For No One

Revolver album artworkWritten by: Lennon-McCartney
Recorded: 9, 16, 19 May 1966
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Geoff Emerick

Released: 5 August 1966 (UK), 8 August 1966 (US)

Paul McCartney: vocals, bass, piano, clavichord
Ringo Starr: drums, tambourine, maracas
Alan Civil: horn

Available on:
Revolver

Paul McCartney’s meditation on the end of a love affair was one of the highlights on the Revolver album.

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For No One was written in March 1966 while Paul McCartney was on holiday with Jane Asher in Switzerland. It was originally called Why Did It Die?

I was in Switzerland on my first skiing holiday. I’d done a bit of skiing in Help! and quite liked it, so I went back and ended up in a little bathroom in a Swiss chalet writing For No One. I remember the descending bassline trick that it’s based on, and I remember the character in the song – the girl putting on her make-up.

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

George Martin wrote down the understated melody that Paul sang to him, and Alan Civil performed it. Always pushing boundaries, Martin and McCartney decided to insert a top note into the score outside the instrument’s normal range.

We came to the session and Alan looked up from his bit of paper: ‘Eh, George? I think there’s a mistake here – you’ve got a high F written down. Then George and I said, ‘Yeah,’ and smiled back at him, and he knew what we were up to and played it. These great players will do it. Even though it’s officially off the end of their instrument, they can do it, and they’re quite into it occasionally. It’s a nice little solo.
Paul McCartney
Anthology

The song was admired by John Lennon, who spoke positively about it in a 1980 interview for Playboy magazine.

One of my favourites of his. A nice piece of work.
John Lennon
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

The distinctive chords were played by McCartney on George Martin’s clavichord, brought in to Abbey Road from his house.

It was a very strange instrument to record, and Paul played it. But we wanted a very special sound, and French horn was what he chose.

Paul didn’t realise 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

Recording for the song began on 9 May 1966, with 10 takes of the rhythm track recorded: McCartney on piano and Starr on drums. To the last of these they added clavichord and percussion.

McCartney’s lead vocal was added on 16 May, and Alan Civil’s horn solos were recorded on 19 May.

I played it several times, each take wiping out the previous attempt… For me it was just another day’s work, the third session that day in fact, but it was very interesting.
Alan Civil
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn

20 responses on “For No One

  1. richard calvert

    What always fasinates me about the Beatles, even to this day, is their ‘play on words’ wolven into the titles, songs mentioned or suggested in other songs. They kept their consistent’ Sun King:(RA), theme all the way through their albums: The Beatles-Rolling Stones ‘Backwards’….(Eternal Themes) all!! I was very shocked when I 1st heard ‘I’m a loser’ + even ‘She’s leaving home’, but when I heard ‘For no one’, I actually cried! The song almost foreshadowed the bands break-up if only lyrically/symbolically! Richard 2009′

  2. Andrew

    In Geoff Emrick’s book, he recounts a similar story of Paul being unsatisfied with a stellar horn performance, except that is involved David Mason and the piccolo trumpet solo in Penny Lane. I wonder if either George or Geoff is confused, I’d imagine they’re referring to the same event.

  3. Jean Erica Moniker

    Based upon Ken Scott and others’ reaction to Emerick’s book, I’m betting it was Geoff that got confused. Before he began the book he stated he could hardly remember anything specific about sessions. So it’s not surprising there are so many misquotes and errors in the book itself.

  4. mjb

    Everett’s take:

    The basic take has Paul on Steinway and Ringo on drums, each on separate tracks but with some acoustic leakage. The piano is given some added reverb from the control room.

    Track three adds Paul’s clavichord, Ringo’s hi-hat, maracas and a tambourine that doubles the maracas in the second bridge.

    Paul’s compressed and sped-up vocal was recorded to track four, when the tape was then transferred, reducing all to one vocal and instrumental track.

    The new third track was filled with bass and second tambourine.

    Alan Civil’s horn solo was put onto track four.

  5. Tobias Talock

    One of my favourite Beatles songs showcasing Paul McCartney’s brilliance. The lyrics are amazingly understated. She doesn’t need him yet still she cries. So, she cries for no one.

  6. robert

    Before I’d even heard this song, I’d looked at the album cover – seen the background photo – seen the song titles – I knew we were in for something different.

    In particular this song title “For No One” made think – what the heck is this song going to be about?

  7. Schminking of gin

    Maybe the most underrated song the Beatles ever recorded. Not underrated by Beatles buffs like us here, but by casual fans of the band. Such beauty

  8. Happiness is a warm gun

    I think this is a well-written song, but…that french horn solo. Ugh. With all due respect to Mr. Civil, it was a bad call. It just doesn’t mesh with the arrangement, IMO, with the stripped down instrumentation centered around the piano/clavichord part. It just sounds stuffy and incongruous. But then again, as a classically trained musician, my loathing for the french horn is highly refined and extensive. I confess a bias.

  9. David Lee Fairey

    I think the horn solo works perfectly as it feels cold and lonely – like Paul in the song.

    Probably the finest song Macca wrote with the Beatles, it’s stunning and George Martin captured the raw feel of emotion in the recording.

    Love the question mark ending; the story is not complete yet!

    1. robert

      I was 9 when this song came out and remember thinking, “What a completely different type of song”

      It’s not a ballad, it’s a dirge – yet a beautiful dirge at that (I didn’t think that last part at 9!)

  10. Simon Freeman

    Good evening all I am trying to track down the horn used in for no one. Alan civil was my cousin and it was not in his personal possessions when he passed. His brother Dave Civil would love to know what happened to it. Get in touch: ss.freeman [at] hotmail.co.uk

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