I’m Only Sleeping - The Beatles

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"I’m Only Sleeping" - The Beatles (1966)

Lennon wrote “I’m Only Sleeping” as a tribute to staying in bed, which he liked to do even when he wasn’t sleeping. He loved laying around in bed, sleeping, reading, watching TV or lovemaking.

“I’m Only Sleeping” is an excellent example of a voice perfectly fused with its instrumental accompaniment. Aside from various dreamy touches, the fluid bass and shimmering guitars draw you back to those moments just after waking when it still feels like a dream, or to the daydreams just before you drift off.

The mood McCartney’ and Harrison’s background vocals create is a feeling of illusion and floating without any weight in a dream. The rhythm guitar flows gently and methodically along with the vocals. George’s backward guitar fleets in and out of Lennon’s vocals like images in a dream. The rhythm track, meticulously sewn together from a number of takes, provides a solid framework for George Harrison’s extremely innovative hypnotic guitar solo.

The downward strum on the acoustic guitar that starts off the song occurs simultaneously with the vocal entrance. The delayed downbeat has no preparation: before we can blink we’re well into the final verse, and the effect is of being awakened in the middle of a dream. The rhythm is dotted with quirky anticipations and retards, including moments when the whole band seems to nod off for an instant and then hastily regain its place.

The disorienting backwards guitar solo created by Harrison and George Martin was a very complicated piece of music. Harrison composed a melodic sequence which was recorded in reverse and then George Martin used a “fuzz box” to overdub a second solo. When threading the multitrack tape was done incorrectly it created a blurred, slurping sound. When McCartney heard the “mistake” he asked the engineer if he could recreate it. The overall effect was “drowsy.”

Remarking on Harrison’s solo, McCartney commented:

“It sounds like something you couldn’t play.”

Lennon’s lyrics demonstrate the apparent ease of viewing one’s inner states, not as objects in the world but as self-defining episodes, and the apparent difficulty of mapping one’s thoughts onto the external world.

There are two worlds in this song: the dreamy desires of the subconscious that come with sleep, and the intruding consciousness of reality. The narrator wants just to be left alone with his fantasies. To listen to the color of his dreams. Certain lingering attachments to the outside world make him feel like he’s “never been born.”

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