The Beatles, “Yes It Is” from Past Masters (1965): Deep Beatles

Share this:

As the Beatles entered the Help! sessions, John Lennon was transforming into an introspective songwriter. Influenced by Bob Dylan, Lennon leaned more toward the melancholy, the first-person perspective, and more unusual chord changes. A Hard Day’s Night hints at this development with “I’ll Be Back,” and Beatles for Sale continues this progression with moodier tracks such as “No Reply,” “I’m a Loser,” and “Baby’s in Black.”

When the Beatles entered the studio to record songs for the Help! soundtrack, they were clearly looking to further expand their sound. “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” and even the title track reveal a vulnerable side to Lennon, a willingness to explore deeper subject matter such as insecurity and isolation. While it did not appear on the soundtrack album, “Yes It Is” was recorded at the same time as the two other tracks, and represents an important stage in John Lennon’s artistic evolution.

Lennon dismissed “Yes It Is” as “me trying a rewrite of ‘This Boy’ but it didn’t work,” in his 1980 Playboy interview. Paul McCartney told biographer Barry Miles that he helped Lennon with the track during a writing session at Lennon’s Kenwood estate. “It was his inspiration that I helped finish off,” McCartney told Miles. “‘Yes It Is’ is a very fine song of John’s – a ballad, unusual for John.”

The Beatles began work on the track during a February 16, 1965 recording session, with engineer Norman Smith assisting George Martin. Interestingly the group had also completed “I Need You” on this date, with George Harrison playing volume-pedal assisted guitar parts on both songs. The Beatles completed the rhythm track in 14 takes; next, Harrison, Lennon, and McCartney spent three hours nailing their harmonies, all singing together in one microphone. Take two surfaced on Anthology 2, with Lennon’s guide vocals over the rhythm track. The final version was released as the B-side of the “Ticket to Ride” single on April 19, 1965, and was later included on the Past Masters compilation.

Rolling Stone ranked “Yes It Is” at No. 99 of their “100 Greatest Beatles Songs,” explaining how it contains “some of the most intricate vocals of any Beatles song; like ‘This Boy,’ it was an attempt to mimic the three-part harmonies of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles.” The comparisons to “This Boy” are obvious; after all, both are wistful ballads with lush, tight harmonies. However, “Yes It Is” adds another level of sophistication in terms of lyrical content and arrangement. According to musicologist Alan W. Pollack, “the roster of chords appearing in the song is relatively standard but both the ordering of their progressions, as well as the voice leading transitions between some of them, is extraordinary.” Only the bridge and “first phrase of the verse are made up of chord progressions that approximate cliché patterns of the period,” Pollack adds.

As previously mentioned, comparisons between “Yes It Is” and “This Boy” are inevitable due to their close harmonies. An argument can be made that “Baby’s in Black” more closely resembles the song in terms of lyrical content and chords. Unlike the 1950s and early ’60s “doo wop” sound of “This Boy,” “Baby’s in Black” features a more complex structure and arrangement, close harmonies, and dark themes.

The latter’s narrator bemoans his girlfriend’s obsession with mourning her previous lover. “Oh, dear, what can I do? / Baby’s in black and I’m feeling blue,” Lennon and McCartney sing. In “Yes It Is,” the narrator himself is haunted by a past lover; in this case, red is the color of regret and (in a sense) mourning. “Please don’t wear red tonight / This is what I said tonight / For red is the color that will make me blue,” Harrison, Lennon, and McCartney croon. Lennon loved puns and plays on words, and these lines perfectly exemplify this trait. In both songs, he equates colors with feelings, although he turns traditional symbolism on its head in “Yes It Is.” After all, red is typically not considered a color of mourning.

In both songs, the narrator communicates a sense of powerlessness: In “Baby’s in Black,” Lennon (with harmonies from McCartney) expresses frustration over his lover’s unwillingness to move on with her life and new relationship with him. “Oh, how long will it take / Till she sees the mistake she has made / Dear what can I do?” he sings in a higher key, suggesting anger over his apparent failure. “What can I do?” is a rhetorical question; he feels useless and unable to influence the situation.

