The only Beatles song Paul McCartney refused to play on
There’s good value in claiming that Paul McCartney was The Beatles band leader. While it’s true that the group formed around the mercurial talent of John Lennon and his determined strides towards stardom, nobody broke out of that shadow faster and more effectively than Paul McCartney. Very quickly he was seen as Lennon’s equal, thanks in no small part to his expert musicianship and command of many instruments. Still, following the sad death of the group’s manager Brian Epstein in 1967, McCartney seemingly took the band by the reins and began to steer them towards a new path.
That path would end in his favourite album of the group’s canon, the conceptual triumph of Sgt. Pepper and, though his grip on the Fab Four would loosen for The White Album, a record which saw Lennon and George Harrison change the pace of proceedings, Macca was pretty much the main man. It means while the rest of the group would happily let others play their instrumental parts on certain songs – McCartney even picked up Ringo Starr’s drumsticks for ‘Back in the U.S.S.R.’ and ‘Dear Prudence’ – the band’s bassist rarely gave up his position on the song. However, with all that said and done, there was one track which McCartney refused to be a part of.
‘She Said, She Said’ is one of The Beatles classic acid songs. Written for Revolver, the track is famously based on not only the experience of taking LSD., but dropping the psychedelic drug while being berated by actor Peter Fonda. The group had been holed up in Los Angeles as a way to break from their huge 1965 U.S. tour, growing fame and offer up some recuperation time. Naturally, as soon as word of The Beatles residing in town became news, the house was surrounded by fans and then, in turn, police officers. Still, the group were intent on letting loose and so invited a whole host of famous names to attend some small parties. Joan Baez, David Crosby and many more stars of the day turned up but, not on the guest list, was Peter Fonda.
“I finally made my way past the kids and the guards. Paul and George were on the back patio, and the helicopters were patrolling overhead,” Fonda wrote for Rolling Stone magazine about the event, highlighting his lack of an invite. “They were sitting at a table under an umbrella in a rather comical attempt at privacy. Soon afterwards we dropped acid and began tripping for what would prove to be all night and most of the next day; all of us, including the original Byrds, eventually ended up inside a huge, empty and sunken tub in the bathroom, babbling our minds away.”
He continued: “I had the privilege of listening to the four of them sing, play around and scheme about what they would compose and achieve. They were so enthusiastic, so full of fun.” But for the Fab Four, Fonda’s attendance wasn’t just unsolicited but unwelcomed, too. The actor began talking about death over and over, showing off his bullet wound and just generally bringing down the party atmosphere. “We didn’t want to hear about that,” George Harrison said in reference to Fonda’s tale of gunshots. “We were on an acid trip, and the sun was shining, and the girls were dancing, and the whole thing was beautiful and Sixties, and this guy—who I really didn’t know; he hadn’t made Easy Rider or anything—kept coming over, wearing shades, saying, ‘I know what it’s like to be dead’, and we kept leaving him because he was so boring! It was scary. You know…when you’re flying high and [whispers] ‘I know what it’s like to be dead, man.'”
Though they may have been annoyed at the time, they would be thankful for Peter Fonda when they needed an extra song a day before the scheduled completion date of Revolver. The album was the group’s most expansive record to date and had taken a lot out of them, yet they rallied to add ‘She Said, She Said’ to the tracklisting. Engineer Geoff Emerick recalls the moment in his book: “On the next-to-last night, after we had all spent a full day mixing, Mal and Neil reappeared with the band’s equipment, and the group began frantically rehearsing John’s new song ‘She Said She Said.’ John had always been the basher in the group – his attitude was ‘Let’s just get it done’ – so it was no big surprise that we got the entire song recorded and mixed in nine hours, as opposed to the more than three days we spent on ‘Here, There And Everywhere.'”
One thing many aficionados noticed of the song’s recording, however, was how comparatively simple the bass playing on the track was. Though McCartney was credited as always, many have suggested ‘She Said, She Said’ was one of the few songs Macca was never involved in. “I’m not sure, but I think it was one of the only Beatle records I never played on,” McCartney remembers in Many Years From Now. “I think we’d had a barney or something and I said, ‘Oh, fuck you!’ and they said, ‘Well, we’ll do it.’ I think George played bass.” While it’s unclear what started the argument, it may well have something to do with the song’s composition.
Meeting Peter Fonda in Hollywood was only the second time Lennon and Harrison had taken LSD. They were keen for the rest of the group to get on board, “John and I had decided that Paul and Ringo had to have acid because we couldn’t relate to them anymore…The plan was that when we got to Hollywood, on our day off we were going to get them to take acid. We got some in New York; it was on sugar cubes wrapped in tinfoil, and we’d been carrying these around all through the tour until we got to L.A.”
Lennon also confirmed the story and the fact that McCartney refused to bow to peer pressure: “We just decided to take it again, in California. We were in one of those houses like Doris Day’s house, and the three of us took it, Ringo, George and I – and maybe Neil. Paul felt very out of it because we are all slightly cruel: ‘We’re all taking it, and you’re not.’ It was a long time before Paul took it.” It’s well-known that during the earlier moments of the band’s career they were happy to interact as four lads from Liverpool might — not very concerned with the emotional fragility of their friends. So it’s no surprise that they gave McCartney a hard time about the refusal. It’s an easy leap to think that this bullying continued in the studio.
Whether McCartney felt cut out of the song and too upset to continue or the dispute was just one of countless shared between four friends, is impossible to decipher. What we do know is that Macca rarely removed himself from the studio, so it had to be something serious. Below, listen to the only Beatles song Paul McCartney refused to play on, ‘She Said, She Said’.