Composer(s) : Harrison
Year : 1969
Notes on "Something" (S)
KEY C Major
FORM Intro -> Verse -> Verse -> Bridge ->
Verse (Instrumental) -> Verse -> Outro (w/complete ending)
GENERAL POINTS OF INTEREST
Style and Form
- "Something" (S) is arguably one of the most intense-yet-quietly sustained
entries in the Beatles songbook right up there with the likes of Paul's
much earlier "Yesterday."
Granted, S has not achieved quite the level
of culturally ready-made, supermarket-Muzak ubiquity of Y, but it has
gotten around pretty well on its own. None other than Frank Sinatra
included S in his repertoire, referring to it often as one of the
"best" (or maybe it was his "favorite") Lennon and McCartney song;
as if George hadn't already suffered enough indignities and lack of
individual identity in context of the Beatles.
- It's a slow, passionate number in which the protagonist stands on the
knife edge of likely and inevitably falling in love but without the complete
certainty that he will yet arrive there. It's an exquisitely
bittersweet state of heart effectively evoked in the music as much
as it is specified by the words. The affirmative and optimistic rising
hook phrase that opens and closes the song (as well as each of the verses)
is more than amply balanced out by a constant, nagging undertow of
literally "falling" motion in the bassline and tune. The decision to
not set that rising hook to vocalized lyrics tells us the score with
Melody and Harmony
- The verse tune keeps within the relatively small range of a 6th (G to E),
with the bridge opening up at the top to complete the G octave. Melodic
motion throughout is dominated by steps and thirds. One inconspicuous
jump of a 4th appears in the verse plus two more in the bridge. But in
keeping with the underlying mood of the piece, this is neither a time nor
place for making precipitous leaps, be they ones of faith or melodic motion.
- The key scheme here in which the bridge appears in the Major key of
VI (the parallel Major key of the relative minor) is a longtime favorite
of the Beatles, though George's implementation of it here is unusual in
- His harmonization of descending basslines also leads to some adventurous
choices for individual chords.
- The string orchestra, which enters for the second half of the first
verse and stays in for the duration, adds a pleasantly lush finish to
the arrangement though it functions as a relatively superficial facade
to the Beatles-plus-Preston supplied backing track of bass, drums, guitar,
organ and piano that is otherwise quite self sufficient. The piano part
is most apparent on the finished track when it doubles the dramatically
descending bassline solo in the bridge.
- George supplies the entire vocal arrangement in a neat pattern of
alternating sections of single tracking, double tracking at the
unison, as well as singing in harmony with himself. We get single
tracking for the first half of the first two verses, with double
tracking for their second halves. In the bridge we get an alternation
between harmonization and double tracking at the unison. This same
pattern is repeated in the final verse.
- George's impeccably executed slide solo has a melodic contour that
is noteworthy both intrinsically and in terms of the contrast
it makes with the verse tune which it momentarily replaces.
- The song opens with a three measure hook that characterizes the
entire song in your minds ear:
treble |A |Bb B nat. |C
chords |F |Eb G |C
bass |F |Eb D |C ...
C: IV flat-III V I
- The harmonic shape is convergent on the I chord of the home key
by way of an unusual cross-relation filled chord progression whose
harmonic power of persuasion depends on the stepwise contrary motion
of its outer voices. The latter forces the V chord to appear in its
second "6/4" inversion.
- The last measure of this phrase elides with the downbeat of the
start of the verse. You might otherwise expect two full measures
of pause on C Major at the end of this phrase before proceeding, though
the latter clearly would become a drag if repeated in each section.
- Drum triplets provide a 2-beat pickup to the start of the music; i.e.
Ringo starts drumming "on 3."
- The verse can be subdivided into an opening 12 measures of verse "proper"
followed by 6 measure refrain-like section whose second half is a
reprise of the intro's hook phrase:
|C |- |Maj. 7th |- |
|C7 |- |F |- |
|D |- |G |- |
|a |Ab |G |D |
|F |Eb G6/4 |C
IV flat III V I
- The harmonic shape of the verse proper opens out from I to V. The
V chord resolves deceptively to vi at the start of the refrain, and
the latter converges back toward the home key.
- The harmonic rhythm is calculatedly slow enough to make you climb
the walls. The D -> G root motion of measures 9 - 12 cleverly parallels
the C -> F movement of the first 8 measures, but takes only half the
time to do so. Imagine the absurdity of reversing the effect.
