Not A Second Time

With The Beatles album artworkWritten by: Lennon-McCartney
Recorded: 11 September 1963
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Norman Smith

Released: 22 November 1963 (UK), 20 January 1964 (US)

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

Available on:
With The Beatles

Written and sung by John Lennon, Not A Second Time featured on the group's second album With The Beatles.

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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).
William Mann
The Times

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.
John Lennon
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 album.

In the studio

Not A Second Time was recorded in five takes, plus four overdubs including the piano and 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.

35 responses on “Not A Second Time

  1. Tim

    Years ago one of our local FM Rock Stations were doing a “Beatles Tribute” weekend. They played “Not A Second Time”. And the DJ said that John Lennon got the idea of double-tracking his own voice,after having heard Lesley Gore do it on her song “It’s My Party”.

    I have quite a few books on The Beatles,and I am a huge fan. I’ve never actually seen this supposed inspiration in print. But it sure sounds possible.

    I like this song very much. It’s a little bit dark though. What with the lyrics,hurt,trying to come back to him. But he says “no thanks”.

    And the dark tone of the piano,especially the middle solo. It is a good song though. John carried the group through their early years. Just look at their first 4 or 5 albums. He wrote and sang lead on more tunes than the rest of the group.

    1. Patricio García

      It’s one of my favorite Beatles songs, It’s a masterpiece, John Lennon was really inspired at these years, his songs in With The Beatles and A Hard Days Night are probably the best he ever did.

      1. Tom Jr. Morgan

        John was really the best of all. The rhythmic cadence on Not A Second Time (7 bar verses!?) is unbelievable. No wasted space in that song. And yes, the song’s on Hard Day’s Night are untouchable! Couple those songs with something like I Am A Walrus and you have a songwriter that is absolutely unparalleled. THE artistic genius of the 20th century in my estimation.

  2. Ramon Berger

    Interesting that the first verse is simply repeated and that’s it. I don’t think the Beatles ever did this again.

    It’s like – nothing else to say to her. It’s over, that’s it…

    In Robert Palmer’s cover, he adds his own last verse???

    1. Joe Post author

      Love Me Do is another song where they repeated a verse – the same one appears four times.

      They sort of did it in While My Guitar Gently Weeps too. I’m not sure why they repeated the first verse, as George ditched a perfectly good one (“I watch from the wings of the play you are staging…”).

      I guess they didn’t take Not A Second Time all that seriously. It certainly doesn’t sound like they were aiming to write a classic.

      1. paulsbass

        They did this all the time, repeating verses, especially on their early songs. Paul or John desribed it once as coming in handy when you were short of good lyrics: Verse 1, chorus, Verse 2, chorus, middle-eight, repeat Verse 1.

        Just one other example: I feel fine (Verse 1, 2, 2, 1).

  3. Roger

    Actually, this is the first song where Harrison didn’t participate…didn’t play guitar or sing. No problem within the group, he just wasn’t needed for this song.

    1. Ray

      Then who’s playing bass on this song?

      Okay, maybe the bass is hard to hear, but if you listen very very carefully you’ll hear that it’s definitely there. And I have no doubt that it is indeed McCartney.

  4. Tom

    Not sure where it’s noted that George didn’t play on this song, but I can at least hear 2 guitars and George is most certainly one of them. If you listen to the stereo remaster, I can hear the prominent guitar on the left and a very low volume, buried acoustic guitar on the right. It’s notable about 3 seconds in, after John sings the word “Cry”, I can hear both guitars, one on each side.

  5. DB

    I agree with Tom. I can hear George on an electric guitar–probably the Gretsch–particularly on the breaks– and, as usual, with just the right accent/sound–and, as usual, never more than needed.
    I haven’t listened closely for the bass, but do remember Paul saying that “She Said” was the only Beatles’ song on which he thinks he did not play.

  6. Travis

    There a quite a few “odd” songs on “With The Beatles” that I think are criminally underrated for their uniqueness, esp for the time. People still really don’t write songs much like these, with the “dark yet still somehow poppy” strange melodic structures and, as noted, atypical arrangements – “All I’ve Got To Do” and “Don’t Bother Me” are another few examples. All great songs. I think this one’s my favorite. In my opinion, the Beatles were already writing “albums” by this, just their second one, even if subconsciously. There’s a certain thematic sound undercurrent throughout that links the songs together from here on out in their career for the most part. Funnily enough, it usually seems like albums like “With…” through maybe “Revolver”, it was more John and George’s songs that fit the “melodic theme” of the record and Paul would have the poppy, “hit” song that kind of didn’t fit (“All My Loving” here, “Good Day Sunshine” on Revolver”, just to name a few examples)

  7. Happiness is a warm gun

    I’ve had this song going through my head since I woke up and realized i never really given the song much thought. I had to laugh when I read William Mann’s critique as well as John’s response. My degree’s in music so I know what Mann means, but no one talks like that unless they’re 1) talking to another musician about the song’s analysis for some academic or educational purpose or 2) trying to impress people. The average music fan can’t make heads or tails of that, and neither can many musicians. So it doesn’t help illuminate what makes the song “work” for most people.

    Moreover, I love that John said he was just trying to write a Smokey tune, because that’s really how a lot of songwriters think. They hear something in another person’s song that they like and they try to recreate it in their own way. They get it intuitively, but their goal is to write a song, not an essay on music theory, so that’s all they need. And it’s not beyond a listener’s grasp to understand these things–i could teach anyone in 2 minutes what a cadence is, as anyone who listens to music has heard them countless times already. But it’s far easier to demonstrate elements of music with music than with writing. When you try to do that in writing, a lot gets lost in the translation.

