“I Need You” is the second song George composed.
The track is said to be about his relationship with Pattie Boyd before he married her in January 1966. However it has been suggested that when he wrote the song he was dating the American actress, Joey Heatherton- although it was a long distance relationship.
As “I Need You” is a break up song - the loss of love and he and Pattie Boyd didn’t break up as a couple before getting married, the song could actually be about Joel Heatherton and not Pattie Boyd. The question remains- who was it that broke George’s heart- Joey or Pattie?
For the first time on a recording, George used a foot-operated, tone/volume pedal which swells the volume and can create very distinctive lead guitar cadences. The result was a distorted, fading-in, fading-out sound. It was used in the introduction, and throughout the track to reinforce the sound of the vocals.
George, however, pointed out that he had problems with it:
“I could never coordinate it. So some of those, what we do is, I played the part, and John would kneel down in front of me and turn my guitar's volume control.”
Beatle scholar Alan Pollack commented that “I Need You” had an intriguing stylistic mix as the pop-rock core of the song is augmented by a folksy undercurrent that manifests itself most strongly in the haunting pseudo-modality of the tune.
He said it contains George's proclivity for blurring somewhat the division between verse and bridge sections by the phrasing of the lyrics. He points out that the backing track has a “nicely balanced, airy texture of acoustic rhythm guitar mixed with a part for electric pedal tone guitar in which the latter instrument sounds almost like a keyboard.”
Due to the sound and melancholic nature of the speaker, Pollack avers that the listener finds George at his absolutely most vulnerable in this song and it is unique due to its bitter-sweetly mixed tone of plaintive, terminal desperation.
Music critic Richie Unterberger opines:
“The bridges end with a declaration that Harrison just can't go on any more -- though in truth, as was par for the course when the Beatles sang such desperate lyrics, he in fact sounded fairly upbeat and happy -- to be answered by a particularly gliding, elongated phrase of the tone pedal guitar. Ringo Starr's cowbell is used effectively throughout the track, which ends with another of the early Beatles' signature devices: a repetition of the title phrase that varies the melody used elsewhere in the song, ending on an upbeat motif dominated by a sustained tone pedal guitar riff. “