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While John Lennon was the more personal songwriter of The Beatles, Paul McCartney was the group’s storyteller. Lennon was influenced by Bob Dylan and preferred to write introspective songs based on his own experience and emotions. He didn’t like to write from a third-person perspective, but he did remember the first track he wrote that contained a “complete story.”
John Lennon said ‘No Reply’ told a ‘complete story’
“No Reply” is a song by The Beatles from 1964’s Beatles For Sale. While the track is credited to the Lennon-McCartney duo, it was primarily written by John Lennon. The song has a voyeur aspect, with a man who is trying to court a woman who is unavailable and uninterested. He shows up at her place and calls but gets no reply. He even sees that she is with someone else.
In the 1980 Playboy interview, John Lennon said he based the Beatles’ song on “Silhouettes”, a 1957 hit by the New York R&B Quartet, The Rays. The song didn’t come from any personal experience, and he said the publisher told him it was the first track he wrote that contained a resolution.
“That’s my song,” Lennon said. “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.”
Paul McCartney did provide a small contribution to the song
Paul McCartney and John Lennon were a perfect songwriting duo that created many of The Beatles’ best songs. One criticism McCartney had toward Lennon was that he wasn’t great at finishing pieces. He would have brilliant ideas but sometimes need Paul’s help to wrap them up. In Many Years From Now, McCartney said that’s what precisely happened with “No Reply”.
“We wrote ‘No Reply’ together but from a strong original idea of his,” McCartney shared. “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.”
The Beatles initially wrote and recorded a demo of the tune for Tommy Quickly, another artist represented by manager Brian Epstein. However, Quickly never released his own version of it.
How did ‘No Reply’ perform on the charts?
“No Reply” wasn’t released as a single, so it never charted. However, it did receive a positive reception from critics when Beatles For Sale debuted. It is considered an underappreciated gem by many Beatles fans.
Beatles For Sale isn’t considered one of the band’s best albums, but it was a hit upon its release. It peaked at No. 1 in the U.K., Germany, Australia, and Finland. It wasn’t widely available in the U.S. until 1987.