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"THINGS WE SAID TODAY"

(John Lennon - Paul McCartney)

John Lennon may have been much more prolific as a songwriter in 1964 than McCartney, but Paul's songwriting output that year was nonetheless undeniably strong.  He began to take more liberties with experimentation in his songs, delving, for instance, in writing primarily in a minor key.  He understandably saw that his lyrics should reflect more of a reflective, rather that celebratory, tone within this minor context.  What resulted from this experiment was "Things We Said Today," which did wonders in exemplifying the romantic persona young girls naturally saw in him anyway.

 

Paul with Jane Asher

Songwriting History

Having completed filming "A Hard Day's Night" on April 24th and taken care of pre-arranged commitments for the following week, manager Brian Epstein arranged for them to have a well-deserved month off in May to do as they pleased.  Paul and girlfriend Jane Asher took off with Ringo and girlfriend Maureen for the Virgin Islands.  They charted a yacht named "Happy Days" and enjoyed some (relatively) peaceful times for themselves.  All the while, Paul knew that they needed to record some songs to flesh out side two of their soundtrack album when they got back.

"I remember writing 'Things We Said Today' in one of the cabins below deck one afternoon on my acoustic guitar," Paul remembers.  "I got away from the main party but it was a bit queasy downstairs; you could smell the oil and the boat was rocking a bit and I'm not the best sailor in the world, so I wrote a little bit of it downstairs and then the rest of it on the back deck where you couldn't smell the engine.  I don't know why the engine was on, I suppose we were moving."

McCartney wrote this one entirely by himself, as John affirmed in 1980 simply by saying, "Paul's.  Good song."  It was inspired directly by his relationship with his then girlfriend Jane Asher.  Although he injected ambiguity into the lyrics to distance his personal life from the song, with the intention of making it more of "a universal experience that others could relate to more directly" as stated in his book "Many Years From Now," he had in mind the state of their hectic life as a couple.  Both Paul and Jane had professional careers that separated them for long periods of time, which resulted in Paul wishing she "weren't so far away."

"I wrote 'Things We Said Today' on acoustic," McCartney continues.  "It was a slightly nostalgic thing already, a future nostalgia:  we'll remember the things we said today, some time in the future, so the song projects itself into the future and then is nostalgic about the moment we're living in now, which is quite a good trick...It was a sophisticated little tune."

 

The Beatles with George Martin in EMI Studio Two, 1964

Recording History

About an hour and a half of recording time in EMI Studio Two was all that was needed to see the song from beginning to (almost) completion.  The first of two sessions on June 2nd, 1964 ran from 2:30 to 5:30 pm, which first was used to begin recording John's "Any Time At All," but then switched at approximately 4:00 to Paul's "Things We Said Today."

The Beatles instrumentation for the initial tracks consisted of John on acoustic guitar, George on electric rhythm guitar, Paul on bass and lead vocals and Ringo on drums.  Take one consisted of a false start, but takes two and three were full run-throughs of the song, take three being the best.  From this, they performed three overdubs, which consisted of Ringo on tambourine during both bridge sections of the song, Paul double-tracking his vocals (some in unison and some in harmony) and John playing a simple piano part during both bridges.

It appears that the piano overdub was recorded simultaneously with the other overdubs but on a separate track, since recording sheets show that they decided to omit the piano from the song.  To accomplish this, all they needed to do was keep the volume level down on that track to take the piano out of the mix.  However, especially when listening to the stereo mix of the song, you can still hear the piano in the background.  According to Mark Lewisohn's book "The Beatles Recording Sessions," this occurs because "the piano had not been fully separated" during recording and "a little of its' sound leaked across into the other microphones."

Documentation exists that suggests that The Beatles arrived around 9:30 pm at EMI Studio Two to record unspecified overdubs to "Things We Said Today" on June 3rd, 1964.  This was the same day that they earlier auditioned Jimmy Nicol to replace an ailing Ringo Starr for the beginning of their first world tour.  If these documents are true, at least one of the overdubs mentioned above were recorded on this day.

George Martin set aside June 4th to do mono mixes of all the recent Beatles recordings but somehow neglected "Things We Said Today."  He may have run out of time on that day or he just plain forgot this song.  Either way, the mono mix we all are familiar with was made during the next mixing session on June 9th by George Martin and engineers Norman Smith and Ken Scott.

