When I wake up early in the morning
Lift my head,
I'm still yawning.
When I'm in the middle of a dream
Stay in bed,
Please, don't wake me.
No, don't shake me.
Leave me where I am -
I'm only sleeping.
Everybody seems to think I'm lazy
I don't mind,
I think they're crazy
Running everywhere at such a speed
Till they find
There's no need.
Please, don't spoil my day,
I'm miles away
And after all
I'm only sleeping.
Keeping an eye on the world going by
taking my time.
Lying there and staring at the ceiling
Waiting for a sleepy feeling...
[Repeat first verse]
I always thought that I'm Only Sleeping was the first of the backwards tape experimentations, but its subtlety and appropriateness to the theme shows that the song was the product more of a refinement than a tentativeness. Rain, recorded earlier, used backwards tape on the excuse of that "rain" is the obverse of "shine". Here the backwards tapes serve as a soundtrack to a dreamscape, as if dreams were the obverse side of conscious reality. The lyrics also deliver the reverse of expectations, when the poet “floats upstream”, mystically to the source, rather than in the time honored, rational direction of downstream to the sea.
The A section is a stanza repeated twice, while the B section includes a complex harmony. Between sections is a jazz like bass solo which takes us through each transition and into the chorus. The backward tapes begin at "Running everywhere at such a speed" and are featured in the break and coda. A fragment of the A section with a new lyric, waiting for sleep to arrive, introduces the backward "sleepy feeling". After this, everything is mulling over what has been sung before until the coda goes off backwards into a different direction and fadeout. I might mention that the vacillation between two notes in the first lines of each A stanza produce a hypnotic effect, and this was a frequent psychedelic technique of John Lennon, used for instance in I Am the Walrus and Across the Universe.
According to Ian McDonald, I'm Only Sleeping is unique because it features a dual guitar solo by George Harrison played backwards and an electronically compressed rhythm guitar track. One guitar was recorded with fuzz effects, the other without. The solo is consistent with the rest of the song because Harrison took great pains to practice the entire melody of his solo backwards, so that when reversed and mixed in, it would fit the overall dreamlike mood of the rest of the song. [Ian McDonald: Revolution in the Head]