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“FOR NO ONE”
(John Lennon – Paul McCartney)
In June of 1963, Lennon and McCartney took an impressive stride forward as songwriters by composing a song in the third person. “It was someone bringing a message. It wasn’t us any more, it was moving off the ‘I love you, girl’…there’s a little distance we managed to put in it which was quite interesting.” That song was “She Loves You,” their first million-selling British hit.
As time progressed, their growth as composers took the "third person" love song to a different level. In their 1966 classic “For No One,” instead of the third party comforting his friend with the words “she loves you,” he sadly informs him that there is “no sign of love” remaining. The overall results were such that author John Robertson, in his book “The Complete Guide To The Music Of The Beatles,” accurately referred to the song as “another remarkable McCartney ballad, melodically sophisticated and lyrically mature.” There can hardly be found a reviewer to disagree.
Paul's original 1966 lyric sheet for "For No One," originally titled "Why Did It Die."
As was his habit, Paul took advantage of a Beatle-less vacation out of the country and, while away, found the atmosphere perfect for writing a song. (See “Things We Said Today” and “Yesterday” for other vacation-inspired compositions.) “I wrote that on a skiing holiday in Switzerland, in a hired chalet amongst the snow,” he remembered in 1984. This vacation took place in March of 1966 with girlfriend Jane Asher in Klosters, Switzerland where they rented a chalet about half a mile from town.
In the book “Anthology,” Paul goes into greater detail: “I was in Switzerland on my first skiing holiday. I’d done a bit of skiing in ‘Help!’ and quite liked it, so I went back and ended up in a little bathroom in a Swiss chalet writing ‘For No One.’ I remember the descending bass-line trick that it’s based on, and I remember the character in the song – the girl putting on her make-up.”
Past interviews from Paul hint at more than just a fictional character for the woman in the song. Steve Turner’s book “A Hard Day’s Write” relates: “In an early interview, Paul said that it was all about his own experience of living with a woman when he was fresh from leaving home. Later he was less specific, saying that he was thinking only of the character of a typical working girl.” One may speculate that his three-year relationship with Dot Rhone was the experience used as inspiration for “For No One,” but speculation is probably all that it will ever be. His recollections have apparently become cloudier as time has gone on, his book “Many Years From Now” has him relating: “I suspect it was about another argument. I don’t have easy relationships with women, I never have. I talk too much truth.”
Paul originally conceived of the song with the title “Why Did It Die?”, as shown above, which featured a refrain with the lyric "Why did it die, I'd like to know." It appears that this was completely a Paul composition without any input from John. Lennon himself confirms this assumption in his 1972 “Hit Parader” magazine interview when asked about the authorship of the song. “Paul. Another of his I really liked,” he stated. He continued to praise the song in his 1980 “Playboy” magazine interview where he states: “One of my favorite pieces of his, too. That and ‘Here, There And Everywhere.’ A nice piece of work, I think,”
At right around the half way mark of recording their “Revolver” album, Paul and Ringo entered EMI Studio Two on May 9th, 1966 at 7 pm for a four hour session devoted to beginning Paul’s “For No One.” A simple rhythm track was recorded with only Paul on piano and Ringo on drums, which were played very subtly mostly on the hi-hat. It took ten attempts to get it right; the tenth take now ready for overdubs.
A few overdubs were tackled during these four hours, Paul’s bass and Ringo’s tambourine being completed before the day was complete. Another overdub was done on an instrument called a clavichord. Producer George Martin remembers: “On ‘For No One,’ the track was laid down on my own clavichord. I brought it in from my home, because I thought it had a nice sound. It was a very strange instrument to record, and Paul played it.” Mark Lewisohn, in his book “The Beatles Recording Sessions,” insists that the clavichord was “hired at a cost of five guineas from George Martin’s AIR Company.” In any event, George Martin was responsible for getting it in the studio on that day. At 11 pm, the two Beatles called a halt to the session which left the song as an instrumental, deciding to record the vocals on another day.