- Downward chromatic motion appears in the first phrase of the verse
proper tune. The bassline picks up the same idea for the first phrase of
- I prefer to not place Roman numerals under the middle chords of that
phrase because, even though you may accurately describe
them as Ab Augmented and C Major 6/4, their reason for being in this
context is as a side effect of harmonizing the descent of the bassline.
The bassline motion implies an arrival on F# in the final measure of
the phrase even though the bass elects to jump down to the root note
of D at that point.
- As with the intro, the ending of the first verse elides into the
second verse. The same trick happens with the lead into the bridge
though an important change of chord progression is made at that point:
|F |Eb G |A
IV flat III V
A: flat VII I
- The pivot modulation here from C to A makes perfect sense on paper,
with the G Major chord serving both V and flat VII in each respective
key. What catches you off guard and sounds "abrupt" is the appearance
of Eb and A Major chords (a root separation of a tritone!) in
such close proximity to each other.
- The bridge itself is a four-square 8 measures in length and is built
out of an an AA' phrasing pattern. Yet again, the last measure of
the section elides with the first measure of the one that follows:
|A G# |F# E |D G |A |
A: I vi IV flat-VII I
|A G# |F# E |D G |C |
I vi IV flat-VII
C: V-of-V V I
- Again we find a descending bassline (granted, this one is diatonic)
in which alternate chords require no Roman numeral. Yes, I know that
you can say the G# supports c# minor 6/4 and E supports A 6/4, but
as in the verse above, these chords are incidental rather than
harmonically significant in terms of root movement.
- We also have a dramatically syncopated and lengthy downward chromatic
lick in the bassline filling the last measure of the first bridge phrase.
The same rhythmic pattern is used to set a more soothing diatonic
bass lick in the final measure of the bridge when the modulation
back to C Major takes effect.
- The outro grows out of the final verse, with a repeat of the A Major
modulation, hinting at a possible repeat of the bridge complete, with
a high pitched guitar lick reminiscent of the chromatically descending
bassline. But that's quickly cancelled out with an iteration of the
original hook, the version without the funky modulation. This is the
only place in the song where the hook phrase is not elided, but rather
is given its full two measures due:
|F |Eb G |A |- |
C: IV flat III V
A: flat VII I
|F |Eb G |C |- |
IV flat-III V I
- In a single blow George manages to paraphrase two favorite coda gambits
of one Ludwig van Beethoven. Yes, it's preposterous to suggest that
George would be aware of this, but the correspondences are hard to
deny in any event:
- The fake pass at another repeat of the "trio" in the second ("Scherzo")
movement of the 9th symphony, opus 123. A full repeat at this point
of the movement would make movement overlong. By providing the
quickly aborted snippet of such a repeat, the composer cleverly
gets you to return your attention to that special section by
by allusion, without forcing you to sit through a complete recap.
- The ending of the slow theme and variations (second) movement of
the Eb String Quartet (opus 127) provides a terse recap in its final
measures an harmonic trick that earlier played a structural role in
movement. The theme is in Ab Major, but Beethoven places several of
the middle variations in the remote key of E Major (enharmonically
the key of flat VI) by use of a clever modulation. At the very end
of the movement he repeats this modulation as a teasing deceptive
cadence before immediately re-establishing the correct home key
once and for all.
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS
- One of the hidden strengths of _Abbey Road_ that we'll uncover
in our studies of its songs is the unprecedented (for a "pop" album,
even one by The Beatles) extent to which it contains subtle cross
references between tracks, whether they be anticipations or
flashbacks. The medley on side 2 is where these effects are most
obvious and on the surface. But throughout the album, you find
many others correspondences at the level of key scheme or even
- You're more accustomed to appreciating this unifying effect in
the visual arts. Two famous examples are the prevalance of
angular v-shaped brushstrokes throughout Van Gogh's "Crows Over the
Wheat Field" (not just for the crows themselves) or the way in
which the attic curtains in "American Gothic" are the same fabric
as the wife's dress. But you can accomplish the similar effects in
- In "Something" the opening drum triplets are a surface level flashback
to the drum fills in the opening track,
"Come Together." The C/A key
scheme hints at, and provides a first example, of an harmonic structure
that at will emerge as the backbone of the entire medley.
- The number, nature, and inter-relation of such resonances on _AR_
increases naturally with the sequence of tracks. As with any other
film or novel that exploits the same techniques, your ability to
epiphanously draw those connections increases in direct proportion
to the depth of your familiarity with the material. So keep listening.
"You don't have to do the old adenoidal glottal stop and carry on
for our benefit ." 102499#178
Happy 18th Birthday, Hal
Copyright (c) 1995 by Alan W. Pollack
All Rights Reserved
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