I Feel Fine: John Lennon, rule breaker…

“That’s me completely. Including the electric guitar lick and the record with the first feedback anywhere. I defy anybody to find a record – unless it’s some old blues record in 1922 – that uses feedback that way. I mean, everybody played with feedback on stage, and the Jimi Hendrix stuff was going on long before. In fact, the punk stuff now is only what people were doing in the clubs. So I claim it for The Beatles. Before Hendrix, before The Who, before anybody. The first feedback on any record.” – John Lennon

John Lennon looking ready to break any number of rules (image courtesy Bio.com)

Parlophone, the EMI imprint that signed the Beatles (and which the Beatles saved from being a novelty record label), had a strict policy: NO feedback allowed on recordings. Having discovered what feedback could do for his song “I Feel Fine,” John, as he had done and would do all his life, said to hell with the rules and gave us one of the most singular and identifiable examples of feedback used as musical effect in rock history.

The iconic feedback based opening of the song took “I Feel Fine” from album cut to A side and gave the Beatles their seventh consecutive UK #1. Like the equally iconic opening chord for “A Hard Day’s Night,” it established the Beatles as sonic innovators, a role their later work certainly bore out.

The creation of that feedback is the result (as with the famous chord in “A Hard Day’s Night”) of combining instruments. Paul McCartney plays a low A on the bass as Lennon holds the pickup of his Gibson acoustic (the guitar that replaced the famous J160-E of the early recordings) in front of his amp. The result is a drone that moves from low to high and leads into George and John’s twin guitar riffs.  The lyric is of its time, standard Beatle musings on love and happiness with one’s “baby”:

            I Feel Fine

Baby’s good to me, you know
She’s happy as can be, you know
She said so
I’m in love with her and I feel fine

Baby says she’s mine, you know
She tells me all the time, you know
She said so
I’m in love with her and I feel fine

I’m so glad that she’s my little girl
She’s so glad, she’s telling all the world

That her baby buys her things, you know
He buys her diamond rings, you know
She said so
She’s in love with me and I feel fine, mmm

Baby says she’s mine, you know
She tells me all the time, you know
She said so
I’m in love with her and I feel fine

I’m so glad that she’s my little girl
She’s so glad, she’s telling all the world

That her baby buys her things, you know
He buys her diamond rings, you know
She said so
She’s in love with me and I feel fine
She’s in love with me and I feel fine, mmm, mmm

To avoid the wrath of Parlophone, the Beatles described the feedback effect at the beginning of “I Feel Fine” as one of those happy accidents that occur sometimes in studio settings. Only years later did John take ownership of the effect.

Sometimes breaking the rules requires plausible deniability.

Here’s “I Feel Fine” with some video footage, including George’s introduction of the song:

 

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About Jim Booth

Novelist, college professor, rock musician - are we getting the band back together? Maybe....
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