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Deconstructing The Beatles song 'She Said She Said' through its isolated tracks


On June 21st, 1966, The Beatles were in EMI Studios completing their final recording session for their upcoming seventh studio album Revolver. The prior three months had been some of the most creatively fertile of the band’s entire career, with experimental approaches reflecting the changing culture around them. All four members had been working closer together than ever before, and group unity was at an all-time high. The only exception was this final day of recording when Paul McCartney walked out on the band.

“I think we had a barney or something and I said, ‘Oh, fuck you!,’ and they said, ‘Well, we’ll do it,'” McCartney recalled in Barry Miles’ Many Years From Now. The band had been rehearsing a new song inspired by death, LSD, and Peter Fonda entitled ‘She Said She Said’, and although McCartney contributed to the initial takes of the track, the bassist doesn’t appear anywhere on the final version. Along with ‘Julia’, ‘Good Night’, ‘Within You Without You’, and ‘Revolution 9’, it’s among the small number of Beatles songs on which McCartney does not appear.

The reason for McCartney’s brief departure has been speculated about for years. He was already on the outside, having been the only member of the band not to try LSD at that point. George Harrison observed that, before Ringo Starr agreed to try the mind-altering drug, he and John Lennon weren’t seeing eye to eye with their bandmates anymore. “Not just on the one level – we couldn’t relate to them on any level, because acid had changed us so much,” Harrison explained.

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By the recording of ‘She Said She Said’, McCartney was the only abstinent drug taker, preferring marijuana over what he saw as the potentially dangerous LSD. With a song so focused on the acid experience, it’s possible that McCartney felt alienated from its subject matter. More likely, though, is that Lennon and Harrison were collaborating more closely on the track and McCartney’s suggestions were being ignored.

The Beatles were remarkably efficient in their time, even as their compositions became more elaborate and complicated. ‘She Said She Said’ was rehearsed, recorded, overdubbed, and mixed all in one day, something that caused George Martin to require a nap by the end of it all. Lennon hadn’t recorded a new song in nearly two months, having kicked off the Revolver sessions with ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ and quickly recording ‘Doctor Robert’, ‘And Your Bird Can Sing’, and ‘I’m Only Sleeping’ before hitting a bout of writer’s block.

First off are the drums, which showed off Starr’s willingness to expand into fill-heavy arranging that had also been heard on ‘Rain’ and ‘Taxman’. With his toms tuned surprisingly high, Starr largely improvises his way through the track, varying his rhythms without ever getting off time. Crucially, Starr switches to a snare drum march during the “When I was a boy” section, creating a smooth transition between the odd time signature changes and giving the new section a distinct sound. All told, ‘She Said She Said’ amounts to one of Starr’s most creative drum patterns, all the way down to his ferocious double-time ending.

Next up is the bass section, which has proved to be controversial in its attribution. Initial logs for the song’s session indicated that no bass overdubs occurred, implying that McCartney had recorded a bass part before his departure. In reality, it is almost certain that Harrison took on the bassline after the initial backing track was recorded. His bassline is bouncy and favours the high end of the instrument, not unlike McCartney’s style of playing. Harrison also uses a Burns bass guitar on the song, a rarity for a Beatles record.

The guitars are a mix of Harrison’s stinging lead lines, some of which open the song proper, and Lennon’s jangly rhythm parts. Lennon plays his part frantically, creating a twitchy and jumpy sound. In contrast, Harrison’s more metallic lead guitar parts are melodic and purposeful, unfurling countermelodies throughout the track. It’s likely that both Lennon and Harrison were using their Epiphone Casinos at the time, although they could have also been playing their recently-acquired Fender Stratocasters.

For the Hammond organ included on the track, Lennon simply sat down, played a high Bb note on the instrument, and created a drone for the song. Throughout the song, the single note fades in and out, appearing most prominently in the song’s verses and choruses.

Because of McCartney’s walkout, the vocal recording showed off a relatively rare combination of Lennon and Harrison’s harmony singing. From the isolated tracks, Harrison likely contributed the lower harmony to the line “Everything was right.” Low harmonies were Harrison’s main role in the three-voice stack that The Beatles usually employed, although it is possible that Harrison provides the high harmony that recurs throughout the track. More likely, however, is that this is Lennon overdubbing his own voice to harmonise with himself.

Despite its highly psychedelic feeling, ‘She Said She Said’ retains all of the traditional instrumentation of The Beatles’ mop-top era. No backwards guitars, no tape loops, and no session musicians. It seems obvious that the final track was treated with a bit of speed manipulation during the mixing stage, and it’s possible that the entire track was recorded half a step lower in the more common key of A Major before being sped up to Bb Major. All of these subtle tweaks produced one of The Beatles’ most trippy pre-Sgt. Pepper’s tracks.