Yes It Is

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Not so long ago I ran into a version of “Yes It Is” on Facebook. You know, that Beatles song that was first released in 1965 as the B-side of the “Ticket To Ride” single, anticipating the arrival of the album “Help!” Yes, exactly, that exceptional LP containing the soundtrack of that original and funny film directed by Richard Lester, starring the “Fab Four.” The point is, that I did not expect it, but I thought I had never before heard the version available on YouTube which I was led to by the link provided. It was the track included in “Anthology 2.” Although I thought I had paid enough attention to each and every one of the cuts of the trilogy, this curious version of “Yes It Is” was to me now more innovative and shocking than it was when my collector’s zeal led me to buy the compact discs and even a couple of vinyl volumes of that collection. What happened to those unpredictable and sometimes baffling vocal harmonies, those complex chords plagued with halftones that caused me the vertigo of the senses? Was it that I was perceiving the sound abyss that these arpeggios seemed doomed to if they made a minimal mistake? Difficult to find out which road Lennon had decided to drive the vehicle of his emotions. Nevertheless the nature of the composition allows one not to have too many doubts about the depth of those feelings. Of course, the vocal harmonies were developed thanks to the creative talent of the great producer George Martin, who played his part in the final arrangements. Sad to know he passed away recently. There’s also something to say about the intimate way Lennon introduced the song, just whispering the first verses. The saddest thing was to think that this poignant Lennon creation emerged at the time as B-Side and hardly anyone payed it the attention it deserved. Probably many of us did not even turn the disk around to listen to it when a copy fell into our hands for the first time. My curiosity was evident and I had to dig a little deeper on the gestation of this cut, the recording and singular details of this particular version.

This great little song that the single “Ticket To Ride” hid on its B-Side was a composition Lennon wrote in his house in Kenwood, Surrey. Paul McCartney said later to have been there when they completed the final piece. On Barry Miles book, “Many Years From Now,” Paul commented that it was Lennon’s inspiration that he helped him finish off. He was claiming it was a remarkable ballad, something quite unusual in his colleague’s work despite having written a few ballads of unquestionable beauty. On it Lennon showed his romantic side in stark contradiction to his public image, often more scathing. In a 1980 “Playboy” magazine interview Lennon himself described it as a failed attempt to rewrite “This Boy.” Certainly there are similarities between the two issues, especially in the musical structure, 12/8 time signature, three-part vocal harmonies and the string of chords in the purest Doo-Wop style. However, when both compositions are analyzed thoroughly the comparison proves its author was going a few steps further in this work, leading us to deeper waters in the musical and emotional ground. The score, in the key of E, shows a striking originality and greater complexity in the succession of chords and changes occurring in the tune we are reviewing.

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“Yes It Is” was recorded on February 16, 1965, in Abbey Road studios. The same day in which they finished the recording of “I Need You,” the great Harrison tune. The Beatles completed the rhythm and instrumental part, recording 14 different takes after 2 arduous hours of studio work, between 5 and 7 pm. It was much more than they had ever invested in any other song they recorded that year. Apparently John was excited about George’s use of the tone pedal of his guitar during the recording of “I Need You” and considering that it added some melancholy mood he asked him to please use it in this piece of his. After completing the basic track, Lennon, McCartney and Harrison spent three hours more perfecting their vocal harmonies while recording singing live together. The final recording features some of the more complex and dissonant three-part vocal harmonies of the Beatles.

The version to which I refer was released in the album “The Beatles Anthology 2.” The track actually consisted of two different takes conveniently mixed. The cut – I quote more or less literally Enrique Cabrera’s comment in his excellent site The Spanish Beatles Page – starts with take 2, the Beatles trying to perfect their accompaniment while John Lennon simply mutters the first lines in a startlingly intimate form, as a guide, ending at the bridge singing “die-de-de-die”. That take had been interrupted because John broke a guitar string. The song is completed with take 14 (the original master recorded live in the studio with the three-part vocal harmonies honed to perfection) which in this version has been miraculously re-edited and re-mixed by George Martin (producer) and Geoff Emerick (sound engineer). The result is more than satisfactory. It could be described as prodigious.

