Yer Blues

The Beatles (White Album) artworkWritten by: Lennon-McCartney
Recorded: 13, 14, 20 August 1968
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Ken Scott

Released: 22 November 1968 (UK), 25 November 1968 (US)

John Lennon: vocals, backing vocals, lead guitar
Paul McCartney: bass
George Harrison: lead guitar
Ringo Starr: drums

Available on:
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.

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Yer Blues was written in India, too. The same thing up there trying to reach God and feeling suicidal.
John Lennon
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.
John Lennon

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!

Ken Scott
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.
Ringo Starr

52 responses on “Yer Blues

    1. james

      it’s an approximation of a workingclass north english accent(as blues is the music of the working man). yer instead of the more rounded your i would assume like d’yer m’ker or for an americal equivalent voodoo chile instead of voodoo child

    2. John Wilkinson

      I think John’s intention was to bypass the tremendous snobbery regarding ‘The Blues’ prevalent at the time. Who could play it? Who could sing it? Similar to Paul’s exclamation “Rubber soul man” ‘Yer’ Blues deftly sidesteps the authenticity question….. Can white millionaires sing the blues?

      “Yer Blues” is what it says on the label……It recognizes that this is a white, Liverpool, working man’s ‘take’ on the blues. Not a soft, hypocritical attempt to recreate, sound like and rip off the tormented music of a southern share-cropper.

      Over the years this track has grown on me. I always liked how words are stripped one by one from the song at the end…..’Yes I’m lonely..Wanna die’. But I didn’t appreciate just how complex and inventive the guitar interplay and Ringo’s shifts in timing were.

      In the end there’s not much that’s plastic about ‘Yer Blues’ It takes and it adds to the genre. It’s a tough,rugged song that stands up well.

      1. robert

        The “fact” that really legitimizes this song is that virtually no one covers it. (excluding exclusively Beatles tribute type bands) I’d guess some bands somewhere might do this song but I’ve never seen anyone do it. I play at a lot of blues jams and go to blues shows, I have never seen Yer Blues covered. Remarkable if you think about it – since covering blues songs is part of the whole genre.

      2. Joseph Brush

        Not only was Yer Blues a personal song but I believe it was also a swipe at the blues purists of that time. A performer such as John Mayall for instance, whom I saw one night lecturing the audience that there was only one way to perform old blues songs and that was in the traditional way. Thus deriding what the Cream, among others, had done to modernize blues standards.

  1. solicitr

    Ricky 4001S as usual. For most of the WA sessions Paul was playing through a Fender (silverface) Bassman; I expect he just used that in the closet, prob with the master volume knob rolled back to avoid killing people, but with max preamp distortion (gain).

    1. lenmista

      i know that the original comment is 2 years old but acording to paul, he was playing a fender jazz bass on the white album sessions at that time and theres a big difference in sound between a fender jazz bass and a rick bass. thats not a rick bass on that song.

      1. shatnertoupee

        mutiple sources say he used both the Rick and Jazz on this album. There’s some photographic evidence he used the Jazz but unlikely he used is soley.

  2. Scott

    I’m particularly fond of the version John did for the Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus as part of a supergroup called the Dirty Mac. The band consisted of John, Eric Clapton, Mitch Mitchell, and Keith Richards. As great as the Beatles verion was, this was just a little tighter. I believe it was John’s first public performance without the Beatles. It’s on iTunes, if anyone wants to hear it.

    1. Matt Talvi

      The Rock and Roll Circus version is excellent, but nothing tops the White Album version.

      Who is playing that second lead guitar? Is it Harrison? Lennon? Did Clapton get an uncredited solo here? The teasing of ths strings and overall sound of the guitar sounds VERY Clapton-like. And, it follows that Clapton was the one who did the second solo on both the Rock And Roll Circus version and the Live Peace In Toronto version.

      So…who IS that playing that incredible sounding lead guitar?

      1. Andrew

        John plays the first solo; George plays the second solo. It’s put through an osciallator, which gives it that ‘wobble effect’. Eric’s guitar at the end of While My Guitar… was also oscillated.

  3. brian

    This is a wicked cool song. Ringo’s right, it’s like 60’s grunge! The tone of the guitar solo is really nasty too and unlike any other one they ever did. Man, I wish they had shot a video of them recording “Yer Blues” in this tiny room.

    1. Terry

      A fair whack of the white album has a distinctive grungy and gritty sound…a great counterpoint to the sheer beauty of Rubber Soul..for me these are the two best albums they released.

      1. MattP

        Also great counterpoint to the quieter songs on its own album – some of the most softly and delicately beautiful in their catalogue: Blackbird, I Will, Julia, Mother Nature’s Son, Long Long Long and Good Night. Then there’s very ungritty and idiosyncratic somewhat more musically upbeat tracks like Ob-La-Di, Honey Pie or Martha My Dear. The Beatles is a highly eclectic album – possibly their most – and it does it all with raw panache. One of the reasons it’s one of my absolute favourite Beatles albums.

