When was it recorded? Apr. 27 & 29 and May 5-6, 1966
When was it first released, and on which album? Aug. 5, 1966 on “Revolver”
Who wrote it? Lennon
Have I heard this song before? Yes
What my research dug up:
(Also the answer to the unasked question of where I was when I didn’t update last few nights)
“I’m Only Sleeping” seems like it could or should be one of the Beatles’ odes to intoxication or drugs, but the title is exactly what it is – John wrote it regarding his own languid nature.
“[John Lennon] can sleep almost indefinitely, is probably the laziest person in England. ‘Physically lazy,’ he said. ‘I don’t mind writing or reading or watching or speaking, but sex is the only physical thing I can be bothered with any more’.” — Maureen Cleave for London Evening Standard, Mar. 4, 1966
Quoth Wikipedia, “While not on tour, due to his lack of routine, Lennon would often spend his time sleeping, reading, writing or watching television, often under the influence of drugs, and would often have to be woken by McCartney for songwriting sessions.” John wrote the first lyrics for “I’m Only Sleeping” Apr. 25, 1966, “on the back of an envelope from the post office reminding him to pay his ‘radio license’” (About.com). [About.com goes on to tell me, “The UK charges a tax on owning radios and televisions, in order to offset public television station costs,” so I learned something new today.]
The Beatles began recording “I’m Only Sleeping” Apr. 27, 1966. They did 11 takes of the rhythm track but decided they weren’t happy with them and shelved the project for two days. The band did five more takes on Apr. 29, like those takes even less and decided to use Take 11 from Apr. 27 for the final song. Some rehearsal from this aborted remake session actually appears on “Anthology 2” before Take One.
On May 5, somebody had the bright idea to add a backwards guitar part. It really depends whose story you read (and whose story you believe) in regards to who thought of it and why. At any rate, George is the one who played both guitars heard (one plain and one with fuzz). He did all this in a five-hour late-night session with George Martin. Quoth Rolling Stone, “Martin had to conduct Harrison beat by beat, resulting in what engineer Geoff Emerick described as ‘an interminable day… I can still picture George hunched over his guitar for hours on end, headphones clamped on, brows furrowed in concentration.’”
The song was finished May 6 when John, Paul and George added their harmony vocals and Paul added a yawn heard around 2:00 (you can hear John prompting him to do so a few seconds prior).
“I’m Only Sleeping” was written in the key of E minor but the speeding up and slowing down of the tapes during production renders the finished song into the key of E-flat minor. Quoth Alan Pollack, “What must have started out on the source tape as a backing track of relatively straightforward instrumentation was slowed down a bit to add that certain grainy/chunkiness on playback. Similarly, the speeding up of John’s vocal on playback makes him sound tremulous and eerie; the latter effect being further intensified by the manner in which the automatic-double-tracking is split out onto the two stereo channels for only some of the phrases.”
“I’m Only Sleeping” was actually first released Jun. 20, 1966 on the US album “Yesterday and Today.” Included as such, it didn’t appear on the US release of “Revolver.”
Now brace yourselves – there are five released versions of “I’m Only Sleeping.” The placement of the backward guitar part differs in each one. The Good Book Wikipedia is going to help me break it down.
“No backwards track during the second verse but a quick fragment is heard on the ‘time’ in ‘taking my time’ and ‘ceiling’ in ‘lying there and staring at the ceiling.’ The track is fully intact during the instrumental break and continues into the words ‘please don’t’ in ‘please don’t spoil my day.’ Near the end of the song the backwards track starts four beats after the last word ‘sleeping.’”
(I’m probably going to hell for still thinking that cover photo is hilarious.)
US STEREO (RECHANNELED)
This version was mixed from the US mono version, so the guitar comes in at roughly the same places. However a lot of reverb has been added. Again, it’s not that much different from the last one I posted, but in the interest of having all the versions in one place…
US STEREO (REAL)
“Backwards track on ‘everywhere at such a speed’ and ‘find there’s no need.’ The track stops at the end of the solo and at the end of the song, starts immediately after the word ‘sleeping.’”
“Backwards track on ‘…where at such a speed,’ ‘there’s no need’ and ‘staring at the ceiling.’ The track stops at the end of the solo and at the end of the song, starts immediately after the word ‘sleeping.’”
“Backwards track on ‘running everywhere at such a speed’ and ‘till they find there’s no need.’ The track fades in two bars into the solo but continues into the word ‘please’ in ‘please don’t spoil my day.’ At the end of the song, the track starts immediately after the word ‘sleeping.’”
According to Wikipedia, “Since the release of The Beatles’ music on CDs in 1987, the UK stereo version of the album has become the standard version in the US.”
Now that you’ve heard it six times, how would you like to listen to it backwards so you can hear how the reversed guitar part sounds played “forward?”
“I’m Only Sleeping” was the first song I learned to play on the guitar (the rhythm part, not the backwards part – I’m a fast learner but I’m not that good). Ever since then I’ve had a great appreciation for this song. I love all of “Revolver” but this track will always be special to me.