John Lennon once described Revolver’s “I’m Only Sleeping” as “It’s got backward guitars, too. That’s me—dreaming my life away.” I’ve been in an “I’m Only Sleeping” state of mind recently. I caught some flu bug and have no energy for nothing but sleep. I figured if I’m tired why not spin the best soundtrack for sleep, Lennon’s “I’m Only Sleeping.”
Lennon once portrayed his life in the Evening Standard circa 1966 as “[I’m] physically lazy. I don’t mind writing or reading or watching or speaking, but sex is the only physical thing I can be bothered with anyone.” Luckily, Lennon did find the energy to join his Fab Four mates at Abbey Road to record “I’m Only Sleeping” for Revolver.
John’s lifelong friend Pete Shotten once wrote, in John Lennon: In My Life, ““I’m Only Sleeping” brilliantly evokes the state of chemically induced lethargy into which John had drifted.” “Sleeping” does have that lazy drug induced feel but the genius of Lennon’s song is that you don’t have to reach chemical highness to feel John’s song. Feeling lazy and sleeping is a universal sensation. Lennon was just trying to capture, with help from Paul McCartney, the feeling of wanting to live in his dreams.
Peter Doggett wrote in The Art and Music of John Lennon describing “I’m Only Sleeping,” “Lennon wrote the song on his acoustic guitar, which was also the basis of the first pass. In this unfinished state, “I’m Only Sleeping” stood as a sly, stoned dream vision, a confession of laziness that was more autobiographical than most Beatles watchers realized. The song was a plea to be left alone, to be allowed to dip out of the rat race and dream; the same basic need which inspired “Watching The Wheels” in 1980, to which lines like “Everybody seems to think I’m lazy/ I don’t mind, I think they’re crazy” clearly look ahead.”
Before Lennon would pen “Watching The Wheels” he got together with Paul and they wrote “I’m Only Sleeping” at John’s house. McCartney described the songwriting partnership between them as, “One day I led the dance, like “Paperback Writer,” and another day John would lead the dance like “I’m Only Sleeping.” It was nice, we weren’t really competitive as to who started the song, but the good thing was if he wrote a great “Strawberry Fields,” I’d try and write a “Penny Lane.” So we kept each other on our toes.”
Paul described how “I’m Only Sleeping” came to life in the studio when a tape operator’s error turned George Harrison’s guitar solo into something otherworldly, “It played backwards, and, ‘What the hell was going on?’ Those effects! Nobody knew how those sounded then. We said, ‘My God, that is fantastic! Can we do that for real?” And that was where we discovered backwards guitar. It was [George’s] beautiful solo actually. It sounds like something you couldn’t play.”
To this day, I dare any seasoned guitarist to emulate George’s immaculate solo from “I’m Only Sleeping.” For anyone who needs the ultimate lazy boy slacker anthem look no further to The Beatles “I’m Only Sleeping.” Lennon so wanted to capture the essence of being sleepy that at 1:57 into “I’m Only Sleeping” you can hear John instructing McCartney, “Yawn, Paul.” Then, at 2:01, Macca actually yawns, on command.
This soundtrack of your sweet dreams coming to life in the sound of Lennon’s “I’m Only Sleeping” is for anyone who wants to spend a lazy day inside their head, away from the madness, the drama and loudness of our modern world. I urge you to sit back, put on the headphones and let the Fab Four’s tripped out soundscapes of “I’m Only Sleeping” be your lyrical guide to carry your dreams today.