I feel fine

A post by thecuriousastronomer prompts a few thoughts on “I Feel Fine” by the Beatles, a well known and much-loved song which demonstrates tellingly why the Beatles were – and indeed remain – so far above the everyday of popular song.

The lyrics I find very touching. Lennon conjures up the object of his affection who is as much in love with him as he is with her, as emphasised by a repeated phrase in the verse: “she says so”. But there’s more to it than that: “she says so” repeatedly, and her public pronouncements provide Lennon with satisfaction beyond even the rapture of their shared love. In the middle eight he declares that not only is he glad that she’s his, but he’s doubly glad that she’s “telling all the world”.

Perhaps this smacks of self-regard, but I think we can indulge this young man. In the third verse he speaks of himself in the third person:

That her baby buys her things, you know,

He buys her diamond rings you know. She said so.

By doing this Lennon casts himself as the hero of his own love song. What a splendid, generous chap he is, and how lucky is this girl to have his affection.

Yes, it is the forgivable arrogance of a young man in love, but placed in context this is no self-satisfied anthem, far less a machismo one. This is what love does: it elevates the people it touches and makes them want to tell all the world. It is, if you will, a love song to love.

How does Lennon choose to set this musically? He comes up with a catchy tune which perhaps on its own wouldn’t adequately serve the joyful, uplifting content of the lyric. No matter, because he places the tune in counterpoint to a perky guitar riff which serves as an obbligato figure that lifts the song to the required heights.

The riff is a fine inspiration. It begins with an octave leap on D natural and includes a C natural (the flat seventh) which establishes a blues tang at the outset. The skittishness of love is further suggested by another climb up to a high G (the riff encompasses nearly an octave and a half).The bluesy feel is then redoubled by repeating the same phrase down a whole tone – the C major seventh chord. This leads into the G major riff that establishes the tonic.

The tune mentioned above sets up a playful counterpoint with the riff which is further enhanced by Ringo’s inventive Latin-hued drumming. And the tune itself further toys with our expectations by presenting a six-bar verse “Baby’s good to me, you know…” with a four bar chorus “I’m in love with her…” In between the sung phrases that zesty obbligato rises to the surface.

The instrumental section is especially smart. It begins, predictably, with a guitar solo over the chords of the tune, but this only lasts for the first four bars. The next two bars (that is bars five and six of the six-bar phrase) are only “accompaniment” and lead us back to the introduction – the bluesy eight bar riff taking us through dominant and subdominant back to the tonic and a repeat of the verse-chorus section. So a ten-bar structure (the verse and chorus) interrupted by a middle eight (a fairly routine, but likeable one) leads to a fourteen-bar instrumental before the repeat. Unifying the whole thing is that intoxicating riff.

One should avoid making extravagant pleas for the song’s artistry, but it provides an example of the mainstream love song which extols its theme through refined craftsmanship and admirable technique. As a celebration of uncomplicated love, therefore, it might well be perfect.

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Posted in Popular music
4 comments on “I feel fine
  1. Tangled Up In Music (by Ovidiu Boar) says:

    Great analysis – I particularly liked this line: “This is what love does: it elevates the people it touches and makes them want to tell all the world”. I also think Lennon’s vocals add a lot to the song, his early leads were always so full of enthusiasm.

  2. G.H.Bone says:

    Thanks for coming by, and for your kind comment. Good point about John’s vocals. He had quite an unusual voice (or at least unusual at the time, before countless vocalists began to affect that nasally sound!) It’s not an obviously “beautiful” voice, but it had character and is very appealing, and he knew how to make the most of it. I always enjoy the Beatles when they sing harmony – their voices blend without losing their individuality.

  3. kurtnemes says:

    Great post! I first herd this when it came out in 1965. I was 10. I loved that first thrum and then the riff. It still thrills me. I know the words, but I never really thought about them in that way. Maybe it was because I never found true love (aside from parental love) until 10 years ago when I met my wife. Lennon’s lyrics have so much more passion than McCartney’s. Wait. Who wrote “Eleanor Rigby?”

  4. G.H.Bone says:

    Thanks for your comment and kind words. As for my “take” on the words: I’m probably being over-analytical, as is my tendency, but I do enjoy it when writers find a fresh way to approach a tired old subject, and Lennon’s take here is so refreshing. As for Lennon vs McCartney in the passion stakes, well there’s a whole post to be written there!

    Off the cuff, I’d see Lennon (at least in those early days) as being a bit lustful, while McCartney is more formal, and courtly. But as always with those writers, as soon as one makes a generalisation, it starts to fall down.

    Well, yes, McCartney wrote “Eleanor Rigby”, which is emotionally very cool (that is, objective), though tender. It’s also a masterpiece, of course. But by no means a love song.

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