I’m Looking Through You

  1. SD

    Backing track:
    1) drums (Ringo), bass (Paul), acoustic guitar (John), tambourine (George)

    2) McCartney’s lead vocal
    3) McCartney’s double-tracked vocal with Lennon singing harmony plus handclaps (on laps?)
    4) Hammond organ (Ringo) plus Harrison’s “dirty” Casino guitar

    1. Joe Post author

      The ‘handclaps’ were actually the sound of Ringo tapping on a box of matches, according to Barry Tashian of The Remains.

      The Remains were one of the support acts on The Beatles’ last tour, and Tashian wrote a book, Ticket To Ride, about it. In the book he recounts how Ringo explained to him what the sound was.

  2. Gabriel_Gagega

    Warning: This text may seem that Paul wasnt taking serously the relationship, but it isn´t true. He was really in love in Jane, and she was each day more away from him. He suffered for her.

    And Paul plays the lead guitar in this song.

    1. BeatleMark

      I guess he got bored with the drums! 🙂 No really….I think this is one of those Paul “One-man band” songs in which Macca played all of the instruments. I think Ringo playing the organ was something Paul did to keep Ringo from pouting! 🙂

      1. David Lee Fairey

        Agree that it sounds like a Paul solo track. It is by some distance the most poorly recorded track on the album (it’s even out of tune IMO).

        Anybody spot the missed rim shot (he hits the hi-hats instead?). The guitar tone and style are Paul’s and the lack of Beatle harmonies is conspicuous.

        A rush job, Paul eager to commit his song to tape when the other Beatles were not available.

  3. vonbontee

    That’s always mystified me, too (the decision to employ Ringo on organ). Even if John or Paul were unavailable (for whatever reason), surely George Martin would’ve been the most likely candidate? Weird. Maybe none of them could master that (l)one chord that Ringo plays throughout!

    Another thing: Both the organ and the lead guitar have a pretty distorted tone. I wonder if they used the same fuzzbox that Paul used for “Think For Yourself”?

  4. MVP

    The song sounds like it is in the key of G#.

    The acoustic guitar has a sound associated with open chords. It sounds like the acoustic guitar chords were played using the standard open G, C and Em ones, but 1/2 step up.

    Can someone confirm whether the track was sped up after recording, or if a capo behind the first fret was used?

  5. Urban Osterman

    I must say that I doubt that Ringo plays the organ on this song. I cannot hear any trace of an organ sound on the song. It is supposed to be played on the same channel as the lead guitar.
    I think that this is an internal Beatles hoax. They did some things like this because they thought that people were taking things to seriously. So I think that they just added that line saying Ringo plays the organ, and then they had a laugh.
    Maybe Ringo sat at the organ or even played something on it. But i don’t think is was ever recorded, I think it is very inaudible on the record. On the CD you hear even better.

    1. vonbontee

      Hm, I’m pretty sure that is an organ (Lowrey?) in there accompanying the guitar. It sounds just like a single two-or-three finger chord, really screechy and distorted – possibly played through a fuzzbox? Very close to John Cale’s “Sister Ray” tone, 2 years ahead of time.

      1. vonbontee

        Okay, I’ve listened again and that’s definitely an organ in there, far right channel, same as the electric guitar. Just two quick staccato stabs doubling the guitar lick that recurs throughout the song. Listen to the earlier “Anthology 2” version to better hear the organ part: It’s the same, yet with a totally dissimilar, clean tone, and the guitar part is completely different. (Also, I think the organ (or organs?) may be something other than a Hammond, but I’m far from certain.)

      2. Joe Post author

        I agree with you. I’ve listened carefully to the Rock Band multitracks, and there’s definitely an organ in there. I’m not sure it’s a Hammond, though, so I’ve amended the article.

    2. Joseph Brush

      People were not taking the Beatles seriously at this time.
      At least as far as the adults were concerned.
      There was only occasional reading into Beatles lyrics such as Norweigan Wood.

      After Revolver it was open season.

    3. Dbw

      The organ is very clearly there, and easy to pick out. It’s at the end of the verses, along with the lead guitar. You can clearly hear the organ after ” I’m looking through you . you’r not the same ” THe organ is ONE chord, and its played twice in a row three times, the first strike of the organ is played on the word SAME..

  6. Johan

    I often wonder whether this song sowed one more of the seeds of the break up.

    Norman Smith’s comments about how he sensed a dramatic shift apart in The Beatles between Help and Rubber Soul got me thinking this.

    The others hated the multiple takes on Obladi Oblada and I suspect that didn’t come out of nowhere.

    Despite the huge volume of books about the breakup of The Beatles, I don’t think there’s yet been one that really does a good job. All seem to basically start with The White Album & Yoko but I think 1965 is a far better place to start (if not earlier) – LSD, Yesterday, and comments like Norman Smith’s.