“Yes It Is” was released at the time, in 1965, as B-side of “Ticket to Ride” single, both in the UK and the United States. The American copies of the disc mistakenly credited this issue as belonging to the movie “Eight Arms to Hold You”, original title of the film “Help!”, in which it was never included.

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The song then appeared in the “Beatles VI” in the United States, but Capitol Records received no copy of the stereo mix. When included in their make-shift album “Beatles VI”, they created an artificial stereo mix, a “duophonic” copy of the mono mix they had received, adding further reverb in the process.

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It was also included in later compilations such as “Love Songs”, the British version of the album “Rarities”, the “Past Masters Volume One” (which made its first appearance as true stereo) and “Anthology 2” (alternate mix). The original mono mix only appears in the Mono Masters CD as part of the “The Beatles In Mono” box set.

The meaning of the lyrics are dark and yet the lines, full of suggestions, penetrate into the heart, accompanied by the voices and the melancholy tone of the composition:

“Yes It Is”

If you wear red tonight
Remember what I said tonight
For red is the color, that my baby wore
And what is more, it’s true
Yes it is

Scarlet were the clothes she wore
Everybody knows I’ve sure
I could remember all the things we planned
Understand, it’s true
Yes it is, it’s true
Yes it is

I could be happy with you by my side
If I could forget her, but it’s my pride
Yes it is, yes it is
Oh, yes it is, yeah

Please do not wear red tonight
This is what I said tonight
For red is the color, that will make me blue
In spite of you, it’s true
Yes it is, it’s true
Yes it is

I could be happy with you by my side
If I could forget her, but it’s my pride
Yes it is, yes it is
Oh, yes it is, yeah

Please do not wear red tonight
This is what I said tonight
For red is the color, that will make me blue
In spite of you, it’s true
Yes it is, it’s true
Yes it is, it’s true

Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

The general belief was that the lady in red was an old lost love. That is the first thing one tends to think when you hear the song without analyzing the lyrics in depth. Looks like the line saying “but it’s my pride” refers to a failed relationship, as if resentment is preventing him to forget because of wounded pride in the feeling of abandonment. However, Ian MacDonald in his book “Revolution In The Head”, published in 1997, suggests the influence of Edgar Allan Poe by invoking the scarlet color and a hint that the lost lover referred to in the lyrics is dead. In the same paragraph he speaks of romanticism and mentions the feverish and tormented tone of the composition.

RITH

MacDonald does not provide any argument, although it is not difficult to accept his theory if we think of the line saying “I could remember all the things we planned.” It seems to indicate that she will not return, that she’s no longer of this world. Forever vanished is the chance that these plans are met. Because often the greatest anguish when we suffer the untimely death of a loved one is to evoke the amount of unfinished things and incomplete plans that will never happen. We could also admit the weak insinuation that Dave Rybaczewski makes when he argues that no man in his right mind would call his former lost lover “my baby,” unless she had died. Even less a jilted man. MacDonald’s analysis goes way further when pointing out that “the fantastic figure conjured here is probably a transmutation of Lennon’s late mother, Julia redhead.” On this issue I have failed to find any verification, except an unreliable statement randomly found: Someone commented on Songfacts, one of the sites consulted, that if we were true Beatles’ fans and we had read the book “The Beatles Anthology” we would have discovered the song was referring to Julia, John’s mother. The commenter stated she was wearing a red suit when she died run over by a drunken off-duty policemen while waiting at the bus stop. I spent an afternoon rereading the “Anthology” to try to corroborate that assertion and I failed to find anything to confirm it. In his personal biographical pages Lennon chronicled everything related to his mother’s death in detail, but did not mention at all how she was dressed at the moment of the accident. The chapter on the year 1965 includes comments from the Beatles themselves, or their collaborators, about the songs on the album “Help!” And they do not speak of “Yes It Is” in any way. It does not even appear in the index. In any case, the song is so much more haunting if we give the least credit to Ian MacDonald suggestions. It is true that the way Lennon sings these two lines “I could be happy with you by my side If I could forget her, but it’s my pride…” and how he insists in the chorus repeating that “Yes, it is” emphasizing what he does not even dare to mention: “Yes it is, yes it is, Oh, yes it is, yeah,” makes one guess that the truth to which he refers hides a true drama, a tragedy which is impossible for him to escape from. Her memory will haunt him forever. One wonders why he speaks of pride then, if it is about Julia. The only explanation I can think of is that his wounded pride was caused by the neglect he may have felt during the years his mother was separated from him. And even more painful for him to understand that he had to resign himself to definitely losing her, right when he believed to have recovered her forever.