The stereo mix of the song, with the slightly audible John Lennon piano part, was made during the marathon mixing session on June 22nd, 1964.  George Martin, Norman Smith and 2nd engineer Geoff Emerick also made a tape copy of this mix at the end of the session, no doubt to send to Capitol Records in the US.

Another recording of the song was made on August 23rd, 1964 during their live concert at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles.  With the idea of releasing an American live album in time for the Christmas holiday, Capitol vice-president Voyle Gilmore co-produced a recording of the entire show with George Martin and engineer Hugh Davies.  The recordings, which were remixed in stereo on August 27th, were too rough for release at that time, but they were eventually cleaned-up by George Martin and Geoff Emerick for the successful 1977 album "The Beatles At The Hollywood Bowl."  This recording of "Things We Said Today" appeared as the sixth track on side one.

 

Song Structure and Style

As for song structure, we see here a typical 'verse/ verse/ bridge/ verse' (or aaba) format as quite common for the early Beatles catalog.  Evidenced also are the common additions to the formula, such as an introduction, a repeat of the bridge and final verse, and a conclusion.  With no solo section required, the structure falls into the 'typical' category.  This is not to say that there aren't any 'tricks up their sleeve,' as The Beatles (with George Martin's input) always like to throw in some 'monkey wrenches' to liven things up.

First of all, a two measure introduction sets the mood, with Lennon's rhythmic fanfare ("da-da-dum") creating an anticipatory tension in an otherwise relaxed minor key.  This goes immediately into the first verse, which features Paul's vocal primarily single-tracked except during the third section of the verse (measures 9 through 12) and the final phrase (measures 15 and 16) where the title of the song is heard.  These measures are the only times double-tracked vocals are heard in the first verse.

Most can assume (as many books state) that each verse is a standard 16-measures long, but upon examination, none of the four verses heard in this song are of that length.  The first verse actually has an additional measure at the end that plays the role of a segue into another verse.  This additional measure repeats Lennon's rhythmic fanfare as a small reprise of the introduction.

The second verse features Paul's vocal being double-tracked throughout, which shifts from unison to harmony singing in strategic places and apparently whenever the mood would strike Paul at the moment.  Besides measures 9 through 12, he decides to harmonize during the final line "things we said today."  Also noteworthy is that this verse is only fifteen measures long, the final measure disappearing into the bridge.

This nine-measure bridge 'dirties-up' the otherwise tranquil feel of the song with added tambourine, slightly audible piano and urgent, unison vocal work from McCartney.  This tension creates the illusion of uncertainty, as illustrated by storm winds threatening to ruin a relaxing boat trip.  This tension dissipates with the realization that "love is here to stay and that's enough to make you mine."   With these lyrics, the storm abates and we now return to the calm seas of a sunny day (and another relaxing verse).

This fifteen-measure verse is identical to the previous verse except for new lyrics.  This time Paul sings unison singing throughout except for the third phrase ("someday when we're dreaming...") where he switches to harmonizing with himself.

This verse transcends into an identical repeat of the turbulent bridge and calm third verse.  The repeat of the third verse shows another variation in Paul's vocals where he also adds harmony on the line "we'll go on and on."  Another difference in this verse is that the number of measures extends beyond sixteen to infinity as the conclusion fades the song off into the sunset with John's rhythmic fanfare blazing the way.

McCartney was quite proud of the chord pattern he used for the song.  "It has interesting chords," he states.  Referring to the second half of the verse, he continues "It goes C, F, which is all normal, then the normal thing might be to go to F minor, but to go to the B flat was quite good.  It was a sophisticated little tune."  This unexpected B-flat chord creates a measure of uncertainty as to where the song will be leading next, but we comfortably land back into the home key in order to resolve the verse nicely.

Another Beatles trick in "Things We Said Today" is their shifting from minor to major keys, especially notable in the switch from A minor to A major for an interesting transition into the bridge.  Also notable is the melody line predominantly made up of off-beats, which is most noticeable in the bridge.  The Beatles continued to display this characteristic in later years, such as in "Tell Me What You See" and "If I Needed Someone."

