An unusually harshly-worded warning about the perils of leaving bad deeds unrectified, the inspiration behind the song is unknown. In his 1980 autobiography I Me Mine, Harrison claimed not to remember its origins, although he made a self-deprecating reference to the likes of ‘Taxman’ and ‘Piggies’:
‘Think For Yourself’ must be written about somebody from the sound of it – but all this time later I don’t quite recall who inspired that tune. Probably the government.
I Me Mine
Whereas a number of Harrison’s later songs were awash with pseudo-cosmic wisdom, ‘Think For Yourself’ is remarkable for its earthy sourness. Parallels can be drawn between the song and ‘Within You Without You’, which found Harrison more at peace with the differences of others.
Although your mind’s opaque
Try thinking more if just for your own sake
The future still looks good
And you’ve got time to rectify all the things that you should
Try to realise it’s all within yourself
No-one else can make you change
And to see you’re really only very small,
And life flows on within you and without you
In the studio
‘Think For Yourself’ was recorded in a single session on 8 November 1965, under the working title ‘Won’t Be There With You’.
The Beatles recorded the basic track – rhythm guitars, bass and drums – in a single take. They then overdubbed lead guitar, more bass (this time fed through a fuzz box), tambourine, maracas and organ, along with two three-part vocal tracks.
Paul used a fuzz box on the bass on ‘Think For Yourself’. When Phil Spector was making ‘Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah’, the engineer who’s set up the track overloaded the microphone on the guitar player and it became very distorted. Phil Spector said, ‘Leave it like that, it’s great’. Some years later everyone started to try to copy that sound and so they invented the fuzz box. We had one and tried the bass through it and it sounded really good.
Prior to the recording, George Martin taped the group rehearsing the song. The Beatles were aware of this, deliberately playing up to the microphones.
The recording went mostly unused, although a six-second segment of the group practising their harmonies found its way into the Yellow Submarine film, when The Beatles were called upon to revive the mayor of Pepperland.