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Music

Why Paul McCartney was too angry to play on one classic Beatles song

@SamWKemp

The Beatles’ seventh studio album, Revolver, was born during a period of transformation. In the spring of 1965, The Beatles embarked on their first acid trip, after John Lennon, George Harrison, and their wives, Cynthia Lennon and Patti Boyd went for a very peculiar dinner at the home of their dentist, John Riley – the son of a Met police officer with a taste for hallucinogenics. It was only when the party were sipping at their coffee did Riley reveal that he had laced it with LSD. Lennon stared into the murky black pool for a moment and then looked Riley dead in the eye. “How dare you fucking do this to us,” he blasted. Although completely nonconsensual, the trip changed everything. Lennon saw fire in the elevator, Harrison saw God on the stairwell.

The following year, while on tour in the US, The Beatles (bar Paul McCartney) tried acid again. This time, the experience sparked a song that would find its way onto Revolver in the form of ‘She Said, She Said’. During one of his final interviews in 1980, Lennon explained how the song was influenced by the presence of Hollywood actor Peter Fonda: “That was written after an acid trip in LA during a break in The Beatles’ tour where we were having fun with The Byrds and lots of girls,” Lennon said. “Some from Playboy, I believe. Peter Fonda came in when we were on acid and he kept coming up to me and sitting next to me and whispering, ‘I know what it’s like to be dead'”.

Lennon continued: “He was describing an acid trip he’d been on. We didn’t want to hear about that! 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! And I used it for the song, but I changed it to ‘she’ instead of ‘he’. It was scary. You know, a guy… when you’re flying high and [whispers] ‘I know what it’s like to be dead, man.’ I remembered the incident. Don’t tell me about it! I don’t want to know what it’s like to be dead”. Without McCartney, Lennon finished ‘She Said, She Said’ with the help of George Harrison, who suggested the idea of switching between 4/4 and 3/4 time signatures.

After realising that Revolver was one track short, The Beatles found themselves in a bit of a tight spot. They desperately needed something to fill the gap. Lennon and Harrison vouched for ‘She Said, She Said’, but McCartney, having been absent during the writing process, wasn’t so keen. As he recalled: “John brought it in pretty much finished, I think. I’m not sure but I think it was one of the only Beatle records I never played on. 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.”

Recorded during a chaotic nine-hour recording session at Abbey Road on 21st of June, 1966, ‘She Said, She Said’ was rehearsed something like 25 times and then set about recorded the rhythm track in just three takes. On top of Ringo’s drums, Lennon laid down his lead vocals, with Harrison contributing backing harmonies. With a slice of West Coast guitar and Lennon’s Hammond Organ track in the mix, ‘She Said, She Said’ was finally complete. Alas, without the help of Paul McCartney.

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