Notes on … Series #86 (IML)
by Alan W. Pollack
Key: A Major
Form: Intro | Verse | Bridge |
| half-intro | Verse | Bridge |
| Verse (instrumental) | Bridge |
| Outro (with complete ending)
CD: "Rubber Soul", Track 11 (Parlophone CDP7 46440-2)
Recorded: 18th, 22nd October 1965, Abbey Road 2
UK-release: 3rd December 1965 (LP "Rubber Soul")
US-release: 6th December 1965 (LP "Rubber Soul")
General Points of Interest
Style and Form
In spite of the Baroque keyboard solo of the original, or the schmaltzy-cum-folksy arrangement cooked up by Joshua Rifkin for Judy Collins’ cover of it, the “style” of this song remains tantalizingly indeterminate.
The form contains a folk ballad-like rote alternation of sections, though the use of a bridge rather than a refrain, coupled with the inconsistent deployment of the motif heard in the intro as a “spacer” between sections, blurs most of whatever specifically folk-style associations you might otherwise derive from the it (the form) per se.
Above all, the song creates a delicate and delicious balance between heart baring intimacy of the first order and a vaguely subordinate and reticent unease. The closest I can pinpoint the latter is to something not quite straightforward about some of the chord progressions and the way in which the tune runs roughshod over them. In the final result, this “unease” is something that, as a long term listener, I feel more strongly than I can discern with any precision. But if I am at all on the right track, it is as though whatever confidence is shared within the confines of this song is done so at no small cause of pain, as though it were happening compulsively on some level, in spite of the author’s will.
Melody and Harmony
The rising interval of a sixth provides a melodically hopeful and pervasive subtext to the song, appearing as it does in all sections: e.g. the very start of the intro, and the very end of both the verse and the bridge.
The tune remains almost rigidly pentatonic until the bridge where the fourth scale degree (D) is introduced for the first time in the tune on the word “lovers”. The seventh scale degree (G#) appears nowhere in the song, melodically, other than as the last note of the introductory guitar riff.
The melody incurs an unusually large amount of free dissonance against the chords of the accompaniment from its large number of appoggiaturas, “escapes”, and gratuitous sevenths and ninths. The pervasiveness of this melodic style lends a puzzling attitudinal touch of I’m-so-tired laziness or enervation, at least, that runs at cross-currents to the otherwise earnest theme of the song.
The choice of chords for the song is relatively simple though the verse features John’s much favored minor iv chord motivated by the chromatic descent of an implied inner voice. The bridge features some increased complication in the choice of chords and their progression.
Outside of the so-called “spacer” motif, the harmony of this song strongly avoids the type of clear key definition and closure one associates with straightforward V -» I cadences. Note how the V chord doesn’t even show up in the bridge, and its one appearance in the verse is followed “deceptively” (that’s a technical term, son) by vi (that’s a chord, not the Unix text editor). I pick up on this as yet another source of curious indirectness and reticence.
The stereo image places the basic backing texture of electric guitar, electric bass, and percussion off toward the left, with the voices and, later, the piano off to the right.
John sings the lead double tracked with Paul providing a Beatles-trademarked duet of free counterpoint on the odd numbered phrases, with John left by himself for the even numbered ones. As much as I always prefer John in single track mode (and feel that this song, above many others, would particularly lend itself to such an immediate delivery), the transition between the duet and a single tracked solo would likely have been too stark.
As is not at all unusual in other arrangements of theirs from this period, it is the percussion section which helps articulate the form. For the intro and verses, the drumming features an understated syncopated pattern that is punctuated by quickly damped cymbals. For the bridges, the beat shifts to something close to four in the bar, and the dry damped sound of the verses is traded in for the bright ringing sounds of a tambourine and drum sticks tapping lightly on cymbals’ edge.
George Martin’s much celebrated solo on electric piano was played for the recording an octave lower, and half as slow as it sounds on the finished track. I would bet that the motivation for this was as much to distort the attack/decay timbre of the instrument to make it sound more like a harpsichord as it was to help project a sensation of almost un-natural speed in the performance; the solo turns out to be not that difficult to perform in tempo — even the running scale at the end.
