Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Musical Musings: The Beatles- "I'm Down"

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This is the first post in a new segment Musical Musings. I'm not sure how it will evolve, but the idea that started it was to explore alternate versions of songs. When you know a song well and you hear a different version for the first time, it always makes you really take notice. I want to look at demos, at alternate takes in the studio as well as outtakes, at live versions, and at remixes. Sometimes it's gonna ask which version you think is better, so we'll have a bit of a battle and other times it will be more about just getting neat information out there and listening to great music.

The first song I want to look at is "I'm Down" by the Beatles. This is a song I probably heard on the oldies station when I was growing up, but for whatever reason it didn’t stick.

So, years later, I'm in High School, it's the late 90s, and I'm really getting into the Beatles and I'm playing all their albums and listening to all their songs. And I got this book for Christmas from my dad, "A Hard Day's Write" by Steve Turner. This is a really cool book, it has the story behind all the Beatles songs. So you can find out what inspired everything from "Paperback Writer" to "Lovely Rita." But, one of the entries that really stuck with me was a caption that appeared under a picture on the entry for Helter Skelter, "Although Paul was regarded as the ballad writer of the Beatles, he was responsible for three of the group's dirtiest rock numbers- 'I'm Down,' 'Why Don't We Do It In the Road' and 'Helter Skelter.'"

 I remember reading that and thinking, "Whoa! there's another Beatles song that rocks as hard as 'Helter Skelter' and 'Why Don't We Do It In the Road?'” And I raided my dad's collection of Beatles CDs even more than I already had, but he didn't have it. So it wasn't until I got my hands on the Past Masters that I actually heard the track. And here it is: (Isn’t life so much easier with Youtube?)

Now what do you think? Does that rock as hard as “Helter Skelter”? (Would that track drive Charles Mason insane?) I know it’s practically sacrilegious to criticize the Beatles, it's not a bad song, really the only part that kills it is John and George doing an impression of girl back-up singers. Hard rock doesn’t have back-up singers.

But fortunately there is redemption for “I’m Down” via the Beatles Anthology 2, because on it there is a version of “I’m Down” without the back up singing. When I first heard this I thought, “this is the version of the song I’ve always wanted.” I like this version much better, but you can decide for yourself:

So which version do you prefer? And why?


  1. Sorry John, but I really like the first one better. I think the backup vocals help flesh out the song. But I like the way you present this so we can decide for ourselves. The second cut Paul sounds lonely without the other guys. I'd like to see more comparisons.

    I do know of one case where I like the earlier cut. The Byrds recorded Eight Miles High at RCA and did a fantastic job. But then Columbia, their record company, made them do it again in their studios. Both cuts are now on the remastered version of the album so people can try them.

  2. I totally see what you mean, but I think the instruments fill the void. Also I think if you know the song your "ear" hears John and George.

    I'll check out the Byrds track.

  3. I agree with you, John. I actually prefer the second version. It sounds less cluttered to me, cleaner... Although I bet the band as a whole had a lot more fun performing the first x

  4. Thanks Suzie. I'm sure they had a lot of fun recording the song, they always did. But, just wait till I get to "And Your Bird Can Sing." They definitely had a lot of fun while recording that one

  5. Well, I'm only familiar with the first version...but I'll take any version the Beatles chose to record. I have the Beatles Anthology collection but I don't remember...was the second version in a jam session in the studio? The first is the one we heard on the radio.

  6. It's a take from the same recording of the song in the studio. The master ended up being take 7. The one on Anthology is take 1. And it doesn't have the background vocal track added.