125) The Beatles – “I Feel Fine”

The A-note that opens “I Feel Fine” is more than just the first blast of feedback on record; it also heralds the start of The Beatles’ middle period.  While the band’s earliest records are sometimes condemned as too poppy, or their later records as too arty, the era stretching from late 1964 to 1966 is The Beatles everyone can agree on.  The records released in this timespan tend to have the best of both worlds: bright, catchy melodies paired with more thoughtful, introspective lyrics, with an occasional experimental detour (culminating with “Tomorrow Never Knows,” the closing track on 1966’s Revolver).

“I Feel Fine” still has a foot in the Beatles’ past, with its simple, chipper lyrics and uptempo beat.  But that single note of feedback, less a shriek than a gentle hum, signals the band’s increasing fascination with using the studio to create new sonic textures.  The Beatles weren’t the first to experiment with deliberate feedback; The Who, The Kinks and The Yardbirds had all dabbled with it in a live setting.  But only a commercial juggernaut blessed with an understanding producer could have succeeded in getting such a sound on tape and into stores.  What’s often overlooked here is what the song sounds like after the feedback: a sort of maximum R&B more commonly associated with mods than with rockers (or with mockers, for that matter).  In fact, much of “I Feel Fine” is lifted wholesale from Bobby Parker’s 1961 R&B hit “Watch Your Step.” Even the feedback just subs in for the twin horn blasts opening that record.  But George Harrison’s rockabilly picking of the “Watch Your Step” riff also hints at the folkier directions the band would explore a few months later on Help! and Rubber Soul.  And anyone still doubting Ringo Starr’s bona fides should just listen to the Latin rhythms snaking around Harrison’s lead.

One further note on those seemingly straightforward lyrics: what does John Lennon mean by “I’m in love with her and I feel fine“? “Fine” seems like a mild reaction, unless it’s an intentionally dry understatement.  Or is it meant to be an oblique reference to a darker time in the past, when he wasn’t fine? If it’s the latter, then “I Feel Fine” could be read as a companion piece to the triad of despair that opens Beatles for Sale (“No Reply”/”I’m a Loser”/”Baby’s in Black”).  That album, released just two weeks after “I Feel Fine,” is the sound of The Beatles beginning to shed their cheery-chaps persona, posing solemn-faced on the album cover and writing more serious lyrics that, in Lennon’s case, verged on self-loathing.  But when paired with Beatles for Sale, “I Feel Fine” acts as a reassurance to the group’s fans: The Beatles may be growing up, but they still remember how to have fun. 8

Hit #1 on December 26, 1964; total of 3 weeks at #1
125 of 1000 #1’s reviewed; 12.50% through the Hot 100

Advertisements

4 Comments

Filed under 08, 1964, 1965

4 responses to “125) The Beatles – “I Feel Fine”

  1. Oo, thanks for pointing out the Bobby Parker rip-off (a word I would never dream of using negatively). I honestly had never noticed the similarity. I love things like that, like where you point out that the famous feedback is a stand-in for the horns in the earlier song, where the structure stays but the method changes. Nice nice. I’m too tired to write coherent sentences, but wanted to say that.

  2. Doctor Casino

    Somehow the “fine” has never sounded as limp and understated as it reads on paper – – somehow I think I hear it as the fine-ness of sexual contentment (or drugged bliss), sung with a smile, maybe almost a smirk – things are going juuuuuust fine. This may be partly informed by the snarl that lurks underneath the “…that her BABY buys her THINGS you KNOW” part – – Lennon’s delivery could make anything sound more adult and complex.

  3. drewcarberry@yahoo.com

    superb commentary.

  4. Hi

    I am from Melbourne, Australia, and have just stumbled across your blog, its very impressive, thanks for such a comprehensive look at the songs.

    I love the Beatles, and your summation of “I Feel Fine” is pretty much spot on in my opinion.

    I will be sure to continue to read your site.

    In case you are intrested, I have a music blog where I make meaningless lists around various themes. Nothing near as comprehensive and informative as yours though, but I am only just starting out, so you are most welcome to check it out if you want::

    http://musiclists.blogspot.com

    thanks and kind regards

    Deano

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s