Volumes have been written on the Lennon/McCartney dynamic, after point/counterpoint exchanges graced “We Can Work It Out,” “Getting Better,” and “She’s Leaving Home.” One of their finest moments as a duo occurred during the troubled Get Back sessions.
Like many of the tracks that would surface on Let It Be, “I’ve Got A Feeling” has a complicated history, but its sheer power and engaging blending of Paul McCartney and John Lennon’s perspectives makes it an unforgettable moment in the band’s catalog.
Like “A Day in the Life,” “I’ve Got A Feeling” consists of two separate songs combined; McCartney penned the section referring to the title, while Lennon contributed a song initially dubbed “Everyone Had A Hard Year,” a track he previously brought to the White Album sessions. The lyrics could refer to the turmoil in Lennon’s life, as he was recovering from a divorce, heroin addiction, Yoko Ono’s miscarriage, and an infamous drug bust. Clearly Lennon originally intended the song to be a tender ballad, very much in the vein of “Julia”:
Another version, where Lennon and Ono croon the song fragment together, even contains a guitar riff similar to “Julia”:
Other reports claim the song also derives from a January 14, 1969 jam session, recorded at Twickenham Studios. Due to a dispute, George Harrison had briefly quit the band, so McCartney replaced him on lead guitar at this time. The resulting song, “Watching Rainbows,” resembles the structure and feel of what would eventually become “I’ve Got A Feeling”; several bootleg compilations contain “Watching Rainbows,” including the Black Album:
Meanwhile, McCartney used his own life experience for his composition, as he was in the throes of his relationship with future spouse Linda Eastman. He and Lennon thus interwove all these songs, completing the writing at McCartney’s home on Cavendish Avenue. They took a brief stab at rehearsing the song on January 10, but tensions were too high after Harrison stormed out of the Twickenham Studios sessions.
Recording commenced on January 22 at Apple Studios; by this time Harrison had returned to the group, and he had invited singer/pianist Billy Preston as a guest artist. They recorded an astonishing 29 versions of “I’ve Got A Feeling” that day; for the next four days they would continue refining the track. A take from January 23 would later emerge on Anthology 3, while a version from the 24th was originally pegged for inclusion on the eventually aborted Get Back album. Finally the moment of truth arrived on January 30, 1969: the day that the Beatles performed in public for the last time, on top of the Apple building’s rooftop.
On a bitterly cold day, the Beatles (plus Preston) performed some of their new tracks for 42 minutes, according to the Beatles Bible. Deep in the basement studio, producer George Martin, engineer Glyn Johns, and tape operator Alan Parsons were recording the concert. As with “Get Back,” “Don’t Let Me Down,” and “Dig A Pony,” the Beatles performed “I’ve Got A Feeling” twice; the first take appeared on the Let It Be album and in the film, while a combination of the two versions surfaced on the Let It Be … Naked disc.
Martin and Johns completed the stereo mix of “I’ve Got A Feeling” on February 5, although this mix was never used. Their second attempt on March 13 was intended for inclusion on the Get Back album, but soon Lennon would reject the proposed LP, and the tapes were shelved. A year later, Harrison and Lennon lobbied for “Wall of Sound” producer Phil Spector to sort through the material, remix the songs, and release the best tracks as the Let It Be album. The rest is history: McCartney famously hated Spector’s treatment, finally remastering and releasing his vision of the album as 2003’s Let It Be…Naked.
Why does “I’ve Got A Feeling” remain an underrated Beatles rocker? First, a distorted rhythm guitar crunches through the mix, adding a harder edge to the track. The lead guitar sharply pierces through the noise, and it particularly soars during the descending note solo. Ringo Starr’s hard-drumming style propels the track, emphasizing the harder sound. McCartney’s bass booms in the mix, while Preston’s piano lends a soulful tone, furthering stressing the Beatles’ R&B roots.
What consistently thrills, however, is Lennon and McCartney’s give-and-take lyrics. McCartney’s words are optimistic and celebratory: “I’ve got a feeling, a feeling I can’t hide,” he sings, his voice clear and straightforward. Interestingly he almost unintelligibly screams the track’s most romantic lines: “All these years I’ve been wandering around, wondering how come nobody told me all that I’ve been looking for was somebody who looked like you!” he yells. The music then drops out, leaving Harrison’s guitar to guide the listener back from this highly emotional moment.
Entering into this mix is Lennon’s world-weary point of view; he acknowledges experiencing difficult times, but suggests that humankind can overcome obstacles. In typical Lennon fashion, he enjoys experimenting with language and pairing apparent opposites: “Ev’rybody had a good year, ev’rybody had a hard time,” he sings in a lower register. “Ev’rybody pulled their socks up, ev’rybody put their foot down, oh yeah.” The song’s two sections have no explicit connection, although they both generally address love and happiness. For example, McCartney appears to speak of love in a more abstract sense, even admitting that he finds it difficult to describe: “I’ve got a feeling, I think that ev’rybody knows,” he sings. In contrast, Lennon uses overtly sexual imagery with the line “Ev’rybody had a wet dream,” but suggests that such ecstasy can be experienced in other ways: “Ev’rybody saw the sun shine … Ev’rybody had a good year, ev’rybody let their hair down.” In other words, we can all identify with these feelings and desires to achieve happiness and freedom.
The Beatles never released “I’ve Got A Feeling” as a single, but McCartney revived it during his 2004 European summer tour. Since then the tune has become a staple of his shows, with drummer Abe Laboriel, Jr. and guitarist Rusty Anderson subbing for Lennon. While the song may not sound quite the same without Lennon’s subtle, gritty vocals, “I’ve Got A Feeling” remains one of Let It Be’s best tracks, and an example of how a band in strife can pull together to create stirring music.