Alan Aldrigde, The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr en George Harrison Alan Aldrigde, The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics (c) Alan Aldrigde, The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics

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I'm Only Sleeping

Composer(s) : Lennon and McCartney
Year : 1966

Chords/Tabs: I'm Only Sleeping

Notes on "I'm Only Sleeping" (IOS)

KEY	e flat minor


        ----- 2X ----
FORM	Verse/Refrain -> Bridge -> Verse(half Guitar Solo)/Refrain ->
		Bridge -> Verse/Refrain -> Outro (fadeout)


Style and Form

- This song is mastered in the extremely unlikely key of e flat minor; no doubt a side effect of the extent to which the original tapes of both the backing track and vocals were manipulated on playback; in opposite directions, no less -- an effect familiar to us from "Rain."

- I half-wonder if the placement of this track directly following the e-minor tonality of "Eleanor Rigby" was done intentionally, to highlight the half-step downward in key. But at any rate, I'm going to discuss it below in terms of e minor, simply in order maintain some semblance of orthographic legibility. If you don't think it makes a difference, try sight-reading, some time, the sections of the WTC written in e-flat (or even better, d#) minor :-)

- We have an interesting formalistic ellision here in the way that the bridge melds so seamlessly with the verse that follows it that the next verse at first sounds like the ending the bridge rather than the start of something else; and in retrospect, the bridge, per se, seems like only a fragment of something. This example, by the way, bears intruiging comparsion with "She's A Woman", of all things; do check it out.

Melody and Harmony

- The tune features a patter-song-like hammering away on the tonic note of the scale, though the verse still manages to lazily spread out over the span of a full octave. The brief bridge section features a couple of bent notes which lend a touch of the blues.

- Compared to the several drone-like songs we've looked at most recently, this one has a larger number of chords in it than we've seen in quite a while, though none of them are particularly exotic choices.

- The most curious harmonic feature of the song is the use of a chord stream (i.e. step-wise root movement of chords) in the refrain, the likes of which we haven't seen since the very early days of "Ask Me Why," "Do You Want to Know a Secret," and "P.S. I Love You."


- 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; compare this with "The Word."

- The backwards-mastered guitar licks are a special effect that have nicely weathered the march of time losing none of their popularity nor their ability to transfix, though the background story regarding how George carefully practiced his guitar bits so that they would sound fine when mastered backwards after being played forwards is, by our own contemporary standards of digital control, rather quaint. True to their, by now, well-established penchant for layered arrangements, the application of the reversed guitar bits first starts in the *second* verse.

- The backing vocals add their own little touch of surrealism to the the procedings. Their echoing of the last line of each verse and "oodle-i-doo" falsetto harmonies of the refain have something of an Andrews Sisters/1940s kind of unsettling resonance. Only Paul's bluesy counterpoint in the bridge sounds a bit more familiar in context of the Beatles.

- Paul uses walking-bass passing notes in two critical places here, thus providing a subtle effect of unification: at the end of the verse, he fills out the space between the C and a chord with a melodic B, and similarly, near the end of the short bridge, he fills out the space between the a and F chords with a G. Granted, these are exceedingly small touches, but if you "know" this song and like it well, I'd bet you've noticed them even if you haven't done so consciously. Or put it this way -- try and imagine hearing the song *without* them!



- The verse is a surprisingly odd nine measures in length, in spite of its obvious AA' phrasing:

|e |a |G C |G B | e: i iv III IV III V ---- 2X!!------- |e |a |G C |- a | i iv III VI iv

- Both phrases are harmonically open but in different ways. The first one ends on V, nicely begging a reprise. The second one rhetorically adds that one extra measure, and then ends on VI --> iv, thus begging for something "different" from what was heard previously.

- In the always relevant department of Foolish Consistency Avoidance, we have the verse with the guitar solo filling out only the five measures of the A' section. Actually, the "real" aesthetic lesson being taught in this instance is not so much one about non-consistency, as much as it is a one regarding the Conservation of Special Effects.


- The chord stream of this refrain, not to mention the prominence of that juicy C Major 7th, is a prime source of what gives this song its overall jazzy feeling.

