The Composition of She Loves You: A New Look at Beatles History
by Jude Southerland Kessler, author of the historical
John Lennon novels "Shoulda Been There," "Shivering Inside," and the upcoming "She Loves You."
Historical research can be a slippery slope. If one researcher transforms a generalization into a fact -
or if one scholar relies solely upon the errant memory of a primary source - then generations of students are doomed to repeat a story that was never factual to begin with...an event which never occurred.
Recently, in the process of writing the third book in my Lennon series, She Loves You, I discovered such an historical glitch. There exists a bit of a myth about the way that the single, "She Loves You," was composed.
The Beatles are often portrayed as miraculous. Indeed, The Beatles were (and are) talented beyond imagination - gifted, a once-in-a-lifetime phenomena. But The Beatles would be the first to tell you that they worked at everything they achieved, and in their lives, "It don't come easy" was their mantra. (Remember, this was the band who lived at the Bambi Kino!) Their songs were composed with equal parts of hard work and talent.
The standard, existing story is that "She Loves You" was composed somewhat miraculously.
Biographers claim that it was hastily written only three, four, or five days before the tune was recorded at EMI. Long-accepted accounts from distinguished Beatles scholars tell us that "She Loves You" was recorded on 1 July and was written "the previous week in a Newcastle-upon-Tyne hotel room and finished the following night at Forthlin Road"1 or that "[the song was] composed in Newcastle-upon-Tyne the previous Wednesday," placing the song's composition on 26 June 1963.2
John and Paul in the studio recording She Loves You
There are some slight variations on the story, informing us that "She Loves You" was "dashed off in a hurry in [John and Paul's] hotel room three nights before [it was recorded],"3 placing the composition on Friday the 28th in Yorkshire or that the song was "composed by John and Paul in a hotel room in Newcastle-upon-Tyne just four days before the recording session."4 (That places the composition date as Thursday, 27 June when The Beatles had no gig and were very probably home in Liverpool.)
Yes, these accounts vary slightly, but they all focus on a "miraculous, one-night conception" for the song.
There are also existing reports of widely variant dates. One popular website, for example, tells us that "the song was mostly written on 16 June 1963, in a room in the Turk's Hotel in Newcastle, prior to The Beatles' second performance at the city's Majestic Ballroom."5 And another conflicting version of the traditional story places the song's composition as 26 April 1963.6 But in general, most researchers place the composition of "She Loves You" as approximately three days prior to its recording session.
Today, as blog posts further confuse the facts, our scramble for "what really happened" becomes even more blurred. One website (http://wogew.blogspot.com/2009/04/roy-orbison-tour.html) tells us that in 1988, Paul McCartney told Klaus Burling, "There's a story to this one, how we wrote ['She Loves You']. We were on tour with Roy Orbison, and Gerry and the Pacemakers. And we were in Newcastle, up north of England, and we were in a hotel room. We had about three days left to write a song. We had a recording date set for three days from this date. So we went to the hotel and we booked in a room, and we just decided that we have to write a song very quickly. So we sat down, no ideas came for a bit. But eventually, we got an idea. 'She Loves You,' came, you know. It was just lucky."7 However, this quote is not footnoted, and no source information is provided for such a bold admission.
But we know this much: in one form or another, past scholarship has insisted that the composition of "She Loves You" occurred on one, singular day, in one hotel room, in one inspired (or lucky) sitting.
But both John and Paul have offered facts that conflict with that later story, and the facts do not bear out the "miraculous conception" theory. When examining what is known about the lengthy and involved composition process of "She Loves You," researchers begin to comprehend that John and Paul discussed, honed, and refined the song over a period of weeks.
When exactly did The Beatles begin the composition process for "She Loves You"?
Paul McCartney in The Anthology talks frankly about the time he and John spent together on the Roy Orbison Tour (18 May - 9 June 1963) writing the song.
He says, "At the back of the bus, Roy would be writing something like 'Pretty Woman,' so our competitiveness would come out, which was good. He would play us his song, and we'd say, 'Oh great, Roy. Have you just written that?' But we'd be thinking, 'We have to write something as good.' The next move was obvious...write one ourselves. And we did it. It was 'From Me to You.'"8
The Beatles and Gerry and the Pacemakers with Roy Orbison in 1963
A student of Beatles' history immediately sees the inadvertent glitch here. "From Me to You" was composed on 28 February 1963 on the Helen Shaprio Tour coach. "From Me to You" was recorded on 5 March 1963.
Therefore, the song that The Beatles would have been working on so diligently on the Orbison Tour (inspired by Orbison's creations) could not have been "From Me to You." The song that they would have been writing together during all those long weeks on the coach would have clearly been their next creation, "She Loves You."
Indeed, both John and Paul tell us that the song's development was not a bit of good luck, but rather a process of suggesting, culling, and compromising on themes and gimmicks, and then finally, taking the best of those concepts to produce a final result. This process took place during the 22 days that they spent together on the Orbison bus - the very setting that Paul inadvertently refers to as the birthplace of "From Me to You."