The lyrics to the song depict the singer affirming his love for his girl even though they are separated for long periods of time.  The singer is comforted by her assurance that she will love him "till the end of time" and that she'll be "thinking of" him while they are apart.  The optimistic lyrics are somewhat melancholy and disquieting with the minor-chord framework of the song as a backdrop.  Since this song was an ambiguous reference to Paul and Jane Asher's life at the time, the saddened feel of the song could be viewed in retrospect as a pre-indication of their eventual breakup.  His admission that they "may be blind" admits a little uncertainty about how grounded their relationship was, especially with Paul's admitted philandering during The Beatle years.

Paul's vocals are the main focus of the song, delivering his own harmonies in strategic places through double-tracking.  (George supplies these harmonies when the song was performed live.)  McCartney had more of a knack at matching the original vocal recording when double-tracking, especially noticeable during times when he may have inadvertently paused on the original track.  Lennon was not as instinctively wise when double-tracking, as evidenced in "Tell Me Why," "When I Get Home" and at the end of "Not A Second Time."

Paul's bass work, while simple and rhythmic during the verses, becomes more pronounced and intense during the bridges, which is appropriate for the turbulent mood for this section of the song.

The musical focus of the song is on Lennon's acoustic guitar work, especially his rhythmic fanfare in the introduction, in-between the first two verses and the conclusion.  While the rest of John's playing is rudimentary throughout, this fanfare becomes the identifying feature of the song.

George Harrison's electric guitar accents, while necessary in the song, are used more for flavoring than for structure.  Ringo's drum work resembles a metronome and remains constant and unchangeable throughout the entire song with the exception of his sizzling hi-hat and accentuated beat during the bridges.  His tambourine playing during these bridges also creates the appropriate dirty atmosphere, which is also reprised with simple accents on the two-beat of each measure during the conclusion.

 

Capitol's "Something New" album

American Releases

While "Things We Said Today" was chosen as the b-side to the single "A Hard Day's Night" in Britain, Capitol had other ideas for the US.  In order to fully promote their movie in America, they chose "I Should Have Known Better" as the b-side of this American single.

Therefore, the first American release of "Things We Said Today" was on July 20th, 1964 with the release of the Capitol album "Something New."  Its' prominent place as the second song on the album did well to give it deserved attention in the US.  This album got its' compact disc release on January 21st., 2014, both the mono and stereo versions of the album being contained on a single CD.

A segment of "Things We Said Today" was included in the track "Beatle Medley" on the double-documentary album "The Beatles' Story," which was released by Capitol on November 23rd., 1964.  Surprisingly, this album was also released on compact disc on January 21st., 2014, but only as contained in the 13 album box set "The U.S. Albums." 

The live performance of the song on August 23rd, 1964 at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, California finally did get released on the Capitol album "The Beatles At The Hollywood Bowl" on May 4th, 1977.  The album was eventually remastered by Giles Martin and re-released on September 9th, 2016 under the new title "Live At The Hollywood Bowl."

On February 26th, 1987, the complete British "A Hard Day's Night" album was finally released in the US in the compact disc format, which featured the song in its' original mono mix.  The stereo version came out on the re-mastered release of the CD on September 9th, 2009.

On June 30th, 1992, Capitol released a CD Box set entitled "Compact Disc EP Collection."  The mono mix of "Things We Said Today" was included because of its being on the original Briish EP "Extracts From The Album A Hard Day's Night," which was released on November 6th, 1964.

Although Capitol passed up the opportunity to release the song as a single, they released the Cema "For Jukeboxes Only" series of Beatles singles in the early 90's which finally paired "Things We Said Today" with "A Hard Day's Night" as it had been released in Britain.  In February of 1994, this single was released, which was primarily on white vinyl.

On December 6th, 1994, the long-awaited "Live At The BBC" album was released which featured the July 14, 1964 recording of the song they did for the radio show "Top Gear."  On November 11th, 2013, this album was re-mastered, re-packaged and re-released.

The box set "The Capitol Albums, Vol. 1," which was released on November 15th, 2004, contains both the mono and stereo versions of the song as first heard on "Something New."  Just prior to this release, a rare promotional CD sampler came out that featured both the stereo and mono mixes of "Things We Said Today."

