Sunday, July 19, 2009

I Need You

It is such a gorgeous day here in Boston today, but after a raucous weekend with our particularly fun and fabulous out-of-town guests I'm not in a state to do much except vapidly stare at the TV and drink seltzer. All told, it's a great day to lose myself in Help!, one of those movies that's pleasantly brainless, and that I've seen enough times that I can drift in and out of sleep during. I just recently woke up to the opening strains of "I Need You," George's contribution to the film soundtrack.

I can't, to be honest, say that this is one of my favorite Beatles songs. "I Need You" has its passionate advocates, but I can't get that into it-- it's a little too unassuming for me. That said, we're talking about maybe the second song that George ever wrote here-- or at least the second song by George that the band recorded. So it's okay. (I prefer "Don't Bother Me," his first effort, honestly, but I think I'm hopelessly in the minority here.)

The opening two-note guitar figure sets up the simplest of motives to build a song out of-- it's echoed in the guitar responses to the ends of the verse phrases, which themselves become, for me, the real heart of the song. I can't sing along to "I Need You" and not sing those guitar echos (a sample: "you don't realize how much I need you, doot doo"). So that's pleasant. You'll notice that there's very little lead guitar going on other than those flourishes, which gives the song an airy, kind of folksy feel, since what we hear is mostly John's acoustic rhythm guitar and Paul's bass. For me, it gets more interesting with the addition of John and Paul on backup vocals in the second half of the verse. They're just on "ah"s, but there's a thick, lush quality to the singing that not only makes it clear, in case it wasn't already, that "I Need You" is straight-up middle-period Beatles, but also gives an airy song a lot more depth. For me, every time John and Paul sing "ah," the song gets a little better.

Unfortunately, though, this is one of my least favorite vocals from George. George could always be a little out of tune, especially early on, but I hear it more here-- it might just be some messy double-tracking or something, I don't know. It's a shame, though. And the messy vocal somehow highlights the fair-to-middling lyrics all the more. I mean, look, I definitely don't dislike "I Need You" per se-- but these things bug me a little. On the whole, the song just feels kind of slight.

As to how it came to be, it's supposedly about how George missed Pattie Boyd when the band was away on tour, or at least that's how the phrase "I need you" came into his head. As is typical with George's early work, I think he was never able to recall much beyond that, and a lot of the time he was still writing songs just to write them, to learn how to do it, really. I think you can hear some growing pains in "I Need You," but that's fine, and we all know that what would come made it worth all the growing pains in the world. So enjoy this pleasant little tune, and then listen to "Something" and enjoy hearing how far George came along in just a few years.

"I Need You," released in the U.K. side A track 4 of Help!, August 6, 1965; in the U.S. side A track 5 of the crappy version of Help!, August 13, 1965.


  1. Wow; is this the first song I like more than you do? It fits in great where it sits on the album, too, which starts out strong, then dips and rises and dips and rises its way back up to Ticket to Ride, with the line that's charted never going too too high or too low. If that makes any sense.

  2. Perhaps if they had played it at a slightly faster tempo with more driving drums from Ringo. I can see it being a good live number - are there any live versions of it recorded?

  3. I'm with you, Megan, on the guitar echoes. Rescues the song. How did they get that exact sound, do you know? Sounds like some kinda processing is taking place.

    I would never seek this song out as one to listen to, nor am i tempted to sing along with it when i do hear it, but when it comes up on album play, i think it's okay. Of course, now that I've said this, and listened to the song several times, I probably won't be able to get it out of my head!

  4. Cullen, no, I don't think they did it live ever. Right after Help! came out they went on the U.S. tour that opened with Shea Stadium, and for most of that tour George's number was "Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby." If they did it after that, I'm not immediately thinking of when that would have been. But I'm with you that a faster tempo might have made it more substantive, or something.

    Troy, true on its placement on the album-- it would have been fairer of me to allude to that. But I think it might also hurt it-- the album has such amazing highs that this one stands out to me too much.

    Frank, there's a volume pedal on the guitar, I think, so that might be what's making it sound that way-- and I do know what you mean... maybe that's giving it the echoey quality.

  5. Well, an hour and a half later, and I'm still humming the song; must be more catchy than i thought!