Tuesday, September 22, 2009

She Said She Said

FREAKING YES. Today I gotta treat myself. Unlike some people I could name, I've never actually ranked all the Beatles songs in order of my preference. It feels impossible to me, not to mention endlessly variable from one day to the next. But if I were to undertake such a project, there would most likely be two constants in the top slots every time: this one (plus that other unlikely candidate) right at the top of the list. Oh, sweet "She Said She Said." How do you rock so hard?

(These preferences probably reflect badly on me, seeing as how "She Said She Said" is so acid-rock-ish, and how "Everybody's Got Something to Hide," my other silly favorite, is probably about heroin. But I'm not, myself, a drug addict, even a little bit. Clearly, I just like John best when he's using. Oh well.)

If the Beatles had never done a single song other than "She Said She Said," I think I'd still be a Beatles fan, is what I'm saying.

And that's why it's so sad, so totally tragic, that Paul doesn't play on "She Said She Said." You want your favorite Beatles song to be a nice group effort, or at least I do, because I do so idealize this band (see the entire rest of this blog except for when I'm bitching about "The Fool on the Hill") and all of its accompanying mythology. But, yeah, Paul didn't play, and what's weird is that no one seems to remember why not. Paul himself has remembered that he probably was just bickering with the others and left, but hasn't provided any other details. This is completely possible, because "She Said She Said" was completed in just one day, and was in fact the last song recorded for Revolver. Doesn't sound at all like a rush job, though, does it? It's perfect.

The song is one of the more groundbreaking songs on Revolver, both because of the metrical structure-- one of John's most celebrated multi-metered moments, I think-- and because of the way the thing's played. (Though, interestingly, it's rock-and-roll conventional in its way too-- there are barely more than three chords in this.) And the playing is what first sucks you in. That guitar line that opens the song has a beautiful dirtiness that beckons you and sneers at you at the same time. It hooks you right off the bat, so that through the length of the song, as the guitar echoes and elaborates upon John's vocal melody lines, it makes you want to scream it's so good. Rock on, George. And you know why else George rocks here? Because he's covering the bass in Paul's absence. And he more than acquits himself on this bass part, too (though if you're a huge Paul-on-bass fan, as I am, you tend to wonder what a McCartney bassline would have done to this-- how the song could be cooler than it already is is beyond me, but who knows?). Note, too, that Ringo betrays his god-like status here. As usual with Ringo, I'm not at all sure what he's actually doing. But whatever he's doing, he's doing it very loudly and very elaborately, and always, it appears, with the aim of surprising us. There's nothing at all predictable about this drum part, and even listening to it now, I'm noticing new things to love about it. Ringo? BRA-FREAKING-VO. (And, kids? The drums sound kickass in the new mono CDs. Just sayin'.) The drums are crucial to adding interest to this very thick, heavy guitar texture-- it would sound a tad bit dopey or something without all the percussion. All the more so considering they've arranged this around a fairly prominent drone on the home pitch, which hovers in the background for much of the verses.

The mildly soporific and always heavy texture makes the metrical shift at the bridge seem almost, but not quite, actually clunky. What they're doing here, starting from "She said, you don't understand what I said, I said no no no you're wrong," is shifting from a fairly even 4/4 time to a very syncopated 3/4 time for the "when I was a boy" section. (For the hell of it, I just checked that fastidious musicologist Alan W. Pollack, whom you can find on the links list, on this, and he calls it a mixture of 3/4 and 6/4 time-- which also works and is probably more elegant when you get right down to it. Heck, he's the one who's actually a musicologist, after all, though my way still makes the math turn out correctly.) And there are several ways in which this time shift is awesome. Like I said, it's that drag to it that you can almost hear that makes it cool-- there's an art to making metrical shifts kind of seamless and beautiful, but this one seems to be intentionally roughed up. Love. My favorite part is that the descending guitar part that immediately follows "when I was a boy" sounds, in this new meter, suddenly slightly awkward. And this might just be me, but when I hear it I always get this picture of John as a boy in his bedroom or something, awkwardly practicing that same line. It's like, John's not just remembering his childhood, he's giving us a real musical quotation of being a kid. Does that even make sense? I hope so, because I adore it. I have no idea if it was intentional, but it just so deepens this moment for me.

