Notes on … Series #183 (HCTS)
by Alan W. Pollack
Key: a minor
Meter: 4/4 with 11/8 and 7/8 in the bridge
Form: Intro | Refrain |
| Verse | Refrain |
| Verse | Refrain | Bridge (Instrumental) |
| Verse | Refrain |
| Refrain | Outro (with complete ending)
CD: "Abbey Road", Track 7 (Parlophone CDP7 46446-2)
Recorded: 7th, 8th July 1969, Abbey Road 2;
16th July 1969, 6th August 1969, Abbey Road 3;
15th, 19th August 1969, Abbey Road 2
UK-release: 26th September 1969 (LP "Abbey Road")
US-release: 1st October 1969 (LP "Abbey Road")
General Points of Interest
Style and Form
◎ Folksy influences on “Here Comes The Sun” are apparent in the series of Verse/Refrain pairs, the prominent role for acoustic guitar, and the generally laid back mood.
◎ The use of a middle bridge, offbeat metrical patterns and chord choices bespeakseveral other, dare we say Beatlesque, influences.
Melody and Harmony
◎ The Verse/Refrain tune is constrained almost exclusively to the pentatonic scale pattern running from E up to C#; i.e. scale steps 5, 6, 1, 2, 3. The danger of melodic monotony is avoided here by varying the chord progression when certain parts of the tune are reiterated; e.g. the title phrase as it appears in the first two lines of the refrain.
◎ Harmonically the song is based heavily on I, IV (or ii) and V, though a relatively large number of individual chords appear over the course of the song.
◎ The verse and refrains both make liberal use of the V chord for cadences, but this is balanced out in the bridge by a momentary fixation on chord progressions which make a root move of a fourth downward.
◎ Primary elements on the backing track are acoustic guitar, synthesizer, bass, and drums, in order of appearance. The synth is used here more to mimic the sound of woodwinds or strings than for its stranger noisemaking capabilities.
◎ The vocal parts sound as if all sung by George on overdub, with backing vocal parts used here primarily for their “bold font” highlighting effect.
◎ The arrangement is relatively homogenized though a handful of characteristic details stand out:
- Staggered entrance of instruments during the first two sections: guitar followed by synth in the intro, and “piano + strings” effect followed successively by bass, then drums, in the first refrain.
- Title phrase in the first refrain is sung single tracked in the first line followed by overdubbing in the second.
- Similarly in the first verse, the first “Little darlin'” is sung plain double tracked, while the second one is harmonized by the overdub. In the third verse, the same phrase is harmonized both times.
- The last couple measure of the outro abruptly restore the opening sound of just guitar and synth in a bookends-like formal gesture.
◎ The intro is eight measures long and features a repeat of the following straightforward, harmonically open four-measure phrase:
----------------------- 2X ------------------------
|A |- |D |E |
A: I IV V
◎ This passage turns out to be identical to what soon emerges as the Verse section, but the stripped down, incomplete exposure of the actual tune avoids giving away too much too soon.
◎ The refrain is an unusual nine measures in length and parses into two unequal phrases, making a 5 + 4 pattern:
|A |- |D |B |
I IV V-of-V
***** ***** ****** *****
1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 |3 1 2 3 1 2 3 4 |
Bassline: D C# B A
|A |b6/5 A6/3 b | A E |A |
I ii I ii I V I
◎ The harmonic shape is generally closed, though the section ends off with another V chord leaving it “open,” strictly speaking.
◎ The much Beatles-favored V-of-V to IV progression (check out Eight Days A Week and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band for starters), with its concommitant cross relation, is reversed in this case.
◎ The second phrase is rhetorically extended by the use of a sophisticated rhythmic trick in which even eighth notes are accented as if triplets against the backbeat. These groups of three eighth notes are sequenced in a manner that (surprise!) rationally “adds up” correctly over the course of two measures, but which in the meanwhile, creates an intense moment of metrical disorientation and syncopated harmony. The arithmetic basis of this gambit is the fact that (4 * 3) + 4 = 16; the latter equal to the number of eighth notes in two 4/4 measures. Check out Good Day Sunshine and a snippet of Martha My Dear for applications of similar tricks. In terms of “Abbey Road” cross-track resonance, look to both Because and … Money.
