The Beatles

I'm Only Sleeping

Composed by John Lennon / Paul McCartney

Song Review by

"I'm Only Sleeping," one of the better songs on Revolver, showed John Lennon's growing facility for crafting tunes that exuded a druggy yet attractive sense of lethargy ("Rain," "Strawberry Fields Forever," and to a lesser degree "She Said She Said" are other examples from this period). While much of the song is in minor keys and a sluggish dirge-like mid-tempo, like most of the Beatles' songs that were set in those musical modes, the melody is quite pleasing and memorable and not so gloomy as to be off-putting. Although much of the arrangement is couched in folk-rockish guitars, this is not folk-rock. In fact, it edges toward psychedelia with its snaky, hypnotic backwards guitar solos, heard both in the background at points, and in the forefront during the brief instrumental break, as well as during the fade (which is nothing but backwards instrumental guitar). On the surface this might sound like the rumination of a lazy sod too lackadaisical to get out of bed. Various accounts of John Lennon circa early 1966 confirm that this picture did actually bear some relation to real life. It should be borne in mind that just having toured the world exhaustively for three years while doing two films and writing and recording when time allowed, it might be understandable that he might not feel too energetic when he had a break that allowed him to stay at home. On another level, it could be inferred that the dream world of sleep was preferable to the hassles of straight, everyday life. Or, perhaps, that being alone with one's thoughts -- or, maybe, drug-induced images -- was preferable to the mundane reality that comprises a good deal of external experience. The arrangement, like many 1966 Beatles tracks, was highlighted by ingenious harmonies in which the vocalists sing counterpoint melodies and words to the verse, as well as a few sudden stops in which the dead, musty air was slowly stirred up again by an ascending bass figure. Indeed, the lugubrious bass notes that follow some of the repetitions of the title phrase do much to mimic the sensation of falling asleep, the slow bass phrase that restarts the song echoes the feeling of waking or being roused from slumber. The most noteworthy cover of "I'm Only Sleeping" was by Rosanne Cash in the mid-'90s; it, like much of the material she did during this time, was a suitable vehicle for the avowed non-country direction she wanted to pursue in her music at that point in her career.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Yesterday...and Today 1966 Capitol
Revolver 1966 EMI 3:00
No Image 1980 Capitol 2:59
No Image 1992 Toshiba EMI
No Image 1994 Big Music 3:00
The Ultimate Box Set 1995 Capitol 3:01
Anthology 2 1996 Capitol/EMI Records / Apple/Capitol
The Beatles: Stereo Box Set 2009 EMI 2:59
The Beatles USB 2009 Capitol 3:00
The Beatles in Mono [Vinyl Box Set] 2014 Capitol
The Beatles Christmas Pack Emd Int'l
blue highlight denotes editor's pick