With this one, we have a song that both further exemplifies some of John's signature style traits, as well as one which, in its time, broke some new ground. The music itself is relatively so straightforward in this song that I'm going to skip the bar-by-bar analysis for the most part, the better to home-in on the more interesting topics.
It's tempting to attribute what I describe as John's penchant for harmonic frugality as more a reflection of a limited vocabulary than a conscious element of style. But while the latter may be a slight exaggeration, the former would be grossly unfair; granted, much of his output (both early and late) is heavily blues based or influenced, but at the very least, during the Sgt. Pepper and White Album period, we have several examples, such as "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "I Am the Walrus" which are quite imaginative in chord progression.
But at any rate, with our current selection, we have yet another song built exclusively out of four chords; in order of appearance, you have G, D, C, and F. The key is G major, so gramatically, in addition to the standard I, V, and IV, we also have the modal sounding "flat VII" chord.
The use of such a limited harmonic palette contributes to the extremely closed tonal shape of the song. There are no excursions or modulations away from the home key. Luckily, as a matter of avoiding a stultifying sense of stasis, each of the two phrases of the verse section respectively opens up to either the IV or V chord which at least help "motivate" the refrain, and similarly, the two phrases in the refrain section each end on V which neatly leads back around into the next verse.
I haven't done an exhaustive study of it (and should! hey, where's my facts checker today when I need her ?), but I believe that this "flat VII" chord, which became so much a part of not just the Beatles' vocabulary, but much of rock music in general during the late 60s, becomes noticeably more common starting with the "Help!" album.
Prior to this album, the only Len/Mac song with a flat VII in it that comes to mind is the title track on "A Hard Day's Night." On the "Help!" album, you find that in addition to the title track, the next *four* Len/Mac songs on side one all contain this special chord; i.e. "The Night Before", our current song, "Another Girl", and "You're Going to Lose that Etc." (And I repeat, I haven't done my homework exhaustively yet so there might be even more!) Does this perhaps give you the feeling that the composer(s) were having a field day playing with a new harmonic "toy" so to speak ?
I describe the harmonic style of YGTHYLA as "almost" modal because of the use here of the Major V chord together with the flat VII. By way of contrast, we saw how in "She Said She Said", the modal spell is kept unbroken by using the *minor* v chord. One spicy by-product of this almost purely modal style is the repeated ocurrence of the indirect juxtaposition of the F sharps in the D chord with the F naturals in the F chord. "Technically" (i.e. pedantically), they're not quite cross relations because in this song, those two chords never follow each other immediately.
Perhaps the following will come as no surprise to those resident teenagers out there who make a religion out of knowing such details, but a semi- exhaustive search through the tracks on the official albums of the Beatles reveals John to be the most partial of the four toward songs written in ternary meters. Of course, songs in such time signatures comprise only a small fraction of the total canon, but I thought it was interesting to note to whom the lion's share of these belonged:
John -- Baby's in Black *YGTHYLA (our song du jour!) Norwegian Wood Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds (verse) Yer Blues I WANT YOU (She's so heavy) (in part) Dig a Pony Paul -- She's Leaving Home Oh! Darling George -- Long, Long, Long I Me Mine
(BTW, given George's small "market share" of the official canon, it's significant that in this category, he comes in tied with Paul.)
The arrangement of this song is notable on two grounds: the *almost* exclusive use of acoustic instruments (sorry, Mark L., but this boy-o hears an electric Hoffner), and the first(!) use of a hired studio musician to supply a part played on "exotic" instruments; i.e. alto and tenor flutes. At risk of belaboring the obvious, this latter tactic became a major clue to the new direction of the boys for many albums to come.
For a change, there are no fancy tricks in this song with unusual phrase lengths; everything is built out of even numbers of measures and phrases. Do note though, the rather folksy form, the most unique feature of which is the way the "verse" containing the instrumental solo is pushed all the way to the end!:
Verse - Verse - Refrain - Verse - Verse - Refrain - Verse/Solo
I find it intruiging that many people hear the influence of Dylan in this song. Beyond John's vocal style and the lyrics, I wonder if part of this reaction is based on the use of this form; think of how many of Zimmy's own ballads save the harmonica solo for *after* the final verse!
Though you know I generally don't get too involved with the lyrics, being pretty much a straight-arrow chords and form sort of fellow, I can't quite ignore what seem to me to be the strange apsects of the words in this song.
We tend to take it for granted that we know all about how the young rebel who was suspended by Headmaster Pobjoy for throwing a blackboard out the classroom window actually had such an insecure, and vulnerable soft core. For every song like "You Can't Do That", there is also one like "Misery." Whenever you find him talking about striking back, if you just wait a minute, you'll also hear about the heartache which motivates it.
But I do believe that YGTHYLA is unique even in this context: here we find our hero immobilized to the point where vengence is the least thing on his mind because it hurts so badly that he can't even stand to be around other people; an even greater emotional crash than in "I'll Cry Instead." In spite of this, we are privy to his state -- as though we could read his mind or his private journal -- and it is from this unusual sense of intimacy that I believe the song derives much of its impact. (BTW, it's interesting to note how such a similar song in tone as "Yes it Is" was recorded in the same week!)
But there is a delightful, almost Dylanesque ellipticality to these lyrics as well. From the phrase "*If* she's gone", you can't tell for certain where we come in within the timeline of the story being told; e.g., has she already gone for good, or are they merely separating for something like a six month hiatus, or perhaps is he just rehearsing his fear of her possibly leaving ?
Similarly, the line "how could she say to me love will find a way" is very difficult; it's the sort of comment you expect someone to make when they're trying to keep a relationship going no matter what, against all odds and obstacles, not when one is ramping down or breaking off. But then again, maybe our hero is himself perplexed and hurt by this very difficulty. For when love somehow cannot find a way, when such a thing is just not possible, is there ever any middle ground left to which one can go ?
Alan (email@example.com *OR* uunet!huxley!awp)
"You'd have wound up a Senior Citizen of Boston. As it is, you took the wrong turn and what happened, you're a lonely old man from Liverpool." 051590#18
Click here to return.
Click here to return to AWP's index.