KEY D Major METER 4/4 FORM [#1: Hard Rock] Intro -> Verse -> Refrain -> ------ 3X ------ [#2: Slaggers] Intro -> Verse -> Refrain -> Refrain -> Outro -> [#3: Goon Show] Intro -> Verse -> Refrain' -> ------ 2X ------ [#4: Jazz Club] Intro -> Verse -> Refrain -> Refrain' (w/complete ending)
GENERAL POINTS OF INTEREST
- This is certainly one of the strangest curiosities of the entire Len-Mac songbook with an equally curious recording history. In spite of its undeniable cult-status popularity, it's awfully tempting to treat it like a cheap throwaway along the lines of, say, some of the ditties that appeared on the Xmas flexidiscs. But as we've seen in our past studies of tracks such as "Wild Honey Pie" and "Flying," this one, too, repays careful study.
- The rather flat and lengthy form can be described strikes you as a series of character variations on a theme on casual listening. Given greater familiarity and a closer look perhaps you'll more aptly describe it as a fragmentary song submitted to us in the form of a medley of four alternate takes, each of which "could have" been developed into a complete track on its own; not that you literally would do that, but the potential for it is a subtle element in your experience of the track.
- The essence of this track, its source of nutritional calories, is found much more in the individual and complementary character of the four settings than in their underlying common musical contents. As an important compositional lesson though, do not underestimate the extent to which that foundation is designed to be more than just minimally serviceable. A chef's metaphor: you may not want your cake to compete with the icing for attention, but neither do you want it to clash with that icing or simply, on its own, taste so bad that it undermines the overall eating experience.
- At the same time, the amount of finagling here with the truly musical (as contrasted with the atmospheric) content from take to take is particularly impressive for what we're to react to as mostly as a practical/musical joke. Heck, I can argue it the other way around: the experiment you find here with stringing multiple versions of a song together, and articulating the larger form with backbeat and surface character is SO sophisitcated that if it weren't for the basic comic premise, you'd be forced to criticize it as pretentious.
- Two slightly earlier tracks of other artists that are worth a comparison with our current song in terms of their evocation of live club music on the sleazy cheap:
- Rolling Stones' "Something Happened To Me Yesterday" (the final track on _Between the Buttons_, 1967). The track is in the antique British Music Hall style with a very queasy, out of tune dance band backing that includes trumpet, trombone, and clarinet. Jagger's emcee comments include the fragments like, "take your partners, ... the boys in the band, evenin' all ...).
- Mothers of Invention's "America Drinks & Goes Home" (the final track on _Absolutely Free_, 1967). Features a comically crooning lead vocal, an emcee mouthing a seemingly endless stream of platitudes ("hope you've had as much fun as we have ..."), and the sound of clinking glasses, a yakking people, and ringing cash registers into the runout groove after the music stops.
- IMHO the Beatles play it much straighter and more dry proving yet again how less can be more.
- The tune is constrained within an absurdly small range, an effect which resonates with the one-track mind of the lyrics. The tune for the first iteration, for example, uses only 3 notes running between 1 and 3 (D-E-F#), if you ignore the harmonization a 3rd higher by the backing voice.
- The harmony is relatively straightforward and makes use of a small number of chords. There is that funky augmented triad and a generally jazzy approach to free dissonance, but that's all in the foreground.
- Let's trace this in the course of our walkthrough below for a change.
[#1: Hard Rock]
- The opening take more or less passes as a normative Beatles pop/rock song if you can hold in abeyance the repetitious lyrics and their overstated mock macho delivery.
- The basic backing track, heavy on piano, bass, and drums, helps keep things balanced for the moment toward the "normal" side of the scale.
- Two measures converge towards the home key on top of a pedal point in the bass, followed by a four-measure AA phrase that anticipates the refrain section:
|G6/4 |A | D: IV V |D f# |G A |D f# |G A | I iii IV V I iii V A
- The backbeat is slowly syncopated with hard accents on 2 & 4.
- The verse is an unusual 7 measures long. The momentary doubling up of the harmonic rhythm in measure 5 is where the critical asymmetry is created. It's rather stunning to think they had the time for this kind of thing in the midst of apparently just horsing around, or that such sophistication was simply second nature.
|G |F# aug. |b |E | IV V-of-vi vi V-of-V |G D |e |A | IV I ii V
- The unusual harmonic shape here starts on IV and ends on V, with the I chord making its only furtive appearance in the middle of the section. Its the only chord in the section that doesn't appear on a downbeat!
- I'm going to parse that augmented chord in the second measure with A# in the bassline as rooted on F#, in the first inversion, and with the D natural serving as a 13th.
- The gambit of forcing V-of-V to wait for at least one intervening chord change before its inevitable resolution to V is a Beatles trademark as old as "Eight Days A Week" and as characteristic as the title track on "Sgt. Peppers."