The four-measure intro establishes the home key while introducing the melodic upward sixth and setting a measured pace by virtue of its slow harmonic rhythm:
------------- 2X --------------
|A |E |
A: I V
The two-measure motif from which this intro is built recurs throughout the song as a unifying device; repeated here in the intro, a single reprise just before the second verse, and in extended repetition for the outro. The AA inner form of intro itself presages the parallel kind of structure that is to be found in both the verses and bridges which follow below.
The verse is eight measures long and is structured as an AA couplet based on the following four-measure phrase:
----------------------------- 2X ------------------------------
|A E |f# A7 |D d |A |
A: I V vi V-of-IV IV iv I
Melodic “dissonance” abounds: in the first measure there’s the B -» A (“9-8”) appoggiatura on the downbeat (on the word “pla-ces”) and the escape from the neighbor tone C# (on the first syllable of “remember”); measure 2 starts with a “free” seventh on its downbeat (on the second syllable of “remember”); and measure 3 starts off with a B -» A (“6-5”) embellished appoggiatura (on the drawn out word “life”).
There is an unusual syncopated boomy noise in the second half of the measure 2, right after the A7 chord is reached. I imagine that it’s either the result of a collision between an A played by the bass with a G-natural played just below the A on a low string of the rhythm guitar; or else it may be one of those strange double stops of Paul’s.
The bridge is also eight measures long and is structured as a pseudo AA’ couplet:
|f# |D |G |A |
A: vi IV flat-VII I
|f# |B |d |A |
vi V-of-V iv I
The melody of the two phrases may almost be the same, save for the exceedingly subtle change in the rhythmic execution of the upward “flip of a sixth” at the end, but the harmony of the second phrase is very different.
Granted, both phrases make a similar harmonic gesture, starting away from the home key yet converging back toward it via different routes that are comparably indirect. Rather it is in the specific chord choices and progressions that each phrase asserts something unique. In the first phrase the appearance of flat-VII comes as an especial surprise against the backdrop of the pentatonic verse. The second phrase provides a triple whammy: the thwarting of V-of-V when it is not followed by V (a favorite Beatles’ device of long standing), the F#/F-natural cross-relation created by the minor iv chord, and the straight faced irony that the tune is essentially the same between the two phrases.
Still more melodic dissonance abounds. In particular, we have the C# -» B appoggiatura on the downbeat of measures 2 and 5. In the former case (on the word “moments”) this creates a “7-6” double dissonance (!!), and in the late (on the word “living”) we have more of a garden variety “9-8” resolution.
The outro is creatively structured as one iteration of the intro / spacer phrase, plus a last petit reprise of the last phrase of the bridge, plus one last iteration of the spacer, this time modified to provide the complete ending.
The extended nature of this outro, especially in its poignant use of the minor iv chord is strangely anticipatory in a subdued way of the likes of the much later “Happiness Is A Warm Etc“.
Some Final Thoughts
I have it on good authority that I’m not alone in my personal experience of, having heard it for the first time as an romantically earnest if yet adenoidally awkward teen, walking around for many years thereafter “searching” (cross-reference to “Anna“) for the significant other to whom I could in all sincerity and good conscience dedicate this song. And by “dedicate” I don’t necessarily mean having Scott Muni or Bruce Morrow blab it all over the AM air waves; a discreet e-mail will do just nicely, thank you.
What is it, I wonder, that makes such a song so ultra special if not sacred to the collective consciousness? People often talk about the elliptical nature of John’s text as they mine for potentially relevant autobiographical underpinnings. But, again, I wonder if there isn’t something just a bit circular or at least reflexive about this mining for meaning.
Is it possible that the vague references and ellipses of this song, beyond their being pregnant per se with whatever embedded or hidden meaning, also serve equally to invite and encourage the listener to respond personally, and autobiographically, indeed?