The Story and Meaning Behind “I Need You,” a Breakthrough Song for George Harrison with The Beatles

George Harrison was undoubtedly playing catchup in The Beatles’ songwriting race to the more experienced duo of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. His 1965 song “I Need You” represented a significant leap forward in his writing as he became more established in that realm.

Videos by American Songwriter

What is “I Need You” about? What instrumental effect helped to set it apart? And why was it an important song in Harrison’s songwriting development? Let’s find out all that there is to know about this somewhat unheralded track by the Fab Four.

Harrison on the Rise

Considering he was the youngest Beatle, and that John Lennon and Paul McCartney were already writing songs even before the group had a chance to record them, it’s no surprise George Harrison was at a disadvantage in terms of developing as a songwriter. He immediately found a crucial role as the band’s lead guitarist, and, for the first several years of the group’s success, that was enough.

From 1962 to 1964, a time span which encompassed four Beatles albums, Harrison wrote just one song. “Don’t Bother Me,” which was included on the 1963 album With the Beatles (the group’s second LP) sounded like a somewhat rough first try. Harrison later said the song was important for him if for nothing else than it proved he could do it.

Considering that 1964 contained a plethora of newly released Beatles material, and that none of it was attributed to Harrison, it might have seemed at the time he would never again return to songwriting. But then “I Need You” appeared on the soundtrack for Help! and Beatles fans heard a much more confident songwriting voice emanating from Harrison.

Studio Wizardry

“I Need You” likely was inspired by Harrison’s relationship with Pattie Boyd. The pair got engaged in late ’65 and married the following year. But considering the lyrics to the song, which include the narrator pleading for a reunion with his beloved, it might have been written during a bit of a rough patch in the relationship.

In any case, The Beatles worked their studio magic to elevate the song. Among the unique touches are some homemade percussion by Ringo Starr and John Lennon banging on the snare drum (since Ringo’s hands were otherwise occupied). Then there’s that shimmering, amorphous guitar sound that’s heard throughout the track.

That lovely effect was achieved through a volume foot pedal attached to Harrison’s Rickenbacker guitar. While Harrison played the notes, John Lennon worked the volume controls. Add in some cowbell from Starr that pops up during the middle-eight sections, and you have a track with interesting tidbits in just about every corner of the recording.

What is “I Need You” About?

“I Need You” finds George Harrison writing and singing with touching vulnerability about the tenuous status of a love affair. You don’t realize how much I need you, he begins, immediately speaking to the depths of his desperation.

He seems to have been blindsided by the sudden tumult in their relationship: Said you had a thing or two to tell me / How was I to know you would upset me? To rectify the situation, he tries to remind her of his most profound emotions towards her: Please remember how I feel about you / I could never really live without you.

But for all the conciliatory vibes projected by the lyrics, there’s no more moving moment than when Harrison simply repeats the refrain in the final moments, sounding like his heart is on his sleeve and his life is on the line. The Beatles’ “I Need You” was a crucial jumping-off point for George Harrison on his way to the songwriting masterpieces he was yet to deliver.

When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Leave a Reply

Vince Gill Recalls His Biggest Onstage Screw-up: "That Could've Been Really, Really Bad"

Vince Gill Recalls His Biggest Onstage Screw-Up Ever: “That Could’ve Been Really, Really Bad”

Carol Kaye playing guitar

“Staged and Phony”: A Wrecking Crew Alum Shares Her Real Thoughts About New Beach Boys Documentary