Monday, 24 August 2015

10:46 Mother Nature's Son (pt 2) Droning On


Musically the thing that stands out about this track is how flowing the melody and chords are. We have an 8 bar verse* with almost no repetition in it.

D         G/D     | G/D      D
Bm      Bm/A  | Bm/G# E9
A D/A A   D/A | A D/A  A D/A
D         Dm7    | G/D      D

The melody likewise changes every two bars and yet feels all of a piece and meanders pleasantly without losing it's way. The prime reason for this cohesion is simply McCartney's innate gift for melody. But he does tie it together with a few tricks

the I – IV cycle crops up in the frequent D - G/D movement (bars 1, 2 and 8 and crops up again in the bridge section) and reappears (transposed) in the A - D/A in bars 6 -7.


Secondly, drones play a major part. Each two bar chord sequence is centered around a different note: D in bars 1-2 and 7-8 and A in bars 5-6. Bars 3 - 4 flip the concept upside down. The root (lowest) note moves but the chord above (Bm) remains static. But what about the final E9?

E9 is spelled E G# B D F#. Take a look at the top 3 notes. B D F# = Bm.

In the bridge the chords move freely with little repetition but again the entire progression is over a D drone.


Speaking of the bridge let's look at the structure.

Essentially we have an old school AABA structure (Ticket 26). Literally it's an aAABABA with the intro (a) constructed from a fragment of the verse (bars 3-4) and some noodling around the root chord. This is a primitive version of Ticket 4 (create a new section from material elsewhere in the song) something the Beatles do far more elegantly on tracks like She Loves You and Help. Arguably McCartney also does it here in the B section, as the song's bridge chord sequence appears to grow organically from the sequence he uses in bars 7-8 of the verse.

There's a strong contrast between the A and B sections (verse and bridge) – Ticket 5

A                                B
lower vocal range       higher vocal range
singing words             scat singing
3 drones                      one drone
no brass                      brass

More Chords

The melody is constructed almost entirely from notes in the underlying chords, but it doesn't get boring because the chords move so much (check out the chord per syllable movement on
“all day long I'm sit...” - Ticket 36) and because there are so many 'out of key' chords (Ticket 28) like the minor 4 (Ticket 8) at 1:28, and the D7 that closes the song (Ticket 18).

The chord progression at the end of the B section (1:21) - D Dmaj7 D7 G/D Gm/D D - contains a descending chromatic counter melody – D C# C B Bb A (Ticket 17), a device which crops up in songs like Something.

Another interesting chord movement is the the way the E9 leads us in the A - D/A section of the verse (0:30). The E leading to the A makes it sound like a key change, a movement know as the V of V (5 of 5)** which is a standard shift you hear in hymns like Thine Be the Glory Risen Conquering Son *** (leading into the “Angels in bright raiment line”)

Next we take a break from The White Album to take in a single – Hey Jude.

*The first and last verses are 10 bars extended by repeating the last two bars.

**The V chord in the Key of D is A major. And the V chord in the key of A is E major. Therefore in the key of D you could describe E major as the fifth chord of the fifth chord or V of V.

***The tune written by Handel comes from the aria See, The Conqu'ring Hero in the Judas Maccabaeus oratorio.


Friday, 21 August 2015

10:45 Mother Nature's Son (pt.1) - Overview And Lyrics

Unusually Lennon & McCartney want to credit each other with Mother Nature's Son. John says Paul wrote it on his own in India. Paul says he wrote it in Liverpool with help from John*.

Apart from 2 trumpets and 2 trombones it's a solo McCartney track. Contrary to various reports there is no Timpani (it's a second bass drum recorded in a stairwell) but there is the sound of Paul tapping on a hardback copy of The Song Of Hiawatha**. And personally I'm convinced I hear a single hit on a snare drum at 2:15.

The 'book drumming' is a nice example of McCartney 'at play' and blends beautifully with Martin's cerebral brass arrangement.

Paul cut the guitar and vocals live, take 24 being the keeper (take 2 appears on Anthology 3). The reverb fades in noticeably after a few seconds on the stereo version (which I find charming) and Paul's Martin D28 suffers from terrible fret buzz (which I find excruciating and inexplicable). Seriously, could the world's most famous band not find anyone to set up their guitars properly?

Listen. Do You Smell Something?

Once again my childhood impressions intrude on this track. Thinking Rocky Racoon was about a real animal is one thing. 10 year old me thought this song was about … Hitler as a young man. I have no idea why. Glad I never told anyone.

In typical Beatles fashion the lyrics are simultaneously brilliant and poor. If songwriters are like stonemasons all three writers (especially McCartney) are excellent in finding the perfect stone to lay on top of another, but their finished buildings often doesn't stand up to close scrutiny.

