Old Brown Shoe
Composer(s) : Harrison
Year : 1968
Chords/Tabs: Old Brown Shoe
Notes on "Old Brown Shoe" (OBS)
KEY C Major/a minor
FORM Intro -> Verse -> Verse -> Bridge ->
Verse (Instrumental) -> Bridge ->
Verse -> Outro (fadeout)
GENERAL POINTS OF INTEREST
Style and Form
- "Old Brown Shoe" provides as fine an example you'll find this side of
_Abbey Road_ of George Harrison (Scouse of Distinction) doing his
thing while also holding his own. And yet, it retains a B-side kind of
relative obscurity that is as unfortunate as it is undeserved.
- The song bears enough L&M Stylized Blues influence to fit in compatibly
with the group's overall output of the period. But at the same time,
George appears happy and comfortable to go his own way with respect to
chord progressions, arrangement, and an artfully complex, ambiguous
attitude in the lyrics hard to pin down between sarcasm and ardor.
- The form is the variant of the classic two bridge model that has only
a single middle verse section. Unusual, in this case, is the fact that
the lone middle verse is an instrumental. I don't recall any other
official Beatles recording with this exact form, though I'll be properly
thankful if you remind me otherwise.
Melody and Harmony
- I'm calling C Major as the home key, even though the verse section has
a nasty habit of veering off to the relative minor key of a. This creates
a musical effect somewhat reminiscent of hitching your pants up, only to
find, that in the expenditure of even the least exertion, they keep
slipping down. Even in absence of this specific key gambit, we note
George's penchant for sadly "wilting" harmonic effects created by
downward chord progressions; e.g. "Don't Bother Me,"
"If I Needed Someone,"
or "... Guitar Gently Weeps."
- This playing around with the key pair of Major and relative minor is
a perennial favorite of the Beatles going way back. I think of
"And I Love Her"
as being the closest example to this one, though the two
songs assign opposite roles to their respective Major and relative
- Unusually prominent play is given here to the equally unusual chord on
flat VI (i.e. A flat). It creates a hard and direct cross relation with
the A natural of the IV (F) chord on either side of it. I dare say you
even pick up the whiff of a much more indirect cross relation with the
a minor chord that ends the verse, even though they are separated by
- In terms of The Blues, the tune is heavily inflected with flat 3rds and
7ths. And, of course, there's heavy play given to the freely dissonant
I7 chord throughout.
- The extreme up tempo and rapid triplets are reminiscent of both
"Got to Get You into my Life"
and George's own "I Want to Tell You." The insistent
persistence of the piano part also connects OBS to the latter.
- The mix of jangle piano, organ, lead guitar and very heavy bass makes an
uncanny texture. Though I think that recording of the lead vocal with
George facing into a tight corner is a nobly clever idea that just
doesn't work; i.e. the effect of the vocal is unpleasantly muddy that
- Typical layering tricks are used throughout, though to less dramatic
effect than usual:
- Just bass and piano.
- But dig the nice triplet pickups in the bass.
- Drums enter on the pickup.
- Single tracked lead vocal.
- Lead guitar riffs in the first half.
- Add background wash from organ for second half.
- Preceded by half of an intro.
- Drop organ for start but add it back in for second half.
- Backing vocals appear on alternate (even numbered) phrases.
- Fast triplets appear in bass on second half of every measure. According
to Lewisohn, this effect was executed by cooperation of Paul and George.
- No intro, not even partial.
- Organ is there for the entire section.
- Tone of lead guitar is radically different in each half.
- This time, organ stays in all the way through.
- Is there some kind of undocumented "squeak" on the backing track
at the start?
- Again, no intro.
- Two documented spontaneous sounding exclamations.
- Backing voices are added to petit reprise of "So glad .."
- Falsetto scat singing into the sunset.
- The intro is a four measure long vamp on C7 that establishes both
the tone and the home key of what is to follow:
|Cb7 |- |- |- |
- The verse is 16 measures long and parses into four phrases of
|Cb7 |- |- |- |
|d7 |- |- |- |
|F |- |Ab |- |
|F |E aug |a |- |
a: VI V i
- Harmonic rhythm starts very slow and then picks up speed over the
final two phrases.
- I've labeled the chords to show how a pivot modulation to A minor
is effected, though the latter is so short lived that calling it
a modulation per se feels overstated.
- The higher level melodic shape of the verse is an arch, though
the individual phrases locally each have a downward trajectory.
Note how the note "C" provides a kind of pedal point in the treble
(in contrast to the more common bass) voice for the section. This
pedal point "forces" the E chord to be augmented (with C replacing
what would have been the more conventional B).
- The bridge is 12 measures long, and parses into an AAB pattern in which
B phrase is a direct rhetorical outgrowth of the previous phase:
|G |- |- |F |
|G |- |- |F |
|f#o7 |- |G |- |
- The harmonic rhythm change in 3rd phrase makes the section sound less
squared off than it is.
- This section revolves entirely around the V chord. This provides
both local harmonic motivation for the following verse to lead off
from I, but on a higher level is responsible for clearly asserting
C Major as the home key, in spite of the verse ends on a minor.
- Please don't ask me to put a Roman numeral under the f# diminished
7th chord. Harmonically, it is no more than a side effect of F#
appearing in the bassline as a chromatic passing tone between F and G.
- The tune in this section features a motif of short phrases which
step down a third. The higher level melodic shape is one of static
noodling between b and c.
- That attempt to rhyme "imperfect" with "can't reject" should have
been (ugh ...) rejected, if you know what I mean.
- The outro grows out of the final verse with a single (rather than the
more typical double) reprise of final phrase.
- This leads into a long section of intro-like vamping on I7 that goes
on for at least 20 measures before the complete fadeout.
- The first 8 measures are entirely instrumental, with the scat singing
vocal starting with measures 9.
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS
- A musicological conundrum: if the 2/25 "birthday" version of OBS
on _Anthology 3_ is a "demo" that features only George performing,
then are we to make of the outtakes performed by the entire group back
on 1/28 in the thick of the Get Back sessions? Lewisohn doesn't even
mention the latter in _RS_, but I've heard at least one of those outtakes
is available on a Yellow Dog boot devoted to Harrison songs and performances
from those ill-fated 1/69 sessions.
- The 1/28 take I've heard is admittedly is rough in execution, but it
already presents the song in its final form and close to final arrangement.
IMHO, the 2/25 version is not materially "better" or "different" from that
on 1/28. The latter at least includes drums! So why should George be
doing it alone some 5 weeks later, ostensibly to lay it down for so that
the others could learn their respective parts?
- It's easy to suppose that the 2/25 was far from the "first time" he
was NOT "lonely without [them.]" Something along the lines of why you
sometimes cooked for yourself and ate by your lonesome in that Quad suite
you shared with your 3 college roommates. But why do so after you've already
eaten your dinner with them, other than to spite yourself?
"It's highly unlikely we'll be on ... I mean the law of averages are
against you ..." 041899#164
Copyright (c) 1995 by Alan W. Pollack
All Rights Reserved
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Ook op Past Masters, Vols. 2:
Ook op 1967-1970:
(c) 2022 Serge Girard