I’m listening to this song right now and I truly have nothing to criticize. Every element of this recording hits the spot. The precisely sharp guitar licks, the understated but psychedelic organ, Ringo’s crashing cymbals, and yes, of course, the harmonies. (Oddly enough, this time around it’s John and George–this is an unusual Beatles song in which Paul sat out.) If push comes to shove, I would nominate this as one of the coolest tracks in their catalog.
Coolness and weirdness are not, however, mutually exclusive and I think I have to be in a certain mood to fully get in the spirit of listening to a song that opens with the line, “She said, ‘I know what it’s like to be dead.'” I’m normally a strong proponent of the idea that fans should be given as little context as possible when it comes to song lyrics, to allow us to interpret them as we see fit. But when it comes to the Beatles, the cat has long been out of the bag for virtually every song they did, and this is a rare case of the story being too entertaining to not know about.
Actor Peter Fonda is best known as the writer/producer/star of Easy Rider, a 1969 film in which his character experiences a bad acid trip. Fonda was apparently a bit of a method actor, because about four years earlier, he turned on, tuned in, and dropped out with George Harrison and John Lennon to the point where George was concerned that Fonda was dying. Ah, silly George! There’s no reason to worry. Because Peter Fonda had already died once before! When his heart stopped on the operating table. When he was 10 years old. When he had accidentally shot himself in the stomach.
“Ok, that makes me feel a lot better.”
When John Lennon heard Fonda utter, “I know what it’s like to be dead,” he responded in his characteristically sympathetic manner, “Who put all that shit in your head?” A gender swap later (and replacing “that shit” with “those things” for good measure, because the bold Revolver cover would have looked less impressive slapped with a Parental Advisory sticker), “She Said She Said” was born. Alas, Peter Fonda got doubly insulted by not receiving a cent of royalties and John Lennon remembering him in a 1980 interview as “so boring.”
It’s hard to give “She Said She Said” the same critique, but I would still argue that the backstory is a lot more entertaining than the finished product.