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“SHE SAID SHE SAID”

(John Lennon – Paul McCartney)

Sometimes, out of adversity comes genius.  John Lennon’s composition “She Said She Said” is just such an example.  The initial inspiration for the song came from an irritating experience, sorting out the fragmentary ideas into a cohesive whole was a laborious and exhausting process, a last minute need pushed for the song to hurriedly be recorded, and an angry exchange of words led to the departure of an important group member to leave during the recording process.

This all sounds like it’s describing a project that was due for failure.  This however was not the case at all.  Authors unanimously praise the song, describing it as “a brilliant three-minute pop song,” “commanding emotional weight,” “The Beatles at their acid rock peak” and “the outstanding track on ‘Revolver.’”  In fact, it’s hard to find a negative word written about this piece of work.  It may not have been a hit, and it never got much airplay, but once this hidden gem is found, it appears to be respected and cherished as a favorite.

 

The Beatles in the backyard by the pool at 7655 Curson Terrace, Benedict Canyon, August 1965

Songwriting History

Midway through their 1965 American tour, The Beatles took some needed time off to relax.  However, being who they were, they couldn’t just stay anywhere.  Therefore, “the strategy for safety was one of a tight security net surrounded by seclusion,” relates Larry Kane in his book “Ticket To Ride.”  He continues:  “They were staying at a ranch-style house in Benedict Canyon, an exclusive neighborhood featuring narrow drives and homes set on hilltops.  It would take an army ranger to scale the cliffs and penetrate Fortress Beatles.”  The address was 7655 Curson Terrace, a luxurious rented home that John Lennon described as “something out of Disneyland.”  George Harrison remembers:  “It was a horseshoe-shaped house on a hill off Mulholland.  It had a little gatehouse, which Mal (Evans) and Neil (Aspinall) stayed in, decorated by Arabian-type things draped on the walls”

They stayed there from August 23rd to 28th, 1965, and relaxed by the pool with invited guests, such as Roger McGuinn and David Crosby from The Byrds as well as Joan Baez, Peter Fonda and assorted women.  As it was, though, relaxing wasn’t the only thing the group was planning to do during this planned break in their touring schedule.

George explains:  “John and I had decided that Paul and Ringo had to have acid, because we couldn’t relate to them anymore…The plan was that when we got to Hollywood, on our day off we were going to get them to take acid.  We got some in New York; it was on sugar cubes wrapped in tinfoil and we’d been carrying these around all through the tour until we got to L.A.”  This was the second time John and George experienced the drug, having had it put in their coffee without their knowledge earlier that year.

Wanting their other bandmates to have the same experience wasn’t a complete success.  Lennon explains:  “We just decided to take it again, in California.  We were in one of those houses like Doris Day’s house, and the three of us took it, Ringo, George and I – and maybe Neil.  Paul felt very out of it, because we are all slightly cruel:  ‘We’re all taking it and you’re not.’  It was a long time before Paul took it.”

Regarding “She Said She Said,” John remembers:  “That was written after an acid trip in L.A. during a break in The Beatles tour where we were having fun with The Byrds and lots of girls.  Peter Fonda came in when we were on acid and he kept coming up to me and sitting next to me and whispering, ‘I know what it’s like to be dead.’  He was describing an acid trip he’d been on.  We didn’t want to hear about that!  We were on an acid trip, and the sun was shining, and the girls were dancing (some from Playboy, I believe) and the whole thing was really beautiful and Sixties.  And this guy – who I didn’t really know, he hadn’t made ‘Easy Rider’ or anything – kept coming over, wearing shades, saying, ‘I know what it’s like to be dead,’ and we kept leaving him, because he was so boring.  It was scary, when you’re flying high: ‘Don’t tell me about it.  I don’t want to know what it’s like to be dead!’”  George recalls:  “I don’t know how, but Peter Fonda was there.  He kept saying, ‘I know what it’s like to be dead, because I shot myself.’  He’d accidentally shot himself at some time and he was showing us his bullet wound.  He was very uncool.”

