Notes on … Series #88 (IINS)
by Alan W. Pollack
General Points of Interest
Style and Form
“If I Needed Someone” is not anywhere nearly as ambitious or original as the likes of “Don’t Bother Me” and “Think For Yourself“. And yet, just beneath the surface production values that otherwise allow the song to fit in so compatibly among the Lennon and McCartney originals which surround it (the title of a certain ancient Beatleg, “Homogenized Beatles” comes to mind), are to be found all the telltale touches which mark the song as one by George; in particular, the modal harmony, the cramped stepwise tune, and the wistful appoggiaturas.
The form adds an unusual twist to the classic two-bridge model, with three consecutive verses separating the bridges, the middle one of which is a kind of instrumental break.
Melody and Harmony
In our previous looks at other Harrisongs I’ve often noted George’s pronounced taste for wandering chord progressions that are less goal orientated than the average. The harmony of this one is actually quite a bit more teleological than usual for George, but we do find here, in the verse, an early example of “sustained pedal” harmony; a device which, before much longer, would become George’s predominant style trait as he entered what you might call his unabashedly Indian Period.
And yet, as obvious it may seem for us to associate this device of pedal harmony with the static, non-harmonic drone-based basis of Indian classical music, I also wonder if there is not a heretofore overlooked and much more direct connection between the device and the early-to-mid musical style of the Beatles! In particular, I’m thinking of the number of songs by John which conspicuously start off with at least four bars or more of the I chord; off the top of the head, try “Ticket To Ride” and “Day Tripper“, but above all don’t forget “Tomorrow Never Knows” and “Rain“.
Overall, I’d describe the home key as flavor of A Major that is modally inflected by the heavy use in the verses of the flat-VII chord superimposed over that pedal harmony of the I chord. The bridge provides a very clear and decided modulation to the unusual key choice of ii (i.e. b minor).
The melody of the verse is in straight Mixolydian mode; that’s the scale with the Major third and the flat seventh — think of it as the white note scale starting on G. By way of contrast, the bridge tune is in an equally straightforward minor mode.
Though somewhat disguised by the three part harmony of the verses, the melody of this song, throughout, lives within an extremely constricted range, with mostly stepwise motion, and a great deal of circular repetition; you may find it interesting to compare with “You Like Me Too Much“.
Pitchwise, the verse tune is centered around A, and uses only four more notes — G, B, C#, and D. The bridge tune rounds this out by adding F# and and A# (of all things) to the mix. Also, the G# that you’d normally expect to find in the key of A Major makes its first appearance in the harmony of the bridge.
The hypnotically fuzzy solo guitar sound used at the very beginning of the song rather pervades the entirety of it; sometimes doubling the main vocal line, and also reiterating the opening hook in between the buttons.
George starts off the first verse with a double tracked vocal solo, but Paul and John quickly join him on the title/hook-phrase in a bit of three-part block-move triadic harmony uncannily reminiscent of “Think For Yourself“, right down to the subtle detail of your being able to hear John somehow raspily loudest of all. George’s double- tracked solo part returns for the bridges, but all the rest of the verses, other than that first one, are sung entirely in three-parts. There’s a really nice detail that I was originally going to map out but decided to leave it as an exercise for the listener — note how the phrases of three-part harmony start off in parallel 5/3 chords, but then shift at the melodic apex to the 6/3 inversion.
Finicky changes in the percussion part are yet again used to help punctuate formal contrast. The tambourine is struck on the second and fourth beats of each measure of the verses, but in the bridges it is shaken in fast-moving even eighth notes.
In the last phrase of almost every verse section (including the instrumental) Ringo provides an eighth-note figure on the bass drum that leads into a cymbal crash coinciding with the word “Someone”. Do you suppose his leaving this out during the final verse was out of a desire to avoid what I call foolish consistency, or the result of his being asleep at the switch?
The song opens with an archetypically Beatlesque layered design, the likes of which makes the fact that this one was recorded on the same day as “Day Tripper” seem like more than a coincidence; for that matter, both songs make uncommonly heavy use of an ostinato figure, as well.
Entrances are leisurely staggered over the course of the intro and first two verses, starting with just solo guitar, followed by the rest of the instruments, then George, and finally, the backing vocals; the latter, singing only on the hook phrase at first, and then later, for the entire verse.
The four-measure intro is built out of two repetitions of a two-bar solo guitar ostinato lick that cleverly anticipates the tune which is about to follow without necessarily giving it away, so to speak. Think, for example, about the similarities between the two of pitch content and range, the gentle but unceasing off-beat syncopation, and the implied superimposition of the G chord over the home key chord A.
The verse is a typical eight measures long, though it parses into an extremely atypical three-phrase pattern, of 2 + 3 + 3:
There is virtually no harmonic motion in this section; the sense of home key arising more out of the insistence of the drone-like bassinet than from chord “progression” per se.
The section that I’ve labeled as an instrumental break might be more properly called a “verse without words”, given that its texture is built out of wall-to-wall three-part vocal harmonies and a guitar solo variation on the opening ostinato figure that is almost buried in the mix.
The bridge is also eight measures in length but is built more simply out of two even phrases:
The harmony of this section features an almost textbook-perfect pivot modulation to the key of b minor. In particular, on the way back to the home key at the end of the section, you get a clear opportunity to observe how the mind ‘reinterprets’ the b-minor chord in measure 7 retrospectively as the ii of of A once you’ve heard the E-Major chord that follows it.
The home key of A Major is established by traditional V -» I means rather belatedly as this section moves into the following verse. In fact, this is the only place in the song where the E-Major chord, with its concomitant use of G# (as opposed to the G-natural of the flat-VII chord), appears.
I’ll leave most of the appoggiaturas in this song for you to find for yourself, save the piquant “9-8” job in measures 4 of this section (on the phrase “been like this”) because, in my humble opinion, it is so quintessentially George-like.
The outro is a partial reprise of the instrumental middle break, in this instance truncated to just two measures worth of vamping on the I chord, modified to incorporate the exact original ostinato figure instead of a copycat variation of it, and followed by that memorable final chord with the guitars playing plain open fifths instead of the complete triad.
Some Final Thoughts
But what’s ‘e trying to say? It seems to me that the lyric is saturated by a conditional plan- and promise-making to an extreme that seriously belies the protagonist’s claim of being too much in love” right (yes) now, thank you.
Of course, whether such a mixed message be art or artifice, who can really tell for sure?