Essay Bill Clift
ABOUT THE SONG
It was always about that intro. Yes, there’s been claims and counter claims over the years regarding who was and wasn’t the first to use feedback live or on record but, to my green ears, it was the weirdest, most wonderful thing I’d ever heard. I suppose it seems pretty tame nowadays. That type of sound is a familiar one in the landscape of modern music used, passionately, angrily, joyously and ever more loudly by Townsend, Hendrix et al. I still remember hearing though, as a nine year old Beatles fan, one cold floodlit* night on the terraces of Priestfield Stadium (home to the mighty Gillingham Football Club) through proper speakers, loud enough to shake the stands, to spill over and echo around surrounding streets and houses, that strange and eeriest of sounds- feedback from a guitar! Such a feeling of exhilaration. I remember wanting to run up and down the steps of the half deserted Rainham End, which I did, in a state of real excitement, buoyed up by the sound of that intro, much more interested in the music than I had been in the drab footballing display of the previous forty-five long minutes. Two or three seconds of utter joy followed by as perfect a pop-song you’re ever likely to hear, I (really did) Feel Fine.
That intro, in case you didn’t already know, was a happy accident of the Lennon variety when he leaned his guitar against his amp speaker without turning the volume down. With the guitar pickups facing the amp it created this ‘Nnnnnwaaahhh’ noise. They combined it with an A from McCartney’s bass and, voila, that famous catchy sounding intro.
What I like about the rest of the song is its sparse simplicity. What we’re listening to is a classic four-piece pop group, two guitars, bass and drums, given even more space because, instead of a more usual strumming rhythm guitar, John plays the main riff throughout the song which George basically doubles**. Paul’s bass line is simplicity itself and this allows Ringo’s latin laced rhythm and blues drumming to give the song its main drive***. The verse and tag-line is a pretty standard 12 bar blues format but they manage to Beatle it up with a lovely middle-eight, full of unexpected chord changes and rich backing vocals from Paul and George. I love Lennon’s vocal on this one. Effortless, almost lazy, never mind the dozy ‘things’, ‘diamond rings’ lyric, he manages to sell this simplest of packages with a relaxed yet boastful passion.
Years after that gleeful listen at the Gill’s game I used the song’s title in a song of my own, ‘Sake of a Dream’:
“ And a drunk takes her time over each glass of wine
She plays ‘I Feel Fine’ on the jukebox.
But one look in her eyes and you know she’s telling lies
For the sake of a dream she no longer believes.”
See what I did there? Clever old stick, eh? Apart from its very convenient rhyme it seemed a fantastic choice with which to expose the woman’s loneliness and sadness because the song really is the opposite of that, such a happy, vibrant piece of music. Still makes me want to tear around the Rainham end to this day.
*Floodlights erected in 1963 at a cost of £40,000.
**The riff was influenced by a record called ‘Watch You Step’ by Bobby Parker.
***The drum part was what the Beatles used to refer to as a ‘What’d I Say rhythm’, a groove used on that Ray Charles song by his drummer, Milt Turner.
The Ukulele version performed by Casey MacGill is unreservedly tied to the spirit of the original. Notice how Casey and producer Orville Johnson recreate the feedback of the original with acoustic instrumentation. Casey’s music is deeply rooted in a mythical-America where joy can be found no matter what the circumstances of one’s life.
Although the groove is totally different, this one swinging like a mother, its jaunty naughtiness completely gets the well-being and happiness we’re meant to feel.
I defy you not to grin and bop listening to this red-hot thang.
Nice one Casey.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Casey has played the ukulele since receiving one as a Christmas gift in 1957. He also plays piano and cornet, performing with Orville and with his band the Blue4Trio. The ukulele has accompanied him on the street in the late 1960s, the Gong Show, the movie Frances, and the Broadway show Swing. Next up, a collection of hapa-haole tunes from the 1930s with Orville on Hawaiian steel guitar! Find more details at www.caseymacgill.com
Orville is a Seattle based musician, writer, recordist, and bon vivant. His seminal Beatles experience was standing in front of a mirror strumming a broom like a guitar and trying to bounce at the knees like John Lennon after witnessing the Fab Four on the Ed Sullivan show. Follow his adventures and find more info about his own CDs and instructional DVDs at www.orvillejohnson.com