No Reply (1964)

The Beatles

Written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney
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No Reply Beatles 65No one ever claimed John Lennon was an easy-going, mellow kind of fellow.

He was edgy, angry, snide, cynical and clearly one of the great songwriters of the 20th century. “No Reply,” while credited to both him and Paul McCartney, has Lennon’s signature all over it.

“No Reply” is an early example of paranoid lover songs (such as 1983’s “Every Breath You Take” by the Police).

It is also a re-engineering of a 1957 Doo-Wop song, “Silhouettes (On Your Shade),” a light-hearted jealousy song  – if such a thing can exist – that ends with the almost-jilted lover discovering he’s been stalking his girlfriend “on the wrong block.” Soon he’s running to the right house “with wings on [his] feet.”

Lennon’s work does not end as well. In fact, it starts out in a miserable place and stays there.

This happened once before
When I came to your door
No reply

Listen to “No Reply” from Beatles ’65 album


No Reply? No Choking!

No Reply? No Choking!

The narrator of the story – one of Lennon’s first fully developed narrations – has experienced the girl’s catting around on him before. Of course, once you’re hunting down your significant other’s late-night activities, you ought to know your deal is doomed. In the first verse, he cries out “I saw the light, I saw the light,” referring to the “silhouette” seen on the shade made by the unfaithful girlfriend peeping through her window. Yet it means something entirely different as well. It finally dawns on the persevering narrator/lover what the hell is going on.

The music under the regular verses is gentle and romantic, a Rumba that calls to mind soft, sexy moments that the singer and his girl might have once enjoyed. “No Reply” turns on a dime in the unexpected way that love affairs themselves do. The gentleness fades with “I saw the light.” In the next verse it detonates with the parallel “I nearly died.”

Lennon’s double-tracked, low, lead vocal is joined by McCartney’s higher register harmony that lends an air of outrage to the line:

I nearly died, I nearly died
‘Cause you walked hand in hand
With another man in my place

“No Reply” turns on a dime again courtesy of a short chorus that breaks into a marching rhythm, intensifying the desperation. The by-then-trademarked Beatle hand-clapping appears to fortify the rhythm. A kind of cavalier warning is given to the girl: listen up. I love you. Get your head screwed on straight. But the singer is not in a good place:

If I were you I’d realize that I
Love you more than any other guy
And I’ll forgive the lies that I
Heard before when you gave me no reply

The singing grows needier, louder, fretful and then suddenly returns to the Mamba styled verse.

No Reply record jacket

“No Reply” closes up as abruptly as it opens. As the last words, the phrase “no reply” is shouted. Ringo Starr’s subtle yet decisive drumming emphasizes all the right lyric phrases, little drum explosions appear on each emotive note, placed perfectly and mixed down with an exquisitely deft touch. Without the under-rated drummer’s orchestral style, the song would be much diminished.

Lennon’s and Harrison’s guitar strumming styles dovetail precisely, almost as harmonic as their voices when George chimes in on vocals. Harrison tweaked his electric Gretsch into acoustic mode but retained a drop of electric venom. Producer George Martin plays a piano piece that adds rhythm to the middle eight but is otherwise virtually undetectable.

Beatles ’65 contains a number of pensive “dark” songs. Among them are “I’m A Loser,” “Baby’s In Black,” and “I’ll Be Back (Again).” It also has the Beatles covering two Carl Perkins and one more Chuck Berry song. (A note: Beatles For Sale, the British-release album on which “No Reply” is found, is a significantly different album from Beatles ’65, although the songs mentioned above overlap both works.)

Tell 'em, John

Tell ’em, John

There is brilliance to be found in all those compositions, but “No Reply” stands out for a number of reasons. It is firmly rooted in Rock-N-Roll’s past yet tears away the unadulterated sentimentality that was the earmark of so many 1950s songs. It is firmly rooted in the Beatles’ own past – the hand-clapping and close harmonies that channel the Everly Brothers, for instance.

The blend of musical styles – three distinct “sounds” can be heard – was a foreshadowing of more complex Beatles songs and albums. It’s a long arc from “Love Me Do” to “A Day In The Life.” “No Reply” brought the latter-day masterworks into closer range for the group. These qualities place “No Reply” among the greatest of Beatles songs, and place it securely in the top classic Rock songs of all time.

  • The song on which “No Reply” riffs, “Silhouettes,” was written by Bob Crewe, who was responsible for writing 14 of the Four Seasons’ Top Ten hits in the 1960s.
  • Lennon claimed he never called a girl on the phone, an activity not acceptable in England during his teen years. Making dates was done in person. Much of what he wrote then in “No Reply” was straight from his imagination.

Also by The Beatles on

  • A Day In The LifeWhen the transition occurs between the two songs we are totally unprepared, the shift so unpredictable, abrupt yet so smooth.
  • I'm Only SleepingIt's not about drugs. It’s about the big snooza-palooza, one of Lennon's lifelong "passions." Hey, nap dog.
  • The Beatles She Loves YouShe Loves YouThe yeah-yeah-yeah’s are a foundational assertion that signaled the start of the 1960s. The '60s of lofty legend and conservative loathing.
  • While My Guitar Gently Weeps An odd mood, unyielding rhythm, Eric Clapton’s spot lead guitar, plus palpable group tension turn the work into a major masterpiece.