Notes On "It Won't Be Long" (IWBL)

Copyright 1989 Alan W. Pollack
All Rights Reserved
"It Won't Be Long" is a raving album opener rich in detail, and elliptical in form. The song is built out of three distinct, two-line phrases, each of which reappears at least once. What's particularly interesting is that the normal, easy-to-recognize distinction between verse/break/refrain is rather blurred here by both the repeat pattern as well as the particular content of each phrase.

Let's actually first look at the three different phrases close up (all the better to observe the details) and we'll come back to the question of the overall form at the end.


Phrase X - "It won't be long yeah ..."

This phrase is eight measures long, has unvarying lyrics, repeats the largest number of times (four), and it has that look and feel an intro and refrain. Musically, it is distinguished by the following details:

- the use of the vi chord as a pseudo dominant, almost a signature device of the The Beatles in this period; look at the very the next song on this album () and note how they use the same chord progression, (not to mention the same key).

- the special chord in the second half of measure six, which I have a great deal of trouble diagnosing for certain from the recording; advice from someone with either a score or better ears would be appreciated. What I think I hear is a diminished chord sitting between the IV and the I chord; i.e., A#-C#-E-F double sharp. However it's possibly only an A7 chord; i.e., we get the F double sharp , but the bass holds on to A natural. In either case, this spicy chord is created by chromatic motion of at least one inner voice. I prefer not to assign a Roman numeral to it, rather to describe it as a chord which bridges the two chords on either side of it, incidentally created by the chromatic melodic motion. It's worth noting how this chord marks the solitary moment in this phrase where the harmonic rhythm quickens.

- the "Day Tripper"-like guitar riff used in measures seven and eight. This figure reappears in phrase Y and helps unify the song overall. Savor that bent F double sharp -> G#, but also contemplate the skill of the player in getting it consistent in each repeat; unless of course, it was recorded once as an "edit piece" and then overdubbed like a macro each time.

- the antiphonal "yeah - yeah" vocals, difficult to perform but fun to listen to even in mono. These vocals are given a gentle syncopated feel by the fact that John's voice, which is mixed forward from the others, sings his "yeahs" on the off beat.

- the phrase looks like this harmonically:

						     ????
	|c#	|-	|E	|-	||c#	|A   A#dim|E	     |-

E:	 vi		 I		 vi	 IV	   I


Phrase Y" - "Every night/day ... has fun/my eyes/happy I know ..."

This phrase repeats three times and is the only phrase which has consistently varied lyrics, making it the most verse-like of the three. Musically, it is distinguished by the following:

- it's an unusual seven measures long. Actually I've always heard the fourth measure in a dual, pivot role; initially hearing it as the last measure of a four measure sub-phrase, but by the time we get to measure five, I realize that it's actually the first measure of the second sub-phrase. The Boys liked this gimmick, using it in Any Time at All" and probably elsewhere.

- the use of the C Major chord in the key of E is something we haven't seen yet in these articles: the VI chord borrowed from the parallel minor key, sometimes referred to as the "flat VI" since it's root is a half-tone lower than what it would be for the vi chord which naturally appears in the Major key. I'm tempted to dub it "the Buddy Holly chord"; think of the break in "Peggy Sue."

- and of course, there's the carryover of the the guitar riff from phrase X.

- the phrase looks like this harmonically:


	|E	|C	|E	||E	|C	|E	|-

E:	I	flat-VI	I 	  I	 flat-VI I


Phrase Z - "Since you left me I'm so alone ..."

This phrase is reverts to the square, eight-bar length, is repeated only twice, and it too has several musically distinguishing details:

- the descending, chromatic bassline. This is another device used by the Boys all over the map; "It's Only Love" and "Dear Prudence" are two widely spaced examples that come to mind.

- the manner in which the descending bassline is harmonized. Try to hear the middle voice which descends in parallel with bass at the interval of a third as well as the upper voice which focuses on the same note, B, throughout the phrase. This winds up creating an unusual augmented chord in measure two and a minor chord in measure three to which I wouldn't assign Roman numerals. As with the special chord in phrase X, I'd describe the harmony here as being essentially a move from E (I) to C# (V-of-II) in which the two intervening chords are incidental structures created by the melodic motion which connects the first and last chords.

- the manner in which the harmonization of the bassline is vocally arranged; in the raving context of the rest of the song, the subdued, falsetto backing provides an effective, contrasting moment of relief.

- one other source of relief here is the fact that, in contrast with X and Y which are both rather heavily bound to the I chord, this Z phrase has an harmonically open shape, ending on the V.

- the phrase looks like this harmonically:


chords:		|E	|B-aug	|b	|C#7	||A	|B	|F#	|B
Bassline:	 E	 D#	 D-nat	 C#

analysis:	 I			 V-of-II  IV	 V	V-of-V   V


Putting it all together

At the level of phrases X, Y, and Z, it's easy enough to map out the block structure:

  		X  Y  X  Z  Y  X  Z  Y  X
The difficulty comes in trying to cluster these phrases into the sort of verse/break/refrain divisions you come to expect in this genre. Some of the following questions and options come to mind:

- is Z a break ? Or perhaps, (ignoring the first, Y-only verse) is it joined to Y as the first half of a compound (ZY) verse unit ? Under this last option, X does indeed fit the role of refrain.

- is X a refrain ? Or perhaps, (ignoring its first appearance as an intro) is it joined to Y as the second half of a compound (YX) verse unit ? Under this last option, Z does indeed fit the role of break.

- Or perhaps, there are no compound verse units, and the structure is meant to be parsed by us at the level already diagrammed above. Under this last option, Y (with it's ever changing lyrics) is the natural choice for verse, and I'd feel compelled to say that the rest of the form is a highly unusual hybrid in that we have *both* a refrain (X) and a break (Z).

Which one do you think it is ? In all honesty, and with no toungue-in-cheek smilies implied, I can't tell for sure.

Regards,
Alan (awp@mirror.tmc.com)

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"They tried to fob you off on this musical charlatan,
 but *I* gave him the test."					090189#10
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