Deep Beatles: “For You Blue” from Let It Be (1970)

Unlike many bands, the Beatles’ B-sides were often just as good, if not better, than the A-side single. Case in point: “For You Blue,” the B-side to the hit single “The Long and Winding Road.”

While “Long and Winding” certainly contained great emotion, “For You Blue” represents pure George Harrison, a man who enjoyed blues and country just as much as rock. In I Me Mine, Harrison described this fun tune as “a simple 12-bar song following all the normal 12-bar principles, except that it’s happy-go-lucky!” Indeed, Harrison’s many asides and chuckles during the track demonstrate how much fun he was experiencing while recording it. This optimism is remarkable considering the origins of “For You Blue”: the infamous Get Back sessions.

Reportedly then-wife Patti Boyd once again served as Harrison’s muse, with him penning lyrics such as “Because you’re sweet and lovely girl, I love you” in her honor. After writing the song in late 1968, Harrison presented it to the Beatles in January 1969, when they were deep into the Get Back sessions (later compiled into the Let It Be album). The Beatles rehearsed the track 15 times at Twickenham Studios, according to Beatles researcher Robert Fontenot; much of this footage can be found on bootlegs such as Thirty Days.

Unlike other tracks, “For You Blue” did not vary greatly from take to take, except for Harrison later substituting “it’s true” to avoid repeating “I love you” and “I do” too many times. The Beatles Bible reports the band recording the song in six takes on January 25, 1969, the last being deemed the best version.

“For You Blue” contains what would become a trademark of Harrison’s songs: slide guitar. Therefore, many listeners assume that Harrison plays lead throughout the track. Surprisingly, it was John Lennon who performed the solos on lap steel guitar, using a shotgun shell as a slide. The long out-of-print Let It Be film shows Lennon executing the solos, leaning over the guitar while laboriously executing the notes. Harrison can be heard encouraging Lennon in the endeavor, yelling “Go, Johnny, go!” and “Elmore James’ got nothing on this baby,” a reference to another slide guitar master. While a blues track, Harrison sings in falsetto, his voice floating over the guitar, piano, and shuffling drum beat. One gets the sense of the four sitting in a living room, just jamming for fun. Harrison’s ad-libbed lines of “same ol’ twelve bar blues” and the final line, “I’m living the blues,” add to the song’s charm and upbeat spirit.

As is well-known, the Beatles would soon abandon the sessions, later regrouping for the Abbey Road album. At Lennon’s urging, the band turned over the Get Back session tapes to producer Phil Spector, who would salvage the best tracks, add more production (or overproduction, depending on one’s opinion), and release the album as Let It Be. To further refine “For You Blue,” Spector called in Harrison to contribute a new lead vocal, which he did over January 4 and 8, 1970. In true eccentric Spector fashion, he experimented with the track by creating a 16-second loop of the instrumental break, inserting snippets of dialogue from the Let It Be movie. Wisely he later abandoned the idea, retaining only Lennon saying “Queen says no to pot-smoking FBI members,” which strangely introduces “For You Blue” on the original Let It Be soundtrack.

Subsequently on May 11, 1970, the Beatles released “The Long and Winding Road” as a U.S. single, with “For You Blue” gracing the B-side. The McCartney-composed track reached No. 1, and Billboard listed “For You Blue” on its charts as well, per its then-policy of listing the A and B sides of a 45. But “For You Blue” was never considered a “true” No. 1 — as Fontenot correctly points out, the song was excluded from the 2000 1 compilation. However, the bluesy track should not be overlooked, as it features some exquisite guitar playing, and demonstrates how Lennon is often underrated as a guitarist.

True to many Beatles tracks, “For You Blue” is available in several versions. One of the six takes from January 25, 1969 is included on the Anthology 3 compilation, and the take included in the film graces the Let It Be: Naked album. As a solo artist, Harrison revisited the track, performing it during his ill-fated 1974 Dark Horse tour. During the 2002 Concert for George, McCartney performed a spirited version as a tribute to his friend.

