Tomorrow Never Knows
Composer(s) : Lennon and McCartney
Year : 1966
Chords/Tabs: Tomorrow Never Knows
Notes on "Tomorrow Never Knows" (TNK)
KEY C Mixolydian/Dorian/Major
FORM Intro -> Verse -> Verse -> Verse -> Instrumental ->
Verse -> Verse -> Verse -> Verse -> Outro (fadeout)
GENERAL POINTS OF INTEREST
Style and Form
- TNK is a veritable kitchen-sink mix of just about every trick in
the Beatles book to-date, including: an Indian drone, modal tune, bluesy
instrumental, tape loops, ADT, vocals played through revolving speakers,
distortedly close-up miking of instruments, and a psychadelically mystical
"outlook." One of the amazing aspects of this song is the extent to which
this collage not merely hangs together, but pulls into such a powerfully
focused, unified effect.
- There are some uncanny parallels to be drawn between aspects of this track
and gestures or techniques used elsewhere in the avant garde world of
so-called "Modern" 20th century music. I bring this up *NOT* to suggest
the Beatles were consciously borrowing from, or being influenced by the
specific works or composers in question (Heck, I'd be very surprised
if they were even *aware* of them, even if Paul did know how to drop the
name of Stockhausen in an interview :-)) Rather, any such parallels
for me are all the more uncanny and ironic in the *absence* of direct
- The Intro here is not so much a fade-in as it is a small variation of the
typical staggered/layered intro. Similarly, the ending is not so much
fadeout as it is a musical disintegration. You might find it interesting
to compare the ending of TNK with almost anything written during the 60's
by one contemporary American composer, Elliott Carter, who explicitly
cultivated an aesthetic in his endings of a unverse winding down and
flying apart; complete with excerpts from classical poetry in his liner
notes to support his point of view.
Arrangement, Melody and Harmony
- TNK is one of those unusual cases where the musical material per-se is
rather inseparable from a consideration of its arrangement. In spite of
the thickly overdubbed texture, the fabric consists of discrete musical
elements, each with a distinct timbre as well as some unique configuration
of melodic pitches or rhythm:
- The rhythmic backing of drums, bass, and tambourine remains steady
and consistent throughout, with a hard syncopation on "three-AND".
- John's vocal is equal parts triadic bugle call and Mixolydian/bluesy
lick with an emphasis on the flat 7th.
- The harmony is virtually a single C Major pedal point throughout,
suggesting an extremely novel application of the Indianesque drone.
The only harmonic movement at all in the song is the implied vacillation
toward flat-VII in the second half of virtually every verse, colored
in each case by what sounds like sythesized brass instruments; either
French horns or trombones.
- Two of the tape loops provide jagged ostinati figures based on
on diatonic C Major scale material; one motif recurs over and
over again: C -> (down a 7th) D -> E -> F -> E -> (up a 6th) C.
In some instances, this figure appears rapid, clear and high pitched.
On other cases, it appears slower, in mid-range, and as though
polyphonically overdubbed with itself.
- Both halves of the instrumental feature bluesy emphasis on the
melodic, flat 7th. The first includes Mixolydian-like empahsis
on the melodic Major 3rd, while the lead-guitar-sounding second
halve includes the really bluesy/Dorian emphasis on the bent/minor
- And, of course, the "seagull" tape loop has no determinate
pitch content to speak of, though its contour is predominated by
saw-tooth descent, after reaching high.
- Lewisohn's description of the sessions for this song emphasizes the
the free-wheeling creativity and real-time mixing of it. Yet, if
you bother to map it out, you discover how carefully orchestrated it
is after all in terms of which discrete elements appear in which
sections, and in which sequence.
- The intro is 6 measures long, built out of two measures each of:
- a fading-in, pulsating tamboura drone on the pitch, C
- the hard-rock rhythm track
- and the first appearance of the "seagull" tape loop
- On one level, it's nothing more than yet another layered Beatles
intro, but the pace at which the elements are introduced, and the
unexpected nature of two out of the three of them makes it extraordinarily
- The verse is a straightforward 8 measures long and is repeated, mantralike,
over and over and over, a total of 7 times, exclusive of the intro,
outro, and solo sections:
|C |- |- |- |
|B-flat |- |C |- |
- The melody is a rather a simplistic bugle call through its first half;
providing yet another archtypal demonstration of the principle of keeping
at least one compositional factor simple when you decide to complicate
other factors to the extreme. Also, notice the Lennon-cum-Holly-esque
slow triplets in the opening phrase ("turn off your mind .." ).
