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"SHE'S A WOMAN"
(John Lennon - Paul McCartney)
Most songwriters will explain the moment of inspiration as an exhilarating experience. Paul McCartney explains it this way: "That creative moment when you come up with an idea is the greatest, it's the best. It's like sex. You're filled with a knowledge that you're right, which, when much of your life is filled with guilt and the knowledge that you're probably not right, is a magic moment...it's a very warm feeling that comes all over you, and for some reason it comes from the spine, through the cranium and out of the mouth."
When this inspiration hits you, the immediate tendency is to record it while the enthusiasm is high. Otherwise, if a good degree of time goes by, the resulting recording may suffer from lessened interest from the songwriter. So the best case scenario would usually be for the songwriter to record the song as soon as he's finished writing it, if those circumstances present themselves.
In the case of the song "She's A Woman," the circumstances were perfect. It so happened that the Beatles had a recording session booked on the same day that Paul had earlier written most of the song, so, with a pressing deadline upon them, they finished writing the song in the studio and fully recorded it on the same day. With the possible exception of "All Together Now" and "The Ballad Of John And Yoko," "She's A Woman" is the only confirmed Lennon/McCartney song that was fully written and fully recorded on the same day. And in this case, the result was a song that became a staple of their live performances for the next two years as well as becoming a Top 5 hit on the American Billboard singles chart.
St. Johns Wood
"This song was written the morning of the session," McCartney relates. In his book "Many Years From Now" he elaborates further: "I have a recollection of walking round St. John's Wood with that in my mind so I might have written it at home and finished it up on the way to the studio, finally polished it in the studio, maybe just taken John aside for a second and checked it with him, 'What d'you think?' 'Like it.' Good. Let's do it!'"
Lennon himself verifies his input to the song, saying in 1980, "We had one verse and we had to finish it off quickly. That's why it's got such rubbishy lyrics. That's Paul with some contribution from me on lines, probably. We put in the words 'turns me on.' We were so excited to say 'turn me on' - you know, about marijuana and all that...using it as an expression." It was only five weeks before this date that the Beatles smoked pot for the first time, being introduced to it by Bob Dylan during their first meeting with him at the Delmonico Hotel in New York City while on tour. While Dylan mistakenly thought "I Want To Hold Your Hand" contained a drug reference ("I get high" instead of "I can't hide"), the Beatles purposely put drug slang in a song for the first time on "She's A Woman" (the first of many).
As to the style of the song, McCartney gives us some detail as to inspiration. "Like 'Can't Buy Me Love,' this was my attempt at a bluesy thing. We always found it very hard to write the more rock'n'roll things. It seemed easy for Little Richard to knock 'em off, penny a dozen, but for us it wasn't quite so easy, being white boys who'd not been to a gospel church in our lives. So instead of doing a Little Richard song, whom I admire greatly, I would use the style I would have used for that but put it in one of my own songs, so this was about a woman rather than a girl. Bluesy melody is quite hard to write so I was quite pleased to get that."
"She's A Woman" has been credited as inspiring the 60's Texas Rock sound and particularly the band Sir Douglas Quintet and their 1965 hit "She's About A Mover." What most authors don't mention is how it most likely was the other way around. Take one listen to the overall feel, and especially the introduction, of their 1964 single "Sugar Bee" and you'll see how the Beatles, who were always keen to "pinch" a good idea from the current music scene, might very well have been inspired by the Sir Douglas Quintet.
Interestingly, McCartney credits John for this ingredient of the song. "John did a very good thing: instead of playing through it and putting like a watercolor wash over it all with his guitar he just stabbed on the off-beats. Ringo would play the snare and John did it with the guitar, which was good, it left a lot of space for the rest of the stuff. That was a distinctive sound on that."
Surprisingly, considering the rousing original songs the Beatles had already sprung on the world (such as "I Saw Her Standing There" and "I Wanna Be Your Man"), they viewed "She's A Woman" as a first. "This was the first real rocker we've written, and we're glad," McCartney stated at the time. "We played it to Mary Wells and we sold it to her, 'Listen, it's the coloured sound!'"
