Friday, May 11, 2012

I Want To Tell You

Robert Bunter: I can’t believe I’m saying this, but this is unquestionably the highlight of Revolver, which is unquestionably the highlight of the Beatles’ career. That makes George Harrison the best Beatle, thus the best human. Somebody call the people at the World Almanac and have that inserted into all future editions. There are many people who’ll put down George’s early contributions to the catalog, and I’m one of them. But he was shot out of a goddamn rocket on Revolver. “Taxman” was a bracing opener, but “I Want To Tell You” shows that he has managed to equal his older Beatle brothers – not just in infectious pop craftsmanship, but harmonic, lyrical and formal innovation. You’ve got the unusual fade in with a disorienting rhythmic stagger that makes it difficult to tell where the beat falls, the bold yet appropriate use of dissonance, the freaky Eastern harmonies on “I’ve got time” over the fade – I could go on. Simply, this is a knockout home run touchdown to win the championship. The opponents have all been defeated.  

Richard Furnstein: This is the part where I tell you that you are completely wrong, right? WRONG. You are actually right. I've always considered "I Want To Tell You" one of the purest and most beautiful Beatles songs. It suggests an age of discovery that is rooted in bubblegum while hinting at the weirdness and ambition that would catapult The Beatles past mere saccharine treats. I imagine super intelligent aliens would produce something similar to "I Want To Tell You" if you gave them a copy of a 1910 Fruitgum Company album and some gentle early-generation drugs. As you said, it was such an incredible accomplishment for George Harrison at that stage. It's only a year removed from such awkward fare as "I Need You" and "You Like Me Too Much," yet the quality of his Harrison's Revolver material suggests a complete reevaluation of his songwriting contributions to The Beatles. "I Want To Tell You" is the best of the bunch and never sounds like a gangly younger brother of John and Paul's muscle man songs. I honestly don't know if either of them could come up with a song that so perfectly balances innocence and tension.  

Robert Bunter: It’s just exciting, man. This song has an irresistible energy and drive. For once, George’s thick, phlegmy Liverpool accent is perfectly suited to the music. Major buddies John and Paul chime in on wonderful harmonies, of course. Can you imagine how good the guitar solo would have been, if there was one? The lyrics evoke the world of emotions that George was likely feeling during this heady time. Sure, there were countless meaningless groupie conquests and late-night snogs at the Bag O’ Nails club, but in the swirl there may have been a few young ladies who inspired real feelings in this sensitive young man. His fast-paced world didn’t allow their full expression, however. Picture it: Stockholm. 1965. George slowly awakens, looking slim and fit in his fashionable “Swinging London” undertrousers. Last night’s “bird” slumbers gracefully beside him. Gerte (or was it Fabiene?) had some surprisingly complex thoughts on Dylan’s latest LP, and her hair had that great smell that you only get to smell once in a while. Of course, she was stunningly beautiful. They laughed all night, and when she smiled it lit up the whole room. But now it’s 6:45 a.m. and the cold grey dawn is seeping into the windows of this luxury Stockholm hotel. “Eppy” (dapper Beatles manager Brian Epstein) is on the phone and it’ll soon be time to catch the limo to the airport. The horrible shrieking of thousands of kids outside is already audible. Jesus, I don’t even have time to brush my teeth. What was her name again? “I’ll probably never see her again,” George thinks to himself, and he was right. Later that afternoon on the private airplane, George stares out the window, lost in melancholy thought as the other Beatles laugh uproariously in the course of a card game. Mal Evans is wearing a cowboy hat and everybody’s listening to Herman and the Hermits 45’s at the wrong speed. Now that you’re inside George’s headspace, put “I Want To Tell You” on again and you’ll know exactly where he was coming from. That’s the true story of how it happened.
Later that afternoon on the private airplane, George stares out the window, lost in melancholy thought as the other Beatles laugh uproariously in the course of a card game.

Richard Furnstein: Thank you for that. I pictured it. I went online and went to and printed it at my local pharmacy. I'll probably frame it later if I stop by Ikea this weekend. I truly want to believe that the genius of "I Want To Tell You" came from pure inspiration--a hint of French perfume on his wrinkly collar--rather than a blind hit from George Harrison. It really does succeed in many areas where George's songs usually fall flat. You already mentioned the appeal of his phlegmy voice on this track--an anchor on many Harrison songs, especially in his 1970s solo output. The bridge is a particularly interesting case: it's a really unique progression. Typically, George's explorations in non-conventional chord structures sound a bit stilted and overly melancholy (put on the Living In The Material World album for evidence). Finally, George slips some of his Eastern-melodic influences on the songs outro ("I've got tiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiime"), giving the song a hint of Champa without completely falling into the Pagladiya River ("Within You Without You" and "The Inner Light"). To be fair, those perilous and perfect undulations sound like they are coming from Paul's golden throat (Paululations!). "I Want To Tell You" is truly George Harrison's perfect game. It's a beautiful thing and it's thrilling as can be, but you almost wonder how the heck he pulled it off!  

Robert Bunter: You’re correct. Let me just take this opportunity to say, was there ever a better drummer than Ringo? His lead-footed beat and primal fills are absolutely crucial to this track. Paul’s bass is wonderful, especially toward the end where the whole thing starts to unravel. John’s contributions are less clear – I’m sure the cleanly picked guitar arpeggios were George’s work, and Paul seems to be the main presence in the vocal harmony mix. I imagine John might have been sitting up there in the control room, with a slightly raised eyebrow as he listened to the initial takes, like “Oh ho? Wot have we here? Thick little George has written quite a good track here, hasn’t he? Perhaps I need to step up my game.” That’s just a little imaginative flight of fancy, I have no way of knowing whether that ever really happened. I’m sure John Lennon never thought or said the phrase “step up my game,” for one thing. But I know this: my earlier fantasy about George and the girl in Stockholm is completely true. It just has that ring of authenticity to it.  

Richard Furnstein: Huh, what? Sorry, I zoned out there for a minute. I was too busy imagining myself in that Stockholm lovers' nest. The morning damp with regret. Heart strings pulled by the stern hands of Grandfather Time. It's a sad and beautiful story and I wish I had the bed sheets for my special Beatles memento collection.

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