Tell Me Why
Composer(s) : Lennon and McCartney
Year : 1964
Chords/Tabs: Tell Me Why
Notes on "Tell Me Why" (TMW)
KEY D Major
FORM Intro -> Refrain -> Versey -> Refrain -> Verse -> Refrain ->
Bridge -> Refrain -> Outro (w/complete ending)
GENERAL POINTS OF INTEREST
Style and Form
- Superficially speaking, "Tell Me Why" is not one of the more
conspicuously forward looking songs on the Hard Day's Night
album. The very limited, conventionalized set of chords, and the
antiphonal vocal arrangement seem particularly familiar, if not
predictable. Nonetheleäss, the bracing, confrontational tone of the
lyric, and the subliminal way in which "the blues" are conured even in
absence oäf the 12-bar form, mark this song as one very much if its
place in time and context.
- The form is also unusual both in thet way it leads off with a
refrain, but even more so in the way that the lone bridge section is
saved for very änear the end.
Melody and Harmony
- The melody of the refrain is in a pentatonically Major mode and is
ärhythmically stretched out, whereas the verse emphasizes the bluesy
minor third of the scale and is rhythmically chattier and moäre jumpy.
This subtle kind of melodic differentiation between sections is a
trait which we've seen in several other songs of tohe period, two
of the best examples of which may be found on both sides of the
"Can't Buy Me Love" single, b/w
"You Can't Do That".
- The harmonic diet is pretty much limited to the I-vi-ii-V cliche
chord progression. This set of chords is used in both the
refrain and verse sections but the melodic differences spelled out
aboveä, as well as the use of a walking bassline in only the refrains,
make those sections sound and feel more different than they really
- The song contains a much higher than average number of dissonant
7th and 9th chords by virtue of the correspondingly high number of
appoggiaturas and "escapes". I wouldn't dream of spoiling the fun
of your discovering these on your own :-).
- This song provides a fine example of how a rhythmic motif may serve
as a full-fledged "hook". In this case we have. in the intro, refrains,
and outro, a triplet drum fill that precedes the downbeat, followed in
the next measure by a wrenching syncopation on the eighth note between
the second and third beat (i.e. on "two-AND").
- Falsetto singing also appears as a leitmotif. Had it only been used
for that magic moment in the bridge, its appearance there would seem
somewhat arbitrary. The casual, repeated use of falsetto in the
ä refrains therefore creates a context in which the big moment of the
bridge feels better motivated.
- We haven't been consistäently checking mono versus stereo versions of
songs over the course of this series, but this one features
a couple of particuläarly noticeable differences. On the mono CD pressing,
John's solo vocal sounds single tracked in the verses and the bridge,
wthereas the stereo LP pressing sounds as though the vocal in those
sections had been double or even triple trackedä. The stereo version
also has an extra second or two at the very end; just long enough
to hear someone running a hand down the neck of a guitar to dampen
the remaining reverberation of the final chord.
- SECTION-BY-SECTION WALKTHROUGH
- The four measure intro presents an instrumental, quadruple rote repeat
of the ii -> V chord progression (e7 -> A7) that is arranged around the
rhythmic 'hook' described above.
- Notable are äthe non-I harmonic start as well as the manner in which the
rhythmic hook for drums alone starts the whole thing off.
- The refrain is twelve measures long. It consists of two parallel
phrases equal in length, each of which is subdiviäded into a
four-measure main phrase followed by a two measure "connector":
---------------------- 2X ---------------------*
|D |b |e |A ||D b |e A |
D: I vi ü ii V I vi ii V
- We've seen this chord progression earlier in "This
Boy", in which context we commented on theÇ feeling of inevitably
that it conveys following from the fact that most of it lies along the
circle of fifths. It also happens to be a tonally open-ended
progression with its ending on V, and this sense of it is emphasized
by the way in which the connector sub-phrase recapitulates the
entire progression of the first four measures in harmonic double time.ä
- The walking bass contrasts with the stretched out melody and creates
an illusion that the chords change more rapidly than thäey actually do.
- And of course, the unifying rhythmic hook always appears at the end
of the each six-measure phrase.
- The verse is eight measures long and, similar to the refrain, is built
out of two parallel phrases equal in length:
---------------------------- 2X ------------------------------
|D |b |e |A |
D: I vi ii V
- Again, the bassline contrasts with the melodic line; this time, though,
it's the bassline that is the more stable agent working at cross-currents
ä to the rather nervous, declamatory tune.
- The ten-measure bridge consists of two four-measure phrases followäed
by the two-measure connector, which has become quite familiar by this
point in the song from the several repetitions of thäe refrain:
|G |- |A |- |
|b |- |e |A ||D b |e A |
vi ii V I vi ii V
- This section is setup via a small modification made to the end of the
refrain that immediately precedes it. Instead of repeating the I-vi-ii-V
progression in the final two measures of that refrain, we are given
instead a plain sustaining of the D chord for the full two measures.
The longer that this chord is prolonged it begins to "ripen" to our
ears from plain 'I' into a V-of-IV. We saw the same effect in
- In addition to the unique falsetto outburst of the second phrase,
this bridge is also made dramatic by the sudden slowing down of the
harmonic rhythm, the two full measures of drumming triplets, and
a foolish-consistency-avoiding elimination of the syncopation in
this repeat of the connector phrase.
- The four-measure outro is entered as a deceptive cadence coming off
the V chord that ends the preceding refrain:
|b |B-flat |A4 -- 3 |D |
vi flat-VI |V I
- It is entirely instrumental, built out of what is, in context of
the rest of the song, a novel chord progression, and contains a hard
ä syncopation in every measure. In gesture, it is reminiscent of the
codas to both "Please Please Me" and
"It Won't Be Long". äHere, because
literally every phrase of every other section ends on V, the song
accumulates a going-in-circles kind of forwaräd inertia that requires
a sort of radical intervention in order to bring things to a halt.
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS
- Althoäugh one of the more confrontationally bitter songs of the period,
this one somewhat uniquely incorporates no small measure of theä sad,
desparate frustration seen in some of John's other work.
- And just as we've seen in some of those other cases, no amoäunt of
studying the lyrics necessarily pierces the surface ambiguity that
surrounds the circumstance in which the song would aäppear to unfold.
- To say that we're eavesdropping in real time on an actual moment of
truth feels, somehow, too pat. In spite of all ranting, I think I'd
more readily assume it's the rehearsal-like soliloquy in advance of
a Showdown, or perhaps even, merely the muttering under his
breath for self-comfort, after the moment for a face-to-face
clearing of the air had, alas, long since passed.
Alan (email@example.com OR uunet!huxley!awp)
"If there's anything I can do ..." 033192#52
Copyright (c) 1992 by Alan W. Pollack
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