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It is significant that John Lennon, reportedly, never came to feel proud of the song and even dismissed it, especially after the split of the band. George Harrison rather liked it better than “Ticket To Ride” and considered it worthy of being the main side of the single. Cynthia Lennon (John’s wife back then and mother of his son Julian, Cynthia Powell as maiden) always thought it was excellent, stating on occasion that it was her favorite Beatles song. Many critics have praised the evocative simplicity of the lyrics, with the mysterious image of the woman in red, the strength of the chorus, the boldness of its complex succession of chords, the fascinating perfection of the three-part vocal harmonies and the melancholic mood of the melody underlined by Harrison’s pedal. Others claim not to know exactly what it is what moves them in it, it simply reaches the depths of the bowels. But perhaps Lennon aspired to something so sublime in that attempt, something so intimate and revealing to his own understanding, probably something that lies at the core of his being, that any achievement would have always seemed undeserving to him. Or perhaps the emotional bondage to a tragic past ceased to have any meaning for him, once he found fulfillment in his maturity, as has been suggested. The truth is that he left for the posterity a great song that, as a certain Michelle commented on one of the sites I’ve visited, “even today, after 50 years, it is like a roundhouse kick to the heart” and its poignant beauty can always flood you and make you cry or give you the chills down your spin, shaking you from head to toes. I am not exaggerating! Come back to listen to it, if you have not already done it recently. You will be grateful to me.

Written by: Lennon-McCartney
Recorded: 16 February 1965
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Norman Smith

Single (7 inches 45 rpm) – Released:  9 April 1965 (UK), 19 April 1965 (US)

Instrumentation (most likely):

John Lennon: vocals, acoustic rhythm guitar (1964 Ramirez A-1 Segovia)
Paul McCartney: vocal harmonies, bass (1963 Hofner 500/1)
George Harrison: vocal harmonies, lead guitar (1963 Gretsch 6119 Tennessean)
Ringo Starr: drums (hi-hat, cymbals) (1964 Ludwig Super Classic Black Oyster Pearl)

Available at present in the following albums:

Past Masters
Anthology 2 (alternate mix)

The Hypnotist Collector

Bibliography:

MacDonald, Ian  (1997) Revolution In The Head (Revolución en la Mente) @2000, Celeste Ediciones ISBN 84-8211-221-X

Rybaczewski, Dave (21 February 2010) Beatles Music History: The In-Depth Story Behind The Songs of The Beatles. Retrieved 6 June 2016 from http://www.beatlesebooks.com/yes-it-is

Songfacts staff (no date stated) Yes It Is by The Beatles – Album: Beatles VI. Retrieved 6 June 2016 from http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=9759

Sanchez Gutiérrez, Quirino @vidrioso-Mexico (31 December 2010) Canción del Día–Yes It Is. Retrieved 18 June 2016 from http://www.taringa.net/comunidades/thebeatlesfans/1544417/Cancion-del-Dia-Yes-It-is.html

Cabrera, Enrique (1995) The Spanish Beatles Page. Retrieved 19 June 2016 from http://www.upv.es/~ecabrera/index.html

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