Monday, April 07, 2008

"I Want To Tell You" / The Beatles

A simple little tune from Revolver -- except there are no simple tunes from Revolver. It could so easily have been a pop confection about adolescent romantic confusion ("I want to tell you / My head is filled with things to say /When you're near / All those things they seem to slip away"), but instead it becomes something infinitely more complex. And I love love love it.

How did they pull it off? Well, to start with, it's not hormones that's confusing this singer -- the arrangement's just too psychedelic to be anything else but drugs. Listen to how it fades in at the beginning, those hammering piano discords, that snake-like shimmer of tambourines that sneaks in here and there. The harmonies are like a haunted cry for help -- "I feel hung up and I don't know whyy-yyy" -- and then there's that scolding guitar riff (how many times did the Monkees rip that one off?). This isn't the warm glow of a teenager in love; it's the paranoid distress of a man who's losing his grip on reality.

The lyrics are all subject and verbs, and no direct objects -- "I want to tell you" -- tell you what? "Sometimes I wish I knew you well / Then I could speak my mind and tell you" -- tell you WHAT? "Maybe you'd understand." Well, maybe I would, but at the moment I sure don't. What he wants to tell her is "things" and "words," but it's also "things" that start to drag him down and get in the way.

He seems frustrated ("I feel hung up and I don't know why") but he can't even sustain that; he's too spaced out to care ("I don't mind / I could wait forever / I've got time", or my personal favorite: "It's all right / I'll make you maybe next time around"). I don't know if you've ever tried to have a serious conversation with a seriously stoned person, but, well, this is what it's like. And in the coded culture of 1966, anyone who got this dimension of the song would have felt part of the Beatles' special club. Granted, there were hundreds of thousands of people in that special club, but very few of them were your parents.

And yet underneath it all, it comes off as a touching plea for human connection. The singer (George, sliding along those chromatics as woozily as possible, hanging just behind the beat) is trying his damnedest to fight off his hazy lethargy , and you get the feeling he really does want to make her next time around -- please understand, girl.

I think it's telling that John is represented on this album by "I'm Only Sleeping" and "She Said She Said" ("She said 'I know what it's like to be dead') while Paul gives us positive and perky tracks like "Good Day Sunshine" and "Got to Get You Into My Life." Now that I think about it, Paul's song "For No One" -- one of the crispest lyrics he's ever turned out -- could easily have been about his relationship with John, about how John was beginning to lose focus and slip away from Paul. ("She wakes up, she makes up / She takes her time and doesn't feel she has to hurry / She no longer needs you" -- that's heartbreaking.) And maybe George's response is this song, about how he'd like to communicate with the vanishing Lennon himself but he gets hung up and he doesn't know why.

Of course that's just my theory. I tend to spend more time thinking about the inner history of the Beatles than is strictly healthy. But hey, everybody needs a hobby.


IƱaki said...

One of my favourite Harrison songs, and also one of my favourite riffs ever.

Mark said...

One of my favorite George songs as well. In his autobiography I, Me, Mine, George said he wished he had changed the lyric, "But if I seem to act unkind, it's only me, it's not my mind, that is confusing things" to "But if I seem to act unkind, it isn't me, it's just my mind, that is confusing things." He sang the revised lyric on his Live in Japan CD. Great, great song.

Mark said...

P.S. I like the idea of For No One being about Paul's relationship with John, I'd never thought of that before. But it certainly makes sense, with John getting deeper and deeper into LSD during the Revolver period. Oh, and I don't think there's such a thing as too much time spent thinking about the Beatles' inner history! I've certainly whiled away many an hour doing just that.