"I Should Have Known Better" is a deceptively straightforward song in which, if you look closely enough, you find a number of ways in which The Boys simply refuse to just play it straight.
Although the points of interest find themselves sorted into the areas of harmony, arrangement and form, I think it's pedagogically easier to cover them in an end-to-end run though.
A number of musical elements which ultimate characterize the entire song are immediately presented in the short and simple four-measure introduction:
- the alternating I-V chord pattern: this continues beyond the intro through no less than five measures of the verse.
- the backing arrangement: we have acoustic guitar, light drumming, and a melodic, almost hyper-active bass which is mixed relatively far back.
- the bluesy harmonica: the 'e-f-e' melodic pattern of this part creates a series of piquant dissonances against the recurring D chord in the accompaniment - the 'e' on the down beat making a nice 9th, and the f-natural neighbor tone making a class-A cross-relation against the f-sharp of the chord beneath. It's also interesting to follow the intermittent use of this harmonica throughout the song. You walk away from a casual listen thinking it's always there but, do trace it carefully and note how, with the exception of the guitar solo, it is actually used rather sparingly, its primary function being to introduce each verse in turn; illustrating yet another basic compositional principle -- in matters of spice, a little goes a long way.
A most unusual feature of ISHKB is that the verses come in two variants; those which are followed directly by another verse (as are the first, third, and fourth) are characterized by a ten-measure length and a "closed" harmonic shape; i.e., entirely in G Major, both beginning and ending essentially on the I chord:
Other points of interest in verse variant #1:
- From the phrasing of the words, as well as the melodic structure, you see that the ten measures are meant to be parsed as 6 (actually 4 + 2) + 4. Those seemingly "extra" middle two measures ("that I would love everything that you do") with their repeat of the melody from the preceding two measures create a rhetorical, free-verse feeling.
- The slowing of the harmonic rhythm in measures seven and eight adds nice ballast, just as the return of the I-V oscillating harmony in measures nine and ten adds symmetry.
- The closed harmonic shape is reinforced by the melody which hovers around a relatively restricted choice of pitches.
- Coloristically, the melodic emphasis on the note 'e' not only extends the presence of the D9 sonority already heard in the intro, but also creates a pervasive added-sixth chord on G.
- Measure six features the rare occurrence in this genre of a chord in non-root position; the e chord is sustained through the entire measure, with a bass line which descends from G down to E, placing the chord at the beginning of the measure in the so-called "first" or "6-3" inversion.
- And, of course, there's no harmonica here, except in measures nine and ten, where it introduces the next verse.
Verse variant #2 is used for those verses (i.e. the second and the fifth) which lead directly into a bridge section, and is characterized by an eight- measure length and an "open" harmonic shape; i.e., starting in G major but leading to the key (actually ending on the V chord) of the relative minor key of e:
The bridge is an unusually long and well developed sixteen measure section of four different phrases, starting in the key of e minor and eventually modulating back to the home key of G Major via a pivot on the C chord in the ninth measure:
Some noteworthy details:
- The melodic line, over the course of the four phrases, creates a lovely arch shape, with the obvious climax on that upward falsetto flip of the twelfth measure. The fairly large amount of melodic ground covered by this bridge is in contrast to the more restricted pitch range of the verses.
- The arrangement introduces the electric guitar in the bridge for the purpose of underscoring the first beat of every measure with a single strummed chord. Note that this effect actually begins on the last measure of the previous verse, somewhat smoothing over the "seam" between the second verse and the bridge.
- The harmony subtly teases you when it dips down to the e chord in measure twelve, just when you think you've fully turned the corner back toward G.
- The harmonica, true to form, returns in measures fifteen and sixteen to herald the arrival of the next verse.
This is still another variant #1 verse, featuring a guitar solo in place of the usual vocal. This solo, by the way, being a repetition of the original melody with just the slightest hint of embellishment, is a good example of what has become a dying breed.
The solo ends with a surprise touch: the melodic leading tone of f# near the end of the solo, instead of being resolved up to g, is followed by an added-sixth G chord with an e on the top.
Note how this solo section is the only one in which the harmonica continues its ostinato pattern all the way through a verse, creating some strikingly dissonant tone clusters against the melody of the guitar; in particular, against that added-sixth chord at the end.
This is a repeat of the second verse, right down to the same lyrics.
The only difference between this and the first bridge is the sudden shift, for the first time in the entire song, to a single track recording of John's voice. As an example of the sort of attention paid to fine detail, note how the double tracking is restored just for an instant in order to reinforce the falsetto flip.
This section is perhaps the high point of the song because of the single tracking; it's still has the power to stop you in your tracks, so to speak. Based on outtakes of other songs from this period (e.g., the rough rehearsal of "A Hard Day's Night" on URT), I'm tempted to argue that John was more usually double tracked, not because he didn't sound secure enough without it, but, quite the opposite, because in single track mode, he almost sounds *too intense*. If you doubt the capability of this sound to awaken little spikes of whatnot in it's listeners, I recommend you take a peek at the performance of ISHKB in the baggage car scene of the AHDN film; do keep a lookout for exactly where in the song Patti Whatsername covers her face with her blonde hair 'cause she can't stand it any longer :-).
The second bridge is followed by an outro which fades out with the same musical pattern and arrangement of the intro, this time, with the voice added.
When you put it all together, you find that the form is an unusual, even strange, variation on the more standard two-bridge model:
The unusual features here are the appearance in the middle of three verse sections in a row, and the appearance of the second bridge at the very end with no verse section following.
Underlying all the other structural and harmonic details discussed above, there is a pervasive use in this song of syncopated accents on the last eighth note of the measure; if you count along very quickly in tempo, you'll find this accent on the off beat of "four-AND". This subtle element not only helps unify the song, but also underlies the extent to which you might say that this song "swings" or conveys a "passionate subtext".
I don't want to spoil the party for those who like to go digging for these details on their own, but I promise you that this syncopation is to be found all over the song. Just a few examples to get you jazzed for further study: the harmonica part starting in the second measure of the intro, the first entrance of the voice part on the word "I", the end of each phrase of the verse (e.g., on the words "you" and "do" in verse one), and of course my favorite, the very top of the falsetto flip.
Oh well, I went into this one expecting to find something close to a standard formula, and boy, was I surprised. But then again, I suppose I should have known better. (Ooops, time for me to cover *my* face.)
Regards, Alan (email@example.com) --- "They tried to fob you off on this musical charlatan, but *I* gave him the test." 020190#15 --- Copyright (c) 1990 by Alan W. Pollack All Rights Reserved This article may be reproduced, retransmitted, redistributed and otherwise propagated at will, provided that this notice remains intact and in place.Click here to return.
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