Notes on … Series #85 (ILTY) by Alan W. Pollack
Key: A-flat Major (strange, huh !?)
Form: Intro | Verse | Verse | Bridge |
| Verse | Bridge | Verse | Outro (fade-out)
CD: "Rubber Soul", Track 10 (Parlophone CDP7 46440-2)
Recorded: 24th October, 6th, 10th, 11th November 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
We’ve got yet another fine example here of the Beatles’ own unique folk rock style; this one jazzed up a bit by a faintest touch of the blues.
Kinetic energy abounds from more than just the beat. For one thing, Paul scans the lyrics in a manner that is inconsistently off-center from the otherwise four-square phrasing of the music; an effect more pleasing than it would sound from my verbal description of it 🙂
But even more so, the phraseology of both verse and bridge features a rhetoric suggestive of cumulatively established momentum. The image comes to mind of “run and jump, now return to the starting point you so you may run and jump again, only this time much farther.” Resonance between the latter strictly musical phenomenon and any correlative emotional or passionate experience of yours are guaranteed to raise a smile.
The form, for a change, is the very standard model with two bridge and only one verse intervening.
Melody and Harmony
A-flat Major is an unusual key choice for the Beatles. It works out nicely in terms of the track sequencing on the album; making a smooth inbound transition from the three-flat key signature of “Girl”, and setting up a pace-setting outbound shift of a half-step upward to the A (natural) Major key of “In My Life”. Nevertheless, I’d be surprised if Paul originally conceived of the song in this key, and rather suspect that it was composed in the “easier” key of G and adjusted upward, perhaps by capo, in the studio.
Paul’s typically generous application of expressive melodic appoggiaturas helps liven up an otherwise straightforward set of chord choices. Just the same, the tune remains essentially within the diatonically pure realm of the Major mode. The only exceptions are the bluesy minor thirds used at the climax of each verse, and the equally bluesy minor sevenths which appear in the little riffs that trail those climaxes.
The chord progressions are also relatively simple yet the song does feature the same sophisticated tendency of the predominant Major key to “wilt” downward into the relative minor that we’ve seen in before “Yesterday” and elsewhere.
“4-3” Suspensions appear in both the verse and bridge and this provides a source of subliminal unity within the song. The suspension in the bridge is quite dramatic, coinciding with the big build up at the end of the section (“… disappearing over night”). The verse suspensions are tucked away more quietly and unfold more quickly at the end of each of the first two phrases.
Paul’s lead vocal is double tracked the whole way through except for the outro, where the switch over to single tracking adds a surprising last minute sense of increased intimacy and immediacy. John joins in for a relatively limited spot of backing on third phrase of each verse.
The instrumental texture is dominated by the sound of acoustic guitar and electric bass. In place of the usual drum kit, percussion sounds in this song are limited to thigh slaps (or are they all hand claps?) and a tambourine. As is so typical of the Beatles, the tambourine part is more carefully planned out in a pattern than you might ever notice unless you pay careful attention to it as a listener; i.e. it is shaken on the off-beats of the trailing ends of the verses, and during the bridges and outro. It is never played during the four sung phrases of the verses except for one stray shake in the midst of the third verse; surely that must be a mistake.
Lewisohn et al acknowledge perplexity over Ringo’s being credited on the album jacket with playing organ on this track as though there were no such evidence of it to be heard. Nonsense — the bluesy riffs which trail each verse are clearly punctuated (“one-two”) by chords played on an organ in the first two beats of the measure.
The electric lead guitar in this song seems to play the role of a shy lurker, commenting on the main action in a rather tentative, interjectory way; it doesn’t even play a single note until the midst of the second verse! I am intrigued by the question of whether those fills at the end of each verse involve the guitar at all or whether the licks as well as the punctuating chords are provided on the organ by Ringo.
There is a “recording anomaly” I’ve not yet seen on anyone else’s list in the double tracking of the first bridge, at the phrase “love has a nasty etc.” — a nasty splice is what it sounds like to me.
The instrumental intro features a staggered entrance of the players:
----- 3X -------
|A-flat |E-flat |A-flat D-flat |
A-flat: I6/4 V I IV
The opening I -» V chord progression has the I chord in the so-called second, or “6/4” inversion. This particular usage, the textbooks teach us, cause the listener to parse the first chord not so much as a I chord per se, but more so as dual-appoggiatura embellishment of the V chord to which it is adjoined. In slightly plainer terms, this means you tend to hear this opening less as a full-fledged I-to-V root progression, and more so as a V chord with
simultaneous “6-5” and “4-3” suspensions placed upon it.
