No Reply - Reviews

Reviewed by Ian MacDonald, in Revolution in the Head:

Probably written on holiday in May 1964, Lennon's NO REPLY was recorded as a demo for Tommy Quickly on 3rd June [1]. Featuring the bossa nova beat introduced to the world beyond Brazil by Carlos Jobim, Stan Getz, and Charlie Byrd, the song was lyrically inspired by 'Silhouettes', a Top-5 American hit for New York R&B quartet The Rays in late 1957. In terms of Lennon's own music, it is a development of WHEN I GET HOME, with which it shares the same 'pushed' phrase ('woh-oh-woh I...'; 'I saw the light').

Recorded in an evening session, NO REPLY required eight takes. The final mix shows The Beatles starting to master the studio, using tracking and echo to create depth and space. As in I'LL BE BACK, a cushion of acoustic guitars provides the basic timbre, with George Martin's piano paradoxically producing a larger sound by being reduced to a darkly reverbed presence, rather than a voice in it's own right. Massively haloed in echo and set 'big' against the backing, the double-tracked vocals generate a stunning power in the climactic middle sixteen with its surprising feint to A major from the tonic C. So strong was this section that the group tried repeating it and its following verse, adding a full minute to the track. Wisely - and in the less-is-more spirit now governing their arrangement and production ideas - they decided against this, leaving the central bars of NO REPLY, with their steep dynamic and driving drums and claps, as among the most exciting thirty seconds in their output.

Chosen as an enticingly downbeat opener for the album, NO REPLY is one of Lennon's most affecting songs of this period, its lyric matching the sad succinctness of its melody. Almost nothing is said, but the story is complete, the sighing added ninth of the final C major accepting the bad news: there's no reply and never will be.

Notes:

  1. This demo - actually no more than Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison (and Jimmy Nicol?) fooling around in rock-and-roll rhythm - shows that Lennon hadn't finished the song. Instead of the poignant vi-iii-IV7-iii sequence in bars 9-12, he makes do with a perfunctory two bars of A minor.

Posted: 25 jul 2012

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