Today, according to Geoff Emerick, George Harrison spent about 9 hours working on the backward guitar part for “I’m Only Sleeping”:

At the best of times, he had trouble playing solos all the way through forwards, so it was with great trepidation that we all settled in for what turned out to be an interminable day of listening to the same eight bars played backwards over and over and over again.

Emerick’s memoir Here, There and Everywhere came out in 2006, 40 years after the fact, but he still sounds a bit hacked off about the whole thing. He continues:

Phil McDonald told me later that his arms were sore for days afterward from having to repeatedly lift the heavy tape reels off the machine and turn them over.

McDonald, who was as assistant engineer at Abbey Road, sounds like a bit of a whiner, if you ask me. But then I didn’t know the man. Emerick goes on:

I can still picture George — and, later, Paul, who joined him to play the backwards outro in a bizarre duet — hunched over his guitar for hours on end, headphones clamped on, brows furrowed in concentration. George Martin conducted them from the window of the control room, using grease pencil marks I had put on the back of the tape on each beat as a reference.

So apparently it wasn’t all fun and games with The Beatles; sometimes it was hard work, and sometimes it was a pain in the ass. There’s something oddly comforting about that. Great as they were, The Beatles didn’t always fall ass-backwards into genius; sometimes they, too, had to take the long way around. Worth keeping in mind the next time you’re having one of those days.

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