Revolver Deep Dive Part 10: For No One


Side Two, Track Three

“For No One” Is For Everyone

by Jude Southerland Kessler


This month, the Fest for Beatles Fans Blog enjoys a closer look at Paul McCartney’s exquisite ballad, “For No One.”  Jude Southerland Kessler, our Fest Blogger and author of The John Lennon Series is “going solo” on this deep dive, but calling upon the wisdom of many respected Beatles music experts as she explores this outstanding and touching work. Insights into this song have been enhanced by:


Lewisohn, The Beatles Recording Sessions, 78-79, Lewisohn, The Complete Beatles Chronicle, 220-221, The Beatles, The Beatles Anthology, 207, Womack, Sound Pictures, The Life of Beatles Producer George Martin, 82-84, Harry, The Ultimate Beatles Encyclopedia, 248, Emerick, Here, There and Everywhere, 128-129, Winn, That Magic Feeling, 18, Rodriguez, Revolver: How The Beatles Reimagined Rock’n’Roll, 136-138, Gould, Can’t Buy Me Love, 360-361, Spizer, The Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records, 215, Turner, Beatles ’66, 107-108, Turner, A Hard Day’s Write, 113,  Margotin and Guesdon, All the Songs, 342-343, Davies, The Beatles Lyrics, 169-171, Spignesi and Lewis, 100 Best Beatles Songs, 168-170, Riley, Tell Me Why, 193-194, MacDonald, Revolution in the Head, 164, Womack, The Beatles Encyclopedia, 281, Hammack, The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Vol. 2, 138-140, Spizer, The Beatles From Rubber Soul to Revolver, 220, and Miles, The Beatles Diary, Vol. 1, 239. Also here.


What’s Standard:


Date Recorded: 9 May 1966

Place Recorded: Studio Two

Time Recorded: 7.00 – 11.00 p.m.


Technical Team:

Producer: George Martin

Sound Engineer: Geoff Emerick

Second Engineer: Phil McDonald


On this day: A backing track was created in ten takes with Ringo on his 1964 Ludwig Oyster Black Pearl “Super Classic” drum set and Paul on EMI’s Steinway “Music Room”  Model “B” Grand Piano. (Hammack, 139) The tenth was designated as “best” and to this, Paul added work on a clavichord (which had been hired from Martin’s AIR company at the cost, Lewisohn tells us, of five guineas). Ringo added cymbals and maraca to Take 10 as well. Note: John and George did not take part in creating this backing track. (Lewisohn, The Beatles Recording Sessions, 78 and Lewisohn, The Complete Beatles Chronicle, 220-221)


Second Date Recorded: 16 May 1966

Place Recorded: Studio Two

Time Recorded: 2.30 p.m. – 1.30 a.m.


Technical Team:

Producer: George Martin

Sound Engineer: Geoff Emerick

Second Engineer: Phil McDonald


On this day: Obviously, on this long day, the entire time in studio wasn’t spent on “For No One.” Most of the afternoon and evening was given to overdubs and mixing in order to create a master reel. But a portion of the day was set aside for Paul to overdub his poignant lead vocal onto Take 10 of “For No One.” It was recorded, Lewisohn reminds us, at 47 ½ cycles and then sped up on replay. (Lewisohn, The Beatles Recording Sessions, 78 and The Complete Beatles Chronicle, 220-221) Rodriguez comments that this “gave [McCartney’s] voice a slightly elevated pitch upon playback.” (p. 137)


Third Date Recorded: 19 May 1966

Time recorded: 7.00 – 11.00 p.m.


Technical Team:

Producer: George Martin

Sound Engineer: Geoff Emerick

Second Engineer: Phil McDonald (Lewisohn, The Beatles Recording Sessions, 79)


On this day: Alan Civil, principal French horn player from the Royal (some sources say “London”) Philharmonic Orchestra was invited to EMI Studios to play the haunting French horn obbligato in this song. There are two completely different versions of what happened that day. Let’s look at both:


Many sources, including Civil himself, tell the story that Hunter Davies repeats in The Beatles Lyrics, p 171. He writes: “Civil came in [to EMI Studios], was told roughly what was wanted by George Martin and Paul, composed his own bit, played and went home, earning only his session fee.” This version of historical events can be found in great detail  in Womack’s Sound Pictures, The Life of Beatles Producer George Martin, pp. 82-83. Womack summarizes: “In Civil’s memory, it was McCartney who asked him to improvise a solo – ‘to make something up,’ as it were, in a baroque style.”


