When was it recorded? May 9-19, 1966
When was it first released, and on which album? Aug. 5, 1966 on “Revolver”
Who wrote it? McCartney
Have I heard this song before? Yes
What my research dug up:
Paul wrote “For No One” in Mar. 1966 “in the bathroom of a ski resort in the Swiss Alps while on holiday with his then girlfriend Jane Asher” (Wikipedia + Paul in Anthology). Originally titled “Why Did It Die?” it’s (obviously) about the end of a romantic relationship.
Of the original draft, Alan Pollack’s noted, “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.” Lo and behold some choice lines.
- 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.
“For No One” is another number that doesn’t feature the full band. Paul sings and plays piano, clavichord, and bass, while Ringo mans all the percussion instruments. British horn player Alan Civil is also featured on French horn.
“Occasionally we’d have an idea for some new kind of instrumentation, particularly for solos… On ‘For No One’ I was interested in the French horn, because it was an instrument I’d always loved from when I was a kid. It’s a beautiful sound, so I went to George Martin and said, ‘How can we go about this?’ And he said, ‘Well, let me get the very finest.’” — Paul McCartney (Anthology)
I was going to make a joke about Civil, but then I read he was appointed a Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, which is not something I can sneeze at. Civil played in the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the Philharmonia, and the BBC Symphony Orchestra (where he was “the principal horn player”). He retired in 1988 and died the following year.
Quoth the Beatles Bible, “Always pushing boundaries, [George] Martin and McCartney decided to insert a top note into the score outside the instrument’s normal range.” Sounds like kind of a nightmare, especially coupled with Civil’s comments of the song being “recorded in rather bad musical style, in that it was ‘in the cracks’ neither B-flat nor B-major [which] posed a certain difficulty in tuning my instrument.” This also happened:
“Paul didn’t realize how brilliantly Alan Civil was doing. We got the definitive performance, and Paul said, ‘Well, OK, I think you can do it better than that, can’t you, Alan?’ Alan nearly exploded. Of course, he didn’t do it better than that, and the way we’d already heard it was the way you hear it now.” — George Martin (Anthology)
Surprisingly Paul didn’t scare Civil off completely; the horn player later appeared as part of the orchestra on “A Day in the Life.”
Damn, I love that clavichord part (and the lyrics, and this song in general, but the clavichord deserves special mention).