On September 9th, 2009, the box set "The Beatles In Mono" was released which features a very vibrant re-mastered mono version of "Things We Said Today."

Not to be forgotten are two releases of the song by Paul McCartney as performed live during his "World Tour" of September 1989 through July 1990.  The albums "Tripping The Live Fantastic" and "Tripping The Live Fantastic: Highlights!" contain the song.  In additon, the song is featured as the b-side of the Capitol 1993 jukebox single "Biker Like An Icon."

Live Performances

As was the usual practice, The Beatles would focus on promoting both sides of a newly released single with radio, television and concert appearances.  This started with filming mimed performances of the song on the British TV show "Top Of The Pops" on July 7th, 1964, which didn't get aired until July 29th.  In between these two dates, they mimed the song live on "Lucky Stars (Summer Spin)" on July 11th.  Then they actually performed the song (rather than miming it) on the live British television show "Big Night Out" on July 19th.

They added "Things We Said Today" to their concert performances when they started their first extensive American tour on August 19th, 1964 at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, California.  Upon finding out that the song was not the b-side to "A Hard Day's Night" in America, George began to introduce the song by saying "I think it's on a new album over here," which happened to be called "Something New."

After the American tour concluded on September 20th, they included the song in their British tour (which included three dates in Scotland) which ran from October 9th at the Gaumont Cinema in Bradford to November 10th at the Colston Hall in Bristol.  After this date, The Beatles were geared up for promoting their upcoming single and album so "Things We Said Today" vanished from their repertoire forever.

BBC radio enjoyed two performances of the song, the first being recorded on July 14th for the show "Top Gear," which was broadcast on July 16th.  The second recording was on July 17th for an episode of "From Us To You," which aired on August 3rd, 1964.

An interesting note is that, during the entire performance life of the song, The Beatles chose to chop off the final eight measures of the last verse, jumping right to the conclusion.  Although no explanation has even been given, they obviously didn't want the song to "go on and on," this becoming the final phrase of the song.

As mentioned above, Paul McCartney thought to include the song in his extensive set list for the "World Tour" of 1989/1990.  He decided omit the song in later tours, as he began concentrating on digging deeper into The Beatles vault for gems to feature live.  However, he did revive it occasionally during his "Out There!" tour of 2013.

          

Conclusion

With its' ominous mood and somber lyrics, "Things We Said Today" injects a haunting atmosphere to an otherwise optimistic and positive album.  This welcome contrast adds color to their pallet, convincingly showing that the Lennon/McCartney songwriting team comprised much more capable tunesmiths than first thought. 

Although Lennon's vocal and songwriting presence dominates the "A Hard Day's Night" album, McCartney here shows that, while in a slight compositional rut, he had many new lyrical and melodic tricks up his sleeve for future use.  And come 1965 and beyond, his dominance within The Beatles arsenal began to build until it nearly overshadowed his partner.  Of course, John wouldn't concede in this competition without a fight.  Thus began the partnership/rivalry that spurred them both on to compose what has become the soundtrack to our lives.

Song Summary

 "Things We Said Today"

Written by:  John Lennon / Paul McCartney

  • Song Written: May 1964
  • Song Recorded: June 2 and 3, 1964
  • First US Release Date: July 20, 1964
  • First US Album Release: Capitol #ST-2108 "Something New"
  • US Single Release: Capitol #ST-17692 (white vinyl)
  • Highest Chart Position: n/a
  • British Album Release: Parlophone #PCS 3058 "A Hard Day's Night"
  • Length: 2:38
  • Key: A minor
  • Producer: George Martin
  • Engineers: Norman Smith, Ken Scott

Instrumentation (most likely):

  • Paul McCartney - Vocals, Bass Guitar (1963 Hofner 500/1)
  • John Lennon - Rhythm Guitar (1962 Gibson J160E), Piano (1905 Steinway Vertegrand upright)
  • George Harrison - Lead Guitar (1963 Gretsch 6110 Tennessean)
  • Ringo Starr - Drums (1964 Ludwig Super Classic Black Oyster Pearl), tambourine

 Written and compiled by Dave Rybaczewski

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