When was it recorded? Feb. 22-23, April 18 & 20, and August 8-11, 1969
When was it first released, and on which album? Sept. 26, 1969 on “Abbey Road”
Who wrote it? Lennon
Have I heard this song before? Hell yes
What my research dug up:
As with most of John’s later output, “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” is about Yoko Ono. (I think I’ve written that exact sentence somewhere else on this blog, but I don’t remember the exact entry.) Quoth the Beatles Bible, the song “contains some of John Lennon’s simplest lyrics since the days of ‘Love Me Do.’ A direct outpouring of his all-consuming love for Yoko Ono, the song contains just 14 different words.”
“A reviewer wrote of ‘She’s So Heavy:’ ‘He seems to have lost his talent for lyrics, it’s so simple and boring.’ ‘She’s So Heavy’ was about Yoko. When it gets down to it, like she said, when you’re drowning you don’t say ‘I would be incredibly pleased if someone would have the foresight to notice me drowning and come and help me,’ you just scream.” — John Lennon (Rolling Stone)
The Beatles Bible continues, “The obsessiveness of the lyrics is reflected in the repetitiveness of the music. The song contains the same phrases played over a number of rhythmic, tempo and time signature variations. Perhaps the sheer otherness of ‘I Want You’ explains why it was so well-liked [sic] by all members of The Beatles.” Alan Pollack highlights the “separateness” of elements in the ‘verse’ and ‘refrain’ sections.
- Meter — 4/4 squared off jazzy back beat in the verses compared with slow cranking ternary 6/8 for the rest.
- Arrangement — Ensemble texture with lead vocal for the verses, compared with focus on a bassline ostinato and accompanied by slow guitar arpeggios (and cascaded backing vocals in the “refrain”) for the rest.
- Perspective of the lyrics — The verses directly address the love object while the refrain’s reference her in the third person.
Quoth Pollack, “It’s not quite a medley, rather more like two separate songs cinematically cross cut with each other.”
Remember the weird E7♭9 chord I mentioned yesterday in “I Want to Tell You?” It pops up here at the line, “It’s driving me mad.” I thought that was interesting.
The Beatles originally played “I Want You” during the Get Back sessions (on Jan. 29, 1969, to be specific). Originally just “I Want You,” it was one of the first tracks they began work on for “Abbey Road” (and one of the last tracks to be completed). I’ll attempt to break down the recording process.
- Feb. 22 = 35 takes of the basic rhythm track + John’s lead vocals are recorded
- Feb. 23 = The previous day’s takes are edited into one “composite” track
- Apr. 18 = John and George overdub more guitar parts
- Apr. 20 = My man Billy Preston adds a keyboard part and Ringo adds conga drums
- Aug. 8 = John adds a synthesizer part + white noise and Ringo adds more drums (This is also the day the infamous picture for the “Abbey Road” album cover was shot.)
- Aug. 11 = John, Paul, and George record backing vocals, specifically the lines “She’s so heavy,” and the song finally receives its full title, “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”
- Aug. 20 = The final mix of the song is made
Quoth Wikipedia, “The final master lasted 8:04, but Lennon decided on a surprise ending. During the final edit with the guitars, drums and white noise climaxing endlessly, he told recording engineer Geoff Emerick to ‘cut it right there’ at the 7:44 mark, bringing the song (and Side 1 of the Abbey Road album) to an abrupt end.” Pollack, who compared the number to a romance destined to fail, wrote, “The alternative abrupt cutoff works better on the level of less-is-more. In some ways that cutoff more strongly suggests an after hours, offstage moment of crash and burn than any attempt that could have been made to perform it explicitly as part of the album track.”
According to Wikipedia, “The final overdub session for ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy),’ which included the final mixing and editing, was the last time all four Beatles worked in the studio together.”
Guitar World magazine ranked “I Want You” #34 on their list “The 50 Heaviest Songs Before Black Sabbath,” writing the song might “have inadvertently started doom metal” (Wikipedia). No small feat there.
I have many fond memories of listening to this song for hours on repeat while doing math homework in college. Seriously — “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” got me through a lot of less-than scintillating situations. That’s the power of having the proper soundtrack! [Aside: Has anyone seen Julie Taymor’s movie “Across the Universe?” How fucking trippy is the scene set to this song? I’m not sure I’ll be sleeping tonight… or the rest of this week.]