Peter Fonda gives another interpretation on this incident:  “I remember sitting out on the deck of the house with George, who was telling me that he thought he was dying.  I told him that there was nothing to be afraid of and that all he needed to do was to relax.  I said that I knew what it was like to be dead because when I was 10 years old I’d accidentally shot myself in the stomach and my heart stopped beating three times while I was on the operating table because I’d lost so much blood.  John was passing at the time and heard me saying ‘I know what it’s like to be dead.’  He looked at me and said, ‘you’re making me feel I’ve never been born – Who put all that s##t in your head?’…When I heard ‘Revolver’ for the first time I knew exactly where the song had come from, although John never acknowledged it to me and I never mentioned it to anyone”

Another attendee at the time, Roger McGuinn, adds a little more detail:  “We were all on acid and John couldn’t take it.  John said, ‘Get this guy out of here.’  It was morbid and bizarre.  We’d just finished watching (the movie) ‘Cat Ballou’ with Jane Fonda in it and John didn’t want anything to do with any of the Fondas.  He was holding the movie against Peter and then what he said just added to it.”

This event was remembered by Lennon and he later taped himself experimenting with this idea while playing acoustic guitar, the lyrical results being: “He said, I know what it’s like to be dead, I said…I said, I must be out of my head, he said…”  Knowing that the song had a long way to go, he put it aside for awhile until inspiration hit him.  “When I wrote that, I had the ‘she said, she said’ bit, but it was just meaning nothing.  It was vaguely to do with someone who had said something…and then it was just a sound…but I changed it to ‘she’ instead of ‘he.’”  The next home demo he made added lines such as “I said,’who put all that crap in your head’…and it’s making me feel like my trousers are torn…she said, ‘I will love you more when you’re dead,’ I said, ‘no, no, no, it’s wrong.’”

“And then, I wanted a middle-eight,” John continues.  “The beginning had been around for days and days and so I wrote the first thing that came into my head, and it was ‘When I was a boy,’ in a different beat, but it was real because it just happened…It was a sad song.  It was just an ‘acidy’ song, I suppose.  ‘When I was a little boy,’ you see.  A lot of early childhood was coming out, anyway…That was pure.”

George remembered how the framework of the song came together:  “I did actually do some writing with him later on.  I was at his house one day – this is the mid-Sixties – and he was struggling with some tunes.  He had loads of bits, maybe three songs, that were unfinished, and I made suggestions and helped him to work them together so that they became one finished song, ‘She Said She Said.’  The middle part of that record is a different song: ‘She said, I know what it’s like to be dead, and I said, oh, no, no you’re wrong…’  Then it goes into the other one, ‘When I was a boy…’ That was a real weld.  So I did things like that.”

Since Paul’s name was on the writers credit (as it always was), the question remains as to whether he helped out at all.  “Very much John,” McCartney relates in his book “Many Years From Now,” adding:  “It’s a nice one.  I like the title ‘She Said She Said’…John brought it in pretty much finished, I think.”

 

The Beatles in EMI Studios, circa 1966

Recording History

After two-and-a-half months of intensive work recording their latest album, creating their most groundbreaking and innovative recordings to date, it was time to complete the mixes to ready the album for release.  June 21st, 1966 was designated as the day to get this work done, George Martin and engineers Geoff Emerick and Phil McDonald filing into the control room of EMI Studio Three at 10 am for the task at hand.  The Beatles themselves were interested enough in their work to attend this session as well, putting in the occasional input as to what sounded best to them.

Geoff Emerick, in his book “Here, There And Everywhere,” relates how a noteworthy issue came up on this day.  “It wasn’t until the very end, when most of ‘Revolver’ was mixed and ready to be mastered, that someone realized that the album was a song short…if they were too short, there would be complaints – or worse yet, returns – from consumers.  Not only was there a release date set, and a hungry public clamoring to hear the finished album, but The Beatles were booked to begin a European tour just days after the sessions ended, so there was no time to spare.”

At this point, it was John who came to the rescue with “She Said She Said,” a song which hadn’t been fully worked out yet but he figured, with them due to be in Munich two days later, they had no choice but to piece it together in the studio.  He hadn’t even decided on a title for the song, it being referred to as “Untitled” at the beginning of that day.

Geoff continues:  “So on the next-to-last night, after we had all spent a full day mixing, Mal and Neil reappeared with the band’s equipment and the group began frantically rehearsing John’s new song ‘She Said She Said.’  John had always been the basher in the group – his attitude was ‘Let’s just get it done’ – so it was no big surprise that we got the entire song recorded and mixed in nine hours, as opposed to the more than three days we spent on ‘Here, There And Everywhere.’  Still, he made the group run through the song dozens of times before he was satisfied with the final result.  For all of that…it’s got the ragged feel of a track that was done in the middle of the night, under pressure.”  Mark Lewisohn, in his book “The Beatles Recording Sessions,” relates that the group spent “most of the time rehearsing through at least 25 takes.”  This recording session began at 7 pm that evening.

