It may be the best song on the finest album by the greatest rock group of all time. Does this that make it the best song of all time? Unlikely, as it is usually not corralled among the great, classic rock’n’roll songs. It does not even place very highly in the heats through which Fab Four fanatics typically run their pet tunes in search of the one Beatles song to rule them all. I have never even heard it on the radio. In all the Beatles books I have read, no author devotes more than a few paragraphs to its composition and recording, whereas a disaster such as “Revolution #9” is worried over as avidly as an ancient scroll. About all one can say authoritatively is this: “She Came in through the Bathroom Window” is cut 13 on Abbey Road; in it, one can hear a tambourine; and it clocks in at just a little over 1:57.
The finishing panel of a truly odd triptych — “Mean Mr Mustard,” “Polythene Pam,” and itself — “She Came in through the Bathroom Window” feels unnaturally welded onto the songs that precede it. “Mustard” and “Pam” are two of the dispatches an increasingly gnomic John Lennon saw fit to transmit to earth from planet Heroin; by all evidence, he did not care to finish either song, which do not end so much as simply collide into the next track. In this way the placement of “She Came in through the Bathroom Window” initially comes off as a last resort: “Where would you have us stick this little two-minute jobby, Paul?” That it works as well as it does is remarkable. But then we are discussing the second half of Abbey Road, quite possibly the best, most genre- and mood-busting twenty-two and a half minutes of rock music ever recorded. Each track is awesome — even “Mean Mr Mustard” and “Polythene Pam” in their own weird way — because the whole they form is awesome. The conundrum is arguing this on the merits of each individual song. Yes, “Golden Slumbers” is pretty — almost everything Paul McCartney wrote is pretty — but is that it? Abbey Road really only works when you listen to it all at once. And yet here I am trying to make a case for “She Came in through the Bathroom Window” as a great song, perhaps the great song.
Let us start again. “She Came in through the Bathroom Window,” like “The End,” is one of Abbey Road‘s sparsely planted straight-up rockers — yet another rebuke to John Lennon’s famous mocking query to McCartney during the White Album sessions, when the latter was noodling around with slight ditties such as “Honey Pie” and “Mother Nature’s Son.” “Don’t you,” Lennon asked, “write rock’n’roll songs anymore?” At the time McCartney was insulted — and, perhaps, affected — enough to turn around and write “Helter Skelter,” surely one of the hardest rocking songs ever written (and I say that as a committed Master of Puppets-era Metallica fan). “She Came in through the Bathroom Window” reminds us that McCartney could rock as well as any of the Beatles when he wished to; it reminds us, too, that McCartney was the most multifarious and phenomenally gifted songwriter within a group sporting a trio of musical divinities.
With a few exceptions, Beatles lyrics are private-feeling but sternly imprecise, a weird kind of impersonal directness they pioneered if not invented. That said, the sounds the words make in a Beatles song clearly convey more than whatever higher sense a dictionary can cede them. “She came in through the bathroom window / Protected by a silver spoon … She said she’d always been a dancer / She worked at fifteen clubs a day … Sunday’s on the phone to Monday / Tuesday’s on the phone to me.” Who is she? Bathroom window? Where? Silver spoon? Dancers? Tuesday’s on the what now? No one short of the fairie who sleeps amid the lobes of Paul McCarthey’s cortex can be expected to know what any of this means. It is all very decadent, no doubt. But unlike, say, a poem, one does not really care to know what is going on. It is only rock’n’roll.
McCartney wrote “She Came in through the Bathroom Window” long after the point he and Lennon had stopped writing songs such as “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “Hard Day’s Night” “eyeball to eyeball,” as Lennon once put it. Though they had moved away from each other personally and artistically, they were not yet physically apart, and were still able to wring from their rivalrous friendship a good deal of familiar inspiration. Abbey Road was recorded after but released before the toxic — but very underrated — Let It Be, which by all accounts was created by musicians who could barely stand to speak to one another. The songs on Abbey Road feel looser, lighter. The Beatles had relaxed, and the music they made from that relaxation feels like an end, and a calmly acknowledged end at that. After all, the album’s proper final song is called, rather pointedly, “The End.” “She Came in through the Bathroom Window” marks the moment where Abbey Road picks up after a druggy lull, kicking in like an alarm clock and triggering the album’s final sonic push. I mentioned that it rocks but it is also strikingly melodic — the Beatles sound like bloody angels in the backing vocals. So it rocks, it is melodic, but it also pounds, showcasing some of Ringo Starr’s most assertive drumming, on snares that sound vaguely like trash-can lids. It rocks and is melodic and it pounds and is, structurally, a cunningly complicated song. It is also terrifyingly simple, with a basic chord progression a paramecium could apprehend. It is The Great Gatsby of music: doing a myriad of amazing things incredibly quickly, and afterwards one does not know where to begin to describe them. It feels more momentous than it was. It is like a brief earthquake that leaves everything standing but nothing the same.
On the third volume of the cash-cow Anthology albums — which prove that even the Beatles’ filler is eight billion times more interesting than just about anyone else’s finished, polished music — the early draft of “She Came in through the Bathroom Window” is revealed to be a slow, boggy thing that runs twice as long as the final released version. It is an interesting song the way Trimalchio: An Early Version of the Great Gatsby, published in 2000, is an interesting book. One wonders how such a lapidary masterpiece of tone and control was hewn from such an initially plain stone. At the end of the take, McCartney — a man who, rather notoriously, cannot read music — explains that the song needs some “variation” and knocks out some groovy keyboarding while providing an imaginary choral accompaniment, which he calls “classical.” Interestingly, none of these ideas survived as McCartney imagined them — the groovy keyboarding became jangly guitars, the crypto-classical choral backdrop became the Beatles’ gorgeous oooo-ing and ah-ing. Nothing was “produced” in that Phil Spectorish way that very nearly mortally wounds Let It Be. McCartney seems to have intuitively worked out the best way to serve his merely good song and in doing so made it a great song. This reminds us that great ideas are rarely Great Ideas. Great Ideas are huge, ugly, top-down things (and McCartney has written a number of them). However, great ideas are small, beautiful, and best nourished in the idiosyncratic soil of a single mind. Tender is the Night is a Great Idea, but The Great Gatsby is a great idea. “She Came in through the Bathroom Window” is a great idea on an album thick with great ideas; a song, it seems to me, that can be heard and loved in the pure, agendaless way one loves music and writing before one develops that thing called “taste.” “She Came in through the Bathroom Window” is the best song on the finest album by the greatest group of all time, a song that in a little under two minutes establishes for once and all that rock’n’roll is, above all else, supposed to be fun.