5. No Reply
Even allowing for the doleful mood of the Beatles for Sale album cover—the group looking wary, weary and weather-beaten—the trio of opening tracks on side one must have come as a shock to a lot of teenage Fab fans back in the day. Much is made of the fact that all three share a downcast tone, but “No Reply” is in a class of its own. “I’m a Loser”, despite its ostensibly despondent lyric, is an up-beat sing-along and “Baby’s in Black” is too close to parody to be depressing. However, “No Reply”, a bossa nova you are less likely to dance than slit your wrists to, is by far the most striking departure from the Beatles’ customary ebullience.
Backed by a thrashing clamour of acoustic guitars, Lennon’s vocal performance ranges from embittered to unhinged. This reaches an almost unbearable climax during the mid-section, Lennon’s rhythmic delivery suggesting a man struggling for both breath and sanity, the false bravado of the lyric—“If I were you…” - irrevocably undermined by the musical accompaniment. George Martin’s throbbing piano chords help sustain the tension, but what really seals the sense of fraying nerves is the way the hand-claps—normally an exuberant, supportive or celebratory sound—here seem mocking and cruel, the sound of nails being driven into the cracking facade of a doomed relationship. Although they briefly considered repeating the mid-section at the end of the track, this would have dulled its impact, and the idea was wisely abandoned. Instead, the song ends abruptly, with the last two plaintive repetitions of “no reply!” giving way to a final chord which, like the song’s cuckolded protagonist, is left hanging.
Later, Lennon would be heavily influenced, lyrically and thematically, by Bob Dylan. Here, he’s already staking out a patch of Dylan’s key territory: the aggrieved lover, castigating his lying ex. Unlike the subject of the earlier, lighter Lennon jealousy ballad, “You Can’t Do That”, this girl already has done “that”, and there’s nothing her former lover can do about it. The words themselves are deceptively simple, from the double meaning of “I saw the light” to the subtle indirectness of the narrative: the boy and girl never meet, never speak; their relationship is all in the past. Instead of “the lies you told”, Lennon laments “the lies that I heard before, when you gave me no reply.”
This sense of dislocation is heightened by the heavily-echoed vocals, emphasizing the singer’s isolation. In one of his final interviews, Lennon recalled the track fondly, saying he had intended it as his version of “Silhouettes” by the Rays: “I had that image of walking down the street and seeing her silhouetted in the window and not answering the phone. Although I never called a girl on the phone in my life—phones weren’t part of the English child’s life.” That last comment will surely give many contemporary parents a wry chuckle. John Carvill
6. You Never Give Me Your Money
If there is any singular moment on the Beatles’ magnificent “final” album that leaves a truly indelible mark, it’s the opening piano of “You Never Give Me Your Money”, the first of the impressive medleys that comprise most of the album’s second side. It’s the moment in which Paul McCartney begins painting a mesmerizing picture fit for a traveling minstrel show: an everyman (McCartney himself?) with nothing to lose, and all of the freedoms and anxieties that accompany “that magic feeling”.
From the somber opening chords, the tune blossoms with effects-laden guitar, and each successive piece enters as painstakingly gently. The bewitching vocals burst suddenly into Act II, introduced by McCartney’s jangly whorehouse piano and his exaggerated baritone to match. As our hero’s stress subsides, those captivating harmonies return, with a glimmer of guitar woven through, and seamlessly move into the third section. Here, the everyman makes his departure to a relentless groove that seems to have been building to this point. The guitar plays him off with some familiar arpeggios, a souvenir from earlier in the album, followed by Lennon’s oddly sinister nursery-rhyme chants.
The voices disappear into the distance, accompanied by the tranquil din of a clanging caravan trudging through a fairy tale swamp, to segue perfectly into the atmospheric “Sun King” and the medleys to come. And though those medleys have a tendency to overshadow their alluring introduction, it’s McCartney’s four-minute operetta that really sets the gold standard on an already outstanding album. Carole Ann Wright
7. She Said, She Said
During an LSD trip, John Lennon had a disturbing conversation with Peter Fonda regarding a near death experience the actor had gone through. Genuinely unnerved by the exchange, Lennon angrily told Fonda off for killing his buzz while in a vulnerable state. Indeed, the darkness of the account bothered Lennon to the point where it crept thematically into his songwriting. “She Said, She Said” emerged as a dark trip through Lennon’s increasingly frazzled psyche and represents the flip side of the more euphoric drug anthems in the Beatles oeuvre. Lennon’s usual defence mechanism is in place: his compulsion to use drugs either to hide from, or to mine something out of, his childhood.
I’ll admit that before I knew the song I assumed it was to be another straight ahead pop number based on the name. I was imaging a series of “oohs” and repetitive “She Said, She Saids” rippling through the thing; instead I was enveloped in its muscular riff, its ominous melodic swirl and Ringo’s disembodied drum beat, all taking place in a different universe to everything else in the music but still slotting in perfectly. Everything is of a piece, which makes it surprising that it is one of the few songs in the Beatles output that McCartney did not play on.
While his excellent “Eleanor Rigby” remains the populist dark heart of Revolver, for me this is the true centrepiece of the record. “She Said, She Said” is a schizophrenic composition: a tense song built on two seemingly disparate pieces, fused together to make a deeply unsettling, yet addictive whole. Emmet O’Brien
8. Here, There, and Everywhere
By the time Revolver arrived, Paul had already filled the world with love songs, but “Here, There, and Everywhere” was arguably his most arrestingly gorgeous ballad yet. For all of Revolver’s moody shape-shifting, “Here, There, and Everywhere” remains dedicated to delicate austerity as the record’s prettiest and most languid moment. Yet it’s not itself without experimentation: in fewer than two-and-a-half minutes, Paul delivers a double-tracked vocal over a crafty modulating scheme, including a devastating middle eight (six, really) that threatens to change keys but has second thoughts before bending amorphously back into the verse.
It’s an exercise in minimalism—George’s easy prang on the two and four, Ringo’s subtle timekeeping and gentle, economical tom fills (also listen for the others’ barely-there fingersnaps), and the silky Pet Sounds-style block-harmony “oohs” from John and George. Paul turns in one of his most intimate vocal performances, singing well up in his range in a pliant fusion of head-voice and falsetto, while mixing his trademark sanguinity with tenderness, sensuality, and a dash of paranoia, making us wait for the title until the final exquisite resolve.
But for all of these stylistic strokes of genius, the song’s lasting effect is simply to burrow deep into the pleasure centers of listeners here, there, everywhere, for all time, as a love song to swoon to. “HT&E” is perfect enough that John would later cop to loving it, and Paul himself, George Martin, and millions of wedding planners would all declare it a favorite. Steve Leftridge