50 years ago today, the Beatles recorded “She Loves You.” Below, MacDonald describes how they wrote and recorded the single, which he describes as “one of the most explosive pop records ever made.”
Lennon and McCartney wrote “She Loves You” in a Newcastle hotel room after a gig at the Majestic Ballroom on June 26, 1963. The initial idea (from McCartney) consisted of using the third person rather than their usual first and second.* To judge from the expressive link between the song’s words and melody, a roughed-out lyric must have come next, after which the pair presumably fell into the phrase-swapping mode familiar from “From Me to You.”
The opening lines follow speech inflections and stay within the compass of their chords—obviously Lennon’s work. What changes them, making a straightforward sequence surprising, is McCartney’s harmony. Already maturing, the partnership’s writing formula can be heard here as the dual expression of Lennon’s downbeat cynicism and McCartney’s get-up-and-go optimism. Much of the pair’s musical originality derived from their self-taught willingness to let their fingers discover chord-sequences by exploring the architecture of their guitars rather than following orthodox progressions. Yet these choices were driven by the harmonies they used—and these arguably reflected the contrast of their temperaments. Even at this stage their relationship could be acerbic and they were capable of bickering vitriolically in public, though under this lay an enduring emotional bond and a steady respect for each other’s talent and intelligence which overrode their disagreements. Like all lasting music, The Beatles’ best work is as much the expression of a state of mind as a construction in sound, and in “She Loves You” Lennon and McCartney can be heard fusing their different outlooks in musical form. The result is an authentic distillation of the atmosphere of that time, and one of the most explosive pop records ever made.