Wednesday, October 7, 2009

And I Love Her

From angry John to tender Paul we go. "And I Love Her" is a breakout song for Paul, his first really successful romantic standard sort of thing-- and it holds up, doesn't it? It's as sweet and gooey as Paul's fluttery eyes are as he sings it in A Hard Day's Night.

Paul McCartney is obviously widely acknowledged to be an excellent composer of slightly soppy pop ballads. He has a natural knack for melody-- he seems to just dream up perfect little melodies, or pick them out of the sky, or something, such that they emerge from his brain as perfectly crafted, endlessly hummable songs. The melody to "And I Love Her" remains a favorite of Paul's, according to later interviews, and rightly so. It has an earnest yet delicate poignancy about it that can't help but make me smile. Though I should note that nowadays Paul does critique this song for what he sees as sort of lame lyrics-- the "bright are the stars that shine" business, he figures, was adolescent and kind of weak. (I'm not going to disagree with him necessarily, but I think he's being a little hard on himself, particularly in light of some of the lyrics to songs he wrote in the '70s when he was older-- I would rather listen to "And I Love Her" rather than "My Love" 200 times out of 20.)

But Paul's not just a fantastically gifted melodist-- he's also, at his best, a great arranger of ballads. (Again, can I make this blanket statement and just have us politely cough and ignore such later groan-inducers as "No More Lonely Nights"? Oh, good! Thanks.) We've seen this before in the quiet, spare arrangements of "Here, There, and Everywhere" and "Yesterday," but I think he finessed these skills (absolutely with George Martin's help) in "And I Love Her," which is really almost a masterpiece of minimal production. From the introductory, so-simple-it-hurts acoustic guitar riff, to the claves-- which click so gently they sound almost whispered-- to the heartstring-tugging Spanish-flavored guitar solo that George so modestly contributes, the whole thing is just so elegantly produced that it already hints, way back in 1964 on  A Hard Day's Night, just how much good taste the Beatles had.

All the elegance is in the details-- you can hear that not a single detail is here by accident or without forethought. Listen to the way that George's guitar arpeggios enter on the second verse, amping up the action and the texture just enough to make it perfect. Or listen to the way Paul's lead vocal is tracked. For instance, throughout the entire bridge Paul's double-tracked for the lyrics "a love like ours will never die as long as I have you near me,"; the double-tracking adds a layer of assuredness that suits what the words are doing. And then on the next verse, "bright are the stars that shine, dark is the sky" is single-tracked again, and then "I know this love of mine will never die" is back to being double-tracked. This is one of my favorite moments in the song, actually-- that assuredness returns, and in a context that's as spare as this song's, the double-tracking almost constitutes some kind of high drama.

And speaking of assuredness, let's touch briefly on the fact that the song itself seems tantalizingly unsure of what the heck key it's in. We've obviously heard a ton of Beatles songs in which major and minor keys switch back and forth willy-nilly, but "And I Love Her" is a particularly deft handling of this kind of thing. The play between E major and c# minor is quite sophisticated here (even more so than we've seen elsewhere), and the transitions between the two are so smooth that you absolutely cannot imagine anywhere else for the chords to go. (This is one of those songs you gotta check out Beatles musicologist Alan W. Pollack on if you want more detail. He seems as impressed by this as I am.) As if that weren't enough, we get a modulation a semitone up the scale starting at George's guitar solo-- a decision which turns this '50s pop cliche into something different, something more complicated and, weirdly, sunnier, if that makes sense. And then, also weirdly, there's that major chord that finished up the song. In fact, it's a classic Picardy third, and the only reason I remember that term from classes on Baroque music theory is because I am on record as loving Picardy thirds. I feel like they always have the effect of an unexpected lopsided grin flashing out of nowhere on the face of a pensive minor-key piece. I don't even know if that makes sense. But I do have an almost visceral reaction to this kind of last-minute major-key finish-- they make me crazy happy.

So obviously "And I Love Her" is a song that I really, really love. This word "elegant" keeps popping into my head again and again as I write this, and it really is that, I think, that makes it SO special. But it's not an off-putting elegance, or too over stylized. It's more like Paul is whispering earnest sweet nothings into our ears here, sweet nothings that surprise even youthful Paul with how much he means them. It's a lovely little depiction of feeling overwhelmed by a first love, or something. I don't know about you guys, but it makes me feel fifteen again. And I mean that in a good way.

"And I Love Her," released in the U.K. side A track 5 of A Hard Day's Night, July 10, 1964; in the U.S. side B track 3 of United Artists' A Hard Day's Night, June 26, 1964.


  1. I always learn so much from these posts. Thanks. And I Love Her is one of my favorites, too. Beautiful song, beautifully song.

    And while I agree with you about No More Lonely Nights (ick), I sorta like My Love for some reason; perhaps Linda's death has given it more resonance for me. And to balance the criticism, I think Paul has written love songs recently to rival his Beatles work -- for example: This Never Happened Before. I like Calico Skies too.

  2. On the red album, I'm remembering that final D major chord segues into the opening D major of Eight Days a Week. It's still kind of weird to hear it transition into Tell Me Why.

  3. Oh, yeah, Anon, Calico Skies is actually totally fantastic, and This Has Never Happened Before is pretty good too. He's still totally got the melodic gift. You know, even My Love is a totally good melody, but the words are so silly and the production so overwrought that I can't love it, myself. As for No More Lonely Nights, maybe I should stop mocking Paul about it and just blame the easy-listening production on the fact that it was 1984.