'man pages' on "Misery" (M1)

'man pages' on "Misery" (M1)

KEY C Major


FORM Intro-Verse-Verse-Bridge-Verse-Bridge-Verse-Outro (fadeout)


Style and Form

- Overall sound is characterized by the shuffling, "washboard" beat and spare, pseudo-acoustic instrumental texture.

- The melody is in short phrases, punctuated by rhythm guitar obligatto figures, and the rhetorical interjections of the song's title in the lyrics.

- The bridge is repeated but there is only one verse in between the two of them. The relatively short duration of the finished song could have easily accomodated an additional instrumental-solo verse before the second bridge, but my theory is that the closed shape of those verse sections, *especially* built as they are from such a limited set of chords, would have been a claustrophobic mistake which they wisely avoided.


- Only four chords are used. In order of appearance you have F, G, C, and 'a'; i.e., IV, V, I, and vi, respectively. The vi chord is used in this song as though it were a full-fledged sub-dominant (in the way it sets up the V chord) or even as a surrogate dominant (in the way it sometimes is inserted *between* the I chord on either side). Only at the beginning of the bridge is it used in its more typecast role as the relative minor, or "submediant".

- The voice parts are predominantly sung in unison but there are surprise blossomings into two-part harmony, typically saved for phrase endings.

- Paul uses the same sort of dotted quarter and eighth notes in the bass part that we saw in FMTY. This cleverly carries forward into the bassline the same snapped rhythm that pervades the main melody of the song, as well as it rescues the bassline from would be otherwise have been a dull, unrelieved four in the bar.

- The piano edit pieces in the intro and bridge are a relatively small touch, but one of no small historic interest; aside from the fracus regarding Andy White's guest drumming stint on the original version of "Love Me Do", this is likely the very first appearance of a guest performer on a Beatles track in order to provide something the Boys could not do for themsevles. Granted, it's a far cry from the likes of the string quartets and solo brass instruments that would come later, but it's the same concept nevertheless.



- Only four measures long (discounting the opening piano arpeggio), but it has the full essence of the rest of the song embedded within in it:
          "Adagio" -------------->"A Tempo"
  	|F	|G	|C	|a     G   ||

       C:  IV	 V	 I       vi    V

- Starting off with a dramatically slow intro may have been a fairly common technique among the rest of pop/rock music, but L&M very rarely used it at all. Aside from the contemporaneous "Do You Want To Know A Secret", I can't even think of another example off the top of my head; something worth keeping an ear out for in the rest of our studies.

- The choice of opening chord progression makes this yet another Beatles song that opens away from the home key, yet quickly converges upon it.

- In the space of just these few measures were are quickly introduced to several devices which ultimately characterize and permeate the rest of the song; e.g., the unison singing which unfolds into harmony, the decorative use of the piano, and the I-vi-V chord progression.

- Mark for later reference the little chromatic move in the bassline during the transition from measure 1 to 2 (F -> F# -> G).


- The verse is a brief and harmonically static eight measures:
  	|C	|F	|C	|F	||-	|G	|C	|a	||

  	 I	 IV	 I	 IV	         V	 I	 iv

- Note how the embellishment of the F chord with "neighbor" tones of D-C-D in the guitar part lends a jazzy, added-sixth sound to the accompaniment.

- In spite of the few chords used, a subtle syncopation in the harmonic rhythm is created by sustaining the same chord (i.e., F, the IV) over the two measures which straddle the mid-verse divide between measures 4 & 5.

- As we saw with FMTY, wherever a verse if followed by yet another verse section, the final measure shifts to the vi chord instead of sustaining the I chord all the way through, as happens in verses which are followed by a bridge. I've told you there are formulaic aspects to this sort of composition.


- We have another eight measure section, one which provides the traditional contrast to the preceding verses:
  	|a	|-	|C	|-	||a	|-	|G	|-	||

  	 vi		 I		  vi		 V

- The harmonic rhythm is slower than the verse, and the steep scale-wise descent in the melody here is in contrast to the jumping here and about seen earlier. Some consistency with the verse is maintained in the way we still have short, declarative phrases in dotted rhythm, punctuated by the accompaniment; here the piano, instead of the guitar, provides the mimicing obligatto.

- The bassline contains two uncanny details that closely unify it with what is going on elsewhere: the lead-in to the bridge begins with the same sort of chromatic lick seen in the intro (G -> G# -> A), and the lead-out of the bridge to the next verse is made up of a descending scale (G - through C), reminiscent of the vocal part.

- The 'a' minor chord in the first measure of this section sounds at first as though it *might* be a part of a modulation to that key but it's really too short-lived to count.

- Rejected take 6 contains typical Ringo drum fills in measures 4 and 8 of the bridges. Though nicely performed and not entirely inappropriate, my guess is that he was asked to eliminate them from the final version in order to keep unbroken the hypnotic mood of the shuffling rhythm.


- This outro is built from several repeats of the last two measures of the verse into a quick fadeout.

- The vocal parts burst forth in some "oohs" which are more anguished than passionate for a change, as well as some "lah-lahs." These come across as impromptu, though we find in take 1 the virtually the identical set of them as in the final version.

- It is John who takes the lead in these vocal effects, and his move is all the more effective because it is the first time in the entire song that we hear a *solo* voice.

A FINAL THOUGHT - This is one of the rare, early L&M originals in which the girl is spoken of entirely in the third person. Ironically, it appears back to back on the "Please Please Album" with another one of these rare examples, the very upbeat "I Saw Her Standing There". The uninterrupted flowing beat of "Misery" provides some forward-looking optimism in counterpoint to the otherwise downbeat lyrics. In the context of the album lineup, I believe that this subtle hint in "Misery" of a sun concealed behind the overcast mitigates what might have otherwise been too stark of a manic-depressive contrast between those first two tracks.

Alan (awp@bitstream.com *OR* uunet!huxley!awp)

"Quite right, invites to gambling dens full of easy money and fast women, chicken sandwiches, and cornets of caviar, disgusting!" 072991#01M

Copyright (c) 1991 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.

Click here to return to AWP's index.