The untold story behind the birth of a legendary song.
Historical research can be a slippery slope. If one researcher transforms a generalization into a factor 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. Recently, in the process of writing volume three in my John Lennon series, She Loves You, I discovered just such a historical glitch: a myth about the way that the single “”She Loves You”” was composed.
The standard, existing story is that the song was conceived somewhat miraculously. Long-accepted accounts from distinguished Beatles scholars tell us that “”She Loves You”” was recorded on July 1st, 1963, and “”composed in Newcastle-upon-Tyne the previous Wednesday,”” placing the song’s creation on June 26th, 1963. There are some slight variations on the story, but they all focus on the “”miraculous, one-night conception”” of the song.
But both John and Paul offered facts that conflict with this idea. So when exactly did the Beatles begin the composition process for “”She Loves You,”” and how long did it take them to create the song? Paul McCartney in The Anthology talks frankly about the time he and John spent together on a tour with Roy Orbison (from May 18th to June 9th, 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. And we did. It was ‘From Me to You.’ “”
A student of Beatles history immediately sees the glitch here: “”From Me to You”” was recorded on March 5th, 1963. Therefore, the song that they would have been working on during the Orbison tour could not have been “”From Me to You.”” It clearly would been their very 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:
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.””
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.’ “”
Beginning with Paul’s original plan for a call-and-answer song, the two musicians began to make tactical alterations. Martin 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. 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.””
Now, the boys did as John suggested. They inserted the much-debated “”wooooo”” into their new creation, “”She Loves You.””
The final “”gimmick”” added to the song was their use of the “”yeah, yeah, yeah.”” In The Anthology, John acknowledges that it was added almost as an afterthought, after the song had already been planned and written. “”We’d written the song, and we needed more, so we had ‘yeah, yeah, yeah,’ and it caught on.””
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 had protested. “”Couldn’t you just sing, ‘Yes, yes, yes!’ for once?”” 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.””
From the simple concept of a call-and-answer song in the third person to a fully developed hit with hooks and gimmicks, “”She Loves You”” was finally committed to paper on the night of June 27th in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. But it was weeks in the making.
After a succession of numbers composed separately, the Beatles had now successfully created two songs together. “”From Me to You”” was written in more rapid-fire fashion, but “”She Loves You,”” was carefully constructed””custom built,”” 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 “”woooooos,”” 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. 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 thusly: “”It was never an overnight success.””
When, on June 26th, the boys sat down together in that Newcastle-upon-Tyne hotel room to finalize their plans for “”She Loves You,”” that creative session was the culmination of weeks of discriminating, deliberate and intentional Lennon/McCartney groundwork. And you know that can’t be bad.
Jude Southerland Kessler is the author of The John Lennon Series, a nine-volume biography of the musician. She can be reached at www.johnlennonseries.com.