Notes on three simple songs that didn't make it (I-IV-V)

  • 12-Bar Original
  • If You've Got Trouble
  • Leave My Kitten Alone

    INTRODUCTION

    - The number of songs recorded in the studio by the Beatles but never officially released is relatively small; likely a reflection of the enormous pressure to "produce" by all means, along with its corollary to not waste precious bandwidth on dead ends and false starts. A sort of mystique has eventually attached itself to this rag tag group of remnants by virtue of its limited number and obscurity of its members. The latter only serves the more to pique our curiosity about these songs if for no other reason than to better understand either why they were given a chance in the first place or why they were left behind.

    - So here are three different but equally unlucky tracks from the Late-Early or Early Middle period that failed to make the grade: one cover song, one novelty act for Ringo, and one instrumental, no less. Perhaps only one them (the cover, surprise!) bears sufficient musical interest to reward repeated listening, yet all three have been widely bootlegged and appear more or less "officially" on the Anthology.

    - The essential musical common denominator shared by these three tracks is an exclusive use of just 3 chords, the 12-bar blues trio of I-IV-V. Should we react to this as any more ironic than it is predictable? These tend to be the first three chords anyone learns; all three of them appear in most songs; many songs can be played with just them; and with only them, a certain number of other songs can be reasonably faked.

    - But you can't blame the problems with our three unreleased outtakes on the simplicity of the harmonic diet alone. Granted, the use of novel chords and chord progressions shows up relatively early as a Beatles signature device. On the other hand, the austere familiarity of just I-IV-V has never held back a genuine blues musician from making memorable music. Harmony aside, I dare say that at least two out of these three tracks has a serious deficit in terms of being conspicuously less than a fully invested effort.

    - At any rate, the relative quality ranking of these three tracks roughly descends in direct chronological order. Therefore, as one of those people who'd rather save the chocolate for last rather than eat it first, I'm going to cover them in reverse order.

    SONG-BY-SONG WALKTHROUGH


    12-Bar Original

    KEY     E Major
    
    METER   4/4
    
    FORM    All twelve bar frames ... (w/complete ending)
    
    COMPOSER	Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, Starr
    

    GENERAL POINTS OF INTEREST

    - This seemingly improvised jam session in traditional 12-bar blues form may be technically more competent than the surviving equivalent tracks from the Quarrymen 1960 sessions, but it surprisingly (should I say shockingly) contains very little more spark of musical interest.

    - Granted, this 11/65 recording comes from the point in the _Rubber Soul_ sessions when deadline panic over a shortage of time and materials had surely set in. Still, the most loyal fan wonders what in blazes they could have been thinking. And the shared compositional credit only serves to spread the blame.

    - As elegant or fiery blues jamming, the performance never gets completely up on its feet. Successfully bring off this kind of thing requires a combination of sinewy, emotionally invested individual performances with the kind of interactive teamwork that approximates a spirited round table discussion. On balance you can hear Paul trying hard from "below" on bass trying to light a fire, along with George Martin from the "side" on harmonium giving a clue to the new direction, but to no avail. The ultimate problem is right up "front" with lead/rhythm guitar and drum work that is lack luster at best, and that may be stretching it.

    - The piece actually had a latent stylistic second chance of a sort which they failed to exploit. Given their experimental, nouvelle cuisine knack for bending, blending, and stylization of styles, this might have worked quite nicely as a kind of "Un-Blues" number (in the same sense that 7-Up advertises itself as the "Un-Cola") in which novel and specifically non-Blues textures and riffs were exploited; in some of George Martin's harmonium playing I can almost hear him trying to steer the jam session in that direction, with the others not picking up on his hint. Compare this one with "Flying," for example. There's also a Small Faces track, "Plum Nellie" that you might swear is a knock-off of this one that's worth tracking down.

    - You need at least two sources to hear the track in its entirety. A mono acetate of the complete performance runs 6:40, and contains 17 12-bar frames with a rough but complete ending. The Anthology version at 2:55 is a cleverly edited digest of the latter from master tape, in stereo, and contains 7 12-bar frames excerpted from the beginning, middle and end; I believe were are given frames 1,2,3,10,11,16,17; please send email if you come up with an alternate batting order. The catch is that the Anthology version starts off with a Macca count-in absent from the acetate. A shorter, widely booted version of the complete acetate runs 3:55 and fades during the 10th frame.

    - For me the single point of greatest interest is the extent to which the count in and first four bars of the first frame sounds ambiguously like an "intro," as if the downbeat of the first real section were on the IV chord in measure 5.