A week later, on May 16th, 1966, the time apparently was right to record Paul’s vocal track. This session took place in EMI Studio Two starting at 2:30 pm with at least Paul present, him being the only voice heard in the two overdubs performed on this day (the low register “one, two, three, four” intro of “Taxman” also being recorded). Paul’s lead vocal on “For No One” was recorded at 47 ½ cycles so that it would sound slightly faster when played back.
Since a section of the song was left open for a solo, and one hadn’t been recorded yet, they needed another track on the four-track tape to record it at a later date. Therefore, two tape reductions were made to open up another track, the reductions marked as takes 13 and 14, for some reason neglecting the numbers 11 and 12. At any rate, take 14 was now the finished product up to this point. With tape copying and mixing being performed on other songs on this day, the session finally wound down at 1:30 am the next morning.
“Occasionally we’d have an idea for some new kind of instrumentation, particularly for solos,” relates Paul. “On ‘For No One,’ I was interested in the French horn; because it was an instrument I’d always loved from when I was a kid. It’s a beautiful sound, so I went to George Martin and said, ‘How can we go about this?’ And he said, ‘Well, let me get the very finest.’ That was one of the great things about George. He knew how to obtain the best musicians and would suggest getting them. On this occasion he suggested Alan Civil, who, like all these great blokes, looks quite ordinary at the session – but plays like an angel.”
Alan Civil was the principal horn player for the BBC Symphony Orchestra. “George Martin rang me up,” Alan remembers, “and said ‘We want a French horn obbligato on a Beatles song. Can you do it?’ I knew George from his very early days at EMI because I’d been doing a lot of freelance work then. So I turned up at Abbey Road and all the bobbysoxers were hanging around outside and trying to look through the windows.” This session was on May 19th, 1966, in EMI Studio Three starting at 7 pm.
He continues: “I thought the song was called ‘For Number One’ because I saw ‘For No One’ written down somewhere. Anyway, they played the existing tape to me, which was complete, and I thought it had been recorded in rather bad musical style, in that it was ‘in the cracks,’ neither B-flat nor B-major. This posed a certain difficulty in tuning my instrument. Paul said ‘We want something there. Can you play something that fits in?’ It was rather difficult to actually understand exactly what they wanted so I made something up which was middle register, a baroque style solo. I played it several times, each take wiping out the previous attempt.”
As for what melody Alan played, Paul remembers it differently. “George asked me, ‘Now, what do you want him to play?’ I said, ‘Something like this,’ and sang the solo to him, and he wrote it down. Towards the end of the session, when we were getting the piece down for Alan to play, George explained to me the range of the instrument: ‘Well, it goes from here to this top E,’ and I said, ‘What if we ask him to play an F?’ George saw the joke and joined in the conspiracy. We came to the session and Alan looked up from his bit of paper: ‘Eh, George? I think there’s a mistake here – you’ve got a high F written down.’ Then George and I said, ‘Yeah,’ and smiled back at him, and he knew what we were up to and played it. These great players will do it. Even though it’s officially off the end of their instrument, they can do it, and they’re quite into it occasionally. It’s a nice little solo.”
Engineer Geoff Emerick, in his book “Here, There And Everywhere,” gives his account of this day: “Alan was under a lot of pressure doing that overdub, because it was so hard to hit the high note in the solo. In fact, most people would have never written that part for a French horn player because it was too high to play, but that was the note Paul wanted to hear, and so that was the note he was going to get. We felt that Alan, being the best horn player in London, could actually hit it, even though most horn players couldn’t. Alan was reluctant to even try it; he was actually breaking out into a sweat, telling everyone it really shouldn’t be done. But eventually he gave it a go and pulled it off.”
George Martin remembers: “Paul didn’t realize how brilliantly Alan Civil was doing. We got the definitive performance, and Paul said, ‘Well, OK, I think you can do it better than that, can’t you, Alan?’ Alan nearly exploded. Of course, he didn’t do it better than that, and the way we’d already heard it was the way you hear it now.” Geoff Emerick adds: “The Beatles were perfectionists, and they didn’t always understand…Paul’s attitude toward outside musicians was ‘You’re being paid to do a job, so just do it.’…There was also a generational clash, because most of those outside musicians were quite a bit older than The Beatles. They were pleased to be there, pleased to have the credit on their resumes, but they didn’t know how to relate to the music or the musicians – and The Beatles didn’t really know how to relate to them, either. George Martin served as the middleman, as the bridge between the two generations.”