John, Ringo and Paul, EMI Studio Two, 1964
Whatever song or songs the Beatles were planning to record during their scheduled recording session on October 8th, 1964, they were temporarily shelved in order to work on Paul's new brainchild "She's A Woman," which was mostly written earlier that day. The session was held at EMI Studio Two between 2:30 and 6:00 pm. Since their next recording session didn't occur until October 18th, it's quite likely that they didn't really have anything planned for this day and welcomed any new ideas that would fill either the new album or single that was due out before the end of the year.
An interesting observance is that, while listening to all of the seven takes of the song performed on this day, George Harrison appears to have not been present. All of the takes contain only three instruments, which were John on guitar, Ringo on drums and Paul on bass guitar and lead vocals. The lead guitar solo was never present in these takes but was added as an overdub onto the take that was chosen as best. The style of playing on this solo is quite like that which Paul has played in later Beatles songs, so many feel that McCartney himself performed this overdub. This has not been confirmed by anyone present but, if this is the case, "She's A Woman" is the first Beatles song not to feature all four Beatles.
While it is possible that George showed up at the end of the session to record the guitar solo, he most likely wasn't there that day at all. Also, watching the television appearances of the Beatles miming to the song show George awkwardly looking around, giggling and giving the appearance that he didn't know the song very well. Although he did perform the solo when the Beatles played it live, as can be seen on the video of their 1966 Tokyo concert for instance, he could easily have learned it from Paul. All of this can be viewed as evidence of his absence on October 8th, but no one can say for sure.
Take One of the recording session is noteworthy because John's syncopated guitar part did not exist yet. He seemed to be experimenting with different rhythm styles, starting out with one not unlike what George Harrison played on "Eight Days A Week" during their last recording session on October 6th. Take Two saw John settle into the syncopated guitar rhythm for the first time, although it was quite unrefined at that point. Ringo was also experimenting with different variations of playing during different parts of the song, suggesting that he wasn't quite familiar with the song yet. They were getting closer though.
Takes three through five, some of them false starts, saw them refine their ideas further while Take Six was the keeper. They did one more for good measure, but Take Seven showed their playing getting a little sloppier, especially John's guitar work. This take lasted nearly six minutes, ending with a long impromptu ending with the three of them cutting loose and Paul screaming at the top of his lungs. After the song finally ends, Ringo says "We got a song and an instrumental there."
Recognizing Take Six as the best, they took to adding overdubs. John double-tracked his guitar introduction, while Ringo played a chocalho, which is a cylindrical metal shaker containing little lead balls. Paul was the busiest with overdubs, adding a piano through the entire song (starting at the second verse) as well as double-tracking his vocals during both bridges. As stated above, it was probably Paul who filled the instrumental gap of the song with a guitar solo, which he then double-tracked to add more depth. By 6 pm, the recording session and the song were complete.
The first mono and stereo mix of the song was made on October 12th in the control room of Studio Two by producer George Martin and engineers Norman Smith and Ken Scott. Since both a mono and stereo mix was made this early on, they probably had intended the song to be on the upcoming "Beatles For Sale" album. Both of these mixes have a touch of reverb and fades the song after we hear "she's a woman" repeated five times at the end. Neither of these mixes were heard in the US for many years, the stereo mix first released only on an Australian album in 1967. The "Past Masters" CD of 1988 finally made the stereo mix available to all.
The second mono mix of the song was made on October 21st, 1964 specifically for the US single, which indicates that sometime between October 12th and then the decision was made as to its being issued as the b-side to their next single. This mix was made in Room 65 at EMI by George Martin, Norman Smith and 2nd engineer Ron Pender. They added a little more reverb to the song since they knew Capitol liked it that way, but the song faded a little earlier (after "she's a woman" is heard only three times at the end).
