by Alan W. Pollack
KEY G (Mixolydian) Major METER 4/4 FORM Intro -> Verse -> Verse -> Refrain -> Verse -> Refrain -> Outro (fadeout)
GENERAL POINTS OF INTEREST
Style and Form
– This is a relatively simple song for the period, both in terms of the leanness of the material, and, as Lewisohn describes it, the speed with which it was put together.
– By the same token, it does bear the earmarks of its period in the large number of instruments and effects used in the recording, and the consciousness-pricking themes in the lyrics of identity crisis, impatient disatsifaction with wealth that is only material, and an ambiguity in the author’s stance between tender encouragement and nasty ridicule. Consider it an intermediate point on the curve between “And Your Bird Can Sing” and “Hey Bulldog.”
Melody and Harmony
– I describe the song’s mode as “Mixolyidan Major” because the home key is established in the literally complete absense of the D Major V chord in the harmony, and the similar absence of F# (the Major 7th scale tone) in the melody.
– Instead, we opt for a mode in which the home key root note of G sticks around for much of the airtime as a pedal point, and the number of chords utilized involves, besides G Major (I), virtually no more than C Major (IV) and F Major (flat VII, or perhaps in this context IV-of-IV). You might even argue that the relatively large amount of weight given to phrase endings on C Major, that the song has a perilously high center of gravity with respect to G being the home key.
– The only unusual chord in the song appears in the Refrain when the bassline moves chromatically toward C via Bb and B natural, to support the tangy progression of Bb -> G; i.e. “flat III to I.” The Beatles used the flat III chord more often than you might expect from its exotic label, because they must have liked the cross-relation it usually creates with its surrounding chords in a progression. Grep through this series of notes for “flat III” or “flat-III” (my own foolish inconsistency :-)), to see what I mean by this.
– The instrumental track includes a large number of instruments, though you wind up paying most of your attention to just the piano, very strong bassline, percussion, and of course that “clavoline.” I believe (and would appreciate confirmation from anyone out there who can do it for me) that Al Kooper first used the clavoline on the Blues Project’s debut album; and if you have to ask me who’s Al Kooper, then let’s just drop this whole line of inquiry 🙂
– The melody stays relatively high, and mantra-like focused around the note of the home key, though both verse and refrain sections dip down by jump to the tonic note an octave lower. The multi-faceted “sculpting” of the vocal track, in terms of single tracking, double tracking, and solo-versus-backers merits closer, albeit tedious study, with which I dispense for now.
– The intro is an eight-measure vamp on the I-IV chord progression which is to characterize the piece:
|G |C |G |C |G |C |G |C | I IV6/4 I IV6/4 I IV6/4 I IV6/4
– The G is sustained in the bassline throughout, conjuring the drone- like harmonic style of songs such as “Rain.”
– The boxy quality of this intro is nicely broken up by Paul’s bass entering in middle of third measure and the clavoline following closely on its heels. Imagine those entrances on the downbeat of the fourth measure if you want to see the faux pas alternative.
– The verse is a blues-like three-phrase ABB section, though its first phrase is an unusual uneven, three measures in length. Note how the melody makes its sudden jump downward toward the end of each B phrase, punctuated by the dramatic switch in the vocal arrangement to John singing solo:
|G |C |G | I IV I ---------------------------- 2X ------------------------------ |G |- |F G |C | I flat-VII I IV
– The first phrase remains harmonically closed off in the home key. The ‘B’ phrases open unusually to IV, instead of the more typical V chord, making for a teliologically passive, weak effect. Indeed, when we get two verses in close succession at the beginning of the song, it’s hard to know, on first hearing, that a second verse has begun, as opposed to a first amorphous verse merely continuing.
– The C Major chord in measure 2 of this verse appears in the 6/4 position (with the G in the bassline) for verse 1 and 3. In verse 2, it appears in root position. As much as I like to label such variations as an avoidance of foolish consistency, my intuition in this case tells me it’s sloppy inconsistency; this, in light of the otherwise widespread, consistent use of the G-natural pedal tone in the rest of the song.
– Speaking of sloppy inconsistency: the clavoline always appears in these verses in the middle of each of the B phrases and is otherwise silent; “always,” that is, with the exception of the first B phrase of the final verse where it appears also at the end of the phrase! Alright, maybe it is intentional, not just sloppy, but I have difficulty comprehending the point that is supposed to be intended by the gesture.
– In contrast to the 11-measure ABB verse, the refrain, while also three phrases in structure, is an even 12 measures long, with a form of ABA:
|G |C |G |C | I IV I IV |Bb G |C |G |C | flat-III I6/3 IV I IV |G |C |G |C | I IV I IV
– Note how the tune, during the middle phrase of this section, swoops first down an octave and then back up. Here, in what *is* inarguably a good example of foolish consistency avoided, the choral vocal arrangement of the moment is *not* alterered for the jumps in range.
– The outro leverages the manner in which the refrain ends with a repeat of its ‘A’ phrase, and provides an extra two repeats of that phrase right into the fadeout which begins immediately.
– True to form, Paul steps lyrically out from the rest of the pack right in the first phrase of the outro, and from there proceeds to “whoop” it up.
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS
– The rumor that John secretly sings “rich fag Jew” (as a taunt intended for Brian) in some of the refrains’ ‘A’ phrases makes for an urban legend of the sort that is not authoritatively confirmable but which persists within the shadow of doubt not just because of audible ambiguity of the recording, but because of a streak of ocassionally expressed cruelty and what we these days call political incorrectness on the part of the composer in question, acknowledged by even by those of his biographers who are most lovingly sympathetic.
Regards, Alan (email@example.com) --- "... you could be out there betraying a rich American widow or sipping palm wine in Tahiti before you're too old like me." 102096#119 --- Copyright (c) 1996 by Alan W. Pollack All Rights Reserved