Composer(s) : Lennon and McCartney
Year : 1962
Notes on "Misery" (M1.1)
KEY C Major
FORM Intro-Verse-Verse-Bridge-Verse-Bridge-Verse-Outro (fadeout)
GENERAL POINTS OF INTEREST
Style and Form
- Overall sound is characterized by the shuffling, "washboard" beat and spare,
pseudo-acoustic instrumental texture.
- The melody is in short phrases, punctuated by rhythm guitar obligatto figures,
and the rhetorical interjections of the song's title in the lyrics.
- The bridge is repeated but there is only one verse in between the two of
them. The relatively short duration of the finished song could have easily
accomodated an additional instrumental-solo verse before the second bridge,
but my theory is that the closed shape of those verse sections, *especially*
built as they are from such a limited set of chords, would have been
a claustrophobic mistake which they wisely avoided.
- Only four chords are used. In order of appearance you have F, G, C, and
'a'; i.e., IV, V, I, and vi, respectively. The vi chord is used in this
song as though it were a full-fledged sub-dominant (in the way it sets
up the V chord) or even as a surrogate dominant (in the way it
sometimes is inserted *between* the I chord on either side). Only
at the beginning of the bridge is it used in its more typecast role
as the relative minor, or "submediant".
- The voice parts are predominantly sung in unison but there are surprise
blossomings into two-part harmony, typically saved for phrase endings.
- Paul uses the same sort of dotted quarter and eighth notes in the bass part
that we saw in FMTY. This cleverly carries
forward into the bassline the
same snapped rhythm that pervades the main melody of the song, as well as
it rescues the bassline from would be otherwise have been a dull, unrelieved
four in the bar.
- The piano edit pieces in the intro and bridge are a relatively small touch,
but one of no small historic interest; aside from the fracus regarding
Andy White's guest drumming stint on the original version of
"Love Me Do",
this is likely the very first appearance of a guest performer on a Beatles
track in order to provide something the Boys could not do for themsevles.
Granted, it's a far cry from the likes of the string quartets and solo
brass instruments that would come later, but it's the same concept
- Only four measures long (discounting the opening piano arpeggio), but it
has the full essence of the rest of the song embedded within in it:
"Adagio" -------------->"A Tempo"
|F |G |C |a G ||
C: IV V I vi V
- Starting off with a dramatically slow intro may have been a fairly common
technique among the rest of pop/rock music, but L&M very rarely used it at
all. Aside from the contemporaneous
"Do You Want To Know A Secret",
I can't even think of another example off the top of my head; something
worth keeping an ear out for in the rest of our studies.
- The choice of opening chord progression makes this yet another Beatles song
that opens away from the home key, yet quickly converges upon it.
- In the space of just these few measures were are quickly introduced to
several devices which ultimately characterize and permeate the rest of
the song; e.g., the unison singing which unfolds into harmony, the
decorative use of the piano, and the I-vi-V chord progression.
- Mark for later reference the little chromatic move in the bassline during
the transition from measure 1 to 2 (F -> F# -> G).
- The verse is a brief and harmonically static eight measures:
|C |F |C |F ||- |G |C |a ||
I IV I IV V I iv
- Note how the embellishment of the F chord with "neighbor" tones of D-C-D
in the guitar part lends a jazzy, added-sixth sound to the accompaniment.
- In spite of the few chords used, a subtle syncopation in the harmonic rhythm
is created by sustaining the same chord (i.e., F, the IV) over the two
measures which straddle the mid-verse divide between measures 4 & 5.
- As we saw with FMTY, wherever a verse if
followed by yet another verse
section, the final measure shifts to the vi chord instead of sustaining
the I chord all the way through, as happens in verses which are followed
by a bridge. I've told you there are formulaic aspects to this sort of
- We have another eight measure section, one which provides the traditional
contrast to the preceding verses:
|a |- |C |- ||a |- |G |- ||
vi I vi V
- The harmonic rhythm is slower than the verse, and the steep scale-wise
descent in the melody here is in contrast to the jumping here and about
seen earlier. Some consistency with the verse is maintained in the way
we still have short, declarative phrases in dotted rhythm, punctuated by
the accompaniment; here the piano, instead of the guitar, provides the
- The bassline contains two uncanny details that closely unify it with
what is going on elsewhere: the lead-in to the bridge begins with the
same sort of chromatic lick seen in the intro (G -> G# -> A), and the
lead-out of the bridge to the next verse is made up of a descending
scale (G - through C), reminiscent of the vocal part.
- The 'a' minor chord in the first measure of this section sounds at first
as though it *might* be a part of a modulation to that key but it's really
too short-lived to count.
- Rejected take 6 contains typical Ringo drum fills in measures 4 and 8
of the bridges. Though nicely performed and not entirely inappropriate,
my guess is that he was asked to eliminate them from the final version in
order to keep unbroken the hypnotic mood of the shuffling rhythm.
- This outro is built from several repeats of the last two measures
of the verse into a quick fadeout.
- The vocal parts burst forth in some "oohs" which are more anguished than
passionate for a change, as well as some "lah-lahs." These come across
as impromptu, though we find in take 1 the virtually the identical set of
them as in the final version.
- It is John who takes the lead in these vocal effects, and his move is
all the more effective because it is the first time in the entire song
that we hear a *solo* voice.
A FINAL THOUGHT
- This is one of the rare, early L&M originals in which the girl is spoken
of entirely in the third person. Ironically, it appears back to back on
the "Please Please Album" with another one of these rare examples, the
very upbeat "I Saw Her Standing There".
The uninterrupted flowing beat
of "Misery" provides some forward-looking optimism in counterpoint to
the otherwise downbeat lyrics. In the context of the album lineup,
I believe that this subtle hint in "Misery" of a sun concealed behind
the overcast mitigates what might have otherwise been too stark of a
manic-depressive contrast between those first two tracks.
Alan (email@example.com *OR* uunet!huxley!awp)
"Quite right, invites to gambling dens full of easy money and fast women,
chicken sandwiches, and cornets of caviar, disgusting!" 072991#01M
Copyright (c) 1991 by Alan W. Pollack
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