I Want To Tell You - Reviews

Reviewed by Ian MacDonald, in Revolution in the Head:

An unprecedented third Harrison contribution to a Beatles album, I WANT TO TELL YOU resembles THINK FOR YOURSELF in using chord changes as expressive, rather than functional, devices[1]. A song, in its author's words, about 'the avalanche of thoughts that are so hard to write down or say', it couches communication problems in Oriental terms, seeing them as contradictions between different levels of being ('It's only me, it's not my mind/That is confusing things'). Thus his eleven-bar sequence aspires upwards from A major to B major, only to proceed from there in two directions at once, creating a frustrated bitonal dissonance (G sharp 7 diminished against E7, or E7 flat 9) before falling back on the home triad [2].

Similarly, the restlessly irregular phrases of the middle eight (doggedly pressing on with the syncopated crotchets of IF I NEEDED SOMEONE) revolve dejectedly around B minor until inner light dawns and resolve returns with an ascent to a suspended fourth on A major, fiercely reinforced by Starr's battering drums. The underlying Hindu outlook in the lyric - a karmic reference to time in the final lines - is confirmed by a descending melisma in the fade-out (sung by McCartney).

If not the most talented, then certainly the most thoughtful of the songwriting Beatles, Harrison was regarded by Lennon and McCartney as a junior partner, and I WANT TO TELL YOU was despatched swiftly compared with the time lavished on their material. He, meanwhile, patiently pursued his own course, developing his interest in all things Indian. During June 1966 Ravi Shankar visited his Esher home with his colleague the tabla-player Alla Rakha and played for the assembled Beatles. The guitarist quickly became one of Shankar's Western proteges and, within a year, his fascination with Eastern philosophy was dominating the social life of the group.


  1. The only Beatle to mention chords in his lyrics (ONLY A NORTHERN SONG), Harrison - like most lead guitarists - came to songwriting uncertainly, fumbling over words and melody and with ears tuned more to the emotional resonances of harmonic progressions. With a narrow vocal range, he began close to Lennon as a song-writer, his melodies rising and falling only minimally over minor sequences. This led to the use of diminished chords - e.g., I WANT TO TELL YOU (2nd and 6th bars of the middle eight), BLUE JAY WAY ('We'll be over soon they said'), PIGGIES ('to play around in') - though it is easy to exaggerate this trait in his writing. (Diminished chords are proportionally almost as common in Lennon and McCartney's work.) In his later Beatles songs, liberated by Indian music's focus on scales rather than harmony, he found his melodic voice and gravitated more in McCartney's direction./li>
  2. Implying an Oriental variant of the A major scale wherein the sixth is flat: more Arabic than Indian. A precedent was set by recording the rhythm track without bass, taping it later on a separate track, a decision which may have originated in uncertainty over whether to play E or F in the sixth bar. Then influenced by Brian Wilson's chord-defining bass-parts for The Beach Boys, McCartney realised that recording like this allowed him to control the harmonic structure of the music. Hence most Beatles tracks made from late 1966 to 1968 were initially recorded without bass - McCartney playing keyboard or guitar - or by using only a 'guide' bass track, replaced at a later stage. McCartney's other big influence on bass around this time was Motown sessionman James Jamerson, whose lines suddenly took on a guitar-like freedom and busy triplet complexity from the second half of 1965. (Some of these famous bass-parts - e.g., 'Reach Out I'll Be There' and 'Bernadette' by the Four Tops - are said by several witnesses to have been created not by Jamerson in Detroit, but in Los Angeles by Carol Kaye, a session guitarist before he switched to bass in 1964.)

Posted: 16 June 2024