No Reply

Beatles For Sale album artworkWritten by: Lennon-McCartney
Recorded: 30 September 1964
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Norman Smith

Released: 4 December 1964 (UK), 15 December 1964 (US)

John Lennon: vocals, acoustic rhythm guitar, handclaps
Paul McCartney: harmony vocals, bass, handclaps
George Harrison: rhythm guitar, handclaps
Ringo Starr: drums, handclaps
George Martin: piano

Available on:
Beatles For Sale
Anthology 1

The song which opened the Beatles For Sale album, No Reply was written by John Lennon for Tommy Quickly, another of Brian Epstein's recording artists.

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That's my song. Dick James, the publisher, said, 'That's the first complete song you've written where it resolves itself'. You know, with a complete story. It was my version of Silhouettes: I had that image of walking down the street and seeing her silhouetted in the window and not answering the phone, although I never called a girl on the phone in my life. Because phones weren't part of the English child's life.
John Lennon, 1980
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

Silhouettes was a 1957 hit for The Rays, an R&B quartet from New York. The opening lines of the song bear a certain resemblance to No Reply:

Took a walk and passed your house late last night
All the shades were pulled and drawn way down tight
From within the dim light cast
Two silhouettes on the shade
Oh what a lovely couple they made
Silhouettes
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
I saw the light
I saw the light
I know that you saw me
'Cause I looked up to see your face
No Reply

Paul McCartney later claimed to have assisted Lennon in writing the song:

We wrote No Reply together but from a strong original idea of his. I think he pretty much had that one, but as usual, if he didn't have the third verse and the middle eight, then he'd play it to me pretty much formed, then we would shove a bit in the middle or I'd throw in an idea.
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

In the studio

The Beatles taped their demo of No Reply for Tommy Quickly on 3 June 1964, although he never released a version of the song. This demo was misfiled and became lost in the 1960s, only resurfacing in 1993; it was released on Anthology 1.

This sprightly first version was treated casually by the group, who played around with they lyrics - at one point singing "I saw you walk in your face". It also had a shorter "I saw the light" section.

The demo featured a drummer, although Ringo Starr had been taken ill earlier in the day with tonsillitis. Jimmie Nicol may have played instead; he was certainly at Abbey Road that morning for a tour rehearsal with Lennon, McCartney and Harrison.

The Beatles - with Starr - recorded No Reply properly on 30 September 1964, with piano played by George Martin. They perfected it in eight takes, the last of which was used on Beatles For Sale.

For take five, the group tried repeating the middle section, extending the song from 2'14" to 3'17". However, they dropped this idea in the final version.

Take two of No Reply was also released on Anthology 1. As in the demo version, The Beatles had trouble recording the song without deliberately messing up the lyrics ("You walked hand in hand with another plank in my place"). It also repeated the first verse towards the end of the song, in place of the one beginning "I tried to telephone".

31 responses on “No Reply

  1. James

    I always loved that John tried to modify his voice either by singing it differently or by effects. This is one of my favorites where he certainly is trying to sing it differently. Lennon was one of the most expressive singers ever

  2. Matt

    I’m not sure where I read this, but Tommy Quickly has stated that the version on Anthology was not actually the demo that was sent to him, which lacked the bridge section.

  3. JOHNNY

    Surprised that no-one has commented on the amazing ‘darkness’ of this song, surely one of the best album opening tracks of all time (certainly compared with some of the stale r’n’r fare on ‘Beatles For Sale’, e.g. ‘Rock n Roll Music’)…. McCartney’s backing vocals are chilling, almost possessed….

    1. JP

      Agreed. In fact it is that “darkness” you mentioned that is, for me, the most compelling aspect of the song. That the Beatles had recorded such a moody, dark track in 1964 made me appreciate them all the more. One of my favorite of their pre-Rubber Soul work.

  4. Jeff

    This is perhaps my favorite Fab song from their early period, say 1963-64. I love John’s voice, and this song was superb. No Reply was dark, yet still shined with its catchy middle section of handclaps and backing vocals. A real original in 1964. Still a tremendous song 46 years on!