Which version of “For You Blue” is superior — the original, Anthology, or Naked version? That question remains open for many fans, as all these takes possess great qualities. What remains constant, however, is Harrison’s lovely, light vocals and Lennon’s twangy guitar, and both drive this unjustly overlooked song.

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.

25 Comments

  1. This site has a ridiculous history of attacking Long and Winging Road. It’s really annoying and why I’ve stopped reading here.

    For You Blue is IN NO WAY a better song than Long and Winding Road. And the fact that anyone could seriously make that argument about a throwaway trifle like For You Blue reminds me that my decision to stop reading these articles here was right on the mark. I ‘m just going to avoid this site every time it comes up in a Beatles Google search because the judgments rendered here are always feeble.

  2. Jimmy Nelson says:

    What’s amazing is how you’ve been able to “stop reading here,” but yet at the same time continuously complain about what is written on this site.

    Loving “The Long and Winding Road,” a truly awful song, must have given you some kind of clairvoyant properties. Maybe I should give it another listen. Sure would love to have that ability.

  3. Mark Saleski says:

    excuse me sara, but you may have a large arthropod lodged in your posterior. please consult a physician promptly.

  4. Where “For You Blue” wins over “Long & Winding Road” is in its simplicity, honesty, and directness. It’s a pure expression of joy and fun matched up with a vibrant performance by the band. Harrison’s vocal is perfect.

    McCartney is trying too hard in “Long” to make a “statement”. It’s cliched and foreshadows future McCartney sap like “My Love” and even “Ebony & Ivory”. It feels like Paul is trying to write an important song. Important songs just happen (i.e. “Yesterday”)

  5. Did LAWR get attacked here? I didn’t see that..just a simple comparison..and then only, because so much light and emphasis has been put on Macca tracks, over Harrison’s over the years.. and isn’t that the essence of a blog called ‘Deep Beatles’? ;) Which did exactly what we came here for … to get a deeper look into something that doesn’t usually get the visibility in the shadow of all the Beatles’ greatness. Great article, great insight. Thanks Kit! Cheers then! p.

  6. I think George says “Rhythm and blues” not “I’m living the blues.”

  7. Thank you all for your comments and for reading! I actually double-checked the lyrics with the Beatles’ official site, and that’s how the line was listed. Also, just to clarify–I like “The Long and Winding Road”! In fact, the Give My Regards to Broad Street version is just as good as the original, IMHO.

  8. Antonella Francesca says:

    The long and winding road bores me

  9. For You Blue is a better song than The Long And Winding Road? Hahahahahaha! Thanks for the laugh! That was the funniest thing I heard all day!!! If I were to make a list of the top ten WORST Beatles songs, For You Blue would certainly be on that list!

  10. Oye AP the song for you blues is good

  11. The problem with The Long & Winding Road is that it is middle-of-the-road schmaltz. It’s sappy, cliched, and boring as sin. The orchestra and choir certainly doesn’t help (and don’t get me started on the “Broad Street” version with the god-awful sax). Paul has clearly written masterpieces in the ballad department: Yesterday, Let It Be, Hey Jude. But “TLWR” is not one of them.

    • Nick DeRiso says:

      Really, Chris, I get Phil Spector’s impulse to Vegas up such a wispy weeper. That approach, in this instance, was sadly appropriate for the material.

  12. Nick – orchestra and choir, sadly appropriate as you state, still only bludgeons an already-bad situation. : )

    Do you guys have a list yet of Paul’s sappiest moments? hmmm…..

  13. For you Blue is equal to Old Brown Shoe..Not a quality song..

  14. Paul played the same slide guitar part in Why Dont we do it in the Road..Which is a far better song that For You Blue..

  15. Sorry to all the For You Blue fans but I think it’s crap. The Long and Winding Road is a song Paul wrote about his heart break over his break up with John. It’s a 1000 times better song than For You Blue.

