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.
John Lennon played ‘Yer Blues’ live on two occasions. The first was on 11 December 1968, shortly after the release of the White Album.
The occasion was the filming of The Rolling Stones’ Rock and Roll Circus. Lennon led a supergroup known as The Dirty Mac, which featured Eric Clapton on lead guitar, Keith Richards on bass guitar, and Mitch Mitchell on drums.
The recording was not broadcast at the time, but was widely bootlegged prior to its belated official release on compact disc and video in 1996.
The second live performance was on 13 September 1969, at the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival festival. This time Lennon was accompanied by Yoko Ono on vocals, Clapton on lead guitar, Klaus Voormann on bass guitar, and Alan White on drums. The festival appearance was the first by Lennon’s new group, Plastic Ono Band.
In the studio
The Beatles recorded ‘Yer Blues’ in a small annexe room next to Abbey Road’s studio two. They 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 ‘Yer Blues’ 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.
‘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.