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Saturday, November 5, 2011

I Feel Fine b/w She's a Woman


On November 27th (the 23rd here in the US), a strange sound emitted from our radios.  A single bass note hangs in the air for a moment before an answering electronic wail which is followed in turn by an amazing guitar riff.  The Beatles repeat an aural trick that film director Richard Lester had demanded of them at the top of A Hard Day's Night - something striking that commands the listeners' attention.  John Lennon was especially proud of the feedback on I Feel Fine, claiming that this was the first deliberate instance of it on any pop record.  "Before Hendrix, before the Who, before anybody," as he told Playboy in one of his last interviews.

I Feel Fine is a great pop song not because of the almost-dismissible lyric, but once again, because of the musical ingenuity which surrounds it.  Once George gets that riff going (and it carries through pretty much the entire song), Ringo enters playing a surprising Latin beat.  John's double-tracked lead vocal is backed up beautifully by Paul and George.  These are the type of harmonies that will come to be known as "Beatlesque."  George's guitar solo has a slightly country flavor to it, which is to be expected considering the work they were currently doing on their upcoming album.  

This song is immediately added to their live set, although getting that feedback for the intro was sometimes difficult to accomplish.  You can hear them attempt it on both Live at the BBC and on Anthology 2 from an appearance on Blackpool Night Out.

For the B-side, McCartney writes and sings a rhythm and blues number called She's a Woman.  It starts out with sharp, clipped chords on John's rhythm guitar, and it is not until the rest of the band enters that we realize he has been playing on the upbeat.  There is a lot of space in this sound with only bass, rhythm guitar, drums and Ringo on chocalho.  Paul sings so high in his register that I did not even recognize this as being the Beatles when I first heard it on the radio - I thought for sure that it was a female voice.  For the second verse, Paul adds a simple piano line to echo his melody, and his voice is double-tracked only for the very brief bridge.  George's guitar solo on this number has even more of a country feel to it than the one he played on the A-side.

The sound was so spare that Capitol Records in America altered it, adding a considerable amount of echo to John's guitar in particular.  This is the type of thing they would do numerous times early in the group's career and not even bother to hide the fact, printing a credit on album covers which read, "Produced in England by George Martin and in the USA with the assistance of Dave Dexter, Jr."

This number was also added to the band's live set.  You can find versions of it on The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl, Live at the BBC and on Anthology 2 from a 1966 concert in Japan.

I also have in my possession a bootleg which was sent to me from the original session of She's a Woman.  Bootlegs from the first half of the group's career are relatively rare, and this one is a real find.  The master was take six, but they did attempt one more take.  Only the basic instruments are heard - John on rhythm guitar, Paul on bass and vocal and Ringo on drums.  All other sounds would have been overdubbed onto take six.  Take seven is clearly not as good, but the fun starts where the fadeout would be.  The Beatles were not known as a band that would typically jam, but here, John, Paul and Ringo go wild for another three minutes, bending notes, screeching and uncharacteristically going off the rails until it all falls apart, at which point Ringo says, "Got a song and an instrumental there."

I Feel Fine was a worldwide number one.  In the US, She's a Woman got just about the same amount of airplay and did extremely well, reaching as high as number four on the Billboard chart.  Capitol also put both of these songs on the album Beatles '65.

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