    1. appmanga

      This is an interesting observation. John once said The Beatles broke up because of boredom, and when one examines their “studio years”, it’s easy to see how this could happen, and over time how these situations magnified.

      Writing and rehearsing in the studio leads to a lot of downtime for the non-participants while the principals decide what it is they ultimately want. The Hunter Davies biography mentions the time when the other three thought they needed Ringo for some work, only to call him a little later to tell him not to come in, after he had prepared to do so.

      Ringo also said he learned to play chess during the Sgt. Pepper sessions because of the amount of overdubs that were done that didn’t require his services. Add in Paul’s increasing penchant for doing dozens of takes while George was getting almost no time to do his songs, and John’s growing disinterest for being a Beatle, it’s a wonder the group lasted until 1970.

  7. David

    If you look at the original LP, you’ll see all the Beatles mentioned by name as songwriters. I think they put Ringo’s name on there, just to have his name on the album cover in some way.

  8. Mathew

    Was it really John playing the acoustic guitar part in the recording?

    Watching Paul live he plays the acoustic guitar, which leads me to wonder whether it was him who recorded the part in the studio instead.

    1. Asaf

      Paul and John played acoustic guitars on the basic track. Paul overdubed the bass while George overdubed lead guitar on his Fender Stratocaster (not his Epiphone).

  9. Beatleken

    wow u guys just don’t like Ringo. he plays piano. so why not use him to overdub ONE chord on an organ. George is playin a Burns bass and Paul is playin acoustic and probably the overdubbed lead. John’s most likely on the tambourine. these were talented guys. why couldn’t they play other instruments other than what they were known for. George admitted to playin on a lot of songs. He had a Burns bass like I said. There’s a pic of him playin in durin the Paperback Writer sessions.

  10. carlos

    I think I´ve heard somewhere that “End of the line” by the Travelling Wilburys starts with the same acoustic guitar chords as here, so it might be George who plays it, while Paul plays bass and lead guitars, Ringo plays drums and organ (which it means that only the two of them were recording overdubs) and John plays tambourine (I´m not sure). Is John singing low harmonies or is Paul overdubbing vocals?

  11. Martijn

    Such a shame once the bridge was composed, they didn’t re-record the song like on Anthology 2. One of the very few instances in which an unreleased version sounds better than the final product.

  12. Kenny Miles

    I had a Capitol Records cassette of Rubber Soul which had 2 false acoustic guitar starts before the song starts proper.
    Anyone else ever heard this version?

    1. robert

      The original Capitol LP has the same 2 false starts – to this day when my friends and I play this song on our acoustics – we play the 2 false starts.

    2. RJ

      The false starts were what I grew up on, listening to the Capitol version of Rubber Soul. When I heard it on the remastered UK CD’s I didn’t catch on right away. “Something’s missing!”

  13. Sam

    Here’s a fun alternate interpretation: it’s a stealth song about being around sober people when you’re on drugs.

    The key is to change how you parse “you’re not the same”. The usual interpretation is “you’re not the same [as you were before]”. The alternate interpretation is “you’re not the same [as me]”. This is followed by ‘alarm bells’ (the guitar). These ‘alarms’ evoke the paranoia which one often feels around sober people when one is high on marijuana.

    Many of the other lyrics fit this alternate interpretation almost frighteningly well. “I thought I knew you, what did I know (I was sober then)”. “You don’t look different but you have changed (my perceptions of you have changed)”. “Your lips are moving etc.”, I don’t need to even explain that one. “You’re thinking of me the same old (sober) way”. “You were above me, but not today (because today I’m high)”.

    The biggest flaw is the ‘Why tell me why’ parts don’t fit at all. Which is why when I read this article and saw those parts were originally absent, I grinned a real big grin. “I’m looking through you and you’re nowhere” is another possible clash, but I like to assume that’s just a reference to “Nowhere Man” on the same album (compare the Ob-La-Di-Bla-Da reference on Savoy Truffle).

  14. castironshore

    Superb track… Sounds suspiciously like paul played most of the instruments on the version on ‘rubber soul’, the tougher sounding version on ‘anthology2’ feels more like a band performance and i actually prefer it.

    1. Dbw

      I have to agree with you. The acoustic guitar is CLASSIC Paul. John did not play or strum in this style, I could be wrong, but Id go and say this is Paul doing the acoustic guitar for sure.

      1. Ondra

        Incorrect. As has been mentioned in the first post. The basic rhythm track played live consists of drums, bass, acoustic guitar, tambourine. I guess we all agree that it’s Paul on the bass so most probably John is on the acoustic and George on tambourine. Notice the same line up as We Can Work It Out basic track.

  15. Graham Paterson

    Paul McCartney’s very pointed message to Jane Asher. Unlike John Lennon, McCartney is not nearly as obviously autobiographical. But on this one he is. Great lyrics. Off the wonderful “Rubber Soul” album.One hell of a good song.

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