To the surprise of the EMI staff, Capitol decided to add even more reverb to the song for its single release, making a very noticeable difference between the British and American singles. And, since Capitol had only received the mono mix, they created a fake "duophonic" mix to be released on the stereo version of the "Beatles '65" album, which they had done with previous Beatles single tracks like "I Want To Hold Your Hand" and "You Can't Do That." The problem was that, with the huge amount of reverb now contained on the song, the duophonic album version sounded very muddy. Nonetheless, this is how American audiences were familiar with the song for over two decades.
More recordings were made of the song in 1965 from their concert performances at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, California. August 29th was their first show, but this recording never saw the light of day due to technical difficulties during the show. Their August 30th performance, however, proved much more successful, "She's A Woman" being chosen to be included in the 1977 album "The Beatles At The Hollywood Bowl."
There apparently was another stereo mix of the song made some time around 1981 since it has surfaced on the British "Beatles EPs Collection" in 1981 and its counterpart on compact disc in 1991. The differences here were a punchier vocal delivery and, interestingly, a count-in by Paul which only was heard on the master tape before this time.
During the August and September 1980 recording sessions for John's classic album "Double Fantasy," jammed versions of the song surfaced. Guitarist Hugh McCracken recalls: "I remember I started playing a little bit of 'She's A Woman' and John started to sing it. On the guitar it sits well in the key of E, but that wasn't the key the song was originally recorded in by the Beatles. He said, 'What f**king key are you doing it in?' He sang a little bit of it, but said it was too high a key to sing and we stopped."
However, according to a personal log kept by keyboardist George Small, when a camera crew came in to film some of the recording sessions on August 18th, 1980, "She's A Woman" was one of the songs that were captured on film. Sadly, the evidence of this is gone forever because of John himself. Assistant engineer Jon Smith relates: "John told us that he watched (the footage) and he said he hated the video so he destrayed the tapes. He told us that he pulled the tape out of their shells and flushed them down the toilet." He apparently was unhappy at how he looked with his hair pulled back in a ponytail and he didn't want it used or leaked out in the future.
Song Structure and Style
"She's A Woman" was written as a full-blown attempt at mimicking "the coloured sound," as McCartney called it, so it appears as the most blues-like original composition they had done up to this point. The 12-bar blues progressions and chord changes are on full display but with some usual Beatles modifications. All in all, we have a structure of 'verse/ verse/ bridge/ verse/ solo/ bridge/ verse' (or aabacba). Add to this an introduction and a faded conclusion and you have what McCartney called "a real screaming rocker for the live act."
From the quick paced count-in from Paul we see that the verses are actually 24 measures long instead of the standard 12 bars that are thought customary for this kind of song. First, though, we hear the eight measure introduction with John's double-tracked guitar stabs on the off-beats played without the band for the first four measures. The last four measures of the introduction brings Paul's grounding bass line and Ringo's drums with sizzling open hi-hats (and chocalho) to stabilize the song, which allows the listener to get his bearings as to where the down-beat actually is.
The first 24 measure verse begins as Ringo closes his hi-hats and Paul begins his vocals simultaneously on the down-beat. Paul's melody line starts out with the hook-phrase that is repeated four times within the verse, beginning with a near-octave jump to the higher reaches of his vocal register. The chord structure consists of the usual four-chord pattern heard in a lot of blues and R&B music up to that point but ends with a segueing chord to link with another verse.
The second verse is identical structurally to the first but with different lyrics and the entrance of McCartney's overdubbed piano. The piano work cleverly repeats the vocal hook-phrase in the gaps between Paul's vocal lines. One subtle change in this second verse is that the segueing chord is dropped since the bridge, which occurs next, begins with a distinctive new chord.
This quick four-measure bridge deviates from the usual blues format and creates a bit more tension through some changes in the musical arrangement. For instance, Ringo returns to his sizzling open hi-hats and Paul's vocals are double-tracked, the only place in the song where they are.