However, there is another completely different version of the day’s events, and Womack, using direct quotes from The Beatles Anthology, unveils this second account as well. He writes, “McCartney’s memories of the session vary dramatically from Civil’s. The Beatle later recalled humming the melody to Martin, who dutifully adapted McCartney’s vision into musical notation.” Womack quotes McCartney as saying, “George asked me, ‘Now what do you want him to play?’ I said, ‘Something like this,’ and sang the solo to him, and he wrote it down.” (Womack, p. 83 and The Beatles Anthology, 207)


So, which version of the story actually occurred? Womack points out that the “high F” note in the obligato just might hold the answers we seek. Womack quotes Paul as saying, “At the end of the session…George explained to me the range of the [French horn]…” and showed Paul that what they had composed “goes from here to this top E.” Mischievously, Paul responded, “What if we asked him to play an F?” And Womack goes on to say, “In Paul’s recollection, George saw the joke and joined in the conspiracy. We came to the session and Alan looked up from his bit of paper: ‘Eh, George? I think there’s a mistake here – you’ve got a high F note written down.’ Then, George and I said, ‘Yeah,’ and smiled back at him, and he knew what we were up to and played it.” (Womack, p. 84 and The Beatles Anthology, 207) It seems unlikely that Civil would have written what was considered an “unreachable note” for himself. It is more likely that this impossible task was proposed by McCartney and Martin, and Civil rose to meet the challenge.



What’s Changed:


  1. Keyed in B…This song was composed in a key used quite rarely by The Beatles. In fact, only these of The Beatles’ songs were composed in B: “For No One,” “Penny Lane” (whose chorus changes to A major), and “Revolution.” The official sheet music for “For No One” has the key raised to C, but that is not the key in which the song was written or recorded. It’s felt that C was chosen for the sheet music to make the song easier to play. Spignesi and Lewis, 169 and here



  1. Museum Piece Rescue – Paul wrote and recorded “For No One” but never had occasion to perform it live. He regretted this inability to share his ballad with an audience, making the song what Paul dubbed “a museum piece.” Therefore, “For No One” was included in Give My Regards to Broad Street.


  1. Reverb Reserve – Geoff Emerick famously employed very little reverb in the songs he engineered, and “For No One” really benefits from this economy of treatment. It produced a simple, pure sound.


  1. Destiny’s Role – The French horn obbligato was originally slated to be performed by maestro Dennis Brian. (Rodriguez, 137) However, Brian died in an automobile accident before he could record the solo, and Alan Civil, described by Rodriguez as “an equal caliber musician,” was selected to replace him. Civil turned in an exceptional performance and is one of the first “outside” musicians (along with Anil Bhagwat) to be mentioned on a Beatles record.


  1. Continued Experimentation with a Classical Theme – “For No One” has been categorized as “chamber music” or “baroque music.” In a vein similar to “Eleanor Rigby,” this song’s lovely melody has classical roots, but it flourishes when the French horn obbligato is added to the score. In the Autumn of 1965, The Beatles were elbow-deep in musical exploration, and we’re all the better for it.



A Fresh, New Look:


The Reviews are In!


“One of my favourites of [Paul’s]! A nice piece of work.”
John Lennon


“Another remarkable McCartney ballad, melodically sophisticated and lyrically mature.”

Barry Miles, The Beatles Diary, Vol. 1, 239


“A great ballad with a beautiful melody and striking production.”

Spignesi and Lewis, 100 Best Beatles Songs, 168


“…a sad, regretful, wistful, heartbreaking song…impeccably put together with a wonderful French horn solo by Alan Civil, perhaps the best-known hornist of his day…”

Hunter Davies, The Beatles Lyrics, 171


“…conveys the solitude and regret of Yesterday, with more disbelief, more longing…”

Tim Riley, Tell Me Why, 193


“…remains one of Paul’s greatest accomplishments, with…a simple but effective melody.”

