The Intricate Musical Motifs and Songwriting Tricks that Enhance “Things We Said Today” by The Beatles

Context is an essential factor in art. Rarely will a song “reach” you the first time you hear it. Of course, every once in a while, a song grabs you immediately. More often, the first time you hear a song, it kind of flows past your ears without connecting with your soul. Repeated listening can lead to connecting with a song. But learning an interesting piece of information about the song makes you like it even more. Think of your favorite songs. The recording didn’t change from the first to the hundredth time you heard them. What had changed? You, the listener.

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The Beatles were responsible for many songs with interesting backgrounds. They are the best-selling band of all time, with more than 500 million albums sold. They honed their craft both at home in Liverpool and in the clubs of Hamburg, Germany. They tasted their first success in their homeland but then expanded their reach to the European continent with shows in Sweden and France before landing on American soil in February 1964. It was during a break in the action that Paul McCartney wrote a new composition. Let’s look at the story behind “Things We Said Today” by The Beatles.

You say you will love me
If I have to go
You’ll be thinking of me
Somehow, I will know

Origin

Paul McCartney wrote “Things We Said Today” in May 1964 while on a yacht called Happy Days in the Virgin Islands on holiday with girlfriend Jane Asher, bandmate Ringo Starr, and his future wife Maureen Cox. In The Lyrics: 1956 to Present, McCartney remembered, “Now that we were in The Beatles, we could afford a boat holiday! It was very nice, except when I got a major case of sunburn. One thing the working class like us didn’t know about was sunblock. My auntie used to put on vinegar and oil. However agreeable the boat might have been, I liked to go down to my cabin. Somewhere where no one could get to me. I could lock the world out, and I’d sit there and strum away for a little while and see if anything came.”

Someday, when I’m lonely
Wishing you weren’t so far away
Then, I will remember
Things we said today

A Celtic Tradition

The tune uses intricate musical motifs, and the lyrics cover a doomed territory where the subject of the future is repeatedly revealed to end in separation. The song structure uses elements more closely associated with classical and jazz than rock ‘n’ roll. McCartney became one of the most successful songwriters of all time without the ability to read or write music.

“I had to remember it, of course, because I didn’t write it down,” McCartney recalled. “I didn’t write down music—because I couldn’t. It was all in the head. I have wondered since why it was easy for me to remember these things. When I’ve used a little cassette recorder or some other recording device, I find it hard to remember songs because I haven’t made myself remember them. Looking back, I love the fact that my circumstances were as they were. Years later, as I try to explain why I don’t read music or write it down, I blame my Celtic tradition, the Bardic tradition. The people I come from trained themselves to rely on their memories.”

You say you’ll be mine, girl
‘Til the end of time
These days, such a kind girl
Seems so hard to find

“Must Have Been the Moonlight”

The song was recorded at Abbey Road Studios on June 2nd and 3rd, 1964, and then released as the B-side of “A Hard Day’s Night” on July 10, 1964. The July 1964 issue of The Beatles Monthly featured an interview recapping McCartney and Starr’s vacation.

Volunteered McCartney, “There was something about the atmosphere there that made me get quite keen on writing new songs in the evenings. I did a couple while I was there, which we recorded when we got back.”

Added Starr, “Must have been the moonlight.”

“You’re right, there,” answered McCartney. “When you went out at night, the moon lit up everything. You could look into the water and actually see the bottom of the bay. Everything clear and cool and clean. Fab! I found myself just wanting to get some ideas down on paper for songs.”

Someday, when we’re dreaming
Deep in love, not a lot to say
Then, we will remember
The things we said today

Switching to Great Effect

Both Lennon and McCartney used the technique of switching from major to minor keys to great effect in their songwriting. “Things We Said Today” was a great early example. Continued McCartney, “That particular day on the boat, I started with an A minor chord. A minor to E minor to A minor, which gave me a sort of folksy, whimsical world. And then in the middle, on Me, I’m just the lucky kind, it goes to the major and gets hopeful. The thing I always loved and still love about writing a song is that, at the end of two or three hours, I have a newborn baby to show everyone. I want to show it to the world, and the world at that moment was the people on the boat.”

Me, I’m just the lucky kind
Love to hear you say that love is luck
And, though we may be blind
Love is here to stay
And that’s enough
To make you mine, girl
Be the only one
Love me all the time, girl
We’ll go on and on

Another Songwriting Trick

The perspective of a story or a song is vital. Is it being told by a bystander, the person experiencing it, or someone completely uninvolved? Is it happening now, in the past, or in the future? McCartney told author Barry Miles in Many Years From Now, “It was a slightly nostalgic thing already, a future nostalgia—we’ll remember the things we said today, sometime in the future, so the song projects itself into the future and then is nostalgic about the moment we’re living in now, which is quite a good trick. It has interesting chords.”

Someday, when we’re dreaming
Deep in love, not a lot to say
Then, we will remember
Things we said today

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Photo by Cyrus Andrews/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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