alan w. pollack's
notes on ...

Notes on "For No One"


Notes on ... Series #99 (FNO)
  by Alan W. Pollack
       Key: B Major
     Meter: 4/4
      Form: Verse | Verse | Bridge | Verse |
                  | Verse (instrumental solo) | Bridge |
                  | Verse | Verse | Bridge (with complete ending)
        CD: "Revolver", Track 10 (Parlophone CDP7 46441-2)
  Recorded: 9th, 16th  May 1966, Abbey Road 2;
            19th May 1966, Abbey Road 3
UK-release: 5th August 1966 (LP "Revolver")
US-release: 8th August 1966 (LP "Revolver")

General Points of Interest


Style and Form

  Next note As an example of Paul's interest in borrowing elements of the early nineteenth century "Art Song", I place this one on the Spectrum of Style somewhere in between "Eleanor Rigby" and "Michelle". Its self-conscious application of Classical Techniques is almost but not quite as extreme as the former, while the romantic feelings conjured by its lyrics are at least as earnest yet infinitely more grown up than the latter.
  Next note The form is completely cyclic in the style of a multi-versed art or folk song. The sequence of double verse and bridge is thrice repeated without intro, outro, or any other intervening interludes.

Melody and Harmony

  Next note The tune features a larger than average quotient of jumps and triadic outlines compared to either scalewise movement or repeated notes.
  Next note The bridges feature a textbookishly classical pivot modulation to the key of ii (c# minor). By contrast, the verses rely on the definitely non classical flat-VII chord, instead of V, to establish the home key. Ironically, the errant V chord makes its only appearances in the song as part of the pivot home at bridge's end.
  Next note The first phrase of the verse here makes use of a slowly walking bass played out against static harmony that is interesting in comparison to the same stretch in "Here, There, and Everywhere". The deep-structure chord progression in both songs is from I to IV, though the walking bass in each case moves in the opposite direction.
  Next note The home key is the unusual choice of B Major; the only other Beatles' song I can think of in this key, off the top of my head, is "One After 909".

A Riddle about the Recording

  Next note A couple of Lewisohn's comments about this song in "Recording Sessions" cannot be neatly reconciled without a little creative hypothesizing. (A caveat: what follows here may not be news to you; I'm guilty of not having checked everybody else's study of this song to see if this has been noted yet by anyone else. However, if it hasn't, then consider this a real scoop :-))
  Next note The comments:
  • Lewisohn says Paul's lead vocal was recorded with the tape running slow in order to sound higher (and thinner) on playback.
  • Alan Civil, the French horn player on the recording, says that the tape he was asked to dub his part onto was "in the cracks" between B-flat and B Major.
  • Mr. Civil also describes his horn solo as a "middle range" affair.
  Next note Why they are difficult to reconcile:
  • The finished song is mastered in, as close as I can tell, a true B Major; it's not in the cracks.
  • The French horn solo is way the hell up in (and even a bit beyond) the conventional range of what a French horn can play, especially with the medium-loud volume and easy nuance heard in this performance.
  Next note The creative hypothesis:
  • The song was performed in B Major.
  • The artificially slow taping for Macca's vocal is what was "in the cracks".
  • It was onto the latter that Civil's horn solo was recorded.
  • Furthermore, the horn solo was not merely speed-corrected back up to B Major, but actually doubled in speed on playback in order to sound a full octave higher. If I am correct about this, you might say that this horn solo is the brassy analog to what Mr. Martin did with his piano solo on "In My Life".


  Next note The instrumentation features two different sounding piano parts, a strong, prominent bassline, restrained percussion, an ultra-sincere- sounding single track lead vocal, and of course, that solo for French horn.
  Next note The arrangement is layered in typical Beatles' fashion:
  • The first two verses have only what sounds like an out-of-tune "tack" piano (and turns out to be a clavichord, specially rented for the occasion) in chopping, even quarter notes, with some kind of percussion that sounds like distorted, post-processed snare drumming.
  • For the first bridge add tambourine and a heavy bassline that sounds at least an octave or two below the rest of the texture, and change the piano to a more normal sounding instrument playing a Schubertian accompaniment figure of rocking eighth notes.
  • The heavy bass and the tambourine stick around for the rest of the song, but the piano part follows the pattern established earlier.
  • The horn part first appears in the second half of the second verse pair, nicely "inlaid" within the arrangement by virtue of its starting those two beats before the beginning of its verse, and extending a few beats into the bridge which follows it. For both purposes of unification and avoidance of foolish consistency, the horn part is repeated for part of one of the final verses, and again for just the last couple notes of the final bridge.