The cavalier attitude of Lennon presumably got the best of McCartney on this day.  “I’m not sure, but I think it was one of the only Beatle records I never played on,” McCartney remembers.  “I think we’d had a barney or something and I said, ‘Oh, f##k you!’ and they said, ‘Well, we’ll do it.’  I think George played bass.”  Although it isn’t noted in the EMI studio records, the bass work on the finished recording is much more simplistic, although effectual, than what Paul usually contributed to Beatles sessions.  Therefore, it can be stated with good confidence that Paul had made his exit on this day before the tapes began rolling.

After the extensive rehearsals were complete, three takes of the rhythm track were recorded, these consisting of John on electric rhythm guitar, George on bass and Ringo on drums.  Take three was deemed best, which then was used for overdubbing John’s lead vocals and background vocals by John and George (including the answering vocals during the fade-out), thus filling up the four tracks of the tape.  A reduction mix was made to free up another track, this mix turning take three into take four.  The open track was then filled by the lead guitar part (George), Hammond organ (John) and a shaker (Ringo).  Upon examination of the recording, there are at least three different guitar parts being played, therefore a further guitar overdub was also made at some point.  The thickness of the lead guitar riffs indicate that ADT (artificial double-tracking) was most likely applied during the recording process, as well as a large amount of compression being added to the drums, hence the fullness of the cymbal crashes from Ringo.

The EMI staff did indeed create three mono mixes of the song early this morning, but none of these were viewed as suitable enough for the album.  The records show, however, that these mixes bore the name of the song as “She Said She Said,” indicating that at some point during this day, a title for the song was decided upon.  By 3:45 am the following morning, however, the session was finally over with only final mixing work to be done.

The final round of mixing for the album occurred the following evening, June 22nd, 1966, in the control room of EMI Studio Three.  These were created by the same team of Martin and Emerick, although the 2nd engineer on this session was Jerry Boys.  The mono mix of “She Said She Said” was made first, the stereo mix putting the drums fully on the left channel while all of the guitars as well as the organ are primarily on the right channel.  The vocals are centered in the mix.

On January 8th, 1969, The Beatles ran through "She Said She Said" at Twickenham Film Studios during their rehearsals for what became the "Let It Be" album and film.  This version, of course, never got officially released.

 

Song Structure and Style

A typical format of ‘verse/ verse/ bridge/ verse/ bridge/ verse’ (or aababa) is used here with a quick introduction and faded ending, no instrumental or solo section required.  That having been said, just about everything else having to do with the structure and style of “She Said She Said” is anything but typical.

“I have a sort of strange rhythm scene,” Lennon explained in a 1968 Rolling Stone interview, “because I’ve never been able to keep rhythm on the stage.  I always used to get lost – It’s me double off-beats.”  This has never been more apparent up to this point than on “She Said She Said,” where his rambling rhythms are somewhat difficult for the listener to decipher, let alone the group themselves.  This undoubtedly is why it took some 25 rehearsal takes in the recording studio before they were ready to record.

The three-measure introduction begins with a solo voicing of a distorted lead guitar line that follows an eighth note rising stair-step pattern as heard many times vocally throughout the song.  This takes up the first measure, the down beat of the second measure bringing in the entire instrumentation with a crash, signaling the heavy-energy of the song from this moment on.  The tumbling drum fill from Ringo in the third measure is a harbinger of impressive drum work to come in the next two-and-a-half minutes.

The first verse, like all of them, is ten measures long and begins on the downbeat with an octave vocal jump from John on the words “she saaaaaid.”  Ringo steers away from keeping the beat on a ride cymbal or hi-hat, focusing on the kick drum and snare until an expressive drum fill appears, which does in the second measure, culminating in a cymbal crash at the beginning of the third measure.  Harmony vocals also appear in the second measure on the lyrics “I know what it’s like to be dead,” the final four words being sung in triplet form on top of straight 4/4 timing.  Similar triplet singing has occurred before in The Beatles catalog, the “fussing and fighting” lines in “We Can Work It Out” being a prime example.  Another expressive feature of the verse is George’s guitar lines that capture the essence of the vocal line just sung, thus filling in the gaps between the vocal phrases.