As a repeat of the first verse begins, Ringo immediately closes his hi-hats again and Paul begins to take liberties singing his melody line, which is very uncharacteristic for him up to this point in the Beatles career. John begins to show some fatigue on his guitar chops, first evident in the fourth measure where he practically misses the first chop entirely. For the ninth measure he forgot to change chords, and the twenty-third measure contains what sounds like a muffled miss-hit of the chord.
After the segue chord and "whoo" from Paul at the end of this verse, the solo section begins. This is the first time an actual 12-bar blues pattern actually appears in the song. The guitar solo is double-tracked and perfectly performed. The only noticeable flaw is Lennon accidentally playing the segue chord at the end of the solo which wasn't needed because we were immediately going into another bridge, not a verse.
After the second bridge, which was identical to the first, they repeat the first verse a third time with Paul ad-libbing his vocal melody line even more. Without a need to use the segue chord, they enter straight into the conclusion of the song, which takes the same 12-bar-blues form that was used in the solo. Ringo rides the bell of his cymbal for the first time in the song as Paul belts out "she's a woman" a few times during the fade out. The song disappears just as the three minute mark appears, allowing it to be within the suitable time frame for radio airplay in the 60's.
Regarding Paul's vocal work on the song, many fans didn't like it. "It first it wasn't so well received," McCartney said in 1965. "A lot of people thought that I was just singing too high and that I'd picked the wrong key. It sounded as though I was screeching, but it was on purpose, it wasn't a mistake."
His vocals may have been at the top of his register and at the point of cracking, but that was a purposeful attempt of emulating his hero Little Richard, which in effect pushed the tension of the song to an exciting place. Although it was nice to hear McCartney resurrect the song in his "MTV Unplugged" performance in 1991, his lowering the key to accommodate a maturing singer reduced the song to a mellow groove.
"Incidentally, Paul plays piano for the first time on 'She's A Woman'," Lennon proudly proclaimed in late 1964. Although McCartney had graced the keyboards before this time (see "Little Child" and "Any Time At All"), he played with impressive rhythmic fluidity for a song he had just written that day.
Paul's double-tracked guitar solo (if it was him and not Harrison) shows for the first time on record what he was capable of as a lead guitarist. This highly crafted and beautifully executed solo was a precursor to later Paul guitar solos, such as "Taxman," "Good Morning, Good Morning" and "The End." Not to forget McCartney's flowing bass work that drove the song from start to finish. Paul was definitely on top of his game for "She's A Woman."
Although John's rhythm guitar chops were awkward for him to master, he ended up getting through it in a masterful way, albeit with a few acceptable flaws. It ends up being the most outstanding instrumental ingredient of the track, especially with the layers of reverb on the American release.
After Ringo got fully acquainted with the framework of the song, he delivered a perfect driving backbeat that accentuated a heavy two- and four-beat on the snare, which was also played throughout by John on guitar. While the drums were somewhat low in the mix, the added chocalho shaking brought the high percussive end up and gave the song a somewhat Cuban feel.
Lennon's quote about the song having "rubbishy lyrics" is actually a valid claim. The biggest evidence is the atrocious rhyme contained in the often repeated phrase "my love don't give me presents / I know that she's no peasant." And, after the Beatles first drug reference "turns me on" we hear the tired rhyme of "lonely" and "only," which was already used last year in "Misery" and the following year in "You're Going To Lose That Girl." Could the embarrassment of these lyrics be the reason McCartney almost never includes the song in his tours?
At any rate, these quickly written lyrics depict his trust of "a woman rather than a girl," as he said in interview. He knows that she is remaining loyal to him no matter what other people tell him. "People tell me that she's only fooling; I know she isn't," he assures. Apparently She doesn't want presents either, saying "she is happy just to hear me say that I will never leave her," which recalls the sentiments of "Can't Buy Me Love." Adding to this the fact that "she don't give boys the eye" and "she hates to see" him cry, it sound like he's got himself a real winner with this "woman."