"She Said She Said" was written about a conversation John had with Peter Fonda while they were both out of their gourds on acid, at a house in southern California that Brian Epstein had rented for the band for a brief vacation. Peter Fonda kept saying this line "I know what it's like to be dead," and John kept completely freaking out about it. He turned it into a "she" just to make it less weird, I think, but the conversation and freaked-out feeling is captured so perfectly here. The song is just so lugubrious and so catchy at the same time, it stands as some kind of work of minor genius.

Have I slobbered all over "She Said She Said" enough for you? Perhaps you're surprised. But there are those who appreciate it as much as I do. In fact, one of my favorite Beatles critics, Tim Riley (see also the blogroll to your right) is right there with me-- I was in high school when I read his book, and reading his praises of "She Said She Said" made me feel a little less crazy (so many people would ask what my favorites Beatles song was, and then not even know what song I was talking about when I mentioned "She Said She Said" that I was beginning to suspect my own taste).

Yow! "She Said She Said," ladies and gentlemen. I'm having one more listen and then, probably, a cold shower.

"She Said She Said," released in the U.K. side A track 7 of Revolver, August 5, 1966; in the U.S. side A track 6 of the crappy Capitol Revolver, August 8, 1966.


  1. Some people think this is Ringo's best work, and I think they might be right. You make a couple of references to his part, and I think you're alluding to something I learned in the Ian McDonald book: Because Ringo left his set set up for a righty, but was a lefty, his fills often start on a tom, then go to the snare. There's a lot of that in this song, and it's very distinctive.

    Can we just agree that John was in the zone for this album? If I could have either those five songs or every other track the Beatles recorded, well, I'd at least go through the trouble of making the second list. McDonald suggests Paul 'won' this album, I want to find him and punch him.

  2. Eh, I frequently disagree with MacDonald. I don't think he gave this one the love it deserved, nor "And Your Bird Can Sing" and "I'm Only Sleeping," though if memory serves he does get why "Tomorrow Never Knows" matters. The problem with MacDonald is he thinks that drugs kind of ruined the Beatles, and Revolver has been dipped in a great big acid bath. Also, he's a Paulist. (Not in the Catholic sense, neither.)

    Thanks for that bit from MacDonald, which I didn't remember. I really need to freaking read more about drumming, or something. I feel like I always shortshrift Ringo unintentionally. Relatedly, I wicked suck at Rock Band drums.

    (For what it's worth, I think Paul is awesome on this album too. Try "For No One" again one day when you're in the right mood.)

  3. I was tempted to make no comment and leave this post as a love-fest by you two, but then something came over me and here i am writing. While i like this song "okay," I much prefer a half dozen others, like: Taxman; Rigby; Here, There, and Everywhere; Good Day Sunshine, I Want to Tell You; and Got to Get You into My Life. Gee, that's most of the rest of the album.

    There's elements of the song that are quite good and original, as you point out. But, for me, the drug aspect kinda gets in the way, it feels "like a sixties" song, and by that i mean could have only been written then, and as such feels kinda stuck-in time, while many of the others are more timeless, if that makes any sense at all.

    Still, while i bailed two-thirds of the way thru listening to the song (I know, a breach of contract), i read your entire post and thought it was inspired.

  4. Oh, Frank, there are no contracts here. That's maybe kind of a good point about how VERY '60s it feels. And the ones you name, except in my opinion maybe "I Want to Tell You" (with its mid-60s soaring vocal harmonies) feel a little more timeless, maybe. You're not wrong. And yet-- and yet--

    Well, you know, I love the whole Nuggets box set too. It might just be that I'm far too into this kind of sound. If nothing else, I feel this one's a masterpiece of the acid rock genre, if that is actually a genre. Anyway, you're hardly the first to disagree with me here. I do feel bad, though, that I've disappointed you several days in a row. I fear tomorrow's might not be much better....

  5. It was interesting to read your post on this song because it's the only song on Revolver that I usually skip. To me it's always been the weakest song on Revolver.

    My theory is that John didn't let Paul participate on this song because it was about an acid trip the other 3 had taken, and Paul was the only one who had, thus far, still refused to indulge. Of course that's completely hypothetical, but the boys certainly put a lot of pressure on Paul to conform, didn't they? I don't buy that they can't remember what the fight was about.

  6. I'm surprised to read people not liking She Said, She SAid. I had taken it for granted that it was among everybody's favourite Revolver tracks.

