Composer(s) : Lennon and McCartney
Year : 1964
Chords/Tabs: This Boy
Notes on "This Boy" (TB)
KEY D Major
METER 2/4 (6/8)
FORM Intro -> Verse -> Verse -> Bridge -> Verse -> Outro (fadeout)
GENERAL POINTS OF INTEREST
Style and Form
- "This Boy", with its tight three-part harmonies, jumping triplet rhythm,
cliche chord progression, and climactic bridge section for the vocal
soloist, is a stylized update of the late 50's genre sometimes described
as "the slow wall climber."
- The form is short, partly because of the slow tempo, but more importantly
because the intense nature of the bridge argues against a repeat of that
- Although the final verse or two of the typical Beatles song tends to repeat
the lyrics from one of the earlier verses, every verse of This One contains
different words. The lyrics also feature "this/that" wordplay throughout.
- The chord progression "I->vi->ii->V" permeates the verse sections. It
is remarkably similar to the "I-vi-IV-V" cliche we saw in "Please Mister
Postman". However, the use of ii here places the last three chords
along the circle of fifths and on a very subtle level (try comparing
the two of them, yourself) this gives the overall progression a feeling
of gentle inevitability that is missing when IV is used in its place.
- The prevalence of appoggiaturas in the vocal parts makes almost every
chord in the song into seventh or a ninth chord, many of which are resolved
though by the time they do so, it's often already the next chord. A good
example of this appears at the end of the verse on the word "again". The
top vocal part there pits a b -> a appogiatura above the D chord, except
that by the time the b resolves down to the a, the harmony has already
moved on to a b minor chord which now puts the same note 'a' which would
have been a consonant note in relation to the D chord into the unexpected
position of being a 7th on top of the b chord. This particular style of
dissonance treatment conjures an aesthetic of romantic yearning, and in the
realm of classical music is one of the hallmarks of such mid-late 19th
century composers such as Wagner, Brahms et al.
- Though the bridge does not make a firm modulation, it does in fact drift
away from the home key just far enough to allow for a big build up on V
and a pleasant sense of return at the end of it.
- Along with "Yes It Is" and the much later "Because", this is one of the
Beatles most ambitious forays into sustained three-part harmony. One of
my favorite video clips of the group is from their February '64 concert
at the Coliseum in Washington DC at which, forced by a combination of
the primitive audio equipment of those days and the pandemonium of the
crowd, they perform "This Boy" with the three of them huddled uncomfortably
close around a single microphone in order be able to hear themselves.
- Unusual here is the manner in which the combination of the following factors
creates the not-unpleasant effect of obscuring the actual "tune": the close
placement of the three vocal parts in relation to each other, the relative
lack of melodic individuality among the three parts, and the assignment of
John (who sings what is ostensibly the main melody) to the bottom part. This
also makes John's finally soaring clearly above the range of the others in
the bridge section seem all the more spectacular.
- The intro opens with three unaccompanied guitar chords, the first of
which actually marks the middle of a measure, followed by an instrumental
ensemble performance of our cliche chord progression. The section is an
asymmetrical five and a half measures long, as though the first three
chords were merely an elongated pickup to a four-measure-long intro-proper.
- The verse is sixteen measures long. The backing part is built out of
essentially four ostinato-like repeats of what I've dubbed the cliche
|D |b |e |A |
D: I vi ii V
- Note though, that the vocal parts actually make up three phrases which
are not only unequal in length, but start in a differents places within
the four-bar frame. The first phrase ("That boy took my love away")
begins right on the downbeat of measure 1. The second phrase ("Though
he'll regret it...") begins its long anacrusis in the midst of measure 7.
The third phrase ("But *this* boy...") has a small pickup on the word
"but", however the emphasis on the word "this" gives it the feeling of
starting squarely on the downbeat of measure 11 and it ends early enough
to leave measures 15 and 16 as though they were between-verse filler.
Note too how the backing rhythm is momentarily silenced to good effect
at the beginning of this last phrase.
- The way that they manage to feature the D Major 7 in the vocal arrangement
at the beginning of the first three 4-measure phrases even though the
melodic context is different each time is quite ingenious. To the extent
that this motif reappears in the outro, you might say that its *the* hook
of the piece.
- The last four measures of the second verse, which happens to directly precede
the bridge, are modified so that instead of the usual chord progression
we find the D Major 'I' chord sustained throughout, and actually modified
to D7 so that its potential secondary function as the V-of-IV is brought
into play by the end of the phrase.
- The bridge is also sixteen measures long but is internally designed
to contrast with the verse on a number of levels, not the least important
of which are its division into two neat phrases of equal length and the
sudden slowing of the harmonic rhythm to only one chord change every two
|G |- |F# |- |b |- |D |- |
D: IV V-of-vi vi V-of-IV
|G |- |E |- |A |- |- |- |
IV V-of-V V
- The slowing of the rate of harmonic change is made ironic by the increased
sense of restlessness in the sequence of chords. Note in this section the
high quotient of chromatic harmony (i.e. chords not diatonically indigenous
to the home key, such as 'V-of ...' chords) in spite of the fact that we
never actually leave the home key. In terms of word painting, I hear
this gambit as illustrative of a lad who is desperately pulling out all
the stops, using all the tricks he has at his dispsosal, ultimately to
prove a relatively simple point regarding the constancy of his love.
- The other obvious contrast is in the vocal arrangement of this bridge,
with double-tracked John stepping in front of the backing "chorus", as
it were, for his big solo. Lewisohn tantalizes us with the disclosure
that early takes in the studio actually featured a guitar solo here
- As in the verses, the perpetual backing rhythm is briefly halted during
the final two measures of this section to great dramatic effect.
- Right between the very last beat of the bridge and the final verse is
an obvious, ugly splice. Granted, it doesn't go "click", but this is
still further proof (as if you needed it) that not too many people
involved at the time could have been thinking that people would listen
this closely this long after the fact.
- The outro merely presents the opening hook phrase looped in alternation
with a little counter melody played by the lead guitar. The latter is
the only place in the song where this much prominence is given to the
lead guitar and I wonder if this is partially a vestige of the bridge
solo abandoned earlier.
A FINAL THOUGHT
- The lyrical concordance of the Beatles' songs titled "Things We Said Today"
(edited by Campbell and Murphy) has "This Boy" subtitled as "Ringo's Theme",
which is news to me. I'll take it on faith that this correctly reflects how
the song was published. But I will ask if anyone out there can answer
whether the alternate title was supplied before or after the making of
"A Hard Days Night." The fact that an instrumental version of "This
Boy" is used in the film as accompaniment to the long scene in which the
sad and lonely one goes paradin' about town seems like just too
much of a coincidence to ignore. But on the other hand, I've got just
the shadow of a doubt that perhaps the movie scene was inspired by
the song rather than the other way around ... just kidding.
Alan (firstname.lastname@example.org *OR* uunet!huxley!awp)
"Well, that's lovely talk, that is. And another thing, why aren't you
at school ?" 123091#44
Copyright (c) 1991 by Alan W. Pollack
All Rights Reserved
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