Geoff continues: “Thought Alan was a wreck by the time he left that session, he was well pleased with what he’d done, because it was the performance of his life. In fact, he became a star in his own right because of that, but the problem was that, from that day on, arrangers would expect other horn players to be able to do what he had done, and they were often disappointed if they gave parts to other players of lesser ability.”
Alan relates: “My friends would ask, ‘What have you done this week?’ and I would say, ‘Oh, I played with Otto Klemperer and Rudolf Kempe’ – that didn’t mean anything to them. But to say that you’d played with The Beatles was amazing. The day would almost go into their diaries as being the day they met someone who’d played with The Beatles. Even now, while only a few people come up to me and say ‘I do like your Mozart horn concertos,’ so many others say, ‘See that big grey-haired old chap over there? – he played with The Beatles!’ For me it was just another day’s work, the third session that day in fact, but it was very interesting.”
Alan not only played his designated solo in the fourth verse, but he also reprised it in the sixth verse as well. With one final ending note at the conclusion of the song, Alan was done for the day, the four-hour session ending at 11 pm. He was reportedly paid about 50 pounds for his work on this session, not to mention the coveted prize of receiving an actual credit on the back cover of a Beatles album, something almost no one could boast of up to this time.
Alan did return to EMI Studios to work with The Beatles once again on February 10th, 1967 as one of the orchestra musicians on “A Day In The Life.” Shortly after his interview with Mark Lewisohn for the book “The Beatles Recording Sessions,” he unfortunately passed away on March 19th, 1989 in his hometown of Lambeth, London, England at the young age of 59.
One matter needs to be settled regarding the choice of Alan Civil for this session. Paul’s book “Many Years From Now” relates how premier horn player Dennis Brain was originally booked for the “For No One” session but that he died in a car crash just before the day arrived. The facts reveal that Dennis Brain did indeed die from a car crash; however this was on September 1st, 1957. Therefore, the recollections of Paul and co-author Barry Miles were mistaken in this instance.
June 6th, 1966 was the first attempt at mono mixing “For No One,” this being accomplished in the control room of EMI Studio Three by George Martin, Geoff Emerick and 2nd engineer Phil McDonald. Six attempts were made, but they were unsatisfied with the results and left it for another time.
A marathon mixing session for the “Revolver” album took place on June 21st, 1966 in the control room of EMI Studio Three with the same production team presiding. Both the released mono and stereo mixes of the song were produced on this day, two attempts made for the mono (remix 6 being the keeper) while only one was needed to nail the stereo. The rhythm track of piano and quiet drums appear in the right channel along with the clavichord, while the French horn, the bass guitar and the tambourine are in the left channel. The lead vocals are centered in the mix.
Sometime between November of 1982 and July of 1983, Paul McCartney recorded a new studio recording of “For No One” for inclusion in the film and soundtrack album for “Give My Regards To Broad Street.” The actual recording was previewed for George Martin, who was brought in as producer of this project, by a pretty and yet comical acoustic guitar demo from Paul. This demo brings out the beauty of the piece while Paul sings the French horn solo to a tee. As for the film and soundtrack version, a string section and an actual French horn soloist is employed to good effect.
Song Structure and Style
The structure of “For No One” is quite busy, encompassing six eight-measure verses (one slotted for the French horn solo) and three ten-measure choruses. The format is very symmetrical, fitting together as ‘verse/ verse/ chorus/ verse/ verse (solo)/ chorus/ verse/ verse/ chorus’ (or aabaabaab). So concise is this structure that no introduction or conclusion was deemed as needed.
