Credit: University of Michigan

The Beatles song where John Lennon "lost his talent for lyrics"

John Lennon’s lyricism is what helped to set him apart from the rest of the rock ‘n’ roll clique. The Beatles man was famed for his ingenious use of his own life to help bring emotional gravity to his songwriting. While in the early days of the Fab Four, he relied heavily on the classic tropes that had preceded him, by the time the band really got going, they had changed tack completely.

Pop had gone personal and, with some extra help from Bob Dylan, Lennon was at the forefront of this small revolution. Across a host of albums, Lennon had continually demonstrated his wonderful command of words, using gentle wordplay, cutting retorts and a scything style that would keep The Beatles at the zenith of creativity. However, by the time ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’ was released, many said the singer had “lost his talent for lyrics.”

At face value, there may be some truth to that crude statement. The singer had been seen as the pinnacle of poetic pop for so long that there was a certain expectation on his output. Lennon’s lyrical work wasn’t just reserved for his songs; he had also composed some (rather nonsensical) books, which only cemented his place as one of Britain’s finest wordsmiths. Of course, like every songwriter, Lennon had some duds in his canon, but to proclaim ‘I Want You’ as one of them, is far from the truth.

Recorded in 1969, over a stunning six month period, the track would close out side one of Abbey Road and has largely been considered one of Lennon’s best songs ever since. But it was the simplicity in the lyrics that made some critics at the time wince and provoked them to suggest Lennon had lost either his talent or his enthusiasm for creating lyrics.

Running at over eight minutes long, Lennon had ample room to express himself over the track — a song written simply as a yearning love song for Yoko Ono. Instead, Lennon chose to make the track one of his simplest, reflecting not only his innate love for Ono but his obsession with her, too, something also replicated in the music.

All in all, the song reflects one of Lennon’s most holistic recordings. The music’s repetitiveness is mirrored in the lyrics, and the band repeats phrase after phrase to the same tempo and time signatures. It became one of the band’s favourite songs purely for how strange and different it was to the rest of their catalogue. The song is perhaps best summed up by the three-minute finale that sees Lennon and George Harrison’s guitars swell to an almost cacophonous state. Jeff Jarrett said of the recording: “John and George went into the far left-hand corner of [studio] number two to overdub those guitars. They wanted a massive sound, so they kept tracking and tracking, over and over.”

Musically sound, the lyrics matched Lennon’s vision, and his reply to the criticism of the simplicity of his lyrics speaks volumes: “A reviewer wrote of ‘She’s So Heavy’: ‘He seems to have lost his talent for lyrics, it’s so simple and boring,’ said Lennon to Rolling Stone in 1970. “‘She’s So Heavy’ was about Yoko. When it gets down to it, like she said, 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,’ you just scream. And in ‘She’s So Heavy’ I just sang ‘I want you, I want you so bad, she’s so heavy, I want you,’ like that.”

If a poet’s objective is to drill down to the purity of humanity, then it’s hard to argue that Lennon didn’t strike gold with this piece.

Listen to ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’ below:

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