    Also surprised to learn you frequently disagree with Ian MacDonald. I go back to his book again and again. I don't always agree with him, eg. he hates Across the Universe and Helter Skelter, but for my money 'Revolution in the Head' is the best book written about the Beatles. Tim Riley is fine, but his 'Tell Me Why' isn't a patch on MacDonald's book.

    Yet more surprised to see someone (Frank?) avobe posting that the don't like this sort of track because of 'the drug aspect'. Um, mid to late period Beatles and drugs? Kinda go together, man!

    Anyway, what I'd really like to see you post, is some comparisons between the new stereo and mono masters. Revolver sounds great in mono, to me. But I find teh mono WHite Album far too boomy and monolithic, I prefer the stereo, which is not what I expected.

    Keep up the fantastic work, this is a great blog.

    John Carvill

  7. Paul Lewis here (fellow Coro Allegran of Megan's). "She Said She Said" is one of my favorite tracks too. One thing I love about it is the constant alternation in timbre between stinging (lead guitar line) and soft (much of John's and group's vocalizing). They do that kind of thing on other tracks too, e.g. "I've Got a Feeling," where Paul's rough-guy voice contrasts with John's emollient opening vocals.

  8. John, I actually do really love Ian MacDonald's book, even though I frequently disagree with him. He's a great writer, and he makes me think about a lot, but he has a few biases that leave slimy trails behind them-- there's an anti-John bias that I suspect is really an anti-psychedelic drugs and anti-"rock" bias (as opposed to "rock and roll"). I know that Riley has biases too, but they're more in line with mine, and seeing as how I'm only human, I like reading people who agree with me. :) Plus he makes my arguments in a more elegant way than I ever could.

    As for the mono vs. stereo, I've been trying to compile thoughts on mono, but for financial reasons I won't be getting the new stereo set until Christmas. (Thanks, Mom!) That's interesting about the White Album being better in stereo, because it's not one of the mono albums that's really blowing me away.

    Anon, your theory is interesting, but Paul WAS a totally active participant on "Tomorrow Never Knows," "Doctor Robert"... And he was at the party, even if he wasn't on acid. I don't know.

    Paul, good call on the timbre shifts. It's weird that I didn't talk more about the singing here, since I usually do some very much talking about the singing. But it does kind of stay out of the way of the instruments on this one, doesn't it?

  9. It's funny how two people can read the same book and reach different conclusions. I, too, love Ian MacDonald's book. But I've always thought that, while he gives Paul some long overdue credit, MacDonald has always seemed to me to be a John guy. He spends a lot more time on John's major songs than on Paul's. He makes some pretty cutting remarks about certain Paul songs. But then again, he makes some pretty cutting remarks about some John songs. So maybe whether you feel he is a John fan or a Paul fan depends on whether you, the reader, are a John fan or a Paul fan, and whether you notice the slights more when MacDonald slams your favorite.

    I also like Gould's "Can't Buy Me Love" book. It's both a good Beatles history book and lots of good song analysis (although some of the sociology of the times he throws in goes on too long).

  10. Too many great points here to respond to. I only want to tell Frank that if he doesn't like this and Tomorrow Never Knows because of the drug aspect, that's reason enough to try drugs. Because he's missing out. Oh, and that he never needs to apologize for weighing in on the other side of a song we love, because we love the back-and-forth with him almost as much as we do the songs.

  11. That WAS going to be all I added, until I read McDonald today on Hey Jude, and Paul's 'ill-advised' scatting on the coda. Yeah. And the Beatles could have been a decent pop group, if they didn't overdo it on the harmonies so much. Thanks for playing.

  12. Well, troy, whether you like that scatting or not is a matter of taste. BUt don't dismiss MacDonald on the strength of one point of disagreement. HIs book is essential stuff.

  13. I didn't think anyone didn't like the scatting. I think it's essential to the song. I think it propels it from awesome to classic (or something). But it's not my only point of contention with him. It was hinted at above, but my biggest issue with McDonald is his dismissal of songs he doesn't like. I don't have a problem with him liking some songs and not liking others, but if you're going to write what you hope is a definitive analysis of the canon, you run a risk when you dismiss songs that might be others' favorites, instead of merely discussing the recording and/or writing of it. And that risk is that someone will think your book has some good information but that you are, basically, a dink. Again, it's his book, his right. But you make a choice that has at least those minimal consequences when, instead of writing:

    "Recorded in the absence of McCartney, the seeds of this song's birth were planted during a pool party in Hollywood the summer before, and Lennon's lyric was inspired by the rantings of a tripping Peter Fonda. This song features an unusual meter from Lennon, even as its progression consists largely of three chords."

