For A Song: I'm Only Sleeping

by John A. Wilcox

If ever there was a song with far-reaching influence, it most surely is I'm Only Sleeping from the Beatles album Revolver, released on August 5th, 1966. With its backwards guitars and dreamy John Lennon lyrics, the song remains an inspiration to this day. Progsheet sent the word out for opinions on this classic, and here's what filtered in to email central...

Steve Hackett: I'm Only Sleeping by the Beatles as I recall was the first time the world had heard the sound of not just one but several multi-tracked backwards guitars. Every guitarist in England suddenly wanted to become a Beatle if only to be able to coax even vaguely similar sounds from his axe. The rest of the song seems to combine a dreamlike atmosphere hovering between an indolent "I can't be bothered" feel with a highly original focused energy that manages to be both relaxed and intense at the same time - a throwaway piece of genius from the pen of John Lennon. How did they manage to make the difficult sound so easy?

Jim McCarty: I remember that particular track: I believe that was from"Revolver. That came out in 66, when we were really doing well. I remember hearing that song in California, and it captured that psychedelic feeling going round at that time. The backward guitar and the way the guys sang it created a very cool dreamy effect.

Jonathan Schang: Revolver is right up there with Abbey Road as perhaps my favorite Beatles album (a distinction that's essentially an oxymoron in a catalogue such as theirs). I find I'm Only Sleeping to be among the most evocative tracks in all of rock music. Lennon's droll, weary delivery perfectly captures the lure of slumber and the desire to let all of our worldly troubles go whilst we "float upstream". Of course, most music fans know this is the first track to feature backwards guitar, and Harrison's slithering lines help to further paint a picture of the dreamlike state, where so little is really very ordinary. McCartney's use of upright bass, certainly a rarity in their oeuvre, is yet another sonic element that contributes to the lazy, lethargic mood. Who else would have even considered writing and recording a song about the merits of sleeping the day away, which would then help to form the tapestry of one of the greatest and most groundbreaking rock albums of all time? Only The Beatles.

Alan Merrill: I'm Only Sleeping is one of my favorite Lennon vocals. It conveys the mood of the lyric perfectly, and was the start of Lennon's signature vocal style. Raspy, with a sneer to it. The Beatles were changing gear, as was the Lennon vocal style. A style copied by many artists to follow, particularly Liam Gallagher of Oasis, who used this sort of vocal as a blueprint for his band's success.

Roine Stolt: I was only 10 when the album was released and an older friend of mine Bo, who was a big music fan bought all new cool records and spoke about the rumours that the new Beatles would be "experimental" and different. When I heard the album it sure did sound different - all new sounds and a raw loud Beatles. I'm Only Sleeping became one of my favorites - because it was John singing and he sang it with a true sleepy otherworldly voice (stoner?), and the vocal harmonies on this tune are exquisite - as on most of the Revolver tracks. Backwards guitar made it more surreal. Still regard Revolver as one of the Beatles more consistent albums - not one bad track on it. Album cover by Klaus Voorman and their new cool fashion just sealed the deal for me - the embryo of prog .

Steve Morse: This is a rare Beatles tune to me, because I feel like the verse and 'middle 8' sections are stronger than the chorus itself. There is such a beautiful tune to the verse, that it is a better hook. I love the backwards guitar overdubs, but then again, everything George did was magic to me!

Mike Keneally: Hearing it on Yesterday And Today as an 8-year-old, I thought there was something wrong somewhere: in my record player, in the record itself, most likely in my own ability to comprehend what felt like a very adult expression of feelings. But the more I got used to hearing it, the more it just felt like a window into something dreamlike and unearthly - too young to relate to the inertia in the lyric, whether induced by drugs or by world-weariness, it just hit me as something at least as fantastic as Alice in Wonderland or The Wizard of Oz. And I still feel that way about it.

Mark Bacino: With its psychedelic-meets-power-pop blast of ultra-compressed drums, strummy acoustic string scraping and backward lead guitar, I'm Only Sleeping has always been one of my fave Revolver tracks. For me Sleeping illustrates what The Beatles always did best (IMHO) - effortlessly merging hooks and classic songcraft with fearless musical experimentation. Simultaneously Top 40, AM ready and FM Prog rock heady. A perfect balance of what music's past had to offer coupled with what the future was yet to reveal. As such (and hindsight being 20/20), one can't help but also view I'm Only Sleeping as perhaps a foreshadowing toward the kind of further experimentation yet to come with Sgt. Pepper's...

John Ford: After Rubber Soul which was good, I was really knocked out by Revolver -- a much more produced album which set The Beatles on the path to Sgt. Pepper and beyond. I'm Only Sleeping, is a typical Lennon slow ballad, in the vein of I'm So Tired, from The White Album. Apparently, during a playback of the song, the tape was put on backwards and The Beatles liked the sound they heard. So, Harrison recorded the solo backwards and when played back the right way, it produced the desired effect you have on the finished song which was amazing at the time. Lennon's vocals on this, was his typical Dylan inspired, laid back, late night recording, as on I'm So Tired and Julia, from The White Album. Also, McCartney's bass ending on the last five notes, going out on a different feel, is why he's one of my favourite bassists.

Jann Klose: One of my absolute favorite songs. I used to listen to and feel completely guilt-free about extending my time in bed. I should be angry at Lennon about this, but alas, I'm not!

Yoko Ono: I'm only dreaming that I'm asleep.

Larry Kirwan: A trippy early summer back in Wexford except that there were no drugs, and we weren't even old enough to drink; but the music mad youth of the town could think of nothing but Revolver. It consumed us on our daily walks across the bridge to the swimming pier, we dreamed about it at nights and wished that the showbands would copy some of the songs but Revolver seemed so far beyond them, as it did many of us too. We loved all four Beatles in Wexford - there was no John versus Paul - and George's second cousin, Aidan Ffrench was a singer in a local showband so we adored Georgie. Who didn't love Ringo?

And yet I'm Only Sleeping stood out on that album. Maybe because it was still a pop song when you peeled back all the trippy lead guitar and over-condensed rhythm guitar. And oh that voice of Lennon's!!! We analyzed every nano-second of it - Deckie Sinnott who would later go on to form Horslips and is now Christy Moore's guitarist, and Pierce Turner with whom I would later emigrate to the US. We were mad about music and it all seemed so magical in that magical summer when pop first met psychedelia.

Even today when I hear I'm Only Sleeping, I'm immediately transported back to an innocent time when we were all just about to cast such a cloak aside. Ah, Mr. Lennon, I wish you were alive. Maybe that's why I wrote the novel Liverpool Fantasy. Despite the ups and downs I put you through in it, you are still ineluctably alive, as you should still be - not dead as a doornail but only sleeping.


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