- Stripping all camouflage aside, you're surprised to discover that the underlying chord progression of this section follows 'round a circle of fifths: F# -> B -> E -> (after delay) A.
- The refrain restores both metrical and harmonic regularity, with its four-measure length and circular harmonic shape that starts out on I, opens out to a V chord that just begs for resolution to I:
|D f# |G A |D f# |G A | I iii IV V I iii IV V
- Here, the vocals create a counterpoint to the syncopated backbeat with their hard accents on 1 & 3.
- The F# on the word "name" makes the V chords in this section into V13s.
- The first take simply tacks a I chord to the end of the refrain, and segues directly into the Latin beat of the following take.
- Here we get a clever evocation of "the Samba beat" in the arrangement, and the atmosphere of a cheesy cabaret floor show in Paul's crooning lead vocal and John's cliched Master of Ceremonies background chat.
- The syncopation of the backbeat in this take is much more flowing with accents on the eighth notes of the measure marked with *:
* * * 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &
- This is the longest of the four takes.
- The opening two measures where the pedal point used to be are now just scored for percussion.
- The harmony of the remainder of the intro is greatly simplified:
chords:|D |e7 |D |e7 | bass :|D B A |e B A |D B A |E B A | I ii (V) I ii (V)
- The augmented triad is played with F# in the bass.
- The verse-refrain pair is repeated three full times, plus one additional repeat of the refrain. The final section is ever so slightly faded out.
- No final chord appears in this take. All we have, instead, is the final words of John's last spoken phrase which began in the final measure of the last refrain. The next take kicks in after a brief pause *just* as you're starting to wonder what's going on.
[#3: Goon Show]
- John's comically silly patter-style vocal sets the tone and is accompanied this time by a backbet that is equal parts spastic and "old soft shoe." The use of a bird whistle and other exotic sound effects amplifies the crazy atmosphere.
- The backbeat is rather four-square in this section, leaving the matter of syncopation entirely to vocals in the foreground.
- There are no opening two measures this time, just the four measures of the refrain, which kick in after John has already started clowning.
- I believe the chord progression for this take has changed yet again, replacing the erstwhile root change in the second half of measures 1 and 3 with an iteration of the I chord in its first inversion:
|D D |G A |D D |G A | I I6/3 IV V I I6/3 V A
- This take reverts to the brief, single iteration form of the first take.
- However, this time, the refrain is extended by four measures:
|D D |G G# dim. |A |- D | I I6/3 IV vii-of-V V I
- The harmony of this extension provides an old fashioned chromatic approach to the V chord and then leaves you waiting for the shoe to fall with that I chord delayed to the final beat of the next measure.
- In symmetry to the intro of this take, the chatter at the end extends for a rough few seconds beyond the final bit of music.
- The start of the intro to the final take overlaps with the last of the spoken bits.
[#4: Jazz Club]
- This final take is set to a cool jazzy backing track with John's lead vocal (if you can call it that) in the form of pre-verbal but expressively suave grunting. The latter reminds me of a character named "White Fang" from the erstwhile Soupy Sales TV show of my American youth; no more of this character ever appeared on screen than one gloved, gesturing hand.
- Again, a change of backbeat helps set the mood. This time, we have a swinging ride beat most of the time that is punctuated by the stong syncopation periodically in on the eighth note before the 4th beat.
- What used to be those opening two measures on a pedal point are now simply filled by jazz piano figure in the treble.
- The refrain-like chord progression stays with the I6/3 in place of iii.
- The length of this take falls somewhere in between that of the short takes (#1 and #3) and the lengthier take #2. The Verse/Refrain pair is repeated twice, and the second refrain is extended in a manner very similar to the Goon Show outro.
- The jazz flavor reaches its peak with the addition of sax and and vibraphone for the final chorus.
- Again, the music has a complete ending against which the vocal grunting is allowed to trail on for couple of seconds to finish out the recorded track.
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS
- The "Notes on ..." series celebrates its 10th anniversary this week. There were times in the early going when the number "10 years" for such a project seemed like an exaggeration in terms of what it really might take, when it sounded impossibly too long a stretch to maintain in terms of connectivity to the Net, and my personal span of attention. But, thank God, here we are after all this time, and with the end in sight.
- I plan to continue on for now with the _Let It Be_ line up ("Two of Us" is up next), and then finish up with _Abbey Road_. Following the approximate order of composition and recording strikes me as preferable to the order of release, in spite of earlier plans to the contrary.
- My sincere thanks to all of you who have taken the time over the years to "drop me a postcard, send me a line, stating point of view." And to those precious few individuals still active in r.m.b. whose personal encouragement at the time helped bring my series into being, I've only one thing to say to you: "You're a swine :-)"
Regards, Alan (email@example.com) --- "I travel on this train regularly twice a week, so I suppose I have some rights." 052399#166 --- Copyright (c) 1999 by Alan W. Pollack All Rights Reserved
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