Why John Lennon Thought 15 Words Were Enough for The Beatles’ ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’
You never knew where a John Lennon lyric might take you. Even in the early, simple days of The Beatles, John could threaten a lover that he’d “let you down and leave you flat” for disappointing him.
Within a few years, John would take listeners upstream on psychedelic journeys (“Tomorrow Never Knows”) or paint “like a watercolor” (“Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite“). By the mid-’60s, John had become a master of lyric-writing.
With “I Am the Walrus” (1967) and his White Album (1968) tracks, he stretched the bounds of Beatles lyrics further. In ’69, while recording music for Let It Be and Abbey Road, John took a turn back toward raw, simple lyrics.
After “Don’t Let Me Down” (the B-side to “Get Back”), John went even simpler and rawer with “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).” In fact, you’ll only find a total of 15 different words when you check the lyrics.
John compared his simple lyrics to a ‘scream’ of love
You get six of the 15 words to “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” by looking at the title. Another six (“so bad” and “it’s driving me mad”) come a few lines into the song. That leaves only “know,” “babe,” and “yeah” to wrap up the list of words John deployed on this track.
Obviously, a song of this nature lives and dies by the instrumental and vocal performance — and John and The Beatles succeed on both fronts. John’s vocal, in particular, sounds as if it comes from the depths of his soul. To hear him tell it, that was the exact source of the passion in his voice.
“When it gets down to it … when you’re drowning, you don’t say ‘I would be incredibly pleased if someone would have the foresight to notice me drowning and come and help me,'” he told Rolling Stone the following year. “You just scream.”
If you know the details of John’s biography, you know he’s referring to drowning in love for his wife, Yoko Ono. After howling in angst about the same subject on “Don’t Let Me Down,” John wanted to get another declaration of his feelings on record.
John and his bandmates went heavy on the ‘I Want You’ recording
The simple lyrics and impassioned vocal delivery only tell half of the story of “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).” Musically speaking, the song is about as dark and heavy as The Beatles got on record. The repetitive chord sequence seems to grind the listener along to its conclusion.
Meanwhile, the use of a Moog synthesizer and sound effects take the track a few steps further. Though the band’s engineer recalled Paul McCartney fretting over John’s use of a wind machine on the track, John kept pushing the envelope.
As a result, the white noise threatens to overpower the instruments in the final minutes. By that point, the repetition of the outro sounds as if it might go on forever. But it doesn’t — the tape comes to a sudden halt.
While it’s an excellent way to close the first side of Abbey Road, the effect must have been jarring. That seems to be John’s intention. When engineers reasonably asked if he wanted the song to fade out, John ordered the tape be cut with scissors. There was no question at that point.