  16. The hypocrisy prevalent in some of the comments attacking Long and Winding Road is typical. John Lennon’s work is full of sentimental moments. But you accept those moments from him because you perceive him as acerbid. George Harrison’s work is full of sentimental moments but you accept those moments from him because you think he’s deep (he’s “the religious one,” after all).

    But you perceive Paul as soft, the ballad guy, the cute Beatle, the one we’re not supposed to take seriously, and so you automatically reject sentimental songs from him as soppy.

    If either John or George had written Long and Winding Road, it would be hailed as a masterpiece. Just as if Paul had written Here Comes the Sun, it would be scoffed off as fluff.

    Anyone who doubts Paul’s heartbreak and utter despair in Long and Winding Road is in denial. And yes, its 1,000 times — 10,000 times — better than the silly For You Blue.

    • An interesting theory. It would be even more interesting, however, if anyone had espoused anything that even remotely bolstered the theory.

      Instead, it’s been made clear (time and time again, by the way) that a number of people here do not share your opinion on “The Long and Winding Road” — not because of the singer, but because of the song … a teeth-splinteringly tiresome, wrist-slashingly morose clunker.

      So, let’s put this to rest: If John or George — or Dylan, or Jagger, or Daltrey, or you or (God forbid) me — had written and/or sung “The Long and Winding Road,” it would still suck.

  17. Actually……… this is an interesting premise…… what if someone else had written “The Long and Winding Road” – how would that affect the perception of the general public?

    Start with reality, of course:

    Paul – piece of wimpy schmaltz/just expressing his feelings (choose your own side)

    Then, the next obvious choices:

    John – brilliant with a hidden meaning, because he never ever wrote a bad song

    George – one of his boring religious pieces

    Ringo – could’ve wrote this in his sleep… yes, I believe he did

    Now, a little out there:

    Ozzy Osbourne – oh – an outtake from Never Say Die!

    Oasis – unreleased, prolly because Noel wrote it, but Liam would have refused to sing it

    Led Zeppelin – brilliant intro for Bonham’s drum solo

    And, finally:

    (Nickelback – …….. ooh – I had a good’un here, but I forgot it. Feel free to add your own.)

    Ted Nugent – sounds like he wrote it after tracking a bear for three days up north. Retitled as, “The Unpaved Logging Road”

    KISS – would’ve disguised it as “Beth” (what’s that you say? They DID that already?)

  18. I’ve really enjoyed the Deep Beatles series, but I have to say that For You Blue is not a particularly good choice. It is a very, very mediocre song on all levels – a throwaway track. Even the performance sounds tired and uninspired. In fact, it would probably be on my list of the 20 crappiest Beatles songs. The Beatles were able to nail most of many genres they attempted, but one thing they could never pull off convincingly is the Blues. Actually, I would go as far as to say that For You Blue is cringeworthy.

    The Long and Winding Road may be schmaltzy and overplayed – and I don’t often go out of my way to listen to it these days – but when stripped of all of the orchestration/choirs it is clearly a top notch song. Great melody and lyrics.

  19. Jimmy Nelson says:

    I really enjoy the Deep Beatles series, too. The idea, as I see it from my vantage point as a regular reader, is for Kit to explore lesser-known songs from the Fabs. “For You Blue” certainly qualifies, and as such is a great choice.

    Whether you like it, or not, is an opinion and you’re welcome to it. But that opinion certainly doesn’t disqualify Kit (someone who has forgotten more about the Beatles that most people are likely to ever know) from writing about it.

    In the end, “For You Blue” is a fun little aside — and I found her piece on it incredibly enlightening. TLAWR, on the other hand, is complete garbage. It only rose to the level of cringeworthy once they removed the strings for ‘Let It Be … Naked.’

  20. The song is unobtrusive. It works. It’s straightforward. The words are simple and so is the music. What makes it truly awesome is the performance… The Beatles were simply an awesome band and this song is transcendent because of that. The singing, the piano, that killer slide guitar… Ya can’t beat it.

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