The Beatles song John Lennon claims to have featured the first recorded guitar feedback
The Beatles, despite what may now feel a quite safe beginning, quickly set about pushing the musical and lyrical envelope following their meteoric rise to the top. While most bands and artists would be happy to write chart-topping fodder and watch the cheques roll in, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr were intent on becoming fabled musicians. Not pop stars.
It meant that they were happy to push themselves further and further into the musical unknown to best accurately express themselves. While many will point to Rubber Soul for the first record that saw the Fab Four truly stretch out their musical muscles, the seeds were being sown on previous albums, with one song providing a landmark moment for the entire music industry.
1964’s Meet The Beatles may well go down in history as one of the least adored Beatles albums. Often forgettable in the classic song stakes, the record does feature one noteworthy moment, however. It can be found on the song ‘I Feel Fine’, a track which features the first bit of guitar feedback ever put on record.
The song centres around the guitar. Whether it’s Lennon or Harrison, the duo provided a rocking background to the songs lyrical content. In 1964 when speaking of the song Lennon said: “George and I play the same bit on the guitar together– that’s the bit that’ll set your feet a-tapping, as the reviews say. The middle-eight is the most tuneful part, to me, because it’s a typical Beatles bit.”
But the real revelation of the song came in 1972 when Lennon suggested that the feedback-heavy intro was a landmark moment. “This was the first time feedback was used on a record. It’s right at the beginning,” said the bespectacled Beatle.
It was a claim that he was happy to double-down on in his infamous interview with Playboy in 1980, “That’s me completely,” he says in reference to ‘I Feel Fine’. “Including the guitar lick with the first feedback anywhere. I defy anybody to find a record… unless it is some old blues record from 1922… that uses feedback that way. So I claim it for the Beatles. Before Hendrix, before The Who, before anybody. The first feedback on record.”
It was a claim that Paul McCartney was happy to back up in 1994, “John had a semi-acoustic Gibson guitar. It had a pick-up on it so it could be amplified… We were just about to walk away to listen to a take when John leaned his guitar against the amp. I can still see him doing it… and it went, ‘Nnnnnnwahhhhh!” And we went, ‘What’s that? Voodoo!’ ‘No, it’s feedback.’ Wow, it’s a great sound!’ George Martin was there so we said, ‘Can we have that on the record?’
“‘Well, I suppose we could, we could edit it on the front.’ It was a found object— an accident caused by leaning the guitar against the amp. The song itself was more John’s than mine. We sat down and co-wrote it with John’s original idea. John sang it, I’m on harmonies.”
The found object would become one of the most vital pieces of avant-garde artistry rock and roll had heard in years. With it, the acts mentioned by Lennon took the rock world by storm and transformed the pop music of the early sixties into the subversive rock records we know and love today. It all started with an accident by The Beatles.