    The elements Mann points out aren’t unique to Beatles’ songs–they can be found readily in the Mo-Town, rock and roll and skiffle music which the Beatles imitated in their early years. In turn, those musicians had imitated songwriters from previous generations. Granted, to John’s credit, many of these elements have fallen out of fashion, not so much because musicians today don’t like them, but they lack the musicianship to incorporate them. John may have been humbled the musicianship of people like Smokey or Holly, but compared to many rock musicians today, John was a much more ambitious songwriter who consciously developed his craft and he deserves credit for that.

    1. metzgermeister77

      From what I’ve heard, Mann usually reviewed classical recordings (hence the reference to Mahler), so his issue here was that he was kind of thrown a rock and roll record and had to try and figure out what to say about this style of music he was almost entirely illiterate in.

  8. Mem

    I don’t believe this is correct with George not singing on this song. Listen to the last ‘not a second time’ as it just fades out. I’m positive that’s George! John sings the no no no and again i have to say that’s George singing that funny ‘not a second time’. But I could be wrong!

  9. metzgermeister77

    One of my least favorite early songs. The recording is rubbish, the tune kind of meanders around without ever going anywhere, and it fades out with nothing more than a halfassed attempt at resolving the song. Should’ve ended up on Anthology.

    1. Ed

      Rubbish? Not a Second Time is a Great Song! The melody & words are haunting & beautiful! With the middle piano bridge breathtaking! One of the best so called filler songs The Fabs ever done! This tune could have been a hit with many other bands of the time, but The Fabs were top heavy with number ones! Check out the Pretenders version of this song, it’s very good! I’m sure John would agree. GOD BLESS… .

  10. Johan Cavalli

    Not A Second Time is innovative. In the beginning of the song Lennon suddenly throws the melody up almost an octave. In the second verse Lennon varies the melody by singing the same note first with the mouth shut, and the next with open mouth. The melody ends with a low joking minor key? singing “…not a second time”

  11. Puddinhead

    I have to think this song reflected the ballsy surreal feel that Lennon was hoping to achieve when he said years later to George Martin that he would like to re-record all the earlier songs which were produced for the masses/marketing needs rather than his pure psychic energy emotional release that colored his whole life ! George Martin once reflected that John would demo a song of his to Martin by standing/playing solo guitar his song which drew Martin’s hair to “stand up on the back of his head” due to Lennon’s brutally honest emotional vocals. I like McCartney but this song shows the vocal drama that only Lennon could put to tape.

  12. Lennon fan

    Yup, to me this will always be one of Lennon’s greatest. I can see where he and others might have looked at it as a throwaway, but it was a like an artist doing a sketch which perfectly captures the subject with just a few lines… that, my friend takes talent!

  13. Baggio

    I think this is a song that starts up really well (I love the beginning) but doesn’t keep up all the way to the end… The piano solo in particular doesn’t work very well here.

    I feel the same way about Every Little Thing – great start but doesn’t go anywhere.

  14. SergioQ

    Am always scouring the net for guitar solos of Beatles’ songs. I know some people are dismissive of this tune, and even Lennon himself was quite harsh on a lot of his best works (probably most artists are).

    But whether you like, dislike, or think this is a filler song: Check this link out, it’s a beautiful melody, an actual piece of art.

  15. Kelly Wing

    Something for Not A Second Time (NAST) must be said. If you study the lyrics of the songs up until NAST, you see they tend to be submissive, passive. The woman is in charge: Please, please me. Baby take a chance on me. The world is treating me bad- misery. NAST represents a break from this type of lyric in that JL is putting his foot down and saying, “NO MORE.” NAST is a turn in a new lyrical direction of the man calling the shots, and without this song you don’t get to I Want To Hold Your Hand, You Can’t Do That, Hard Days Night, When I Get Home, et. al. NAST is a key song in the lyrical development of the whole group.

  16. Pablo Castro

    There is no audible acoustic guitar here, and there´s certainly at least an electric one. There is no reason why George wouldn´t be on this track. He´s there, likely doing the rhythmic guitar with John. Paul´s bass is definitely there also.


    A GENIUS effort, especially for it’s time. Unlike anything else going when it was recording, and I don’t know if I’ve heard much from later Beatle work or much of any pop/rock achieving the very strange but satisfying, “dark yet poppy” feel of this track. I think the Beatles and Martin considered it a throwaway because even they didn’t really understand what they had just created at the time. As the years have gone by, “hits” from this album like “It Won’t Be Long” and “All My Loving” and even “I Want To Hold Your Hand” have gotten beyond old for me, but I don’t think this song will ever get boring for me. That’s a lot of the brilliance of Lennon at his best – there’s so much complexity, nuance and interesting “Lennon-isms” going on that you can listen to it a thousand times and still come away with a feeling of satisfaction. I agree with so many of the comments people! This song, along with “All I’ve Got To Do” and “Don’t Both Me” capture the feel of “With…” that begins with that moody cover art. This song may in fact not only definitely NOT be a throwaway, but in fact the final and most prominent version of the theme that another commenting about that runs through the album, this sort of ominous streak running through the songs that, instead of making them less accessible, makes them far most interesting while still very catch than things like “All My Loving” which are eventually kind of boring, by-the-numbers Beatle pop (which is still the best kind, don’t get me wrong!).

  18. Jennifer

    I don’t have much of substance to add, but I have always loved the way you can hear one of the lads yell out a little “Oh!” at about :45 or :46. I have always fancied it to be Paul, but it’s kind of hard to tell. As far as the song itself goes, I have always liked it. It does feel a bit slapdash, and clearly isn’t one of their barnburners, but it’s still a great little track. I like the darkness of the lyric against the upbeat tempo, abd the thick, textural sort of feel the piano gives it.

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