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

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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

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

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

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

37 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.

    1. SirHuddlestonFuddleston

      Yes. It makes you wonder why McCartney couldn’t have done more of it. Had all his lyrics been on this level, there would be just no discussion as to who of Lennon or McCartney was more talented.

  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.

    1. Troy Shaw

      Just to clarify. That solo was not written or improvised by Mr. Civil. That was Paul’s choice all the way and Paul and George Martin put the arrangement together. I think it’s a great addition and not meant to stay within traditional boundaries. The Beatles were all about expanding.

  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]

  11. OldFartBassPlayer Walt

    Emmy Lou Harris did a GREAT rendition of this on her 2nd (?) album in the 70’s.
    It substitutes a weeping, wailing harmonica solo for the French Horn’s, and it
    works just as well…

  12. David (from Peru)

    I’m no music expert but as I play some guitar, I’ve noticed that the top note in the horn solo is actually G# and not F. Maybe someone with more expertise could clarify the quote for everybody?

  13. Michael

    Has anyone noticed the ending notes if this song? One of the most fascinating things to me is the fact the song ends on the F sharp sus and Paul intentionally seems to have not returned to the B which would have been a logical and traditional ending to place it in the proper ending since it is in the key of B major. Instead the song ends, lingering just as the theme of the lyrics describe- an unfinished, unrequited love song, almost yearning for a proper resolution that is never delivered. I always wonder if that was intentional?

  14. Sam P.

    Anyone else here the similarities between the the bridge here and in Wings’ “With a Little Luck”? Dminor to A7. “And in her eyes…” versus “There is no end…”

  15. Erly Pete

    I like to read the responses here.. the folks discussing the Beatles canon at the molecular level…the sus” notes and the F to G progressions… did I get that right? . These are the architects of the experience, the ones who know how to build the bridge… myself, and I suspect many others, are not, and only able to be the ones who walk upon and cross the bridge… I learned here tonight why I always was haunted by the horn in this song….the high F note – so carry on, there is a time and a place for the molecules of a song…

  16. tstout

    There is a rare video of “For No One” on YouTube where Paul is in the studio, playing the song on his acoustic guitar for the first time for George Martin (who was in the sound booth), to see if he liked it. It gives you chills to see the birth of a Beatle song in this manner.

  17. pammief

    Easily one of their finest songs. The original and one and only JPM was a poet and great musician. The replacement isn’t capable of such beauty that’s why we haven’t more songs like this. Sadly, this was months before we lost him.

  18. Graham Paterson

    Brilliant Paul McCartney composition. The lyrics and delivery by McCartney are full of an aching pathos. One of many gems off the “Revolver” album, one of the greatest albums ever.First heard it when I got “Love Songs” compilation in 1977 and in 1980 when I obtained ” Revolver”, could see it’s place as part one of the great albums.

  19. J Benson

    Listening to this in the car tonight, for the first time I heard a guitar chord strummed at the very end. I replayed the whole song on the right channel and believe there is also an acoustic guitar doubling the descending bass line on the piano.

    Anyone else catch this?

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