Ringo continues the ‘drum fill/ cymbal crash’ pattern in the fourth and sixth measures, setting a president of performing this pattern in the even-numbered measures of the verses.  Also, slightly noticeable throughout the verse, is the high notes of a Hammond organ (overdubbed by John) which could be easily mistaken as guitar feedback.  This sound keeps surfacing and disappearing throughout the verse, especially apparent in the final four measures.  The harmony triplet singing comes up again in the fifth measure on the words “is to be sad.”

These final four measures accentuate the pay-off vocal line “and she’s making me feel like I’ve never been born,” which is sung solo amid syncopated power chords, piercing drum fills and cymbal crashes.  The standard eight-measure format is extended another two measures by repeating the last two bars instrumentally, George’s lead guitar voicing the lyric this time around.  The power chord backdrop allows this melody line to permeate our consciousness and leave the intended lasting impression.

After another drum fill from Ringo, a second ten-measure verse then begins which follows the same basic pattern as the first.  The Hammond organ high notes are especially noticeable throughout this verse, although they seem to disappear from view thereafter for the remainder of the song.

Next comes the bridge, and this is where things get sticky!  The verses were all in 4/4 time, but John’s “strange rhythm scene” rears its head for the first time, leaving most of us a little bewildered but satisfied.  Although experts are in disagreement here, it appears that the bridge is eleven measures long and changes from 4/4 time in the first two measures to 3/4 time for the remaining nine measures.

Most of the bridge is sung in harmony, the only exceptions being the first “she said” and the words “when I was a boy” in the fourth measure.  Ringo keeps to the snare and kick drum throughout the first four measures, beating out a 4/4 rhythm even after the meter changes to 3/4 in the third measure.  When the word “boy” signals the fifth measure, Ringo begins riding on the hi-hat for the first time in the song while accenting eighth notes in a march-like rhythm for the remainder of the bridge.  The word “boy” also signals George to begin a well-rehearsed lead guitar passage that follows the chord changes perfectly, although it does appear a little rushed in the sixth measure.

This transcends abruptly back into 4/4 time as a third verse immediately appears, the format nearly identical to the first two.  The difference here being that Ringo performs his ‘drum fill/cymbal crash’ in the first measure instead of the second, remembering the even-numbered pattern thereafter and resuming it in the fourth and sixth measure to round out the third verse nicely.

A repeat of the bridge comes next, which is also identical structurally.  Ringo comes in a measure early with his march-like eighth notes, starting in the fourth measure with the words “wrong, when I was a.”  George repeats his lead guitar passage from the first bridge and gets it a little more in tempo with the beat this time around.

A repeat of the third verse is next played, Ringo still coming in on the first measure instead of the second with his ‘drum fill/cymbal crash.’  However, this time, Ringo continues the opposite pattern, playing this feature on the odd-numbered measures instead of the even, finally compensating by performing it in the fifth and sixth measure consecutively.

The conclusion then appears which sounds for all sakes and purposes like a repeat of the first verse.  However, Ringo decides to flail away at his highly compressed cymbals right from the get-go, then going into double-time from the third measure on until the song fades into the distance.  Also, in a ‘row-row-row-your-boat’ fashion, John repeats every vocal phrase in the gaps of his lead vocal as an overdub, resulting as “I know what it’s like to be – I know what it’s like to be – I know what it is to be…”  All in all, a very impressive finishing touch to side one of an amazing album.

John takes the reins on this completely self-penned composition, implementing his odd time signatures and detailed arrangement exactly how he conjured it in his mind.  His confident vocal work gives the impression he means every word of what he says, whether you understand it or not.  His finger-picking rhythm guitar playing does well in making the arrangement sound big, while his harmony vocals are slurred perfectly into pitch.  While the Hammond organ details aren’t intrinsic to the overall sound, they are exactly what he wanted…enough said.

With Paul out of the picture, George plays a very impressive supporting role, suggesting what he would have been capable of with less dissention in the studio.  His lead guitar work is an essential ingredient to the whole and is arranged and performed with great aplomb.  His bass work, while performed adequately, shows his willingness and ability when needed.  It also becomes apparent that he’s just as much of a natural at singing spot-on harmony as his MIA band mate is.

