“She Loves You” is the Beatles song that everyone knows. At least that was the conclusion I came to as a young Beatles fan, decades after the group had disintegrated. Mention The Beatles to friends, and instantly “She loves you! yeah, yeah, yeah!” would be shot back in my direction, child singers’ faces scrunched up in goofiest rocker imitation. I’d cringe a little, partly at my fourth-grade classmates’ cultural illiteracy, partly because The Greatest Band That Ever Existed had been reduced to the most inane and simplistic song in its entire catalogue.
As it turns out, it wasn’t just nine-year-old me who questioned The Beatles’ craftsmanship on this particular song. In the August 1980 issue of Musician magazine, Paul McCartney recollects the record’s initial reception: “You’d think the response to something like ‘She Loves You’ with the Beatles would have been pretty positive. It wasn’t. The very first week that came out it was supposed to be the worst song the Beatles had ever thought of.” Capitol Records, the American pop music arm of The Beatles’ home label EMI, rejected the single, as it had with all of the band’s previous records. Instead, indie label Swan released it stateside in September 1963 to no response, despite support from Dick Clark on American Bandstand.
Nevertheless, it was “She Loves You” that became one of The Beatles’ signature songs (as if there could be such a thing) and which stills stands as the band’s best-selling single in the UK. The very features of the song that irritated the critics were the ones most attractive to a pop audience – in particular, the repetitive, minimalist chorus that had permanently embedded itself in the listener’s brain by start of the second verse. Yet, as with “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” there’s a level of sophistication beneath the pop sheen. Musically, the song is awash in surprising chord changes drawn from jazz rather than rock and roll, most notably the major sixth that ends the song. Even the title of the song, in the third person instead of the first, shows the band attempting to write something different from all the “I love you” songs that came before. In The Heart of Rock & Soul, critic Dave Marsh reads the lyrics darkly: “What Lennon sings boils down to a warning to his friend: You’d better appreciate this woman’s love, because if you don’t, I will.” George Harrison’s lead guitar, simultaneously melodic and edgy, lends credence to this interpretation. Even in their early days, the Fab Four were never just the chirpy Northern lads writing upbeat love songs. Of course there was more to “She Loves You” than just that chorus. What makes me cringe now is how long it took for me to realize it. 9
(Thanks to The Beatles as Musicians: The Quarry Men Through Rubber Soul by Walter Everett and Here, There and Everywhere: The 100 Best Beatles Songs by Stephen Spignesi and Michael Lewis.)
Hit #1 on March 21, 1964; total of 2 weeks at #1
105 of 982 #1’s reviewed; 10.69% through the Hot 100
- Dave Marsh also argues that “She Loves You” is “the first Beatles song that Bob Dylan could have sung: it’s tricky, bluesy, and well-written enough for Blonde on Blonde.” Hey, now that we’re on the subject, why don’t you check out my article on Dylan for PopMatters’s retrospective on Blood on the Tracks? (And yes, I had just as tenuous a Dylan connection prepared for “I Want to Hold Your Hand” yesterday – I just forgot to include it.)