Thursday, December 11, 2008

"She Loves You" / The Beatles

In this book I've been reading, Please Please Me, Gordon Thompson does a fantastic job of analyzing Lennon & McCartney's songwriting process (for that alone this book is worth reading, and I haven't even gotten yet to the section on Ray Davies). But there was one thing Thompson wrote that's really bugging me. He mentions that "She Loves You" -- one of those early Beatle hits that's so familiar, I hardly ever listen to it anymore -- was patterned after a snazzy Tony Hatch song, recorded by Bobby Rydell, called "Forget Him" ("Forget him, if he doesn't love you / Forget him, if he doesn't ca-a-a-are..."). Thompson then describes "She Loves You" as a message song, in which the narrator is at a psychological distance from the relationship he's talking about. Now, hold on, Mr. T -- am I missing something?

The way I've always heard this song, the narrator is NOT at a distance from this relationship. When he sings, "With a love like that / You know you should be glad," I hear envy just hissing out his ears. That's certainly the scenario in the Rydell song -- the punch line of the chorus is "Forget him and please come home to me." In "She Loves You," though, the soap opera's a bit more complicated. The narrator been turned into a go-between -- "You think you lost your love? / Well, I saw her yesterday / It's you she thinking of / And she told me what to say." I see him as a sort of Cyrano here -- he's delivering the message, but even as he advises them on how to get back together, a part of him wishes desperately he could get her for himself.

Lennon & McCartney underscore that rhythmically and harmonically; "with a love like that" comes out all punchy and staccato, on a dissonant C minor sixth chord, only to melt longingly into the fluid, sinous line "you know you should be glad," which shifts from D to D7 and finally resolves into G, like an escaping sigh of desire. It's as if he's saying, "what's wrong with you, you jerk, that you don't appreciate this amazing girl?" And just hear that lonesome E minor chord on the first "She loves you" -- this news that they're getting back together does not makes him happy. I'm betting that when he saw her yesterday, he was getting ready to make his move -- until she started confiding in him, and there he was, stuck in the role of a comforting shoulder to cry on. Love can be cruel.

This kind of emotional complexity was a big part of what made the Beatles special. "If I Fell" is full of dark warnings about to his potential new girlfriend about not hurting him the way his ex did. "Another Girl" is all about the old girl, really. And I can't think of a pop song that gets all the ugliness of a dying relationship down as well as "For No One." And here's the kicker -- I don't even think they were conscious of doing it. John and Paul were always madly scribbling these songs, in the front parlor or on a tour bus or in a hotel room. (Like Paul's grandfather describes their existence in Hard Day's Night: "I've been in a car and a train and a car and a room and a room and a room..."). These weren't intensely polished, conscious literary creations; this was just what came out.

Man. I forget sometimes how great they were. Then I start listening to them again and I'm completely blown away, all over again.


Gordon Thompson said...


Glad I got you stirred up over "She Loves You." I agree it's a great song, not to mention a great performance. I agree with you that the emotional distance isn't great in their words. They suggest they know both of these people very well, well enough to have emotional involvement with both of them. Moreover, they would have models in the blues where the intention to move into the relationship void is obvious. However, in "She Loves You," they never insinuate that they're ready to make a move on the girl.

Maybe it's a guy thing, but I read this text as them saying to their emotionally challenged friend, "Yo! Are you paying any attention to what's going on here? She Love You! It's obvious to everyone else. Why can't you see it?"

Enjoy the book. I'm happy to hear criticisms.

Mr. T. :-)

Betty C. said...

Well I just had to one-click an order for that book! It will be my Christmas reading, along with about ten other books I want to read...

I am so jealous you got to hear "Shangri-la!" That is one of my favorites. I have been listening to "Arthur and..." lately and that song is really a masterpiece. I did put it recently on my top ten, but I think maybe it should be moved up a little.

"Starstruck"? You've got to be kidding.

I guess the only thing I regret about the Seattle show was there weren't that many surprises. We did get to hear Days, which I don't think I had ever heard in concert, but he didn't pull out anything really obscure.

Holly A Hughes said...

Well, mr. T, thanks for stopping by. I am enjoying your book! And I'm willing to admit that possibly -- just possibly -- I'm always eager to imagine that Beatle songs were addressed personally to me and that they are secret declarations of love from Paul McCartney and/or John Lennon. That's a fangirl's prerogative!

Yes, Betty, Starstruck. I was ready to die happy at that moment...

Gordon Thompson said...

Well, I was impressed by the reference to the "C minor sixth chord." You don't read that phrase in every blog.

Keep up the good work,


Betty C. said...

Well now that my daughter has become a fan after seeing "Come Dancing," we're ready to fly across the Channel at a moment's notice to see Ray, or an eventual Kinks reunion. So maybe I'll get in on some of these funky concert song choices too.

Anonymous said...

My god, what middle aged rock and roll fans you all are. Do you listen to music for enjoyment, or just to analyze it?

Holly A Hughes said...

You say "middle-aged" like it's a bad thing, oh ye callow youth.

If you can't pick up how much enjoyment is involved here, then you're more tin-eared than I thought. Over the past 40 years, I have danced my feet off to this song; I've sung it drunk; I've screamed it till my voice was hoarse. But when it's time to write about, a little analysis comes in handy. The reason this song has stood the test of time is because it can stand up to analysis.

If what you want is a blog post that says THIS IS THE GREATEST SONG EVER!!!!!!! forty times, then I am afraid you have come to the wrong site. And next time, please don't slam the door so loudly as you leave.

wwolfe said...

I discovered your site a few weeks back in a serendipitous way. I was watching the movie "Stranger Than Fiction" when Will Ferrell started singing, "I go the whole wide world, I go the whole wide world, just to find her..." I found myself wondering where this great song came from, so I googled the lyrics, which led me to your post on Wreckless Eric. Since then, I've been trying to catch up on old entries while reading new ones, and I figured this particular song was as good a place as any to say hi, and to let you know how much I'm enjoying your writing.

By the way - Mr. Thompson ought to give you a percentage, because I also bought his book this past weekend based on your references to it. I figure any book on British pop where the author interviewed Bobby Graham, among others, may very well be a good read.

Gordon Thompson said...

Mr. Thompson (Gordon) deeply appreciates everyone who reads the book..., as does Bobby Graham. :-) Indeed, I wrote the book in part to give a voice to some of the people who labored in the studio without much recognition.

As for Anonymous above, I'm clearly middle-aged and still play in a rock band. I've screamed myself hoarse many a time, just like Holly. And yes, as a musician, sometimes I analyze what I do simply to be able to do it better. Moreover, any of us who have tried to write songs only gain a deeper appreciation of the work of people like Paul McCartney, John Lennon, and Ray Davies when we think about goes into their art. Yes, they sometimes scribbled these in the backs of buses, but what scribbles they are.


Betty C. said...

Mr. Thompson, I also ordered your book thanks to this post. Can't wait to get it -- it's coming here to France from the UK.