display | more...

No Reply
The Beatles

Written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney
Produced by George Martin
Recorded at Abbey Road Studios in London on September, 30, 1964.
Appeared on Beatles For Sale (#1 for 9 weeks in the United Kingdom)
Duration: 2' 21"
Authorship: John Lennon (100%)
That's my song...It was sort of my version of (The Rays 1958 single) 'Silhouettes'... I had that image of walking down the street and seeing her silhouetted in the window and not answering the phone. - Lennon in The Playboy Interviews (1980)

Personnel
Paul McCartney - bass, harmony vocal
John Lennon - acoustic guitar, vocal (double tracked)
George Harrison - lead guitar, harmony vocal
Ringo Starr - drums
George Martin - piano

While so many of the early Beatles recordings are remembered as joyful and exuberant, in Beatles For Sale (1964), we have a trio -- "No Reply", "I'm a Loser", and "Baby's In Black" -- of the most bleak, introspective moments north of The White Album. "No Reply" contains a spirited mixture of confrontation, trauma, and voyeurism. Its power as a song arises from Lennon's restrained ferocity; a spare, focused arrangement consisting of acoustic guitar and driven percussion; and the lyrical and instrumental sense of duality.

"No Reply" finds its narrator outside the doorstep of his girlfriend, attempting to enter but being denied at the door by someone who is covering for her. To satiate his desire to watch her, he observes her movements, realizing that she is cheating on him. He is once again denied when he tries to reach her by phone though he can see her -- possibly from the window of one of those red English phonebooths across the street.

Much of the poetic interest of "No Reply" comes not so much from the narrative, but from the ominous atmosphere in the lyric. Lennon creates oppositions between images of deceit ("I saw you peek through") and aspects of his emotional state ("I nearly died"). Section A follows the visual trauma of witnessing a lover "with another man" while Section B is the realization of that trauma, an explosion of anger and instability.

Much like Smokey Robinson (Motown singer-songwriter who Bob Dylan once called "the greatest living poet"), one aspect of John Lennon's fluency as a songwriter is his ability to create interesting dualities. Instrumentally, "No Reply" begins (section A) with a gently lilting rhythm drawn from bossa nova via the Brazilian collaborations of Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto. Lennon then elevates his delivery (section B) to an intensity ("I saw the light") and cold fury, emphasized by Starr's use of drum crashes on the word 'light' and 'died'.

The rhythmic complexity and duality of "No Reply" can be traced to their absorption of two major influences in Britain: Stan Getz, as mentioned above, and Burt Bacharach. The Stan Getz album Getz/Gilberto (1963) had become number 1 in the UK and the United States at the time Beatles For Sale was being written; it was simply a part of their eclectic musical culture. Lennon and McCartney's tasteful use of unusual rhythmic backdrops derives, too, from their close attention to Brill Building songwriter Burt Bacharach; they has covered his "Baby It's You" (from Please Please Me) the previous year. Dionne Warwick songs written by Bacharach like "Walk On By" (1963, #6) and "Anyone Who Had A Heart" (#8) became particularly influential to Lennon and McCartney in creating this quasi-Latin aesthetic which can also be heard notably in their evocative "And I Love Her" (#12).

A final aspect of "No Reply" that warrants a second look is the poetic resonance within Section-B. I saw the light Lennon repeats as he catches her watching him. 'Light' here refers to the vision of the girl behind the window curtain at the moment that she is revealed. When he returns to Section-B ("I nearly died"), he is reacting to the moment when he actually has seen her holding another man. Between the phrases "I saw the light" and "I nearly died", there is a remarkable electricity. I saw the light, often used to refer to images of divinity seen after the moment of death, interacts with 'nearly' in a beautiful way. Could it be argued that Lennon experienced the trauma of separation in a way that mirrored a near-death experience?

Lyrics:

(Section A)
This happened once before
When I came to your door:
No reply
They said it wasn't you
But I saw you peep through
Your window

(Section B)
I saw the light
I saw the light
I know that you saw me
Cause I looked up to see
Your face

(Section A)
I tried to telephone
They said you were not home
That's a lie
Cause I know where you've been
And I saw you walk in
Your door

(Section B)
I nearly died
I nearly died
Cause you walked hand in hand
With another man
In my place

(Bridge)
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

(Section A)
I tried to telephone
They said you were not home
That's a lie
'Cause I know where you've been
And I saw you walk in
Your door

(Section B)
I nearly died
I nearly died
'Cause you walked hand in hand
With another man
In my place
No reply
No reply

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.