In the summer of 1963, The Beatles were huge in Britain. But this was not the case in America. Two earlier singles that had done well in their home country—”Please Please Me” and “From Me to You”—flopped when released in the States on the Vee-Jay label. Del Shannon’s cover of the latter song far outsold the original.
So was the release of “She Loves You” a guarantee of American success? Capitol, who was offered the chance to release it, didn’t think so. Even little Vee-Jay passed, having not gotten much back on their earlier investment. Fortunately, The Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein, found a Philadelphia label called Swan (home of Freddy Cannon, Link Wray and His Ray Men, and The Rockin’ Rebels) that was willing to take a chance on the group.
It’s said that “She Loves You” was the song that created Beatlemania, the song that took the band from being extremely popular to being the cause of girls screaming so loudly that the music couldn’t be heard. And only half of the audience would be screaming at their shows—the other half would have fainted. So was it huge here? Not at first. The single was released on September 16, 1963 and received a positive review in Billboard. But it failed to chart, and only sold about 1,000 copies. But by January of 1964, an appearance on The Jack Paar Show coincided with the release of “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” and America was finally paying attention. The Ed Sullivan Show appearance a month later sealed the deal, and Beatlemania was then firmly in place in America.
Swan Records still had the rights to “She Loves You,” and re-released the song in March of 1964. It is the re-issue that we have here—the first run has a white label, while the second run reflects the change to a silver-on-black label that Swan had switched to a few months before it was released.
“She Loves You,” for all of its pop sugar, is a pretty clever song. First of all, the lyrics are coming from the perspective of a third party trying to get his friend to wise up and get back the girl he loves. The norm, then and now, was of course to have the singer plead directly to his paramour. Or, if it were a country song, an omniscient narrator would tell the story—maybe even going so far as to open with a line like, “Well, here’s a story about…”. Not here. It’s just two friends talking. Or rather, three, since John and Paul are singing together.
The song starts right off with one of Ringo’s best fills and then goes straight into the refrain, putting the catchiest part of the song at the beginning. There’s no real bridge to speak of; there was certainly room for it—even by the pop song standards of 1963, 2:18 is pretty short. There just wasn’t a need, so why complicate things? George Martin was already proving his worth as a top producer, making sure Paul’s bass guitar and Ringo’s bass drum were higher in the mix than was typical for the time. It all adds up to a cleverly constructed song that hooks the listener in almost immediately and holds their attention for the length of the tune.
The B side is called “I’ll Get You.” The melody is easy-going enough, and it’s easy to think of this as just another love song telling the story of a boy determined to get his girl. And that it is, but there’s something in the way John sings the lines “I’ll get you, I’ll get you in the end. Yes I will, I’ll get you in the end” that betrays the creepy obsessiveness that lies at the heart of so many seemingly innocent love songs. Once again, there’s no bridge. The harmonica adds an unexpectedly country tone to the song that matches up nicely with the twang of George’s guitar.
The right to publish “She Loves You” expired in 1965, and Capitol, eager to make up for its past lapse in judgement, swooped in and took The Beatles away from Swan. They had lost Freddy Cannon to Warner Brothers the year before, so the loss of their best-selling single proved to be a crippling financial blow, and the label had folded by 1967. That same year, The Beatles released their most ambitious album and had retired from playing live shows, committing themselves to pushing the limits of what could be accomplished in a recording studio. “She Loves You” may not be as accomplished or avant garde as some of their later work, but it is still a little bit of pop genius that most bands would have killed for.
This example—and many other examples—of The Beatles’ genius is currently on display at The Library For the Performing Art’s exhibition, “Ladies and Gentlemen…The Beatles!”. The exhibition is up until May 10th, and it’s well worth your time if you have even a passing interest in the Fab Four. And if you’re a fan, it’s an absolute must.