Notes on "Glass Onion" (GO)

KEY	a minor


FORM	Verse -> Refrain -> Verse -> Refrain ->
		Bridge -> Verse -> Refrain -> Outro (fadeout)


Style and Form

- In spite of its short length, compact form, frugal material, and casual production values, this talking-blues/patter-song packs a suprising amount of novelty, especially in its underlying musical structure.

- The form has a schematic stick-figure feeling about it. This is caused by the lack of an intro, the almost completely unrelieved series of verse/refrain pairs, and the way in which musical phrases are immediately repeated in each of those sections. The non-sequitor outro serves to counteract what otherwise could have been a fatal complacency.

Melody and Harmony

- As is common in bluesy tunes that are set in a minor key, the tune here leans heavily on the flat 5th scale degress, which coincides with the (Eb) top note of the F7 chord.

- The harmony throughout is restless and meandering, never clearly coming to a point. You could almost claim that the song is "atonal," not in the sense of being 12 tone music, but because it is without a clearly defined home key.

- 'A' minor asserts itself as home key even though you'll search in vain for any clear cadences (V-I, IV-I) that officially establish it as such. Okay, you've got flat VII - I implied by the way in which the start of each new verse is set up, but that's a relatively tenuous way in which to define the home key.

- A small though strange group of chords is used; in order of their appearance: a, F7, g, C, and D7. Only 'a' and 'C' are diatonically indigenous to a minor. The F chord almost would be, *if* it weren't sporting that flat 7th. The g minor chord taken in concert with C Major points in the direction of a modulation to F Major. Similarly, the D7 hints at a modulation to the key of G, though the arrival on G can be ambiguously taken as a V chord hint at a modulation to the key of C. I *told* you the sense of home key was at least *slightly* unclear!


- On an otherwise somewhat heavily overdubbed and indistinct backing track with a double-tracked lead vocal and shaking tambourine, several details are worth your straining to hear:



- The verse has an unusual length of 9 measures. The third phrase is one measure longer than the others, though all four are at least loosely related to each other. I'd call the poetic pattern "(AA) (A'A'') because the first two phrases *are* identical and the last two phrases, while derived from the first one, are more closely related to each other even though they do not make quite an identical pair.

	--------------- 2X --------------
	|a           G  |F7          G  |
a:       i               VI

	|a           	|g7          	|C		|
         i               ii-of-VI        V-of-VI

        |g7        	|C           	|
         ii-of-VI   	 V-of-VI

- The harmony leans heavily toward a modulation to F but never quite makes it.

- The early outtake of this song heard on Anthology 3 makes explcit a G chord on the final beat of measures 1 & 2, though this is not so clear on the official version.


- The refrain is only 6 measures long with an AAA' phrasing pattern in which the final phrase differs from the previous two only in the way it harmonically leads to G instead of D:

	--------------- 2X --------------
	|F7		|D7		|
	 VI              V-of-flat VII

	|F7		|G		|
	 VI              flat VII


- The bridge is 10 measures long, 8 of which are played over a pedal harmony on a, and the final two of which echo the refrain ending:

middle voice|E		|-		|F		|-		|
chords      |a		|-		|-		|-		|

	|F#		|-		|G		|-		|
	|-		|-		|-		|-		|

	|F7		|G		|
	 VI              flat VII

- The chromatically rising middle voice develops your sense of expectation over the course of the pedal point, though really it's a bit of a tease; there's nothing in the way of harmonic "progression" going on behind the building suspense.

- There is something ironic in the way this bridge relieves the surrounding montony of verse refrain section pairs even though the bridge, per se, only serves to reiterate and intensify the same overall mood of the piece. You'll notice that John pulls essentially the same stunt in "Dear Prudence."


- The final eight measures overlap with the downbeat of the final measure of the refrain and present the followings strange chromatic chord stream of dominant 7ths repeated twice into a fadeout during which the tape is treated to an increasing amount of wow and/or flutter:

	 1   2    3  4   1   2  3   4    1
	|G   F7		|-	E7  Eb7 |D7		|-	Eb7 E7 |

- Just like the surprise ending in a good mystery novel, the ending here works as effectively as it does, not because it *appeared* totally out of the blue, but precisely because, on later reflection, it only *seemed* to have done so.

The chord progression outlined at the end by the string ensemble turns out to be the refrain opening in slight disguise, and the glissando execution of chords was anticpated earlier in the second half of the verses.


- Lewisohn describes this song as John's goofing on "those despised people who dissected his lyrics ...," but I think you could also call it self-parody in equal measure. While this one is certainly not as heavily invested as, say, "Strawberry Fields ..." or "... Walrus," you cannot help notice that several of the same techniques and gestures made famous by those songs are found here as well.


Alan (

"Dig it to me! Dog it to me! Hot brown cow!"                 071497#132

                Copyright (c) 1997 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.