“No Reply” is based on the doo-wop song “Silouettes” that The Rays recorded in 1957.
Lennon’s repetition of the line “I saw the light” refers to the light behind the curtain but also to the revelation that he was being two-timed- possibility be an allusion to country and western icon Hank William’s well-known 1948song of personal salvation, “I saw the Light".
With this song, for the first time, fans hear a sense of discord that is undeniably at odds with the light-hearted spirit of 'Beatlemania'.
The track is daring, unexpected, original and is the first clear signal that the Beatles (and John in particular) have a few things they need to get off their chest. It represented a considerable moment of personal and professional growth for Lennon. It also marks the start of the group beginning to master the studio, using tracking and echo to create depth and space.
“No Reply” was a typical Lennon composition with the standard themes of betrayal and jealousy. It was one of his first songs to tell a complete story: A suitor is turned away form a young woman’s house after being told she isn’t home. But he learns otherwise as when looking up- he sees her peek through the window. Their eyes meet and his sense of betrayal and humiliation is crushing. The speaker waits in vain for his estranged girlfriend to answer the telephone and acknowledge his existence.
But all he gets, of course, is “no reply” even as he watches from a distance as she walks “hand in hand / with another man.” Almost nothing is said but the story is complete there’s no reply and never will be. The lyrics progress from bubblegum odes to idyllic love to something much more introspective
The intense and complex emotionality of the song comes as much from its construction as it does from the screaming, double-tracked lead vocal. The basic combo on the backing track makes prominent use of acoustic guitar and is supplemented in spots by piano and handclaps. John’s voice is double-tracked as lead as Paul sings in harmony above him.
A cushion of acoustic guitars provides the basic timbre, with George Martin’s piano paradoxically producing a larger sound by being reduced to a darkly reverbed presence rather than a voice in its own right
Says musicologist Tim Riley:
“A piano joins Ringo’s heavy blows to his crash cymbal to make the pain in Lennon’s voice palpable; the syncopated lines that interrupt the feigned aloofness of the verses (“I saw the light,” “I nearly died”) are repeated to set up the betrayals that spark his seething jealousy."
The track finds Lennon in the act of creating the Beatles’ first explicitly unreliable narrator. The unreliable narrator is a literary device, frequently contrived in the first-person, in which the narrator operates from a compromised perspective. The speaker desperately attempts to align himself with his audience by convincing them of his own victimization even as he stalks his erstwhile lover, forcing her friends and family to lie on her behalf.