) which reiterates
in the background of most of the song and is largely resonsible for giving
the song its characteristic bounce. Notably, this leitmotif is *not*
found consistently in the early outtakes and it's later addition is a good
example of how The Boys learned how to revise their work in real time for
- The modification of the second verse to effect a smoother transition into
the bridge is an unusual formal touch, though by no means unique; see
"I Should Have Known Better" for another example.
- We also have those familiar slow triplets in a number of places: the second
half of the verse ("and there's no time") and almost, but not quite, in the
bridge. The outtakes prove that they originally planned to present the
opening hook this way too, but proved to be some combination of difficult
- The hard-hitting, unique sonority of the E Major 7th chord chord is one
of the essential characteristics of the song and, on the surface, is the
prime motivator of musical tension.
- On a more subtle harmonic level, the song also projects a groping, insecure
sense of tonal footing. It's clearly in E Major on the one hand, yet as
we'll see below, both the verse and bridge sections have their share of
frustrated V chords and fitful modulations.
- In many respects, this is a "typical" Beatles arrangement of the period
with several of the familiar ingredients: harmonica hook, pungent two-part
vocal harmonies, drum fills, and melodic bass part.
- The guitar parts are sparser than usual, leaving some chords implied by
melody, bassline and context, instead of being made explicit by full-voiced
- As usual, the vocal parts are more intricately worked out than first meets
the eye. Paul takes the lead for most of the verse sections with John
singing in harmony below him. At the end of the first and third verses,
Paul suddenly drops out leaving John briefly exposed by himself on lead,
and at the end of the middle variant verse, John sings lead with a vocalese
backing by Paul and George. The bridge section alternates between solo John
and John and Paul in unison.
- Also, don't miss out on those trill-like ornaments John sensually tacks onto
the end of his phrases in the verse.
- By the way, that opening B natural bass pickup "on 'four'" sure does remind
me of "Please Please Me" :-).
- The intro has an odd length of five measures by virtue of the unusually
elongated vocal pickup phrase at the end of it:
"There,--there's a place ..."
1 2 3 4 12 3 4 1
|E7 |A |E7 |A | |
E: I IV I IV V
- The intense mood of the song is immediately established by that dissonant
major seventh chord right on the first downboat, nicely enhanced by the
bent note ('D.'#) in the second iteration of the harmonica phrase.
- The verse has an unusual total length of 15 measures. It's actually built
out of regular sorts of four-measure phrases until near the end where the
odd length is created, as in the intro, by the stretched out pickup to
the next phrase:
|E |A |E |A ||E |c# |B |- ||
I IV I IV I vi V
"I ---- think of you..."
9 13 3 4 1 2 3 4 1
|g# |A |E7 |A f# ||c# |- |- B ||
iii IV I IV V
c#: vi iv i
- Note how the first eight measures have a classical "open" shape, ending
on the V chord. Yet, the remainder of the section, instead of routinely
closing it back up, proceeds to tonally meander.
- In greater detail: the home key is established in the first phrase via the
relatively weak "Plagal" cadence of I-IV. The next phrase opens up widely
with those two full measures on the V chord, yet this juicy dominant is left
dangling unresolved as the music veers fitfully toward g# minor at the
beginning of the final phrase. This excursion is itself short-lived
and the verse ultimately settles down in what would appear to be a
modulation to the key of the relative minor, c#. But after all this,
the next verse reverts directly right back to the home key.
- I hear the entirety of measure 8 as the V chord, though if you listen
carefully, Paul plays the notes G#->A->B during the slow triplet in that
measure as though he were trying to do something like the "iii-IV-V"
chord cliche we saw in "Please Please Me", measure 4.
- The single most compositionally clever detail in the entire song is the
way that the wailing harmonica hook phrase is worked into John's backing
vocal part in measures 9 - 12. Part of the magical effect in those
measures is the way that Paul and John's vocal parts climax twice on
a tasty *fourth* that is resolves with their respective parts moving
in contrary motion:
Paul: G# -> A
John: D# E-D#-> C#
- And note, finally, how the harmonica hook reappears on cue in measure 13.
- The first eight measures of this section are identical to those of the first
verse. The music then continues with the following straightforward four
measure phrase which reiterates the earlier open ending on V:
"Like I love only you ..."
|A |- |B |- |
- True to form and purpose, note how when we move onto the bridge, this V
chord is frustrated, yet again, by another deceptive cadence to vi!
- The bridge is an unusal 10 measures long, though basically built out of two
identical repetitions of the same four measure phrase. The asymmetrical
length is created (just as in the intro and first verse) by the reappearance
of the by now familiar elongated vocal pickup for the next verse section:
--------------- 2X -------------
|c# |F# |E |G# ||c# |- B |
c#: i V i E:V
B: ii V IV -> ?
- The sometimes restless sense of tonal direction seen in the verse is
further developed here to the extreme that each successive chord keeps
us guessing as to where we're ultimately headed.
- Though we start off in the relative minor key of c#, the section continues
at first as though a pivot modulation to the key of V (B Major) were in
the offing. Even the awkward appearance of the E chord in the third
measure could "work" as part of this modulation, being "heard" as the
IV of the new key, but only *if* the B chord itself would follow it;
try it out yourself, see how nicely it works -- c# -> F# -> E -> B.
- It is the sudden appearance of the G# Major chord which abruptly cuts
off that modulation in-progress, and briskly pulls the music right back
to the key of c#. Part of me is tempted to chalk this seeming inelegance
up to inexperience on their parts, though I cannot escape the thought
that the groping, casting-about feeling conjured by it is germane to the
spirit of the song.
- The final verse is identical to the first one though one measure shorter
- Directly, in the second half of measure 14, we move into an outro in which
*both* the vocal and instrumental hooks are presented antiphonally in
strict alternation into a fadeout ending; a vivid, concrete presentation
of what I've alluded to as the underlying paradox of the song.
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS
- We have here yet another of those songs in which John apparently soft
and insecure emotional core would seem to musically belie his tough, or
at least more self-assured lyrics. This listener, for one, would feel
much better convinced by what's professed here as an unshakable belief
in this special "place", if the story had been set in straightforward,
simple chord progressions and even phrases; on this level, even a dire
ditty like "Misery"'s got a more relaxed phatic subtext :-).
- The song is also typically and prophetically John-like for its off-center
point of view. The expressed facility to escape inside of himself in order
to commune with object of his love is strange enough for starters. But even
more provoking is the way in which the anxiety factor of the music combined
with the escapism of the lyrics suggests that, in spite of the second-person
pronoun phrasing of those same lyrics, the protagonist is not so much talking
*to* his love, as he is ruminating to himself at a distance from her, and in
Alan (firstname.lastname@example.org *OR* uunet!huxley!awp)
"Leave him alone, Lennon, or I'll tell them all the truth about you." 081291#31
** editorial note: even though some of the articles will inevitably have a
much terser form than others, I decided to title them after all as part
of the same series. Hence, the reversion to the 'Notes on ...' title here,
and a renumbering of the last two ("Misery" and
"P.S. Love You") to be part of the regular series. **
Copyright (c) 1991 by Alan W. Pollack
All Rights Reserved
This article may be reproduced, retransmitted, redistributed and
otherwise propagated at will, provided that this notice remains
intact and in place.
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(c) 2023 Serge Girard