Deep Beatles: “I Want to Tell You” from Revolver (1966)

As the Beatles’ career progressed, George Harrison gradually developed into a first-class songwriter on a par with the formidable John Lennon/Paul McCartney partnership.

One of Harrison’s more unusual compositions, “I Want to Tell You,” fits in perfectly with Revolver’s experimental vibe. The pounding piano, pervasive dissonance, and a subtle reference to Harrison’s increasing interest in Indian music and culture add up to a classic and offbeat track.

In 1980, Harrison described the lyrics as addressing “the avalanche of thoughts that are so hard to write down or say or transmit.” Indeed, the verses paint a picture of someone constantly struggling with language. “My head is filled with things to say,” Harrison sings, but “all those words they seem to slip away.” He fears offending the person he’s having the conversation with, explaining that “if I seem to act unkind, it’s only me, it’s not my mind that is confusing things.” His mind is clear and pure, but the body cannot move as quickly as the mind.

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For me, the best lines in the song remain “I feel hung up and I don’t know why; I don’t mind, I could wait forever — I’ve got time.” That sentiment fits in well with other songs on the album, as Lennon also advocates a laid-back lifestyles without worries in tracks like “Tomorrow Never Knows” (“Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream” and “Surrender to the void”) and “I’m Only Sleeping” (“Keeping an eye on the world going by my window … taking my time”).

While Harrison’s lyrics are clever, the instrumentation further distinguishes “I Want to Tell You” from other rock songs of the time. The galloping piano accents the rhythm through dissonant harmonies, and Ringo Starr’s drumming easily navigates through some offbeat tempos. According to Allan K. Pollack, author of the “Notes On” series, Starr re-energizes the track with his driving percussion. “If you feel the momentum beginning to sag toward the end of this section, dig how that sudden burst of rapid triplets at the very end of the bridge helps to re-jump-start your momentum for the verse that follows,” writes Pollack. Other percussion can be heard, including tambourine and handclaps.

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As usual, the Lennon/McCartney/Harrison vocal harmonies sound tight, often singing entire lines instead of emphasizing certain words. As with many Beatles songs, the group experiments with beginnings and endings. Similar to “Eight Days A Week,” the track gradually fades in, this time over the distinctive guitar riff. Even more interesting, the ending fades out over the repeated phrase “I’ve got time,” and McCartney adds an unusual touch. As the sound fades, McCartney breaks into, as Pollack states, “free Indian-flavored melisma.” In other words, he sang the word “time” while oscillating among various notes. The move adds a touch of sophistication and world-music influence to the rock track.

Harrison often found it difficult to title his songs; according to Mark Lewisohn’s seminal work The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, the cut’s working titles included “Granny Smith,” “Laxton’s Superb” (another type of apple, foreshadowing later years) and “I Don’t Know.” On June 2, 1966, the Beatles entered the studio to lay down virtually all the track’s elements; they put the finishing touches on “I Want to Tell You” the following day. Mixing was completed on June 6.

“I Want to Tell You” was never released as a single, and lingered in relative album track obscurity until years later. While touring in Japan with Eric Clapton in 1992, Harrison resurrected the song — to the delight of audiences. That version, which features extended guitar solos, appeared on the Live in Japan album chronicling the brief tour. Appropriately, ELO founder and frequent Harrison collaborator Jeff Lynne performed the track at the Concert for George ten years later. It may have taken over four decades, but “I Want to Tell You” is finally receiving deserved recognition for its sophisticated arrangement and Harrison’s creativity in manipulating language.

Kit O'Toole

Kit O'Toole is a lifelong music enthusiast who maintains a stand-alone music blog called Listen to the Band. In addition, she is the internet columnist and a contributing editor for Beatlefan magazine. She also holds an Ed.D. in Instructional Technology. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
  • J S

    Just in case people may be forgetting to tell you, I wanted to make sure I told you. I am very much enjoying the Deep Beatles series. I hope it continues for a long time to come. Thank you for this. Well done :)

  • Pat

    I think this track also has a chord that had never been recorded by anybody before. I think it’s on the word “say” at the beginning in the lyric “my head is filled with things to SAY”. It is a strange chord, and I seem to recall years ago hearing George say that he “invented” that chord. Maybe somebody with more musical knowledge could verify that.

  • http://jellyrollfortheearhole.blogspot.com/ Deiter

    “Invented chord?” Not likely. But one of the most distinctive chords in recorded pop music. It has the effect of standing above everything around it, which is, when considering all that’s around it, pretty astounding.

    Thanks for the post.

  • Deckkard

    Nice post, very enlightening to a 57 year old Beatlemaniac. I looked you up on Facebook, keep up the great work!

  • Deckkard

    I know they invented the opening chord to “Hard Day’s Night” — Randy Bachmann of The Guess Who/BTO has a clip out here on You Tube of how he reverse engineered it over the years and it is a beautiful musical tone.

  • Mark Mahy

    I remember back in the late ’70’s and ’80’s when I was a metal head youngster hearing Ted Nugent do this song and thinking it was neat that Ted did a slower, melodic song. Little did I know it was an old Beatles tune at the time….