I Feel Fine - Reviews

Reviewed by Ian MacDonald, in Revolution in the Head:

Following KANSAS CITY and the remake of MR. MOONLIGHT, the group turned to Lennon' s new song I FEEL FINE, written - or at any rate begun - 'at a recording session' [1] and now intended as the next single. (EIGHT DAYS A WEEK had been first choice as recently as six days earlier, with I'M A LOSER and No REPLY as other contenders.) Lennon's competitive need to get the A-side here produced an unusually straightforward expression of well-being, couched, like McCartney's eagerly commercial EIGHT DAYS A WEEK, in the artless terms of their early lyrics. Like SHE'S A WOMAN, I FEEL FINE is a mutated blues (making this pairing the second Beatles single to be based on blues changes) [2]; but there's nothing depressive about the song, which takes its effervescent mood, as well as its form, from the difficult guitar riff which Lennon and Harrison play, often in unison, more or less throughout [3].

The track opens with a sustained low A on bass as a foundation for feedback from Lennon's Rickenbacker (obtained by striking the note with the volume switch down and then turning up while pointing the pickups towards his amp). He was inordinately proud of this in later years - 'The first time feedback was used on record' - and the effect is often cited as The Beatles' first recording experiment. However, McCartney can claim precedence in three cases, all (like I FEEL FINE) recorded in the first flush of the group's encounter with marijuana: the overdriven guitar and drop-in piano of WHAT YOU'RE DOING, the pioneering fade-in to EIGHT DAYS A WEEK, and the generally outré SHE'S A WOMAN. As for the origin of Lennon's feedback inspiration, he later conceded that 'everyone' then playing live was using it. For electric guitarists, feedback is a hazard of amplification, to be either avoided or incorporated into their sound in a controlled way. The only local guitarist using feedback as pure noise in 1964 was Pete Townshend, soon to manipulate the effect spectacularly in The Who's outrageous second single 'Anyway Anyhow Anywhere'. A couple of days after recording I'M A LOSER, The Beatles shared a Blackpool bill with The High Numbers (a few weeks before they became The Who). Did Lennon - as he had after hearing harmonica-player Delbert McClinton at the Tower Ballroom, New Brighton two years earlier - mark, learn, and inwardly digest [4]?

Recorded in nine takes, I FEEL FINE, far from a brand new number, sounds like something the group had been playing for years. The lack of a conventional rhythm guitar opens the sound out, allowing the syncopations in the riff to spark and jump. Responding to this, Starr turns in a buoyant performance, playing Latin-style on the ride-cymbal with conga accents on the high tom-tom. Considering that it's mostly his energy that lifts the track - for instance, coming out of the middle eights (0:54, 1 :50) - it's unfortunate that the production parks him far left in the stereo spectrum rather than in the middle [5]. Harrison's four-bar guitar break similarly distills the overall feel of the track: not so much a solo as a pithy summary of its bluesy mood and form. Though not an outstanding song, I FEEL FINE went straight to No. 1 in the UK where it resided for six weeks. In America, its stay at the top was shorter, though its B-side, SHE'S A WOMAN, climbed to No. 4 on the strength of point-of-sale requests.


  1. Sheff and Golson, p. 147. The session in question was probably the one for EIGHT DAYS A WEEK.
  2. The first was CAN'T BUY ME LOVE/YOU CAN'T DO THAT.
  3. The riff was too hard for Lennon to play and sing at the same time, so the song was taped as a backing track to which he then added his vocal- the first Beatles track to be thus recorded.
  4. A few months later, when asked what sort of music The Beatles were listening to, McCartney admitted 'Dylan and The Who are two great influences'.
  5. Stereo would not become standard for another three years, obliging mixes to be designed for monophonic radio play and the 'compatible' styluses then used in most domestic gramophones.

Posted: 3 jan 2010

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