Released: 22 November 1968 (UK), 25 November 1968 (US)
The Beatles (White Album)
John Lennon’s most emotionally-revealing moment on the White Album, Yer Blues was written in Rishikesh, India. Balanced deftly between parody and earnestness, the song anticipated the raw, revelatory and confessional spirit of Lennon’s solo work – most notable in Cold Turkey and the John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band album.
Yer Blues was written in India, too. The same thing up there trying to reach God and feeling suicidal.
All We Are Saying, David Sheff
A cause of his anguish may have been Yoko Ono. Although their relationship had yet to begin, Ono wrote regularly to Lennon from England, and it is likely that she is the ‘girl’ the song is addressed to.
The funny thing about the [Maharishi’s] camp was that although it was very beautiful and I was meditating about eight hours a day, I was writing the most miserable songs on earth. In Yer Blues, when I wrote, ‘I’m so lonely I want to die,’ I’m not kidding. That’s how I felt.
The Beatles recorded an acoustic demo of Yer Blues in May 1968, at George Harrison’s house in Esher, Surrey. While lacking the raw power of the studio version, lyrically it was largely identical.
In the studio
The Beatles recorded Yer Blues in a small annexe room next to Abbey Road’s studio two. The Beatles got the idea from a sarcastic comment made by engineer Ken Scott during the recording of George Harrison’s Not Guilty.
George had this idea that he wanted to do it in the control room with the speakers blasting, so that he got more of an on-stage feel… I remember that John Lennon came in at one point and I turned to him and said, ‘Bloody hell, the way you lot are carrying on you’ll be wanting to record everything in the room next door!’ The room next door was tiny, where the four-track tape machines were once kept, and it had no proper studio walls or acoustic set-up of any kind.
Lennon replied, ‘That’s a great idea, let’s try it on the next number!’ The next number was Yer Blues and we literally had to set it all up – them and the instruments – in this minute room. That’s how they recorded Yer Blues, and it worked out great!
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn
The Beatles began recording the song on 13 August 1968, with 14 takes of the rhythm track – drums, bass, rhythm and lead guitars, along with Lennon’s lead vocals.
They then made a number of reduction mixes, to free up more space on the four-track tapes. Takes 15 and 16 were reductions of take six, and take 17 was a reduction of part of take 14.
For the first time in a Beatles session, the actual four-track tape was then edited. Normally a mix or a copy would be edited, to safeguard the original master tape from erroneous cuts.
The beginning of take 17 was then spliced onto the end of take 16. This brutal cut can clearly be heard at the 3’16” mark on the released version, with Lennon’s guide vocals captured despite being sung off-mic.
Because of the lack of sound proofing and isolation in the annexe, a number of sounds from instruments and vocals spilled over into other tracks. These included guide vocals, and a discarded guitar solo that can be heard during the instrumental break.
On 14 August Lennon recorded a second lead vocal part. The ‘Two, three’ count-in, meanwhile, was recorded on 20 August, with Ringo Starr doing the honours.
Yer Blues, on the White Album, you can’t top it. It was the four of us. That is what I’m saying: it was really because the four of us were in a box, a room about eight by eight, with no separation. It was this group that was together; it was like grunge rock of the sixties, really – grunge blues.