“Yes It Is” also sees the narrator at a crossroads, unsure of how he can move on. “I could be happy with you by my side,” Lennon states (his voice double tracked), clearly wanting to commit himself to the new relationship. However, this will only happen if he can forget his former lover. Pride is the obstacle here (“yes it is,” he repeats, emphasizing the point), and nothing in the lyrics suggests that the narrator will overcome this barrier. Unlike “Baby’s in Black,” Lennon is mourning the loss of a former lover’s affection, his inability to let go of those feelings, and his apparent failure in conquering issues of pride. Both tracks play with language to communicate feelings of regret, anxiety, frustration, and helplessness.

“Baby’s in Black” ends on an B7th, while “Yes It Is” concludes on an E. Yet Harrison’s volume-pedaled guitar adds a fascinating coda, a wistfulness that represent’s the narrator’s sorrow. In other words, “Yes It Is” demonstrates the Beatles’ increasing facility in experimenting with sound to communicate feeling. “Baby’s in Black” concludes on a more definite note, suggesting an ending to the story. But do the lyrics actually suggest such an ending?

“Yes It Is” contains more lush, complicated harmonies than “Baby’s in Black,” but both accomplish the same goals: setting a mood and emphasizing key phrases. “Yes It Is” is itself a key phrase, along with “it’s my pride,” while “Baby’s in Black” stresses “Oh how long will it take” and “she dresses in black.” The tight harmonies increase in pitch and volume to communicate climactic moments of the song. In this case, “Yes It Is” does indeed resemble “This Boy,” but the former implements sophisticated harmonies and unusual chord changes. While powerful, “This Boy” conjures images of 1950s groups harmonizing together, a sound that the Beatles grew up listening to on the radio.

Ringo Starr uses a light touch on the track, wisely letting the perfectly blended vocals take center stage. The other star of the track remains George Harrison’s guitar: His instrument virtually “cries” throughout the song, underscoring the melancholy tone and downbeat subject matter. Harrison’s playing is distinctive and stands out from other songs of the period.

Sophisticated wordplay, deeply reflective lyrics, and unusual chord changes — all are present in “Yes It Is,” arguably one of the Beatles’ best B-sides. A closer listen reveals how the song continues John Lennon’s rapid growth as a songwriter, revealing vulnerabilities that he would display on the White Album and in his solo career.

Kit O'Toole

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.
Kit O'Toole
Share this:
  • Charlie Ricci

    “Yes It Is” is not only one of The Beatles best B sides it’s one of my all time favorite songs by the Fabs, PERIOD!! Definitely in my top 10.

    • Kit O’Toole

      No argument here, Charlie! Thanks for commenting!

  • Larry Perfetti

    Excellent article. Made me think about the many aspects of this song and my experiences with Beatles music. John’s willingness to open up his inner life and to analyze to some degree in his music was quite touching.

    • Kit O’Toole

      Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments, Larry! Yes, John could really lay himself bare in his lyrics.

  • vassilis

    I really love ‘Yes It Is’, musically, stylistically and because of its melancholy mood. It always bothered me that Lennon thought of it as a failed attempt to redo ‘This Boy’; though I love both songs, I find ‘Yes It Is’ more sophisticated and sometimes prefer Lennon’s mumbling solo recording of it (I think on the Anthology project). This song was a B-side that the composer actually brushed off…how good were these boys!

  • vassilis

    I really love ‘Yes It Is’, musically, stylistically and because of its melancholy mood. It always bothered me that Lennon thought of it as a failed attempt to redo ‘This Boy’; though I love both songs, I find ‘Yes It Is’ more sophisticated and sometimes even prefer Lennon’s mumbling solo recording of it (I think on the Anthology project). This song was a B-side that the composer actually brushed off…how good were these boys!

    • Kit O’Toole

      It’s astounding how John constantly put down his own songs. If this was a “failed rewrite,” I’d like to hear what he thought was a successful one! Thanks for commenting.

  • Jerry Edinger

    Notice the dissonant harmony on the initial word “tonight” that is resolved on the second “tonight” Mozart was supreme at handling tension and release but this song gives you a basic introduction of that process. What a great song.

    • Kit O’Toole

      Very good point, Jerry! It’s yet another example of how the Beatles integrated so many genres into their songs. Thanks for sharing that insight!

  • Preston Frazier

    Wow Kit! Thanks. I truly love this song. Simplicity and perfection. I love your insight.

    • Kit O’Toole

      Thanks, Preston!

Close