Notes on "When I'm Sixty-four" (WISF)


KEY	D-flat Major

METER	4/4

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

GENERAL POINTS OF INTEREST


Style and Form

- This song is Paul's first official foray into the carefully put-on nostalgic-cum-vaudeville stylization that would become a stock part of his compositional arsenal for the remainder of his career as a Beatle. In context of _Sgt. Pepper's_ running order, it provides a well-needed and right contrast to the preceding track.

- The song is mastered in the key of D-flat, nicely resonating with the C# drone of WYWY, though I believe it was recorded in the more "readable" key of C in order to sound higher on playback and give Paul's lead vocal that tremulously earnest quality.

- The form is an unusual perfect arch; there is no doubling up of any sections, and the Intro and Outro are identical. There is no specific refrain section, though the verse here is of the type whose last phrase is refrain-like.

- I am puzzled, in the lyrics by the comment in the first bridge about "if you say the word, I could stay with you." Without a doubt, the rest of the song bespeaks of a long-married (at least long-cohabiting) couple. Does the hero somehow envison them inexplicably separated in their autumn years, or merely sleeping most of the time in separate beds?


Melody and Harmony

- The tune is built primarily out of triadic (bugle call-like) riffs and chromatic (half step-wise) runs.

- The harmony is almost clunkily straightforward on the one hand, yet as consequence of the chromaticism of the tune, we also find a strong showing from "added note chords" (e.g. V13), "secondary chords" (e.g. V-of-whatever), and harmonizing of chromatic bassline motion.

- Gramatically speaking, I believe the diminshed chord of the final verse phrase (on the words "(want)need me") is one we confront for the first time in a Beatles song. Yes, we've seen diminished chords before, but they functioned as VII-based *dominant* surrogates; see the refrain of "Stawberry Fields Forever" as an example. The one we have here functions as a surrogate *sub*-dominant, built on the raised 2nd degree of the scale:


			Db	-	-
			Bb	->	Ab
			G	->	F
			E	->	F
		Db:	#ii dim.7	I6/3

- The salient different between the so-called subdominant diminshed seventh and its dominant counterpart is that in the former, one of the voice voices is sustained when the chord resolves whereas, in the latter, all four voices make a move.


Arrangement

- Whatever typical Beatles instruments are used on this track, you're bound to walk away remembering the piano part, those guest appearances of clarinets (both a pair of regular ones plus a bass model) and those tubular bell chimes. If you have any doubt that Paul is putting you on with this arrangement, you need only to dig how flat the high Bb is on that clarinet each time it comes round in the bridge; and if you cannot tell that it is *really* flat, you need some ear training :-)

- Paul's sped up lead vocal is single tracked. John and George provide tasteful, intermittent backing.

SECTION-BY-SECTION WALKTHROUGH


Intro

- The contents of this intro are certainly of the same cloth as the rest of the song, but they do not directly quote from it. Surely, though, you can't say they don't establish the home key with efficiency:

|Db |- |Gb Ab |D | D-flat: I IV V I |- |- |

- Architecturally, this intro is 4 measures long; the verse could easily begin on the downbeat of measure 5, but in true vaudeville style, the band "vamps" for a couple measures "until singer is ready."


Verse

- The verse is a four-square 16 measures long, with four phrases that make for an ABA'C poetic pattern:

|Db |- |- |Ab | I V bassline: |Ab Bb B nat. C |Db |Ab |- |- |Db | V I |Db |- |Db7 |Gb | I V-of-IV IV bassline:Gb G nat. |Ab Bb |Eb |Gb e dim7. |Db Bb |eb Ab |Db | IV #ii6/5 I6/4 V-of-ii ii V I

- The effect of the harmonic design remains studiedly-stodgy in spite of the varied harmonic rhythm that accelerates toward the end of the section and the chromatically rising basslines of the second and fourth phrases; this, because each of the phrases commences with the same chord the previous phrase had ended with.

- If you read these notes carefully, I'd expect you to probe me on why I label the chromatic bassline in phrase 2 as just being a contrapuntal filling out of the V chord, while I give a different Roman numeral to each step of the chromatic bassline in phrase 4. There are two reasons for this:

- The first is a matter of time-scale. The final phrase sustains each move in the bass for two beats instead of one, allowing each "chord" to register in your head more explicitly.

- The second reason is a mater of root movement. Phrase 2 really involves no more than a V->I cadence. In phrase 4, even if you rule out the e diminished 7th and Db 6/4 chords as being contrapuntally incidental, I think you still are dealing with root movement of IV to ii *by way of* V-of-ii.


Bridge

- The bridge is an unusual 17 measures long; actually, a four-square 16 + 1, with the latter thrown in in the manner of the 13th pastry in a baker's dozen:

|b-flat |- |Ab |b-flat | b-flat: i flat-VII i |b-flat |- |F | | V |b-flat |- |eb |- | i iv Db: ii |Gb |Ab |Db |Ab | Db: IV V I V |- |

- The harmony in this section makes a modally flavored pivot over to the key of the relative minor, and then a comparitively textbook kind of pivot back to the home key.

- The arrangement of the two bridges provides a clever tease as well as an avoidance of foolish consistency. The first one starts off with one whole phrase minus vocalist, by the end of which you start to half assume the entire section may be such an "instrument interlude." But then the vocalist comes in for the second phrase, yet he drops out again for the downbeat of the third phrase (allowing the sour clarinets to have their moment), and then he comes back in again; now you hear him, now you don't :-) Then, the second time around, the singer starts right in the first phrase, but still, he drops out at the beginning of the third phrase.


Outro

- This is pretty much identical to the intro, don't ya think, except for the gratuitous-albeit-cute opening "whoo!" from the lead singer.

SOME FINAL THOUGHTS

- Is it a matter of *this* song, per se, being over the top that cloys, or is it the result of Paul's including one of these stylistically studied posturing songs on virtually every album henceforth?

- I'm reminded, in this context, of comments made by one of Waugh's characters in _Brideshead Revisited_ about "charm" and "art." One Anthony Blanche describes a disappointing art exhibit he has just attended saying, "it reminded me of dear Sebastian when he liked so much to dress up in false whiskers. It was charm again, my dear, simple, creamy English charm, playing tigers."

- Antoine then goes to explain how his own tastes go in for the "spicy" and "unhealthy." Gee, I wonder which of the Beatles he was thinking of in that regard.


Regards,

Alan (awp@world.std.com)

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"When's the last time you handed a girl a pink-edged daisy?"  040296#114
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                Copyright (c) 1996 by Alan W. Pollack
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