    A FINAL THOUGHT

    - Regardless of whether or not improvisatory blues ever was or could have been one of the Beatles otherwise long list of strong suits, this wouldn't be their night to make it one, if that, in fact, is what they were trying to do. Why they should suddenly turn to it at this point of their career and expect different/better results from before is a mystery. I'm reminded of a bumper sticker that says one definition of insanity is repeatedly doing the same thing and expecting different results.


    If You've Got Trouble

    KEY     E Major
    
    METER   4/4
    
    FORM    Intro -> Verse -> Verse -> Bridge -> Verse -> Break 12bar ->
                    Bridge -> Verse -> Outro (w/complete ending)
    
    
    COMPOSER	Lennon & McCartney
    

    GENERAL POINTS OF INTEREST


    Style and Form

    - This rather typical "vehicle for Ringo" comes from the 2/65 _Help!_ sessions. It suffers from too much repetition material that's not particularly striking to begin with. It apparently lost out to "Act Naturally" in the competition for the album's running order.

    - While it uses only the three blues chords only and has a bluesy tune, the musical form here is not straight 12-bar.

    - The form is bulky, being a two bridge model with both a verse and an instrumental break intervening; the latter being the one true 12-bar frame in the piece.

    - A bootleg of the song has been available for years. It features a rough pre-mix of the song with an awkwardly separated stereo image that contrasts with the more carefully (blandly?) processed version on Anthology.


    Melody and Harmony

    - The tune exists in a constrictingly small range and is almost exclusively pentatonic (E-F#-G#-B-C#) with the exception of the 4th degree, A, in the bridge (on the words "I don't") and the bluesy flat third (on the words "you think.")

    - The I chord is frequently embellished here with the dominant 7th, yet another bluesy touch.


    Arrangement

    - The arrangement feels anemic by Beatles standards in both vocal and instrumental departments. Perhaps they abandoned it before it was quite finished.

    - Ringo handles the lead vocal fully double tracked. The others (Paul and George?) provide the most minimal of backing vocals with "oh oh" at end of the second line of verse.

    - A bluesy ostinato that makes prominent use of the flat 7th and is played in octaves by bass and lead guitars lends some interest to the verses. The bridge features predictable rhythm guitar strumming as a break from the ostinato.

    - The use of slow triplets in the verse tune against the 4/4 backbeat suggests John's hand as much as does the pentatonic quality of the tune.

    SECTION-BY-SECTION WALKTHROUGH


    Intro

    - The intro is four measures long, two of drum solo and two of the verse ostinato.


    Verse

    - The verse is a standard 16 measures long, with even phrases and a musical pattern of AABA. Aside from the threepeat of the A phrase, note how the B phrase, itself, contains an internal repeat:

    
            --------------- 2x --------------
            |E	|B	|E	|-	|
    E:	 I	 V	 I
    
    
            |A	|B	|A	|B	|
             IV      V	 IV	 V
    
    
    
            |E	|B	|E	|-	|
             I	 V	 I
    
    

    - The harmonic shape is fully closed, and the harmonic rhythm has the dreary predictability of some kind of textbook example.


    Bridge

    - The bridge is 8 measures long with, again, even phrase lengths and a "CC" repeating phrase pattern. If the verse already had dangerous amount of rote repetition this bridge puts the song over the top:

            --------------- 2x --------------
            |A	|E	|A   E  |B   E  |
             IV	 I	 IV  I   V   I
    

    - The melodic material also starts to chafe by this point, especially in the way that the bridge tune simply outlines and underscores the narrow range of the tune.

    - The harmonic shape is officially "convergent" since it starts on a chord other than I, but we really don't get much relief from the home key.


    Break

    - Ringo introduces the break with a variation on a familiar line of his, "rock on ... anybody," that betrays, perhaps unintentionally, a sense of desperate longing to be rescued from this whole thing.


    Outro

    - The outro is a simple repeat of final verse line, with a deft little drum riff getting the last word.

    A FINAL THOUGHT

    - "If You've Got Trouble" suffers by comparison with other Beatles songs that are constructed of similarly minimal, even trivial content, but which out-shine it in at least one or more departments. Here's my short list of contenders, I'm sure you have your own to add:

    - The whole attitude of the song also doesn't fit as well in terms of Ringo's persona of the sad and lonely guy. More typically he's complained of being unfairly or treacherously rejected. Here he's just pushing her away because he thinks she's spoiled rotten.


