The Beatles, “I’m Looking Through You” from ‘Rubber Soul’ (1965): Deep Beatles

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Jane Asher, Paul McCartney’s girlfriend during much of the Beatles years, inspired many of his best compositions (“And I Love Her,” “Things We Said Today,” “You Won’t See Me,” and “Here, There and Everywhere,” to cite a few examples). “I’m Looking Through You” paints a vivid picture of the couple’s troubled relationship, but another muse may have inspired the Rubber Soul track: Bob Dylan.

As McCartney told Barry Miles in Many Years from Now, he wrote “I’m Looking Through You” while still living in the Asher family home. “I seem to remember [writing the song] after an argument with Jane,” McCartney said. He composed the track as well as songs like “Yesterday” in Peter Asher’s room, as he kept his instruments in the spacious area.

After penning the track, McCartney brought the song to Abbey Road Studios on October 24, 1965. They spent an astounding nine hours on the song, recording the rhythm track in a single take and overdubbing the lead and backing vocals, handclaps, maracas, organ, and electric guitar. Then they set the song aside for a few weeks. At this point, “I’m Looking Through You” featured a slightly slower tempo, significantly different percussion, no “why tell me why” bridge, an organ riff (courtesy of Ringo Starr), and a bluesy guitar solo from George Harrison. The extended instrumental sections resemble a Rolling Stones track through Harrison’s snarling guitar.

Apparently dissatisfied with this version, the Beatles and producer George Martin revisited the song on November 6, recording a faster version in two takes. They finally settled on the arrangement on November 10; according to Walter Everett’s The Beatles as Musicians: The Quarry Men through Rubber Soul, the Beatles completed final vocal overdubs on November 11 and 12. The October 24 version ultimately resurfaced on the Anthology 2 compilation.

The final song lineup consists of John Lennon on rhythm guitar, tambourine, and backing vocals; McCartney on lead vocals and bass; Harrison on lead guitar and backing vocals; and Starr on drums and organ. Interestingly, the U.S. stereo mix features two false starts at the beginning of the track.

While not a folk song on its face, “I’m Looking Through You” possesses some folk-rock qualities beyond the acoustic guitar. As Richie Unterberger writes in Jingle Jangle Morning: Folk Rock in the 1960s, the track remains “as thoroughbred folk-rock as anything recorded by anyone in 1965.” The lyrics may have been partially inspired by “I Don’t Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met)” from 1964’s Another Side of Bob Dylan. The Beatles had been listening to Dylan during this period; although the troubadour clearly influenced Lennon during the 1964-1965 period, McCartney also became fascinated with his poetic style. “We were highly influenced by him and he was quite influenced by us. … We were cross-pollinating each other,” McCartney told Paul Du Noyer in Conversations with McCartney.

A side-by-side comparison of the lyrics of “I’m Looking Through You” and “I Don’t Believe You” reveals striking similarities in subject matter and phrases. Another Side of Bob Dylan proved a departure point for the songwriter, as he transitioned from a purely political songwriter to a highly personal one. The album would alienate traditional folk fans with his tales of broken love (inspired by his breakup with Suze Rotolo over his ongoing affair with Joan Baez), rejection of social conformity, and discomfort with his own protest songs. On Rubber Soul, McCartney would further explore personal themes, drawing from his relationship with Asher.

In “I’m Looking Through You,” McCartney immediately establishes his girlfriend’s apparent deceit: “I’m looking through you / Where did you go?” In “I Don’t Believe You,” Dylan wonders why his lover left him. “I’d sure like t’ know / Why did she go?” he asks.

McCartney bemoans that “you don’t look different, but you have changed,” referring to Jane Asher’s desire to pursue her acting career and not remain with him full time. She is wearing a mask, he maintains, emphatically singing “I thought I knew you, what did I know?” Similarly, in “I Don’t Believe You,” Dylan expresses shock at the transformation in his lover: “Yet it’s hard t’ think on / That she’s the same one / That last night I was with,” he sings. As McCartney cries “you’re not the same,” Dylan also wails “But now something has changed / For she ain’t the same.”

While McCartney has never stated that “I Don’t Believe You” specifically inspired “I’m Looking Through You,” the lyrics and themes strongly resemble each other.

The Beatles’ frequent use of acoustic guitars throughout Rubber Soul presents a snapshot of the 1965 folk-rock movement, and “I’m Looking Through You” is no exception. The unusual percussion — according to the Beatles Bible, Starr tapped a matchbox with his fingers for an even more distinctive sound — further distinguishes the track from other Paul McCartney compositions.

During his 2010-11 tour, McCartney performed the track live for the first time. While it may stand as a relic of a relationship, his vocals and the Beatles’ unusual instrumentation makes “I’m Looking Through You” an underrated Rubber Soul song.

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 [email protected]
Kit O'Toole
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