"She's A Woman" US single picture sleeve
In 1964, Capitol was in the habit of choosing different b-sides to British Beatles singles that they felt were more suitable for the American market (see "I Want To Hold Your Hand" and "A Hard Day's Night"). They broke out of that habit for their last single release of that year and never did it again. "She's A Woman" was released on November 23rd, 1964 (four days before Britain) as the b-side of the #1 American hit "I Feel Fine." In fact, "She's A Woman" was their most successful b-side yet, peaking at #4 on the Billboard singles chart in early 1965. This remained their highest charting b-side all the way until 1969's double-sided #1 single that paired "Something" with "Come Together."
December 15th, 1964 saw the release of the Capitol album "Beatles '65," which also featured "She's A Woman." Since Capitol only received the mono mix of the song from EMI, the stereo version of the album contained the "duophonic" stereo mix they created which, with the added reverb, sounded quite unlistenable. The album's position at #1 on the Billboard album charts for nine weeks show that it didn't matter.
Somehow, the song was overlooked for all of the double-compilation albums of the 70's, but the live version of the song that was recorded at the Hollywood Bowl on August 30th, 1965 was finally released by Capitol on May 4th, 1977. "The Beatles At The Hollywood Bowl" peaked at #2 on the Billboard album charts.
When the compact disc era arrived, "Past Masters, Volume One" was released to compile together all the British b-sides and EP tracks that weren't on any British albums. The true stereo version of "She's A Woman," without the extra layers of reverb, was premiered in the US on this CD, which was released on March 7th, 1988. The re-mastered version of this release, which combined both volumes of "Past Masters" into a double-disc set, came out on September 9th, 2009.
On June 30th, 1992, the box set "Compact Disc EP Collection" was released in America, this featuring a bonus disc including the above mentioned new stereo mix of "She's A Woman" with a never-before-heard "count in" from Paul.
On December 6th, 1994, Apple released the double-disc "Live At The BBC," which featured a special recording of the song the Beatles made for the BBC radio show "Top Gear" on November 17th, 1964 that was broadcast on November 26th of that year.
The second release of the Anthology series, namely "Anthology 2," was released on March 19th, 1996. It contained a live version of "She's A Woman" that was recorded on June 30th, 1966 at the Nippon Budokan Hall in Tokyo, Japan. A lot of Beatles fans were anxious to own this special compilation set, evidenced by it debuting in the #1 slot of the Billboard albums charts.
To try to satisfy the demand to hear the early Beatles music in stereo, Capitol released "The Capitol Albums, Vol. 1" on November 15th, 2004. This box set contained the full "Beatles '65" album in both stereo and mono, which included "She's A Woman" in all its "reverbed" glory.
Just prior to the release of the above box set, a promotional CD sampler was sent out to radio stations that included both the stereo and mono mixes of "She's A Woman." This is a rare find today.
On September 9th, 2009, the box set "The Beatles In Mono" was released featuring the entire Beatles catalog re-mastered from the original mono mixes. "She's A Woman" is heard here on the disc "Mono Masters."
Not to be forgotten is Paul McCartney's "Unplugged (The Official Bootleg)" album which features his lowered key version of "She's A Woman" as performed on MTV Unplugged on January 25th, 1991.
Paul explained his intention for writing the song, saying "We needed a real screaming rocker for the live act. It was always good, if you were stuck for something to close with, or there was a dull moment."
As was the case with both sides of any new single, they put "She's A Woman" to good use in their live shows as well as television and radio programs. Their premier of the song was a lip-synced performance of the song on the British TV show "Lucky Stars Special" (which was a re-named version of "Thank Your Lucky Stars" because of the Beatles being on the show). This performance was taped on November 14th and broadcast on November 21st, 1964, which was six days before the record was released in Britain.
On November 16th they also lip-synced the song for the TV show "Top Of The Pops," which was first broadcast on December 3rd and then repeated on December 10th. The November 17th performance of the song for the BBC radio show "Top Gear" was next, which was broadcast on November 26th. This performance was then re-broadcast on the radio show "Saturday Club" on December 26th. Then the TV show "Ready, Steady, Go!" was next, lip-syncing a rendition of the song before a dancing audience on November 23rd for a November 27th broadcast, which was the actual day the record was released in the UK.
