“She Said She Said” is a song written by John Lennon (credited to Lennon–McCartney) and released by the Beatles on their 1966 album Revolver. Lennon described it as “an ‘acidy’ song” with lyrics inspired by actor Peter Fonda’s comments during an LSD trip in 1965 with members of the Beatles and the Byrds.
In late August 1965, Brian Epstein had rented a house at 2850 Benedict Canyon Drive in Beverly Hills, California for the Beatles’ six-day respite from their US tour. The large Spanish-style house was hidden within the side of a mountain. Soon their address became widely known and the area was besieged by fans, who blocked roads and tried to scale the steep canyon while others rented helicopters to spy from overhead. The police department detailed a tactical squad of officers to protect the band and the house. The Beatles found it impossible to leave and instead invited guests, including actors Eleanor Bron (who co-starred with them in Help!), Peggy Lipton and folk singer Joan Baez. On 24 August, they hosted the Byrds and actor Peter Fonda. All except Paul McCartney took LSD.
Fonda wrote for Rolling Stone magazine:
I finally made my way past the kids and the guards. Paul and George were on the back patio, and the helicopters were patrolling overhead. They were sitting at a table under an umbrella in a rather comical attempt at privacy. Soon afterwards we dropped acid and began tripping for what would prove to be all night and most of the next day; all of us, including the original Byrds, eventually ended up inside a huge, empty and sunken tub in the bathroom, babbling our minds away.
I had the privilege of listening to the four of them sing, play around and scheme about what they would compose and achieve. They were so enthusiastic, so full of fun. John was the wittiest and most astute. I enjoyed just hearing him speak and there were no pretensions in his manner. He just sat around, laying out lines of poetry and thinking – an amazing mind. He talked a lot yet he still seemed so private.
It was a thoroughly tripped-out atmosphere because they kept finding girls hiding under tables and so forth: one snuck into the poolroom through a window while an acid-fired Ringo was shooting pool with the wrong end of the cue. “Wrong end?” he’d say. “So what fuckin’ difference does it make?”
As the group passed time in the large sunken tub in the bathroom, Fonda brought up his nearly fatal self-inflicted childhood gunshot accident, writing later that he was trying to comfort a frightened George Harrison. Fonda said that he knew what it was like to be dead. Lennon snapped, “Listen mate, shut up about that stuff”, and “You’re making me feel like I’ve never been born.” Harrison recalls in The Beatles Anthology: “[Fonda] was showing us his bullet wound. He was very uncool.” Lennon later explained:
We didn’t want to hear about that! We were on an acid trip and the sun was shining and the girls were dancing (some from Playboy, I believe) and the whole thing was really beautiful and Sixties. And this guy – who I really didn’t know, he hadn’t made Easy Rider or anything – kept coming over, wearing shades, saying ‘I know what it’s like to be dead,’ and we kept leaving him because he was so boring. It was scary, when you’re flying high: ‘Don’t tell me about it. I don’t want to know what it’s like to be dead!’
When someone realised that they had not eaten all day, the group tried to make dinner in the kitchen. Lennon, however, was too confused from the drug to use his knife and fork properly, and as he tried to stop his food from moving around on his plate he spilled it onto the floor. Actress Salli Sachse recalled of Fonda’s enthusiasm for the band: “Peter was really into music. He couldn’t wait until The Beatles’ Revolver album came out. We went to the music store and played it, trying to hear any hidden messages.”
According to Harrison, he helped Lennon construct “She Said, She Said” from “maybe three” separate segments that Lennon had. Harrison described the process as “a real weld”. The song is in the key of B♭ Mixolydian, based on three chords: B♭ (I), A♭ (♭VII), and E♭ (IV). The key centre shifts to E♭ major during the bridge sections by means of an F minor (v) chord, a pivot chord that the Beatles had used to modulate to the subdominant before on “From Me to You” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand”. Since the guitars on the official recording are audibly played in A, the song must have been sped up one semitone (by this time the Beatles routinely played with varying tape speeds), unless the guitarists retuned or used capos. The coda features a canonic imitation in the voice parts, a development of the idea originally presented by Harrison’s lead guitar in the verse. Lennon’s Hammond organ part consists entirely of one note – a tonic B-flat held throughout and faded in and out.
The track incorporates a change of metre, following Harrison’s introduction of such a musical device into the Beatles’ work with his Indian-styled composition “Love You To”. “She Said She Said” uses both 3/4 and 4/4 time, shifting to 3/4 on the line “No, no, no, you’re wrong” and back again on “I said …” The middle part consists of another song fragment that Lennon had penned. At Harrison’s suggestion, Lennon used this fragment in the middle of “She Said, She Said”. In this section, the subject of Lennon’s lyrics changes from his recollection of the LSD episode with Fonda to a reminiscence of childhood. Lennon sings, “When I was a boy everything was right/ Everything was right”, providing a foil to the chaotic feelings of “I know what it’s like to be dead”.
“She Said, She Said” is often noted for Ringo Starr’s “circular” patterns and other contributions: Starr himself has expressed particular pride in his performances during this era. Some drum enthusiasts have referred to Starr’s performance on this track as one of the best drum tracks ever recorded in pop music, comparing the approach to that of Mitch Mitchell, drummer for The Jimi Hendrix Experience, who was himself a follower of Elvin Jones. Ian MacDonald rates the drumming as “technically finer than [Starr’s] other tour-de-force, ‘Rain'”.
In his commentary on “She Said She Said”, music critic Tim Riley describes Harrison’s guitar introduction as “outwardly harnessed, but inwardly raging”. He praises the song’s expression of the “primal urge” for innocence, which imbues the lyric with “complexity”, as the speaker suffers through feelings of “inadequacy”, “helplessness” and “profound fear”. In Riley’s opinion, the track’s “intensity is palpable” and “the music is a direct connection to [Lennon’s] psyche”; he adds that “at the core of Lennon’s pain is a bottomless sense of abandonment”, a theme that the singer would return to in late 1966 with “Strawberry Fields Forever”.
Denver memorabilia collector Chris Lopez discovered a tape made by Lennon while composing “She Said She Said”. The source was Anthony Cox, the former husband of Lennon’s second wife, Yoko Ono. Cox sold it along with other recordings made by Lennon at Christie’s Auction House in London.
“She Said, She Said” was the final track recorded during the Revolver sessions. It took nine hours to rehearse and record the song, complete with overdubs. After the recording, the Beatles’ producer, George Martin, is reported to have said: “All right, boys, I’m just going for a lie-down.”
McCartney could not recall if he appeared on the recording: “I think we had a barney or something and I said, ‘Oh, fuck you!,’ and they said, ‘Well, we’ll do it.’ I think George played bass.” In his 2012 book on the making of Revolver, author Robert Rodriguez highlights McCartney’s walkout as one of “a handful of unsolved Beatles mysteries”. When identifying the probable causes for McCartney’s uncharacteristic behaviour, Rodriguez cites later comments made by Lennon: specifically that Lennon appreciated Harrison’s tendency to “take it as-is” whereas McCartney often took a musical arrangement in a direction he himself preferred; and that, given Lennon and Harrison’s habit of teasing their bandmate over his refusal to take LSD, McCartney possibly felt alienated by the song’s subject matter.
John Lennon – lead and backing vocals, rhythm guitar, Hammond organ
George Harrison – backing vocal, bass, lead guitar
Ringo Starr – drums, shaker