  4. Amp Intelligence

    “Paul was playing through a Fender (silverface) Bassman; I expect he just used that in the closet, prob with the master volume knob rolled back to avoid killing people, but with max preamp distortion (gain).”

    You’re making that up. The song was recorded in 1968 and master volume didn’t appear on Fender Bassman amps until 1969.

  5. Robert

    always a favorite song of mine for its earnest rawness. Been listening to the remastered mono through quality earphones and you can actually “hear” the room they are in.

    Anyone who has been in a band and has rehearsed in a tiny room will recognize the feel in that song.

    My guess is that this was played loud as hell and everyone’s ears were ringing by the end of it.

    There’s not much that is more fun than that.

    1. lenmista

      i agree, i read that paul himself stated that he was using a fender jazz bass on the white album by that time and you can clearly hear that as fender jazz basses tend to be very deep and gurgly sounding unlike rickenbackers.

  6. Tweeze

    A very basic blues retread really. It’s hard to listen to like ‘Plastic Ono Band’ is hard to listen to. It’s not the happy upbeat Beatles we expect. As usual John’s singing top notch and in its own class. Ringo’s drumming is superb here. Paul is the most versatile bass player once again. But those guitars…. once again John’s sense of tone rules and turns a simple lick into an awesome monster. I’m not certain right now of George’s prominence here. There is this moaning guitar in the background in the later song that is a subtle but perfect feel.

  7. Happiness is a warm gun

    OK, John’s my favorite Beatles and I’ve known many musicians who have loved to jam on this song, but I hate it. Just hate it. It’s so banal as a blues tune. I actually like the vocals–how could I ever hate John’s vocals?–but as a blues tune it’s sooooo *boring.* Blues may be simple, but it doesn’t mean it has to be boring. There were a lot of British blues rock bands around this time doing this sort of stuff and nearly all of them very mediocre. This song just reminds me of those otherwise forgettable bands.

    1. Amdbrw

      Thats what was so great about the Beatles. They were versatile. This song is different from the others. I think they did a great job just like they did with almost every song

    2. john

      yeh but there are very few recordings of the fab four actually doing old school dirty rocking’ blues/grunge tunes……the actual charm of the beatles is they could pull off almost any style where bands of that era had basically only one sound….kinda like today

  8. Bungalow Bill

    Uh, who in the world thinks “Yer Blues” is John’s most emotionally revealing moment on the White Album?

    The obvious “most emotionally revealing track is “Julia” and I don’t think Yer Blues eclipses either the empathetic sentimentality in Dear Prudence or the suspicious anger of Sexy Sadie.

    Personally, I think listening to John try to cope with having been duped by that conman in India reveals much more about who he was than Yer Blues.

  9. Bob Wyman

    Someone wondered about the guitar break in “Yer Blues” (The “white album”) and one response is John playing first then George. The irony that somehow George, who had a disdain for Yoko could play notes on guitar that sound exactly like Yoko singing!

  10. SirFrankieCrisp

    The lyric “just like Dylan’s Mr. Jones” is very interesting to me. I read somewhere that George said the only western music he was feeling at the time was Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited on which the song Ballad of a Thin Man resides. That very song recounts the tale of Mr. Jones and it makes no sense really. I could just see John and George sitting and talking about wtf is Mr. Jones’ problem while listening to the album. Damn I would have loved to be there with them.

    1. Joseph Brush

      There is a journalist in Pennebaker’s Dylan docu “Don’t Look Back” who is out of his depth questioning Dylan and trying to understand Dylan’s answers. The journalist doesn’t comprehend that Dylan is setting him up. Dylan was fed up with journalists by this point and would never let a filmmaker get this close to him again. In the Ballad Of A Thin Man the journalist is now Mr. Jones who still doesn’t know what’s going on.

  11. The Walrus

    Interesting to see nobody mentioning the similarity to Heartbreak Hotel. I think it’s the defining character of the song.

    I’m amazed there’s never been a lawsuit.

  12. Patrick

    The greatest version of this song was on “Live Peace in Toronto”. The Rock and Roll Circus version was tepid by comparison. In Toronto, Lennon and Clapton’s solos were fantastic, especially Clapton’s. His solo on the “Circus” version wasn’t even close to as good. In Toronto, he anticipates his turn and comes out totally blazing, then throws down a blistering run to wrap it up.

    You can see the performance on youtube, but that version has more of Yoko wailing. Check out the album version on youtube. It has a better mix with less wailing.

    Lennon and Clapton together at that show with Voorman and Allen White totally rocked.

  13. Graham Paterson

    Fantastic vocals by John Lennon and musicianship by all the Beatles. As pointed out in the editorial, Lennon was heading towards “Cold Turkey” and the “Plastic Ono Band” album with this song. One of my favorites on “The White Album”, this song just has to be played loud!!

  14. Jonathan

    Whilst working out ” Goodbye”, Paul`s song for Mary Hopkins, on the guitar, I realised that the intro guitar riff on “Goodbye” is the same as the guitar riff on “Yer Blues” that starts just before the lyrics ..”girl, you know the reason why.”

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