The first verse begins immediately with the subdued sound of piano and hi-hat from the rhythm track overshadowed by the overdubbed clavichord as the more predominant instrument. Paul’s single-tracked lead vocals begin on the two-beat of the first measure, his being the only voice heard throughout the entire song. A second eight-measure verse enters in immediately afterward with the same simple instrumentation. Both verses contain a couple "blue notes" – that is, notes that add a slight "bluesy" feel to the melody line. In the first verse, it appears on the lyric “when she no longer needs you,” and then on “hurry, she no longer needs you” in the second verse.
The chorus is next to appear, Paul beginning the lyrics as a run-in in the last measure of the previous verse with the lyrics “and in her eyes.” The chorus brings new instrumentation onto the songs’ pallet, the bass guitar and tambourine immerging as the piano now takes center stage, the clavichord standing down in the mix at this point. The key also dramatically changes from C major in the verses to D minor in the chorus. After the poignant line “a love that should have lasted years,” a tenth measure is inserted to transcend back from D minor to C major to start another chorus. Notice here that Ringo continues a straight tambourine beat in the final measure as he’s played throughout the chorus, something that he’ll change in future choruses.
The third verse then appears, bringing the prominence of the clavichord back into view, although the bass guitar and tambourine apparently are here to stay at this point. The final measure of this verse shows the gradual increase in volume of the French horn which then plays its lilting obbligato that completely comprises the fourth verse, thereby turning it into the instrumental solo section of the song.
During the final notes of the French horn solo in the last measure, Paul once again begins singing his melody line for the repeated chorus which immediately follows the solo verse. Once again the piano figure overshadows the clavichord, which adds a slight classical feel to the song. This time, Ringo decides to shake the tambourine during the final measure as a backdrop to the key change back to another verse. One can assume that this was planned for this transition but was forgotten the first time around.
Another set of verses are next to appear, the clavichord once again being the dominant instrument. The second of these verses is unique in two respects, one being that Paul appears to repeat the first verse at this point with the lyrics “your day breaks, your mind aches.” Repeating the first verse later in the song is a classic Beatles ploy, one that they’ve used extensively throughout their career up to this point, so it’s definitely expected. However, the lyrics then expand the story yet further with the lyric “there will be times when all the things she said…” The other unique aspect of this verse is the reprise of the French horn solo directly on top of Paul’s vocal track. He actually only performs the first half of the solo while letting his final note trail off in the fifth measure.
One final chorus completes the picture, bringing back the classical piano fingering as the stand-out instrument. The final measure, which usually is used to bring us back to the key of C major, is instead used to let the music hang in the air thereby leaving the story unresolved, or ‘to be continued…’ Ringo remembers to shake the tambourine during this point as Alan Civil plays one last hanging note as a beautiful finishing touch. The sustained chords at the conclusion of the song are also slowed down for great effect, something that Paul was prone to do in every chorus when he performed the song in later years.
Needless to say, this is Paul’s baby through-and-through, undoubtedly with the classically-trained assistance from producer George Martin for the arrangement. His piano and clavichord playing is performed flawlessly and fitting for the intended feel of the song, as is his precise bass guitar work which switches octaves for his descending lines when appropriate. His vocals, single-tracked to accentuate the desperateness of the subject matter, are voiced strategically and precisely.
Ringo may have been used only as window dressing for the occasion, but the subtleness of his performance was just what was needed. No wonder his initial drum track was buried in the mix - so as to hide the cloying snare drum beats that would have spoiled the mood (evidenced by bootleg recordings that have surfaced). Nonetheless, his hi-hat splashes and tambourine work with alternating accent patterns suit the arrangement nicely.
The beautifully played Alan Civil French horn solos are arguably the most striking feature of the song. While it does appear slightly rushed in places both times his solo appears (which may have been why Paul suggested for him to try again), this can easily be overlooked as a human flaw that adds character to such a mature piece of work.
This third person narrative, which could be interpreted as the man speaking to himself, displays the vulnerability and helplessness of his situation, underpinned by the inevitability of a failed relationship. Possibly inspired by viewing the John Schlesinger film “Darling” (as suggested by Ian MacDonald in his book “Revolution In The Head”), the male character interprets “all her (previous) words of kindness” as things of the past, them just "lingering on" in his mind as a pleasant memory.