John C. Winn, That Magic Feeling, 18


“For No One” is universally respected. Calling it “a dark sister to ‘Here, There and Everywhere,” and “the true heir of ‘Yesterday,” Jonathan Gould (among so many others) extols this unusual song’s unvarnished honesty, and its “stark, sinking feeling” that something beautiful is dying and cannot be revived. (p. 360)  This is not a ballad of love; it’s a requiem of loss.


When first approached about the song in the 1960s, Paul denied that it was written for a particular person, but later, he confessed, “I wrote that on a skiing holiday in Switzerland. In a hired chalet amongst the snow.” (Womack, The Beatles Encyclopedia, 281) And with him on that holiday (in the Swiss resort of Klosters) was, of course, his long-time love, Jane Asher. (Spizer, 215 and Winn, 18) Paul states, “I suspect it was about another argument. I don’t have easy relationships with women, I never have. I talk too much truth.” (Womack, 281). The lovers’ quarrel in that snow-banked chalet must have been calamitous, because the first title of this Revolver track was “Why Did it Have to Die?” And in The Beatles Lyrics, 172, Davies shares the hand-written draft of Paul’s original lyrics. They read:


“Why did it have to 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 have to 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 out

And one day you may need each other.”


Unlike some of Paul’s songs for Jane which threaten (“Why, tell me why, did you not treat me right?/ Love has a nasty habit of disappearing overnight”) or chide (“Now today I find/ You have changed your mind/ Treat me like you did the night before”) or point out unfair treatment (“When I call you up/ Your line’s engaged/ I have had enough/ So act your age!”), “For No One” is neither angry nor frustrated. Instead, it is a tender song of love lost.


Paul, who in the latter part of 1965 had been extensively reading plays, wrote the lyrics almost as if they were stage directions:


Your day breaks, your mind aches,
You find that all her words of kindness linger on
When she no longer needs you.

She wakes up, she makes up,
She takes her time and doesn’t feel she has to hurry,
She no longer needs you.


We watch the characters moving through the miasma of a sorrowful morning, a day in which two lovers have both physically and metaphorically awakened to the realization that their “love is dead.” And suddenly, McCartney’s message is inclusive. Using simple, direct language and brief sentences, he pulls us into his lyrics. He speaks a language that everyone understands and draws each listener into these familiar scenes of heartbreak. His lyrics are, as John Winn commented, “evocative.” (That Magic Feeling, 18)


For me, that word “familiar” was the very lynchpin of my love of this song. I was 12 years old…sitting on the side of my bed and playing Revolver for the first time…carefully placing the 33 1/3 on the turntable of my lift-top record player and lowering the needle. For the next hour, I sat cross-legged and listened…and listened and listened and blinked back tears.


“A song about taxes?! John Lennon knowns what it’s like to be dead?!!!! And what in the world has happened to George Harrison? ‘Love You To?’ Love you to what????” The studious me was completely bewildered by Revolver’s suggestions to “lay down your thoughts” and “turn off your mind.”


The only track to which I could relate was “For No One.” It recalled “Yes It Is” and “This Boy.” It hearkened back to “I’ll Follow the Sun” and even to John’s “If I Fell.” In myriad ways, it tethered me to “Yesterday.”


Years later, I read Robert Rodriguez’s brilliant work Revolver: How The Beatles Reimagined Rock and Roll, and the LP unfolded for me like a brightly colored pop-up book! (Thank you, Robert!) But at age 12, “For No One” provided a tidbit of the wonderfully familiar. On this strange LP of eccentric songs, “For No One” supplied music I understood. Like Paul’s universal lyrics, his melody offered a sound to which fans of the Cavern Beatles or The BBC Beatles could cling. In the turbulent, kaleidoscopic Summer of 1966, this song alone whispered, “Safe and sound.”


Each month, in our “Fresh, New Look” segment of the Fest Blog, I ask our guest commentator, “What do you like about this song? What appeals to you?” So…this month, I’d love to hear from you!


Please comment below and tell us what you felt when you first heard “For No One.” How did you react and why? And almost sixty years later, how do you feel about the song today?


I’d love to hear from you. And more importantly, I can’t wait to see you all in just a few months at the Chicago Fest for Beatles Fans, August 9-11 at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare!



For more information on Jude Southerland Kessler or  The John Lennon Series, HEAD HERE