Section-by-Section Walkthrough



  Next note Although the verse is a standard eight measures long, its two four-measure phrases are rhetorically subdivided into unequal segments by the rhythmic flow and phrasing of the tune.
  Next note The harmonic motion of the phrase moves from I to IV and back to I by way of the modally-flavored flat-VII chord; compare and contrast this with "Help!" The B-Major chord is not exactly sustained through the first four measures, but I think it would over-dignify what happens in there by designating a different roman numeral for each measure. In my humble opinion, the ear follows the large-scale motion from I to IV, and accepts the intervening measures as connective tissue that is harmonically "inconsequential."
      Chords: |B       |-       |-       |        |
        Bass: |B       |A#      |G#      |F#      |
           B:  I

      Chords: |E       |A       |B       |-       |
 Inner voice: |G#      |G-nat.  |F#      |        |
        Bass: |E       |A       |B       |        |
           B:  IV       flat-VII I

   [Figure 99.1]
  Next note The section nicely climaxes at the start of measure 5, with a D# in the tune creating a tangy Major seventh chord. The further move to flat-VII with the chromatic descent buried within the texture helps unwind the tension, and adds a slight nostalgic touch.
  Next note The Baroque syncopations and triadic outlines of the horn part nicely sympathize with the tune.


  Next note The bridge is ten measures long and is built out of an AA couplet of four-measure phrases plus a two-measure bridge which sets up the return of the next verse:
       |c#     |G#     |c#     |-      |
    B:  ii
    c#: i       V       i

       |-      |G#     |c#     |-      |
    c#:         V       i

       |c#     |F#     |
    B:  ii      V6 -»5
                 4 -»3
    c#: i

   [Figure 99.2]
  Next note Some folks will describe the harmony of measure10 as a I6/4 chord moving to V. I prefer analyzing it as entirely the V chord, with the first half of the measure being a double appoggiatura that resolves in the second half. If you're unaccustomed to think about music this way this all sounds, no doubt, like a matter of hair-splitting semantics. The difference though hinges on whether or not you hear root motion between the two chords, and believe it or not, you'll find various harmony textbooks rather split and vehement in the way they hold on this point.

Some Final Thoughts

  Next note Savor these lyrics, for in them we get an unaccustomedly undefended glimpse though the aperture of Paul's soulful heart, as though it had been dilated against his will by hypnosis or drug. Incidentally, these lyrics also sport clever uses of changing perspective (e.g. alternation of verses which speak of him, her, or both him and her) and varied reprise (e.g. the different reference to "need" in the last line of each verse except one, and the manner in which the final verse leads off with the same opening line as the first) — but this, alone, would not make them as special as they are.
  Next note And yet, if you think these final lyrics are intense, you've got to take a look at an earlier draft of them, as they are presented to us scrawled literally on the back of a metal clasped manila envelope (see "Things We Said Today" [**], which further credits the John Cage "Notations" collection.) While the final lyrics are to be preferred on poetic terms for their theme of bitter-sweet resignation, the earlier draft shows a person nowhere yet near on the mend from heartbreak.
  [** Campbell, Colin, and Allan Murphy (1980), Things We Said Today. The Complete Lyrics and a Concordance to the Beatles' Songs, 1962-1970. Ann Arbor: Pierian Press, 1980.]
  Next note Paul's original title for the song was "Why Did It Die?" The first two verses match the final song exactly but from that point on, you cannot miss the rather Woody Allen-esque manner in which the hero beats his head in denial against the brick wall of truth:
Why did it die? -----------------
You'd like to know.
Cry and blame her.

You wait
You're too late
As you're deciding why the wrong one wins, the end begins
And you will lose her.

Why did it die? -----------------
I'd like to know.
Try to save it.

You want her
You need (love) her
So make her see that you believe it may work and some day
You need each other.
  Next note Working out this kind of thing in public surely was never Macca's preference, no less strong suit. Yet, we see here how much the poor fellow must have hurt for Ms. Jane Asher. My own rhetorical final question is what, why, and wherefore, in the final lyrics, are these tears that she cries for 'no one'? Wishful thinking, or mature, ironic insight?
  Alan (020595#99)
Copyright © 1995 by Alan W. Pollack. All Rights Reserved. This article may be reproduced, retransmitted, redistributed and otherwise propagated at will, provided that this notice remains intact and in place.