The woman is depicted as going through her daily routine (“she wakes up, she makes up”) as well as outside interests (“you stay home, she goes out”) without any need for him anymore. Her attitude or inner thoughts are even apparent, the line “she says that long ago she knew someone, but now he’s gone, she doesn’t need him” obviously being a reference to the main character as "the man I once knew."
The stinging line of the song, her straightforward statement that “her love is dead,” is greeted with a frank dismissal. Even though “in her eyes you see nothing” and she even states this to be a fact, you still “think she needs you.” After all, “you want her, you need her” and its gut wrenching to come to terms with the fact that the love affair is coming to an end. In the morning, when “day breaks” and one can think more clearly, he will play out the true scenario in his mind (“all the things she said will fill your head”) and he’ll finally face the truth. Although this love “should have lasted years,” it really is over and time to move on.
August 8th, 1966, was the release date of the eleven-track American version of the “Revolver” album. This ‘Paul heavy’ track list paired “For No One” directly after his lead vocal song “Good Day Sunshine,” presenting the album to the US market as dominated by "the cute Beatle." This American version of the "Revolver" album got a compact disc release on January 21st, 2014, with both the mono and stereo versions contained on a single CD.
A new double-compilation album was released on October 21st, 1977 entitled “Love Songs.” While “For No One” doesn’t exactly engender romantic feelings, rather the loss of love, it still earned its place on the album. When you come to think of it, “Yesterday” is also about an end of a romance so, I guess, “For No One” fits just as well into the "love song" category.
April 30th, 1987, was the date that the original fourteen-track “Revolver” album was issued in the US in the compact disc format. Pairing “For No One” in between two Lennon vocal songs, “And Your Bird Can Sing” and “Dr. Robert,” gave the intended group feel to the album. It was then remastered and re-released on September 9th, 2009.
Also released on September 9th, 2009, was the box set “The Beatles In Mono.” The original mono mix of “For No One,” as originally heard on the mono pressings of “Revolver” worldwide, was contained therein in a clean remastered condition.
The newly created studio recording of “For No One” was released on the soundtrack album to Paul’s film “Give My Regards To Broad Street” on October 22nd, 1984.
Paul playing "For No One" on his "US Tour," circa 2005
Since The Beatles never performed any songs from the “Revolver” album live, “For No One” never saw a concert stage until Paul began his solo touring days. His “2004 Summer Tour,” which ran from May 25th to June 26th of that year, included the song for the first time. He continued to include the song in the set list for the following years’ “US Tour,” which ran from September 16th to November 30th, 2005. The solo piano performance from this tour (with Paul Wickens playing the French horn part on synthesizer) was featured on his DVD “The Space Within US.” Since he didn't feature the song in tours that coincided with live record releases, "For No One" has never been included on any of his many live albums.
Paul’s development as a songwriter could not be any more apparent than on “For No One,” his convincing depiction of solitude and disbelief running rings around the similar subject of “Yesterday” from the previous year. His melancholy lyrics play perfectly against the masterful descending chord patterns and melody line. Even the melody of the French horn part depicts the sorrow of lost love. No other Beatles album up to this point could have housed as evocative of a song as this, both an expression of wanting and of loss. Hardly the typical offering of teen pop stars, but soon to be the touchstone to measure from, The Beatles set the bar very high!
“For No One”
Written by: John Lennon / Paul McCartney
Song Written: March, 1966
Song Recorded: May 9, 16 & 19, 1966
First US Release Date: August 8, 1966
First US Album Release: Capitol #ST-2576 “Revolver”
US Single Release: n/a
Highest Chart Position: n/a
British Album Release: Parlophone #PCS 7009 “Revolver”
Key: C major
Producer: George Martin
Engineers: Geoff Emerick, Phil McDonald
Instrumentation (most likely):
Paul McCartney -- Lead Vocals, Piano (Hamburg Steinway Baby Grand), Clavichord, Bass Guitar (1964 Rickenbacker 4001S)
Ringo Starr – Drums (1964 Ludwig Super Classic Black Oyster Pearl), tambourine
Alan Civil - French horn
Written and compiled by Dave Rybaczewski
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