Book Excerpt: What Goes On
I’ve Got a Feeling
Recorded January 30, 1969, for Let It Be
—Paul and John find yet another way to combine their contributions.
The Let It Be shoot was a chore from the start. Like Yellow Submarine, which was conceived and delivered by animators, the project began with forced cheer to fulfill a leftover contract obligation, combined with a last-ditch effort by McCartney to revive their flagging motivation. The first two-thirds of the movie show the Beatles in dog- tired rehearsal, working up arrangements from fragments and lapsing into oldies when they simply can’t be bothered to spruce up their own original ideas. Some moments glow with pure joy: once Billy Preston joins in, they find shards of pleasures, at least in their own ensemble. One of the final jams erupts into “Shake, Rattle and Roll,” wild and cacophonous, but it never drops anchor or lands anywhere; it’s a wayward frame on slop. Many other songs betray a growing dread: blank faces that have looked at each other far too long, heard the same patter, and begrudge the routine. “Mailman, Bring Me No More Blues” (released on Anthology 3), Lennon’s gloomy take on a Buddy Holly number, glimpses the rot at the end of the Beatles’ tunnel. (The Roberts-Katz-Clayton track came from the B-Side of Buddy Holly’s “Words of Love,” their only other released Holly cover out of many they performed).
An early sequence in the film shows them working on McCartney’s bridge to “I’ve Got a Feeling,” with Harrison playing the retransitional guitar break as his partner urges him not to reveal any discrete chromatic intervals in the microtonally falling lead guitar line (at 1:25–1:30). Harrison obliges for the camera several times, with resignation. But when they perform the number in the final rooftop sequence, the song springs to life as a fully finished arrangement: somewhere off-camera, they’ve pieced together a marvel. In the movie’s final third, the “rooftop set,” numbers that failed, going limp during rehearsal, suddenly rise up and breathe life back into their ensemble. Scholars and fans have traded raw tapes of this live performance—and of the many other hours of scuttled film soundtrack—since it transpired, and even its technical flaws give it snap (compared to Phil Spector’s final polished production).
“I’ve Got a Feeling” comprises a farewell collaboration sung in tandem, a relay until the end when both sections pile on top of one another for an unlikely superimposition (on the final performance at 2:46). Unlike previous joint efforts, this track lays two melodies on top of each other, like the quodlibet of “Paperback Writer” / “Frère Jacques,” two lenses sharpening an otherwise blurred view neither could bring into focus individually. The materials of each section—we’ll call them verse A and verse B—work separately, like the vocal lines in “If I Fell,” but each part also works as an unlikely fit for the other, a synecdoche for the Lennon-McCartney partnership itself. Atypically, McCartney’s verses address his inner life, climaxing in a bridge with his fists in the air over romantic frustration ebbing through a double-plagal cadence (1:16–1:25, V–♭VII7–IV7–I7); in the B verses, Lennon, also atypically, pans back to chill out while describing what a hard year it’s been (at 2:05, immediately repeated at 2:22). (His audience would have known that Ono suffered a miscarriage less than two months previously.) Listen to each section alone and you don’t feel anything is missing; listen to them combined and you hear something larger than two parts blended together.
That final stanza (2:46) rings out with a palpable sense of return and arrival, as if the entire arrangement builds to a triumphant sigh of inexplicable synergy. Instead of a floating duet (“Two of Us,” “Don’t Let Me Down”), which seemed to reappear just as their songwriting partnership frayed, they turn in an exquisitely poised seesaw that ends on a hanging question mark (3:27). Alongside the hard-won harmony shared by McCartney and Lennon, Harrison feels only a headache, suppressed until the release of his solo “Wah Wah” (All Things Must Past, 1970), the intro to which distorts the “I’ve Got a Feeling” tattoo.