Notes on "The Night Before" (TNB)

Notes on "The Night Before" (TNB)

KEY D Major


FORM Intro -> Verse -> Verse -> Bridge -> Verse -> Verse (half solo) -> Bridge -> Verse -> Outro (w/complete ending)


Style and Form

- With its strong bluesy foreground that is so nicely balanced out by the predominantly pop style that underlies it, this song provides about as good an example as you'll find of the Beatles predilection on the threshold of mid-career for a synthesis of their erstwhile desire to play genuine 12-bar blues with an even greater passion to transcend that it.

- They use the standard long form here, one of their favorites, with its two bridges that are separated by two verse sections, the second one of which is partly for instrumental solo. "From Me To You" and "A Hard Days Night" come to mind as archetypal examples, but there are many others as well.

- In addition, there is an almost subliminally unifying effect created by the recurring use of chromatic shifts and scale fragments; anticipatory shades of Paul's later "You Won't See Me", which happens to share a certain amount of similarity with this song at the level of its subject matter.

Melody and Harmony

- The song utilizes a relatively large number of chords (eight!), fully half of which are foreign in one way or another to the home key. In addition to the I, IV, V, and vi which are diatonically indigenous, we also find here the flat-III, minor iv, flat-VII, and V-of-V.

- In terms of chord progressions, this just may be the first place that The Beatles would use flat-VII in between I and IV. The song also features the first example we've seen in quite a while of the minor iv used in a Major key. Ironically, although I tend to associate the use of this chord especially with John, the most recent example we had seen was back in Paul's "I'll Follow The Sun".

- Chromatic shifting between two flavors of a note appears here under a number of guises. The first and most prominent example is in the opening phrases of the verse where the melodic prominence given to the bluesy minor 3rd (F natural) in phrase 1,2, and 4 is contrasted with a switch to the major 3rd (F#) near the end of phrase 3. Note, by the way just how juicy a cross-relation that heavy use of F natural makes against the D Major chords in the accompaniment.

- Other deployments of the same basic idea are found in the alternation between B natural and B flat implied by the chord change between b minor and g minor in phrase 3 of the verse, as well as the melodic noodling around D/C# and E/D# at the beginning of the bridge.


- Paul's vocal lead is double tracked throughout and he repeatedly throws in a little Gershwinesque grace note in the final phrase of the verse (on the word "did") that reminds me of something John did in "I'm A Loser".

- The vocal arrangement of the verse is of particular interest. What appears at first as a garden variety call-and-response pattern actually turns out to be a single thread vocal line shared, "hocket"-like, between the double-tracked solist (Paul) and the backers. Last time we had seen anything quite like this was "Please Please Me". "Help!" and "You're Going To Lose That Girl" use a device that is, while similar to the hocket, more in the realm of a gloss or commentary on the main line rather than a sharing of it.

- The prominent appearance of the electric piano here yet again would seem to suggest that its sound was something the group had somewhat faddishly latched onto during the late spring of '65.



- This is one of those songs where the instrumental texture is relatively unvaried throughout. I'd dare say that if you could find yourself a bootleg of just the backing track for it, it would sound just like the intro.

- This section is one long eight-measure phrase with a slow harmonic rhythm and a chord progression that neatly opens out to V, thereby providing motivation for the verse which follows:

        |D      |-      |F      |-      |G      |-      |A      |-      |
D:       I               flat-III        IV              V

- Two nice rhythmic details to listen out for -- Paul's C# -> D anticipation of the first downbeat; and the manner in which the individually syncopated parts combine during in the last couple measures to make for a compound rhythm that is very close to even eighth notes.


- The verse is a standard sixteen measures long and is made up of four equal phrases that form a poetic pattern of "aabc":

        ------------------------------ 2X -------------------------------
        |D              |C              |G              |A              |
         I              flat-VII         IV              V

        |b              |g              |b              |g              |
         vi              iv              vi              iv

        |D              |G              |D              |-            |
         I               IV              I              |-            |

             verses which are followed by another verse:|F         G  |
                                                        |flat-III  IV |

- The narrative and poetic structure is abetted by the harmonic scheme. The first two phrases open up widely to the V chord. The third phrase, rather than providing any kind of resolution, further heightens the suspense and even adds a touch of anxiety by its staying away from I and introducing the ominous sounding minor iv chord. As is typical, the final phrase puts everything right with its return to I. Note, though, how in those verses that are followed by another verse the harmonic ending is modifed so that a motivation for a return to I at the beginning of the next verse is motivated by a forced move away from I at the last moment.

