On February 8, 1964, the New York Times posed a riddle: ‘Multiply Elvis Presley by four, subtract six years from his age, add British accents and a sharp sense of humor. And what do you get? The answer: It’s the Beatles (Yeah, Yeah, Yeah)’.
The article itself referenced the arrival of British pop group The Beatles at Kennedy airport the day before, where 3,000 screaming fans had mobbed them to greet the foreign pop kings sitting atop the US Billboard 100. The inclusion of the three ‘Yeah’s’ in the article’s title was a testament to how the chorus from ‘She Loves You’ – their fourth single – had followed them across the Atlantic and become the ultimate cliché, not only for the Beatles, but for the culture of popular music itself.
In the UK the group’s first three singles had allowed them to attack and then annex the charts, but 50 years ago on Friday August 23, 1963 it was the release of ‘She Loves You’ which cemented their status as the undisputed high-kings of British culture.
Speaking in 1980 John Lennon recalled how it was Paul McCartney’s idea to shift the focus of the lyrical content. His partner agreed when recalling how he and Lennon sat on a pair of twin beds in a hotel room and came up with the idea of writing a reported conversation in the third party as opposed to their previous style of appealing directly to a subject in the first part. They finished writing the song in McCartney’s home on Forthlin Rd in Liverpool, where Paul’s father Jim famously cringed at the usage of such crude Americanisms as ‘Yeah’, and suggested ‘Yes, Yes, Yes’ instead. A mere four days later the song was committed to tape, and to the ages.
‘She Loves You’ was a remarkable departure for the Beatles in several key areas. It was the group’s first single to omit the familiar ingredient of harmonica. It was also a new departure in both approaches to songwriting – the story of a ‘friend’ advising another on how he should resolve his relationship troubles – and a sign of Lennon & McCartney’s growing confidence in their abilities; the audacious use of the major sixth chord ending being the prime example. McCartney later attributed the final jazzy ending to a suggestion from George Harrison.
Aside from this, what actually made ‘She Loves You’ more arresting and immediate than the previous Beatles records was a combination of several variables colliding to deliver a sucker punch to fans, rivals, detractors and neutrals. The record itself seemed louder than any previous release; the instrumentation was punchier, and the melody and harmonies were loaded with razor-sharp hooks at every twist and turn. Most importantly, the performance itself was defiant in its sheer confidence and optimism.
Sonically, ‘She Loves You’ benefited from EMI engineer Norman Smith’s approach to compressing the drums and bass separately, whereas on previous recordings these instruments had been compressed together. The separate compression allowed for an increased dynamic range of both instruments and a louder presence of drum and bass on the record. Additionally, Ringo Starr had replaced his Premier drums with a professional Ludwig kit since their last recording session, while Harrison had taken possession of a brand new Gretsch Country Gentleman guitar, both of which enhanced the new sonic ground the group laid down. However, according to EMI engineer Geoff Emerick, who was present at the recording, there was a particular X factor which gave the recording its unique quality.
Prior to the recording session commencing the band took part in a brief photo shoot with celebrity photographer Terry O’Neill, before all hell broke loose inside Abbey Road Studios when fans breached security and gave EMI staff a terrifying glimpse of life on the outside for the Beatles. Possibly alerted by sightings of the group being photographed outside the building, the proto Apple scruff grapevine shook as a more than usual number of female fans gathered in the vicinity. Mal Evans and Neil Aspinall cut a canteen dash short and burst back into studio two sounding the alarm just before one female fan burst in and had to be wrestled back out by Evans as EMI staff, guests and Brian Epstein looked on in horror. Emerick recalled EMI staff members having their hair pulled by dozens of shrieking fans in case they were Beatles in disguise.
The incident was recorded on camera (presumably by O’Neill) in a shot which also captures the shocked humour on the faces of Lennon and Smith. The police were called in and the madness was eventually calmed and resolved. The incident had however, blurred the boundaries between the austere and business-like oasis of EMI Studios, and the increasingly dangerous life the group was living on the road. The Beatles were still travelling to Abbey Road to impress their business partners and financiers. A little piece of their world on the road, invading, and alarming their EMI partners in such a manner, served to fortify the Beatles, and this spirit spilled into the taping of ‘She Loves You’, which followed immediately.
According to Emerick, ‘There’s no doubt in my mind that the excitement of that afternoon helped spark a new level of energy in the group’s playing. … There was a level of intensity in the performance that I had not heard before … and, frankly rarely heard since. The result was a more prominent, driving rhythm sound: both the bass and drums are brighter and more present than in previous Beatles records. Combined with the group’s new confidence and more intense playing … it was the icing on the cake’. (Emerick, Here, There and Everywhere, p. 66/67)
It’s as obvious today, as it was to those who heard it for the first time in 1963, that ‘She Loves You’ was immediately different than the group’s previous three singles. The proto-punk thumping intro of Starr’s tom fills and his trashy open high hats blended with the electric guitars to create a power house beat which propelled the song along, while wonderful harmonies and frenzied – but well-timed – oohs mashed the listener’s brains into sweet submission. It’s indeed possible to argue that the loud instrumentation, combination unison singing and four-in-the-bar thumping drums of ‘She Loves You’ finally threw off the shackles of genre, and allowed the Beatles to break free from mere rock and roll/country/rockabilly/pop. In the foundry of EMI’s studio two, rock was being born.
In July 1963, responding to advance orders of the group’s next single from fans, (who placed orders without hearing it) and shortly before the annual two-week staff holiday, Len Wood, EMI managing director was handed an advance manufacturing order of 350,000 copies for ‘She Loves You’. This was a seriously unprecedented number and Wood countered that it could not be done. He eventually relented on a compromise number of 250,000. ‘She Loves You’ went on to sell 1.9 million copies.
The aftermath and impact of ‘She Loves You’ was phenomenally incomparable, at least in the UK. Lennon’s sister Julia remarked that the song seemed to be an endless soundtrack to life; it was on every station several times an hour. Tony Bramwell, Epstein’s PR man recalls, ‘The dream of being able to stroll through a seaside town and paddle in the water unmolested ended when ‘She Loves You’ came out. Then it went all ballistic’. (Bramwell, Magical Mystery Tours)
Upon release, the single soon shot to number one, knocking another Lennon-McCartney song, ‘Bad to Me’, off the top of the charts. By September 3, sales had passed 500,000, reaching 1 million by November 27. The single held the top spot for four weeks, before relinquishing the coveted position to Brian Poole and The Tremeloes (whom Decca Records had signed instead of the Beatles). ‘She Loves You’ finally regained the top spot for the Beatles towards the end of November, which it held for a further two weeks before the group knocked themselves off number one with their subsequent release, ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’.
The song became the biggest selling UK single of their career and also held the UK chart records for 14 years until its co-author surpassed it with sales of ‘Mull of Kintyre’. It still holds the record of biggest selling UK single from a group (discounting charity records).
For some 37 out of the 52 weeks of 1963 Epstein/EMI artists held the top spot on the UK charts. By the end of 1963, Epstein and George Martin had virtually turned EMI Studios into a monetary exchange and were printing their own plastic currency. A respected newspaper critic hailed Lennon-McCartney as the greatest composers since Beethoven. The Beatles were now, well and truly, at the Toppermost of the Poppermost.
What would happen in 1964? Only America could say.Powered by Sidelines