Here is a glimpse at that process:
Both of the composers agree that the song was initially Paul's idea. In The Playboy Interviews, John admitted, "I remember ['She Loves You'] was Paul's idea: instead of singing 'I love you' again, we'd have a third party. That kind of detail is in [McCartney's] work now where he will write a story about someone, and I'm more inclined to just write about myself."9
And Paul, in The Anthology, concurs. He states, "I'd planned an answering song where a couple of us would sing 'She loves you,' and the other one would answer, 'Yeah, yeah, yeah.' We decided that it was a crummy idea as it was, but at least we had the idea for a song called, 'She Loves You.'"10
Beginning with Paul's original plan for a call-and-answer song, the two musicians began to make tactical alterations. Goldsmith in The Beatles: Coming to America tells us that John objected to the simple call-and-answer technique already employed in so many of their cover songs. "We can't be always borrowin' the American thing," John pointed out.11 And Paul relented.
Next, the two musicians decided to use the "woooo" technique that The Isley Brothers had popularized in their version of "Twist and Shout." It was the same "wooooo" that singer Kenny Lynch had objected to so vehemently earlier in the year, when Paul and John had discussed using it in "From Me To You." Lynch had insisted that singing, "wooooo" would make The Beatles seem "like a bunch of poofs." But John had dismissed him summarily with, "What d'ya mean? It'll sound great. We're puttin' it into the act."12
Now, several weeks later on the Orbison Tour, the boys did as John suggested. They inserted the much-debated "wooooo" into their new creation, "She Loves You."
Over the summer of 1963, the song extended its narrow boundaries. Tim Riley in Tell Me Why emphasizes how many hours John and Paul spent together during that time. The Beatles had become national celebrities, and as the fans grew increasingly aggressive, the boys became more and more isolated in tour coaches, backstage dressing rooms, Neil's van, and hotel rooms - "prisoners of their own success."13 And indeed, Jonathan Gould suggests that as The Beatles were "criss-crossing England and Wales" they had ample time to work together on their next song - a true collaboration.14 That collaboration, "She Loves You," matured over the month of June 1963.
The final "gimmick" added to the song's repertoire was the use of the "yeah, yeah, yeah." When asked by David Sheff how the phrase came to be, John merely shrugged and replied, "The Yeah-yeah. I don't know." He went on to say, "...there have been lots of 'oh yeah' and 'Yeah' and 'uh-huhs' in rock and roll. Lonnie Donegan always did it. He was a Britisher who had done a lot of American folk music. And I remember Elvis did that in 'All Shook Up.' But I can't remember who we got the 'yeah-yeah-yeah' from for sure.'"15 Over the summer of 1963, however, the phrase was adopted as one of the song's hooks.
In The Anthology, John acknowledges that the "yeah, yeah, yeah" was added almost as an afterthought...added after the song had already been planned and written. John states, "We'd written the song, and we needed more, so we had 'yeah, yeah, yeah,' and it caught on."16
This piece de resistance, however, almost failed to make the record. Paul's father, Jim, found it inappropriate. "Son, there's enough Americanisms around," he protested. "Couldn't you just sing, 'Yes, yes, yes!" for once?'"17 But Paul, sure of the final touches that he and John had selected for the song stood firm. "You don't understand, Dad," he'd replied. "It wouldn't work."18
From the simple concept of a call-and-answer song in third person to a fully-developed hit with hooks and gimmicks, "She Loves You" was finally committed to paper on the night of 27 June in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. The song was weeks in the making. Paul gives a nod to the influence of Bobby Rydell's "Forget Him"19 and to his own desire to create a tune of "the sort that American groups keep doing."20 John merely refers to "She Loves You" as a song "written together" with Paul.21
After a succession of numbers composed in solo (Paul's "P.S. I Love You" and "Love Me Do" and John's "Ask Me Why" and "Please Please Me") The Beatles had now successfully composed two songs together. "From Me to You" was written in more rapid-fire fashion, but "She Loves You," was carefully constructed - "custom built,"22 Paul calls it. Not surprisingly, its impact on audiences was unparalleled.
The Beatles became inexorably linked to the "yeah, yeah, yeah" refrain and to the head-shaking "woooooo's" as well. And the third person song - the "true collaboration" carefully penned during the early summer of 1963 - skyrocketed to Number One.
It is exciting to think of this song as "dashed off" in a miraculous fashion on one magical night; that is a great tale. But history tells us that the song was the product of planning and revision, as was most of The Beatles' career. In The Anthology, Paul summarizes the Beatles experience so well: "It was never an overnight success."23
When, on 26 June, the boys sat down together in that Newcastle-Upon-Tyne hotel room to finalize plans for "She Loves You," that creative session was the culmination of weeks of discriminating, deliberate, intentional Lennon/McCartney groundwork. "And you know that can't be bad."
1 Womack, Long and Winding Roads, 67.
2 Lewisohn, The Complete Beatles Chronicle, 114.
3 Norman, Shout, 185.
4 Goldsmith, The Beatles: Coming to America, 93.
6 , Two of Us, 30.
8 The Beatles, Anthology, 96.
9 Sheff, The Playboy Interviews, 143.
10 The Beatles, Anthology, 96.
11 Goldsmith, The Beatles: Coming to America, 93.
12 , Two of Us, 30.
13 Riley, Tell Me Why, 65.
14 Gould, Can't Buy Me Love, 153.
15 Sheff, The Playboy Interviews, 143.
16 The Beatles, Anthology, 96.
17 Goldsmith, The Beatles: Coming to America, 96.
18 Goldsmith, The Beatles: Coming to America, 96.
19 Womack, Long and Winding Roads, 67.
20 , Two of Us, 30.
21 Sheff, The Playboy Interviews, 143.
22 The Beatles, Anthology, 94.
23 The Beatles, Anthology, 82.