- A faintly stuffy, pedagogical observation about first minor iv chord in phrase 3: it could alternately be parsed as ii6/b5 because of the e in the melody. To the extent that both ii and iv denote a subdominant function though, the difference between the two labels is somewhat moot.

- Although the lead and backing vocalists share the melodic spotlight in the first two phrases, they interestingly overlap at the "seams" of their respective parts. This creates a special effect at the beginning of the second phrase, where the backers falling away from the lead subtly suggests a kind of sighing accompaniment. The manner in which the backers continue on in the third phrase entirely as part of the background wash, only to dramatically desist entirely for the final phrase, also makes for a dramatic effect.

- George, likely feeling finally unbound after keeping such a low profile in the first half of the song, introduces his solo section with an enthusiastic "Yes!". There's a more half-hearted "yeah" that precedes the second bridge, which for all we know, just might be another one of those infamous "anomalies."

- The half-section's worth of guitar solo is doubled at the octave and definitely sounds more worked out and painfully practiced than it does improvised; the tip-off being in the way that both phrases of it are repeated identically. The interjectory nature of the solo and the dissonant manner in which its melodic content rides roughshod over the chords below it sound peversely out of style with the rest of the song. It's as if they were trying to achieve in music the same kind of obtuse non-sequitor which peppers their onstage verbal antics.


- The bridge is eight measures long and built out of two equal phrase:

        |A      |D      |G      |-      ||b     |E      |A      |-      |
         V       V-of-IV IV               vi     V-of-V  V

- As is a well-established convention, a subtle change of the percussion pattern is used here to help the bridge sound more set-off from the surrounding verses.

- With the exception of the intro, the harmonic rhythm of this song is relatively fast throughout. The phrase endings of this bridge provide a notably rare and brief breath-catching respite.

- The song makes a slight, short-lived modulation toward the key of G, but it pivots right back around to set up a return to the home key with its big finish on the V chord, set up on a silver platter by V-of-V.

- The melodic climax of the entire song occurs at the very end of this section on the high note 'A'. This is felt as especially dramatic in context of the constricted melodic range of the song overall; you'll note how the verse rather butts its head, so to speak, up against a ceiling of G.


- The complete ending consists of a simple petit reprise of the final phrase that is easily built out of an extension to the end of the verse:

                                |reprise|- guitar riff  ||
        |D      |G      |D      |F      |D      |-      ||
         I       IV      I      flat-III I

- The return of the solo guitar for a final fanfare lick lends a classic touch of unity, and anticipates what is essentially the very same gesture that would appear much later in "Penny Lane"!


- At a high level, this song thematically belongs to one of the archtypal sub-genres of the two-minute pop song: the one in which the protagonist, post-breakup, acknowledges what a good thing he had in retrospect and expresses the fond hope and prayer for a reconciliation.

- At a closer level of detail, this one bears a surprising amount of comparison with one very specific other song of Paul's songs; one written pretty much around the same time. Granted, this one is written in direct address to the girl and openly begs for another chance. The other song, in contrast, speaks of the girl in third person and, in spite of an expressed longing for a reversal of the situation, the hero there seems, with grim resignation, to better accept his fate.

- And yet, the common demoninator between the two is in their focus on the past, and in their desire for an impossible turning back of the clock by a mere 24 hours. In this sense, in spite of all other differences in musical style, the two songs are closely enough related that I could almost imagine their two titles reversed or comingled: "Last Night" and "The Day Before" :-).

Alan ( OR uunet!huxley!awp)

"I will be pleased, men, to see the earth disintegrated." 112392#70

Copyright (c) 1992 by Alan W. Pollack
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