  5. dcshark

    On the demo from 3 June 1964, is possible that the drums were played by Paul McCartney. Ringo had tonsillitis, and Jimmy Nicol had left after his rehearsal. Any ideas on who plays drums on this track?

  6. 2much4mymirror

    Elsewhere in his biography McCartney cited “No Reply” (along with “Yes It Is” and “I’m A Loser”) as “very much John Lennon songs.” Now he says – appearing to speak hypothetically – “IF he didn’t have the middle eight” we would “shove a bit” in the middle. That “middle bit” is possibly one of the finest of any Beatle song. I wish Paul would state clearly how much of that crucial middle John had when he brought it to him. The melody, chord changes and only lacking, say, the latter half of the bridge lyrically? Or did he and Paul write it together in the studio? On something like “Norwegian Wood” one gets the sense that Paul pretty much wrote the whole middle melody. Here he leaves it vague.

    1. Tweeze

      It’s vague because he really hasn’t got a clue. Paul cannot say he wrote something outright and then be proven incorrect later. That would cause all other claims to be doubted. Meanhwile, by the benefit of surviving Paul can bend history a bit. I do notice that his shadow of contribution in the Beatles gets a bit bigger with his later explanations. He sees himself being overshadowed by the legend of the deceased John. He is used to having people in awe of his prowess. The only problem is that he failed to meet expectations after the breakup. None of them ultimately mustered, but Paul was the one who advised the world that he would write music that would put the world on its ear. And, really, he didn’t. Despite all of the great McCartney-only Beatle songs, Paul couldn’t seem to so it after the breakup – although he did have some solid tunes, there was always something lacking. It all fits his character though. He even had to own more shares in the Beatles at the end and behind the backs of the others. He is trying to chart his own legend without being too arrogant.

      1. metzgermeister77

        I really love this whole McCartney-as-sinister-mastermind-out-to-retroactively-own-the-Beatles bug that people seem to have caught somewhere. What’s more likely: Paul deliberately exaggerates his own contributions despite the ability to factcheck him with a little digging, of that he misremembers exactly who wrote what over thirty to forty years on, when they often wrote in a fashion that would lend itself to muddying the recollection?

  7. Brian

    Here we go again about Ringo’s drumming capabilities. I always thought the drumming on this song was ace musicianship, almost orchestrial. The last huge cymbal was so tasty and expressive. The rather offbeat tempo drumming throughout. The high hat during the middle 8 and it’s transition to the remainder of the song. Was Ringo capable of all that? I have my doubts.

    1. Don Cavaliere

      I’m not sure if you are commenting on my statement from way back on 24 Nov 2010, but I was not refering to the studio version released by the Beatles but the DEMO that was recorded when Ringo was sick. Mark Lewisohn notes that Jimmy Nichol had left after his rehearsal, when the demo was recorded. Listen to Anthology. There are drums on that track. Who played them?

      I have nothing but respect for Ringo and his drumming.

      1. mr. Sun king coming together

        Not at all. They were referring to the comment below yours about doubt Ringo played the final version. Which, for the record, is idiotic. He played the studio version. My guess is Norman Smith played on the DEMO.

        1. Sergey

          “No Reply,” Take 1, has McCartney playing bass and singing descant
          over Lennon’s vocal and Capri, and perhaps Harrison
          playing drums in the ill Ringo’s absence. (Walter Everett)

  8. Bruce Scottow

    As a teen growing up with the Beatles, for me and most of my friends, it was all about the “beat”. Yeah, the lyrics mattered, but not really that much. The rhyme scheme mattered, I suppose, but few of us paid much attention. We blasted their records (45s and LPs), we danced to them, played them over and over, and then dismissed them as their next single or album came out.

    Today, on returning to their body of work and listening with far better sound reproduction and with far more discernment, the genius of this group really shines. No Reply has an amazing simplicity, a mature and honest story line, a satisfying rhyme scheme (“Face” rhyming with “Place” two stanzas later!), a lilting Bossa Nova beat….it’s now one of my top 5 faves from the group.

  9. metzgermeister77

    One of my absolute favorites, and, in my mind, the point where the Beatles enter what I think of their “middle period” pre-Revolver (even though the Revolver-Sgt. Pepper-Magical Mystery Tour era straddles the middle of their career, I feel this stretch of albums is kind of a musical adolescence). Love the change of rhythm between the verse and chorus.

