The song drew notable attention from The Times’ music critic William Mann, who famously wrote a musicological treatise on Lennon and McCartney’s songwriting, published on 27 December 1963.
Harmonic interest is typical of their quicker songs, too, and one gets the impression that they think simultaneously of harmony and melody, so firmly are the major tonic sevenths and ninths built into their tunes, and the flat submediant key switches, so natural is the Aeolian cadence at the end of ‘Not A Second Time’ (the chord progression which ends Mahler’s Song of the Earth).
The Beatles were dismissive of such a critique. In the Anthology book, Lennon is quoted as saying:
I still don’t know what it means at the end, but it made us acceptable to the intellectuals. It worked and we were flattered. I wrote ‘Not A Second Time’ and, really, it was just chords like any other chords. To me, I was writing a Smokey Robinson or something at the time.
In 1980 he returned to the phrase ‘Aeolian cadences’, saying:
To this day I don’t have any idea what they are. They sound like exotic birds.
All We Are Saying, David Sheff
Despite Lennon’s flippancy, the musical structure of ‘Not A Second Time’ is noteworthy. In Revolution In The Head, Ian MacDonald described it as “a rambling affair composed of an irregular fourteen-bar verse joined to a ten-bar chorus which sounds like a middle eight.”
Lennon tended to write his lyrics first, then fitted chords and melody around the words. While the results here are certainly interesting, the out-of-time introduction, barely audible bass and George Martin’s rudimentary grand piano solo suggest it was regarded as little more than a filler track to complete the With The Beatles album.
In the studio
The Beatles recorded ‘Not A Second Time’ on 11 September 1963.
It was completed in five takes, plus four overdubs including the piano and John Lennon’s double-tracked vocals.
This was the first Beatles recording not to feature George Harrison. The only instrumentation was acoustic rhythm guitar, bass, drums and piano.