Given the combination of the latter “effect” with the relatively widespread airplay given to “4-3” suspensions within the rest of the song I wonder if, indeed, the infamous “false start” on the American edition of the “Rubber Soul” album was really a mistake or something done intentionally, in order to, right at the outset, call attention to itself.
This verse provides a rare analytical conundrum; indeed, where is the downbeat of each phrase located? There are at least two ways of parsing it, either one of which has pros and cons. I’ve opted, after much vacillation on the matter, to present it below as though the downbeat is just before the first word of each line:
(rest) I'm looking|through etc. ...
--------------------------- 2X ----------------------------
|A-flat D-flat |b-flat |f |E-flat |
A-flat: I IV ii7 vi V4 --» 3
|f |b-flat |A-flat D-flat |E-flat |
vi ii6 --» 5 I IV V
|A-flat D-flat |b-flat |D-flat |A-flat D-flat |
I IV ii7 IV I IV
(with flat-7 !)
---- 2X ------
|A-flat D-flat |
The above analytical perspective clearly outlines the poetical/metric structure of the section as AABA’ plus a vamping connector in the manner of the intro, and it places the starting point of each phrase on expectable harmonic footings. One “side effect” of this view (if you really do hear it this way!) is the kind of meta-syncopation implied toward the second measure of each phrase, the nature of which is awkward albeit interesting. Another is the equally interesting/awkward elision of the last sung phrase with the connector.
Alternatively, you can parse what I’ve called the first measure of each phrase as a pickup, shifting the beginning of each phrase one measure forward from how it is parsed above. This view “eliminates” the meta-syncopation problem of the first view but it throws the starting points of all phrases on unusual chord choices and makes the elision of the last sung phrase feel even more awkward.
The harmonic rhythm here is unusually flexible compared to what we’ve seen of the Beatles in this department over the long run. In addition, the deceptive cadence toward vi (the relative minor!) at the start of the third phrase is treat and a fine example of monotony-avoidance.
Every time the progression of I -» IV -» ii appears, Paul provides the same bass lick which makes nice downward counterpoint to the melodic rise which it accompanies. Once you know it’s there it provides both a subliminal hook to the song as well as something to “look forward to”; analogous to some habitual move your lover makes, of which, you somehow (somehow!! :-)) never grow tired:
Words: I'm look- ing |through you |
Tune: (rest) C D-flat F |A-flat F |
Bassline: |A-flat D-flat C |B-flat |
Chords: |A-flat D-flat |b-flat |
A-flat: I IV ii
The A phrase of the tune has a pleasing arch shape which would chafe eventually were it not for the master stroke with which it finally breaks through the glass ceiling in the final phrase; break on through to the other side, so to speak.
The bridge in this case provides typical contrast, if for no other reason, by virtue of its straightforward phraseology of 4 + 4, AA’:
|D-flat |- |A-flat |- |
|D-flat |- |E-flat |-
IV V4 -----------» 3
Other sources of contrast include the off-center harmonic emphasis on IV, the slower steadier harmonic rhythm, and the Really Big Climax on V.
The outro is built atop the same I -» IV vamping heard in both the intro and trailing connector of the verse. Here it repeats forever into the sunset with Macca now single tracked and getting a tad silly with the words.
Some Final Thoughts
To our great fortune take 1 of “I’m Looking Through You” is widely available on bootleg. We’ve got reason to expect it to appear some day in official release should the ill-fated “Sessions” album ever see the legitimate light of day, though even then, the unblended, unedited, and unfaded version of this outtake which appeared on the likes of “Ultra Rare Trax” will forever remain the one to seek out.
As we saw with the take 1 outtake of “Norwegian Wood”, this early version is instructive to the extent to which it both resembles and differs from the so-called Official Release. You can tell right off that this is no rough or tentative demo rehearsal from the fussy care with which the arrangement is worked out, not to mention the precious phoneme-level sound bites captured on the start/stop rough edge of the source tape of Paul giving last minute directives to his mates.
Amazingly, for all its differences, the first take is amazingly similar to the official version in its vocal arrangement. But what of those other differences?
Superficially speaking, the tempo is slower, and the folksy feeling is made even stronger by virtue of not only more hand claps and thigh slaps, but also (of all things) the inclusion of maracas!!
More substantively speaking, the first version features something which, in comparison with the most effective bridge of the official version, falls a bit flat on its face: a twelve-bar frame for the interjectory lead guitar which otherwise does not appear anywhere else in the first take, coupled to a reprise of the last half of the verse.
I’ll close with the following two observations which fall along the spectrum somewhere in between the truly minute and the big-picture variations: (a) the first take does not feature the descending bass riff in the verses; but (b) it is, by the way, in the key of G! Regards, Alan (072593#85)