    ... you write:

    "Recorded in the absence of McCartney, the seeds of this song's birth were planted during a pool party in Hollywood the summer before, and Lennon's lyric was inspired by the rantings of a tripping Peter Fonda. This song features an unusual meter from Lennon, even as its progression consists largely of three chords. Drugs at this point were clearly ruining Lennon's judgment, as this experiment works far better as a theory than as a song."

    Look at our guy Frank. He doesn't much like the song, but he manages to express that without making me feel like a simp. Frank also might be anti-drug, but he doesn't make sweeping generalizations about drugs and blame them for every bad musical decision the Beatles ever made. That might be because Frank has never taken drugs, and doesn't wish to speak expertly on a subject where he has no firsthand knowledge. (Or it might not be; I'm obviously taking liberties with him for the sake of argument.) I wish McDonald were a little more like Frank/Imaginary Frank in that way.

    But my issue with McDonald is not just about drugs, where I think he kind of gets his facts wrong. It's also about acting like songs are good or bad, instead of acknowledging it's all subjective. Like I said, he has a right to offer opinion, but doing so in an otherwise factual account makes him seem like he thinks his word is God.

    All that said, I don't dismiss him, and agree; I am glad I finally am reading the book. I'm just complaining about something he does that bothers me in a work that otherwise has much merit -- kind of like he does with his book.

  14. Troy
    You sound like a reasonable and intelligent person, albeit one who holds one particular opinion with which I vehemently disagree. You cover quite a bit of ground in your post, and I reckon I owe it to us and any other unsuspecting readers of this blog, not to argue them in detail. If we could discuss it in person it would be easier; online it'll take forever. So lets skip the detail, after all as someone said above, peopel can read the same book and take diametrically opposite impressions away. My main problem with your post is your presumption that, while MacDonald's dismissal of songs "he doesn't like" puts him beyond the pale, your equally opinionated disdain for MacDonald is inherently more valid somehow. MacDonald rips the back out of 'Across the Universe', hates it, gnashes his teeth over it. Well, Let it Be' was one of the first Beatles records I ever heard (along with Pepper), so to me, whatever MacDonald thinks, I still love it. But even then, I still find what he says interesting, and *beautifully* written. He is concise, perceptive, passionate, yet (reasonably) unbiased. Guys like us, really, should hold back on dissing MacDonald, his writing sends us back to teh music with renewed interest and appreciation. I hate to see him traduced by some sort of blog critic's offhand dismissal.

  15. At the very least, my dismissal isn't offhand, it's visceral and earnest. I only want to say that I don't think my opinion is more valid than his. I also don't think his is more valid than mine. I appreciate the scholarship that clearly went into that book, and the information I gleaned from it. It's a very useful work. At the same time, he's not infallible; he made errors -- not many, but I've come across a few, and a better music theorist than I probably would find more.

    I really feel his book is three things: a historical account, an analysis of the canon, and a forum for his opinions. I don't blame him for errors in the first part, which I assume reflected the best thinking in 1994 (or whenever) and only were proved wrong after new details were revealed. And I am able to separate the first two parts from the third. My problem mostly is with that third part, and maybe that's no-win; either you write 'This song is awesome!" 213 times or you criticize some songs that some of your readers love. But it's that "This is terrible" approach -- as opposed to something acknowledging the subjectivity of it all -- that bothers me. I consider it a flaw of the book.

    I don't know if you're opinion of my right to an opinion changes any if you learn I am a musician and a writer, in addition to being a big Beatles fan. At the very least, he's no better a writer than Lennon was a Beatle. If it's fair for him to criticize Lennon's (and other Beatles') work, I feel it's fair for me to register my own objections to McDonald's.