The Beatles rounded off 1964 with their "Another Beatles Christmas Show" in London, which featured "She's A Woman" in their set list. This show ran for 20 nights, 2 shows each night, from December 24th, 1964 through January 16th, 1965.
While the early months of 1965 was taken up with recording songs for and filming scenes for their second motion picture "Help!," they did appear at the "New Musical Express 1964-1965 Annual Poll-winners' All-Star Concert" with "She's A Woman" as one of the five songs in their brief set list. Also, on May 26th, they performed the song on their very last BBC radio show "The Beatles (Invite You To Take A Ticket To Ride)," which aired in Britain on June 7th.
June 20th was the first date of a short European tour which began in Paris, France and extended through Italy and Spain before ending on July 3rd, 1965. "She's A Woman was the second song in their set list during this tour, which was filmed and recorded on the first date (June 20th) for television and radio broadcast in France.
The Beatles 1965 American tour began with the momentous Shea Stadium concert in New York City on August 15th and ended on August 31st at the Cow Palace in San Francisco. The set list still featured "She's A Woman" as their second song, although the song was omitted from the filmed Shea Stadium TV program. It was captured on tape during their August 30th performance at the Hollywood Bowl, which eventually made it onto the 1977 "The Beatles At The Hollywood Bowl" album.
The Beatles also finished off 1965 performing "She's A Woman" during their last British tour, which spanned from December 3rd in Glasgow to December 12th in Cardiff.
The brief international tour of 1966 also featured the song in the number two spot of their set list. This tour extended from Munich, West Germany on June 24th to their infamous appearance in The Philippines on July 4th. This was quickly followed by their last American tour, which spanned from Chicago on August 12th, a return to Shea Stadium in New York on August 23rd, and finishing up at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, California (their last concert until the rooftop of Apple Records in January of 1969). This set of shows also included "She's A Woman" as the second song of the show.
Not to be forgotten is Paul McCartney's post-Beatles concert performances. While he didn't habitually feature the song, he premiered it during his "MTV Unplugged" performance on January 25th, 1991. It also made it onto the "Unplugged (The Official Bootleg)" album of this performance. In promotion of this album, Paul and his band staged six "secret" shows in 1991 that featured the song. These shows were in Spain, Italy, England and Denmark. His "2004 Summer Tour," which included his famous show in Russia, also included "She's A Woman," although this was not contained on his "Paul McCartney In Red Square" DVD.
Many have noticed the strictly arranged orchestration of "She's A Woman"; from the well-defined syncopated guitar chops that never deviate from their path, to the drum pattern that switches from the hi-hat sizzle to the subdued backdrop of the verses as if someone spliced the tape, to the pre-planned guitar solo that shows no sign of ad-libbing.
What is especially interesting about this is that this was all learned, rehearsed and executed in one simple 3 ½ hour recording session. With Paul McCartney taking the lead, he made sure his creation was performed particularly to his liking. What resulted was a sound that the Beatles had never attempted before; it almost didn't sound like the Beatles at all. This chameleon-like ability was to immerge with ever greater force as their career progressed, but "She's A Woman" showed early on how the Beatles could change their stripes at a moment's notice.
"She's A Woman"
Written by: John Lennon / Paul McCartney
- Paul McCartney - Lead Vocals, Bass Guitar (1963 Hofner 500/1), Piano (1905 Steinway Vertegrand upright), Lead Guitar? (1964 Rickenbacker 325)
- John Lennon - Rhythm Guitar (1964 Rickenbacker 325)
- Ringo Starr - Drums (1964 Ludwig Super Classic Black Oyster Pearl), Chocalho
- George Harrison - Lead Guitar? (1962 Gretsch 6122 Country Gentleman)
Written and compiled by Dave Rybaczewski
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