Saturday, April 4, 2009

I've Just Seen a Face

"I've Just Seen a Face" is a song that can change lives. I've spoken already about how "Hey Bulldog" made my skeptical friend finally see the Beatley light (and if I speak of the Beatles in quasi-religious language, well, who can be surprised at this point?), and I put "I've Just Seen a Face" in the same category. It's a lesser-known gem in the Beatles catalog, made all the more amazing by its relative obscurity, so that when you find it, it's a delightful surprise.

(Of course, this song was much less of a hidden gem to American Beatles fans, because the losers at Capitol realized the commercial potential of "I've Just Seen a Face" and made it the first track of the American version of Rubber Soul, in their foolhardy wish to turn Rubber Soul into a folk-rock album. And frankly, the entire album sounds completely different when it starts with "I've Just Seen a Face" instead of "Drive My Car." But I digress.)

I remember listening to this song with a guy I knew in college, and his face was incredible-- he was just floored, just awed. I wasn't playing it for him on purpose or anything-- it was just on a mix CD I'd made or something like that-- but he had clearly never heard the song before. He was like, that was the Beatles? And people are always surprised that there might be a Beatles song they haven't heard, but, particularly if you're in my generation or younger and aren't as obsessed as I am, there's a good chance that you can still be surprised by these things. Watching him just light up to this song made me wish I could go back and listen to it for the first time too. Just imagine really listening to this for the first time, when the Help! album was new in the summer of 1965-- you're in your room, spinning the B-side, and after all the other typically jangly Beatles songs it's "I've Just Seen a Face." (And then "Yesterday" comes right after it, for God's sake! I think my head would have fallen off or something, it would have been so amazing.)

Oh, God, even though it's about my zillionth time listening to it, this song is so good it makes your chest hurt-- you know what I mean? Acoustic guitars have never sounded so good. Paul and John and George are all on their acoustics for this song, with Ringo on brushed snare and maracas for a sound that's almost country, almost folksy, but ultimately far superior to anything else in those categories I can think of right now. The opening guitars feature the simple descending figure in the bass that will provide structure to the song beneath a climbing treble line built out of triplets that practically ripple with glee. It's like a moment of reverie before the real takeoff, because then our three guitars start shuffling along almost as fast as they can. The descending bass line figure keeps them grounded, but Paul's vocal is breathless and reckless and giddy and tremendous. There is so much energy in this song, so much pleasure in just being alive and seeing a pretty girl. I want to call this song all sunshine-and-rainbows, but that makes it sound much more sarcastic than I mean it too-- it's a song meant to be appreciated about as unironically as can be. But literally, as I type this, the sun is finally peeping through the nasty gray sky that's hovered over Boston recently and streaming into the windows of my study, and "I've Just Seen a Face" is playing over and over, and I am so freaking glad to be alive.

"I've Just Seen a Face," released in the U.K. side B track 5 of Help!, August 6, 1965; in the U.S. side A track 1 of the craptacular Capitol Rubber Soul, December 6, 1965.


  1. Exactly.

    It might be fun to make a 'hidden gems' list, just to see where this ended up. I'm guessing in the top 2. This is one of the first songs little kids will latch onto, too.

    I'd also like to see an essay on why this song is so awesome where other (usually later) Paul songs with similar tones come off lacking.

  2. One of my all time favorites! You did it again, Megan. Of course, i have written that before on your site, and it is true every time. But, this song just gets me going. When i play Rubber Soul (top two favorite Beatles Albums) i so look forward to this song. The temp grabs you and is such a perfect pace for the lyrics which seem to be rushing out of Paul's mouth. It's like one long run-on verse. Ya know? It's just a perfect song.

  3. Too true, Frank. There was so much else I wanted to say about this song, too (though it was probably all versions of "OMG"), but I had to run and do other things-- I did have it stuck in my head all day, which was lovely. It IS kind of a perfect song.

    And Troy, I've been thinking about making playlists out of stuff I've already listened to anyway just to keep things interesting. A hidden gems list would be good. Hmm. As to why Paul's later attempts are so inferior, it's a much larger question, one for the ages-- but I think in this case the competition with John is what kicked Paul in the butt. John OWNS the Help! A-side, but Paul brought "I've Just Seen a Face" and "Yesterday" to the B-side, which practically makes the album a draw.