    Leave My Kitten Alone

    KEY     C Major
    
    METER   4/4
    
    FORM    Intro -> Verse/Refrain -> Verse/Refrain -> Bridge/Refrain ->
                    12 bar Break -> Bridge/Refrain -> Outro (fadeout)
    
    COMPOSERS               John, Turner, McDougal
    
    INFLUENTIAL VERSIONS	Little Willie John, Johnny Preston
    

    GENERAL POINTS OF INTEREST

    - This full-blooded screamer for John was recorded during the heart of the _Beatles For Sale_ sessions, the same day as "I'm A Loser" and "Mr. Moonlight," the latter of which would perplexingly appear to have won out against this one for inclusion on the album.

    - Every section of the song is based on an 12-bar blues frame in spite of the fact that you can easily distinguish between verses and bridges. It's a formal style used in a number of officially released Beatles covers by Chuck Berry et al. This one here is of the 8+4 sub-species, where the final four measures of each section ("Well I told you big fat ...") repeats continually like a refrain. Compare it, for example with "Roll Over Beethoven."

    - The melody places heavy emphasis on the bluesy flat 3rd and 7th throughout. Those recurring long melissmas, at the end of verse lines on the word "alone" and in the middle of the bridge on the falsetto screaming of "leave", are quite suggestive of the native Beatles style.

    - The backing ensemble includes a piano, along with the drums and guitars. A distinctive percussive sound, the clanging sound of banging on a metal pipe, is heard in many places.

    - John handles all the vocals, almost always double tracked, and with many a shot of screaming and falsetto thrown in, just for good measure.

    SECTION-BY-SECTION WALKTHROUGH


    Intro

    - The intro begins with chromatic chord stream pickup starting with an Eb chord on the eighth note between 3 and 4, and ending with a C chord on the first downbeat.

    - The latter signals both the extent to which the pitch E-flat colors the upcoming tune as well as the E-flat chord similarly colors the first phrase of the bridge.


    Verse

    - The verse is a 12-bar frame with a phrasing pattern of AA'B:

            |C	|-	|-	|-	|
    C:	 I
    
    
            |F	|-	|C	|-	|
             IV              V
    
    
            |G 	|F	|C	|-	|
             IV      IV      I
    
    

    - The brief dramatic pause of the backing track right after the downbeat of measure 10 is an example of a well worn but in this case well used cliche.


    Bridge

    - The 12-bar kinship between this bridge and the surrounding verses is cleverly disguised for the first four measures by varying both backbeat and melody, as well as embellishing the chord progression.

    - Don't be fooled by the foreground chord progression as it appears in the first 3 or four measures in the following eighth-note pattern:

             1  &  2  &  3  &  4  &        1
            |C  C  C  C  C  C  F  Eb      |C ...
             I                 IV flat-III I
    

    - This is essentially an "elaboration" of the static C chord, the extra chord changes serving to rhetorically emphasize the fixed, static hold on C rather than convey any sense of harmonic motion.


    Break

    - Catch Paul shouting the word "right" just before the start of the instrumental break that sounds like there are other scraps of studio talk buried in the mix.


    Outro

    - The outro is yet another 12-bar frame, this time with a variant hook phrase on the words "you better leave ..."

    - The complete fadeout takes effect during what would otherwise be the last couple measures.

    A FINAL THOUGHT

    - In contrast to the other two songs discussed above, there is no need this time around to dispassionately criticize or make excuses. This is one hot number whose reason for not being released is one of the great Beatles mysteries. I wonder if the issue boiled down at the time to the song not quite fitting the oh so carefully cultivated image of the group.

    - For one thing, the song's goofy-but-violent imagery, in spite of the extent to which it is softened by the Disney-like casting of the story with anthropomorphic it Cats and Dogs, might have been judged as borderline with respect to "taste"; not so much with respect to generally operative "standards and practices," but more specifically with how the Beatles wanted to present themselves.

    - And furthermore there's the basic guys-fighting-guys premise here that would seem to be conspicuously outside the Beatles perimeter. While we're all quite familiar with John's dealing with the irritation of an interloping other guy by taking it out on the girl, shades of "You Can't Do That," I dare you to find another example in which he addresses the interloper directly, with threats, no less!

    - By the way, am I the only one out there who was actively listening to top 40 radio in the early 60s who does not recall either of the original influential versions of this song?

    Regards,
    
    Alan (awp@world.std.com)
    
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    "I'm adjusting the decibels on the inbalance."               081901#200
    
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                    Copyright (c) 2001 by Alan W. Pollack
                              All Rights Reserved
    
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