Many writers point to this song as Ringo’s best work behind the drum kit, and understandably so.  He may have gone on record as saying he didn’t like performing drum solos, but this could easily be considered the next best thing.  His five-piece Ludwig set must have been smoking after the near nine hours that it took to get this recording done.  I wouldn’t doubt that he may have shouted a “blisters on my fingers” remark two years earlier than his famous one!

While the genesis of the lyrics are explained above, changing the personal exchange from a “he” to a “she” paints a somewhat different picture for the average listener who isn’t in the know.  Adding the phrase “I know what it is to be sad” to her interchange with Lennon gives a somewhat sympathetic view to the woman.  However, John is undaunted and expresses nothing but irritation at her view, saying “you’re making me feel like I’ve never been born” and “I know that I’m ready to leave.”  John’s reply, “Who put all those things in your head?” is followed by the revealing “things that make me feel that I’m mad,” that is, crazy.

His paranoia is then combined with his remembrance of a simpler life.  When she tries to explain, he quickly interjects, “no, no, no, you’re wrong” and then states, “When I was a boy, everything was right.”  The innocence of his childhood is expressed in comparison to his drug-induced state of mind of the time.  As stated above, John himself related this in interview:  “It was just an ‘acidy song, I suppose, ‘When I was a little boy,’ you see.  A lot of early childhood was coming out, anyway.”

 

British promotional advertisement for "Revolver"

American Releases

August 8th, 1966 was the American release date of the Capitol eleven-track version of the album “Revolver.”  With the three other Lennon vocal songs from the album lopped off for inclusion on the previously released “Yesterday…And Today” album, “Revolver” appeared very McCartney dominated.  The final song on each side featured a Lennon lead vocal, side one ending with “She Said She Said” and side two ending with “Tomorrow Never Knows.”  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.

Sometime in 1967, Capitol released Beatles music on a brand new but short-lived format called "Playtapes."  These tape cartidges did not have the capability to include entire albums, so two truncated four-song versions of "Revolver" were released in this portable format, "She Said She Said" being on one of these.  These "Playtapes" are highly collectable today.

It wasn’t until April 30th, 1987 that US audiences got the feel of what “Revolver” should have been like.  On this date, the original British 14-track album got its first release on compact disc, a re-released re-mastered version appearing on September 9th, 2009.

Also released on September 9th, 2009 was the box set “The Beatles In Mono,” which featured the original mono mix of “She Said She Said” as originally available on the mono albums of 1966. 

Live Performances

Although they could have worked up a convincing live version of the song, The Beatles never took the time, opting instead to continue the same set list they used on their brief international tour as they went out on their final US tour of 1966.

 

Conclusion

Although John Lennon’s compositions have touched on eccentricities before this point – that is to say, deviations from the standard rules of pop music of the time – “She Said She Said” reveals that his melodic structures were starting to be more expressive and “by feel” that any established norm.  A change in time signature within a song was very new to Beatles compositions, although this ground was broken with the bridge in “We Can Work It Out” the year before (not to mention their early cover song “A Taste Of Honey” which also changes time signature).  With all of the idiosyncrasies of “She Said She Said,” however, The Beatles pull it off very convincingly, winning the admiration of critics and fans alike.

If the adventurous bent of “She Said She Said” shows their maturity in songwriting, wait until the next few years.  Lennon’s “The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill,” “Happiness Is A Warm Gun” and “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” were surely testing the limits, while “Revolution 9” throws all pop conformity out of the window.  If the world was expecting them to keep composing sing-a-long “She Loves You” standards, they needed to hold on to their hats!

 She Said She Said

 Written by:  John Lennon / Paul McCartney 

  • Song Written:  August, 1965 – June, 1966
  • Song Recorded:  June 21, 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
  • Length:  2:39
  • Key:  B flat
  • Producer: George Martin
  • Engineers: Geoff Emerick, Phil McDonald 

Instrumentation (most likely): 

  • John Lennon -  Lead and Harmony Vocals, Rhythm Guitars (1965 Epiphone E230TD Casino), Organ (Hammond RT-3)
  • George Harrison – Lead Guitar (1964 Gibson SG Standard), Bass Guitar (1965 Burns Nu-Sonic), Harmony Vocals
  • Ringo Starr –  Drums (1964 Ludwig Super Classic Black Oyster Pearl), shaker

 Written and compiled by Dave Rybaczewski

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