  16. Well, you called him a 'dink'. Not being an American, I have to guess, but I assume that 'dink' is an insult. I guess what we disagree on is that you feel MacDonald's opinion isn't any more valid than yours. I very much feel his opinions are a lot more valid than yours. Mainly because of the context, of course: his book is so good, when I come across opinions which I personally disagree with, I don't dismiss either the opinions or the writer; on the contrary, I may even reassess my own opinion. Your criticism of MacDOnald, on the other hand, seem a bit presumptious, given the scale of his achievement. Macdonald is, as you say, not infallible. Nobody is infallible. But a good critic is supposed to be opinionated, and I certainly don't think MacDonald takes that too far. You may be right about his attitude to drugs, and I'm not sure what errors of detail you're referring to, although we must assume that any such book will inevitably contain some mistakes, or some information which risks being subsequently out-dated. And no, I don't change my opinion of your right to an opinion when I learn you are a musician and writer, why would I? I don't like to see such a great book being run down by anyone. No other Beatles writer - and, lets face it, there are a lot of them - has written anything to compete with 'Revolution in the Head'. When you pick up similar books, such as Tim Riley's 'Tell Me Why', after having read MacDonald, it's hard to enjoy them at all because they seem so amateur in comparison. It's odd, MacDOnald's book seems to be much more appreciated on this side of the pond. Maybe there are aspects which Americans don't get?

  17. Ian MacDonald's book is a a great (and occasionally pretentious) read. But it's a book, not a bible. We don't have to hang on his every word as if it's gospel. Plus, he didn't do all of this Beatles scholarship on his own. As he acknowledges, he relied heavily for the facts about Beatles sessions on Mark Lewisohn's work.

    That said, Revolution in the Head is a tremendously valuable read. I value the factual information MacDonald provides in one place and the context, but some of his biases get in the way of his analysis. And there's nothing wrong with pointing that out.

  18. John: Fair point. I called him a dink because he was dissing Paul's scatting, which got me worked up. I'm easily aroused like that. On balance, as a writer (based solely on this book, the only one of his I've read), he is not a dink, so much as someone with whom, when I disagree with him, I disagree passionately.

    I brought up my background because I suspected you consider McDonald eminently qualified to hold forth on the Beatles, and I wanted to make my case as qualified to hold forth on McDonald's book about the Beatles. It (my background) makes me no better than a non-writer or non-musician, but experience writing and songwriting, and some knowledge of musical theory, are building blocks of valid opinions about a book examining music.

    I wholly respect your right to admire McDonald's book, and him as a writer. Not to mention that you've probably admired it and him for some time, and I'm just some dink on the Internet. But I confess to being amused that you feel compelled to defend him from me, and I feel compelled to defend the Beatles from him. You're, as far as I can see, unhappy that I've done the same exact thing he's done -- criticized someone whose work I admire -- which is what made me unhappy in the first place. (And completing the parallel, I've listened to the Beatles for decades, while I've just come across McDonald's book recently. Really, you could replace me with McDonald, and McDonald with the Beatles, and a lot of your last comment would reflect my opinion.) Maybe you're right about the role of the music critic, and the fault is mine. But note that I object not to his having different opinions than mine; he likes some songs I don't, and I'm not killing him for that. Hell, I think he gives more pages to Revolution 9 than to any other song, and that's one of my least favorites. Ironically, I cut him that slack because he examines that song and its impact in contexts I don't know or care much about -- but when he dismisses songs, they're just bad, with no allowance that he himself might not 'get' them.

  19. Troy, I'm glad we managed to conduct this debate without descending into vitriol or unpleasantness. You're right in thinking I've admired his book for a while, since 1994 in fact. I find myself going back and re-reading certain entries over and over again. His book is not just insightful and informative, but is so beautifully written that it stands as a valid cultural artefact in its own right.

    By the way, I can't find the passage you quote above, re. She Said, She Said and Peter Fonda. The entry for that track, in Revolution in teh Head, is overwhelmingly positive.

    I take your point about defending MacDonald (or the Beatles), but when his book came out, it was very much seen as a force for reviving the Beatles' reputation. He may hate songs you or I love, and we cannot agree with everything he writes, but his book has enhanced the legacy of the band's music, probably more than any other book.

    All the best

  20. Everything you say is fair and true. I must have come off more anti-McDonald in the moment, again exercised about a specific criticism. And no, the She Said, She Said excerpt from my previous comment was a mockup for illustrative purposes, and not a transcription. Sorry if that wasn't clear; it was clear in my head!

    In the end, it's no doubt presumptuous of me to presume to tell McDonald how to write, and no one says he's gotta do what I want him to. Believe it or not, I enjoyed the debate, regardless of our lack of agreement. Cheers, mate.