- The section is a somewhat unusual length of six measures, and its internal phrasing is remote from anything in the nature of a balanced binary form. Rather, we have a 1-measure's worth of tune that chases its tail several times within a narrow range before petering out entirely before the end of the fifth measure:

|G |a |b |a | III iv v iv |C7 | ||e |- | VI i

- The refrains that precede each of the two bridges are extended by an additional two measures of a time-stopping vamp on the i chord. The second one of these extended refrains (i.e. the following the guitar solo) includes some muted, errant talking in the background, followed by a strange foghorn-like electronic sound during the e minor vamp.

- The refrain is harmonically quite elliptical. Its opening measures convey intimations of a shift toward the key of G (the so-called Relative Major of e minor), though nothing approaching the finality of a complete modulation is in the offing. For that matter, the manner in which the home key of e is confirmed at section's end is also done without clear or complete cadence.


- No matter how you parse this section, it somehow seems to fall out as incomplete or fragmentary. Even if you add in what I call the two- measure vamp at the end of the refrains into *this* section, I believe there is no escape from hearing, at first, what turns out to be the first phrase of the next *verse* as though it were the second phrase of *this* bridge:

|d |E |a |F | e: vii a: iv V i VI

- As with the refrain, we have yet another tentative harmonic foray, this time toward the key of a minor. The formal ellision between this bridge and following verse is somewhat disguised the way that this modulation fools you into hearing the first two measures of the next verse as still being in a minor, with the pivot back to e first coming near the end of the first phrase, as follows:

|e |a |G C |G B | a: iv i VII III VII e: III V


- As an "outro", per se, this one is rather unusual in both form and substance. At the end of the final refrain, where previously we have had the C Major 7th/e minor bass arpeggio, this time the backing abruptly, even awkwardly, just stops, leaving the backwards lead guitar to "noodle" all alone into a fadeout.


- This song belongs to a special category of Beatles songs in which "content" plays a secondary role to "gesture". I define "content," in this context, as the relative level of special care and quality lavished on the basic musical elements of tune, chord, and form; and "gesture" as a focus on the bedazzling and disorienting overall effect to be achieved by the incongruous combination of familiar yet disparate stylistic cliches that are not usually found under the same roof, plus the overlay upon one or more of these elements of surreal special recording studio effects.

- That the Beatles were great innovators of new styles synthesized from among the elements of disparate influences is widely celebrated. But the kind of gesture we're dealing with here, where one or more cultural readymade is exploited for its very hackneyed recognizability is an achievement of a slightly different nature. In this particular instance, we have a strange montage of the boozy/jazzy ride-beat, the patter song tune, the cooing backing vocals, combined with that lead-guitar that is distorted on playback.

- The amazing thing is to ponder not only how much this peculiar type of parody would flower in the Post-Pepper-Period, but the extent to which you'll note how its roots were embedded deep, all along, if only you look back with an eye toward discerning them.

- It wasn't only the in the music, either! What better example of a surreal montage made of found pop-cultural-objects can you think of in the realm of album cover art than the pseudo-photographic black-and-white job done by Klaus Voorman for our _Revolver_?

Alan (

"Give me a bottle of milk and some tranquilizers."            032094#94

                Copyright (c) 1994 by Alan W. Pollack
                          All Rights Reserved

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Ook op Yesterday and Today:

ChordsNotes On
Drive My Car Drive My Car
I'm Only Sleeping I'm Only Sleeping
Nowhere Man Nowhere Man
Doctor Robert Doctor Robert
Yesterday Yesterday
Act Naturally Act Naturally
And Your Bird Can Sing And Your Bird Can Sing
If I Needed Someone If I Needed Someone
We Can Work It Out We Can Work It Out
What Goes On What Goes On
Day Tripper Day Tripper

Ook op Revolver:

ChordsNotes On
Taxman Taxman
Eleanor Rigby Eleanor Rigby
I'm Only Sleeping I'm Only Sleeping
Love You Too Love You Too
Here, There and Everywhere Here, There and Everywhere
Yellow Submarine Yellow Submarine
She Said She Said She Said She Said
Good Day Sunshine Good Day Sunshine
And Your Bird Can Sing And Your Bird Can Sing
For No One For No One
Doctor Robert Doctor Robert
I Want to Tell You I Want to Tell You
Got to Get You into My Life Got to Get You into My Life
Tomorrow Never Knows Tomorrow Never Knows

(c) 2021 Serge Girard