◎ Dig that heavy downward stepwise bassline underlying the syncopated phrase!
◎ The final measure of the refrain that leads into the bridge is 7/8 long instead of a full 4/4. The 7/8 is parsed as 2 + 2 + 3 so that that final grouping of 3 helps shift metrical gears into the seemingly slower triplet meter used in the first measure of the bridge phrase. See below for more on this gear shifting concept.
◎ As I said, this is the same as the intro.
◎ The bridge is built primarily out of a six-fold repeat of the following three measure phrase which is harmonically open at both ends. Vocals accompany all but the first iteration. The synthesizer takes on a more dominant role in the mix over the course of the final three iterations.
-------------------------------- 6X -----------------------------
|C G D D6/3 |A |E |
flat- flat- IV I V
◎ The meters of these three measures are 11/8, 4/4, and 7/8, respectively. The special effect of running even eighth notes accented as if triplets against the grain of the underlying backbeat is carried to a point more reminiscent of Stravinsky than of the Beatles. Compared to the refrain section of this song, no attempt is made at all here to make the arithmetic balance out in the end; quite the opposite.
◎ It breaks down this way:
- The 11/8 measure parses into 3 + 3 + 3 + 2. You hear it as a wobbly four beat measure in which the first three beats last 50% longer than the original 4/4 tempo, but the final beat reverts to that first tempo. Check out the intro to the Allman Brothers’ “Whipping Post” for essentially the same sleight of hand.
- The 4/4 measure leverages the final beat of the wobbly measure and briefly re-establishes the first tempo.
- The 7/8 measure parses into 2 + 2 + 3. You hear this as a wobbly three beat measure in which the first two beats match the first tempo, but the final beat matches the 50% slower beat seen in the front part of the wobbly measure.
◎ George had done something similar with “metrical modulation” back in I Me Mine, though nothing nearly so complicated as this.
◎ The final iteration of the bridge phrase foregoes the 7/8 measure in favor of a full four measures in 4/4 on the V chord, nicely building up appropriate desire for the resolution to I that will be provided by the arrival of the final verse.
◎ Harmonically, this section carries the familiar Hey Jude” second half modal chord progression one step further, giving us what you might call a “Triple Plagal” cadence that starts yet another perfect fourth around the circle of fourths than the so-called “Double Plagal”.
◎ I can’t help thinking that the reason for George repeating this bridge phrase over and over again is because the combination of both wicked rhythm and harmony is just so “cool” that he wants to make sure you don’t miss it.
◎ The last part of the song provides a double barreled variation on the familiar three-times-you’re-out gambit.
◎ The first “barrel” consists of an unusual dual repeat of the refrain followed by the outro proper, which itself is derived from the refrain.
◎ The second “barrel” consists of the inner structure of the outro proper, whereby you parse the syncopated phrase at the end of the second final as eliding with the outro.
◎ You also just gotta love the quiet elegance with which the final phrase of the outro both restores the initial instrumentation of the intro while also taking the opportunity at the last second to make an allusion to the bridge; yes, the penultimate measure of the song is in the wobbly 11/8 meter and is over a Plagal IV -» I cadence.
Some Final Thoughts
◎ The song is surely George’s “Pastoral”. Its happy and relaxed mood is a wonderful new point of departure for the composer. It also effectively set a tone of fresh, new beginnings for the second side of the album.
◎ This is another example in the Beatles catalog where, back in the days of the LP medium, the act of physically turning over the record at such a point used to feel like an uncannily integral part of the listening experience.
While this this general effect is obviously lost in the era of the CD, I’m particularly disoriented in this specific case by what seems to be a much shorter than usual pause on the CD between the end of the last song on side A and and the start of the first song on side B.
◎ This can’t be an anomaly with my lonesome copy of the compact disc, can it? But while I’m asking questions, I’m curious to know from listeners out there who never experienced this album on LP whether or not the break between the two songs here seems rushed or not?
Regards, Alan (120599#183)