    I especially like the contrast between the darkness of the lyrics and the inoffensiveness of the melody. It puts you in mind of a man barely keeping his emotions in check until he bursts out with the “I NEARLY DIED” or “I SAW THE LIGHT” lines, then clamping down on them in an attempt to keep things civil. The bridge lifts things up again for the delivery of his ultimatum before bringing things back down again in an attempt to end the conversation on a calm note, but he can’t resist getting in one more loud jab.

  10. Jennifer

    Hi all – this is my first post here. I’ve only been peeking in and out for a few days and have by no means exhaustively scoured the site, so I feel like a bit of an interloper. That being said, here goes anyway. This isn’t necessarily one of my favorite Beatles songs, and yet it’s one I never want to skip when it pops up while I’m in shuffle mode. Like many of you, I think the darkness of the lyrics juxtaposed against the rhythm and melody is compelling. The verses are fairly light, little tripping affairs and then they get to the chorus and the raw emotion just pours out. You can feel the anger tempered with hurt. Also, the bridge/middle eight is fantastic – I especially like the way it climbs and climaxes and then rounds back on itself into the title of the song in such an offhand way (“when you gave me no reply”). The other thing I like about the bridge that I’m not sure has been mentioned yet is the way the pronouns play out in the lyrics – you know, where he says, “If I were you, I’d realize that I.” Outside of the context, this role-switching could be confusing, but because it’s so much like the way people really talk, it works.

    I sometimes don’t give John enough credit, because (I may as well say it) Paul has always been my favorite Beatle, but this is a fine piece of work.

  11. Wayne

    Why does Paul always go around these days trying to claim that he played a significant role in the writing of John’s songs? I don’t believe him on most of these claims, although there are a few cases where he might have suggested a tidbit now and then. Paul was undoubtedly the most musically talented member of The Beatles, but that does not detract one bit from from the fact that John and George were very gifted in their own right. Let it go Macca…we all know you wrote Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da and Maxwells’s Silver Hammer. You even wrote Yellow Submarine for Ringo to sing. You’ve built up quite a legacy yourself Paul, be decent enough to give John Lennon credit for his own masterpieces.

    1. MIMS

      Paul has every right to say who wrote what, he was there wasn’t he? John’s story changed about three times after the breakup and he didn’t always have the best memory, did he?

      Interesting choice of Paul’s songs to point out there, can I add some? For No One, Yesterday, Penny Lane, Here There & Everywhere, Hey Jude.

      Or if you want to go the other way, we all know John wrote It’s Only Love and Bungalow Bill. He even wrote What Goes On for Ringo to sing.

    2. Albert Cunning

      The quote is from Sir Paul’s book, where he goes through the entire Lennon/McCartney catalog, and makes *his* assessment of how these songs came about. Isn’t he entitled to do that?

      Anyway, “…from a strong original idea of his…” and “…he pretty much had that one…” don’t really suggest that McCartney is taking a significant — to use your word — amount of credit on this one.

      Perhaps one could argue that this site doesn’t *need* to quote Sir Paul’s book at every possible junction, but that isn’t going to make it go away.

  12. 28 if

    John was a Teddy Boy – Tough Guy, Jealous Guy, Run for your life if you can little girl, I won’t know where I am ….kind a guy ….Well sometimes…

    On this demo he tosses insults at the guy she is with in the song.
    These guys, our boys, were tough with women… John would hit.

  13. Kevin Hogan

    Two things, one specific and one general. Regarding No Reply, the middle eight is somewhere outside the key of C major which gives it the oddly compelling melody – it starts on C but then E to an A, both of which should be minor. I think these were originally strung together without regard for the key, resulting in a mid-phrase key change that makes the lyrics even more compelling. Weird but lovely.

    The general comment is reserved for the POV of J, G and P in their songwriting “voice.” John is usually “I”, George is usually “you” and Paul is, more frequently than either, “they.” Not always, of course, but usually enough to recognize this as a possibility. That idiosyncrasy in their songwriting increased their “universality”, as it were. I’m pretty sure they will be remembered very much like Shakespeare.

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