- The instrumental break fills sixteen measures, though its two halves
are of unequal lengths; i.e., 6 + 10 measures, instead of the 8 + 8
- The first eight-bar frame of the break does not have the flat-VII
horns in measure 5 & 6, but the second eight-bar frame *does*. You
have to work hard at noticing this though because the 6+10 form of
the solo parts throws off entirely your sense of where the 8-bar dividing
The Second Half
- The principle of saving a little something in the way of a surprise
for the second half is demonstrated here by:
- The "beep" tone in the midst of the first line of the verse which
follows the break; reminiscent of the phone company or radio station's
hourly time check. I'm fairly well convinced that this is placed here
exactly at the mid-point of the track (1:28), in a Dada-esque gesture
similar to Schoenberg's "Mondfleck" number from _Pierrot Lunaire_, in
which he writes an atonal fugue whose second half is the exact mirror
image of it's first half; keep in mind, Schoenberg did this in 1913!!
- On a more subtle level, the lead vocal is processed through revolving
"Leslie speakers" starting in the second verse following the break. Like
the splice in
"Strawberry Fields Forever," you could listen to this track
for many years and never notice this detail; yet read it once in Lewisohn,
and you can never hear it any other way again.
- The outro is an extension of the final verse with five iterations of
- The trailing seconds of the track paint an image of the world winding
down and pulling apart, as it were, by centrifugal force; or, if you will,
like pinwheel slowing down sufficiently so that you can see beyond its
blurred spinning image to the individual frames of which that image
- As the smoke clears, a number of musical elements emerge that you'd never
guess had been there all along; most notably, a furiously flailing tack
piano. I wonder, though -- were these newly emerging elements *really*
there all along, or is it a matter of a deftly handled aural illusion?
And, by the way -- to the extent that the illusion works so well, you
might say it doesn't really matter if the piano was really there all
along or not!
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS
- This track bears the ironic fate of being the first one recorded back
in April '66 for the new-album-in-progress, while in more ways than one,
it was destined from early on to be last track of the album.
- On a rather immediate level, I've always enjoyed the way that the
"Got To Get You Into My Life," being in G with an
extended outro vamping on that chord, sets up TNK's being in C as
though the two songs together create a decisive V->I ending for the
album. But there are issues that run much deeper.
- For one thing, having this one already in the can before the stylistic
breadth and running order of _Revolver_ had much yet crystalized gave
them the strategically compositional advantage of knowing in advance
the exact placement of the vanishing perspective point for the entire
album. Consider how the sequencing of the entire album works *toward*
- For another thing, there is so much inherent in this track which
forces it to be in the final position. I'm reminded, in this connection,
of a wonderful essay embedded by Thomas Mann within his novel, "Dr.
Faustus," in which he explains why Beethoven intentionally cast his
final piano sonata, Op. 111, in the unusual form of only two movements,
the second of which is a slow movement in theme and variations.
Commenting on the relationship of Op. 111 to the entirety of the piano
sonata as a genre, Mann says that, "as a species, as traditional
art-form; it itself was here at an end, brought to its end, it had
fulfilled its destiny, reached its goal, beyond which there was no going,
it cancelled and resolved itself, it took leave ..."** While it is
an exaggeration to say that the Rock Song genre was in any sense
"finished off" by a single song like our TNK, it is worth pondering the
extent to which a single track can be said to have raised the stakes,
and taken the genre to some kind of crossroads from which it would be
a challenge to all, the Beatles themselves not excepted, to figure out
where to proceed next.
[** the quote is on page 55, but I recommend to anyone interested
in the intersection between literature and music criticism read
from the beginning of Chapter 8, on page 49.]
- Granted, I doubt that I can muster any objective proof that the Beatles
entertained any kind of concsious, pre-meditated thoughts along these lines,
but do also grant me the poetic justice of our reacting to it thusly. And
if that doesn't work for you, imagine the absurdity of hearing of TNK
anywhere else in the track order; try, especially listening to it as
either the first or last track on side A and then listening to any other
track afterwards. Or better yet, relax and enjoy it in place, just
the way it is.
"I've only one thing to say to you, John Lennon." 052195#103
Copyright (c) 1995 by Alan W. Pollack
All Rights Reserved
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Ook op Revolver:
(c) 2021 Serge Girard