Here McCartney's descriptions are redundant; music is “pretty”, the field is a “field of grass” and we listen to the “sound of music” (what's the alternative - the "smell of music"?). The one original image is just odd. Hey look! A flying stream!

But all that is irrelevant. Though the lyrics aren't original they are wonderfully evocative. Using a mere 50 words McCartney puts us right into the scene. The lyrical simplicity and the supporting melody and arrangement work perfectly with the subject matter. And though he isn't saying anything deep the way his places individual words displays genius.

Thematically 'music' is central – the “pretty sound of music”, “a lazy song”, “singing songs for everyone” - the boy, the stream and the daisies are all singing.

Technically the lyric is tied together with … alliteration. The 'F' in

Find me in my field

and alliteration and assonance of the 'S' sound

Sitting Singing SongS

Swaying daiSieS Sing a lazy Song beneath the Sun

Sit beSide a mountain Stream, See her waterS riSe
LiSten to the pretty Sound of muSic aS She flieS


Next time we'll look at the chords. But for now go and look at some of your lyrics. Do they sing?

*Beatles Songwriting & Recording Database
**Recording The Beatles


Monday, 10 August 2015

White Album Observations: McCartney Takes Over On Guitar

On the White Album Paul was the sole or primary guitarist on seven tracks

Mother Nature's Son
Rocky Racoon
Wild Honey Pie
Why Don't We Do It In The Road
I Will
Martha My Dear

he also contributed guitar on a further three songs

Helter Skelter
Back In The USSR
Honey Pie

Is the White Album essentially a solo Beatles compilation album? That view is widely held, but a gross overstatement. However, in McCartney's case it is nearer the mark. For the White Album Paul became THE guitarist on most his own songs and A guitarist on the rest. The only exceptions (Hey Jude* and Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da) feature him leading from the piano.

Pre-White Album Paul only played guitar on seven tracks during the entire Sgt Pepper/Magical Mystery era. Of the three he 'took the lead' on, two were Lennon songs - Good Morning, Good Morning and Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite.

Post-White album his only 6-string contributions to Let It Be are strumming along on Two Of Us and Maggie Mae, though the figure rose again during Abbey Road*.

*As is the normal practice here on BSA I'm including the singles with the albums they belong with chronologically and treating Abbey Road as the final album for the same reason.


Friday, 31 July 2015

Under The Influence: Bob Dylan (Again)

America should put up statues to the Beatles. They helped give this country's pride back to it.

Bob Dylan Q: Howard Sounes: Down The Highway: The Life Of Bob Dylan (p.203)

Lest we go too overboard here's a counterbalance

[Sgt. Pepper was] a very indulgent album...though the songs on it were real good. I didn't think all that production was necessary

Bob Dylan Q: Howard Sounes: Down The Highway: The Life Of Bob Dylan (p.270)

Here's Dylan singing Yesterday in 1970

To find out what Dylan thinks of Paul McCartney check this out and read more about Dylan's influence on the Beatles here and here

More artists who love the Beatles here


Friday, 24 July 2015

The Beatles In Rishikesh

I'm working up a new set of posts on Mother Nature's Son. Meanwhile here's some cool, and rare home movie footage from the place where that and many other White Album songs were written; Rishikesh, India.


Friday, 17 July 2015

Ticket 71: Write A Parody

In modern parlance parody has come to mean 'a comedic take on an existing song' - singing new words to the same tune and often taking potshots at the original creator or theme. But in a wider sense any new work of art built on the musical or poetic structure of an existing work is a parody. So, for example, you could write deadly serious lyrics with the rhyme scheme and structure taken from a poem. Shakespeare's Sonnet 130 (My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun) is a parody of traditional love poetry forms. The hymn Love Divine All Loves Excelling (Charles Wesley) is a parody of King Arthur (Fairest Isle, All Isles Excelling) by John Dryden - a poem celebrating sexual freedom. You can also parody musical styles (sometimes referred to as pastiche).

This is a great way to push yourself out of your default patterns.

Back In The USSR
Happiness Is A Warm Gun (Doo Wop style in final section)


I Got A Woman (Ray Charles) – A love song in a stylistic parody of gospel music
The Elements (Tom Lehrer) – The Major-General's Song (Gilbert and Sullivan)
Sowing The Seeds Of Love (Tears For Fears) – stylistic parody of The Beatles!

Weird Al Yankovic is the master of parody. Compare the following tracks to the originals to appreciate his skill in matching phrasing, rhyme schemes etc

A Complicated Song (Complicated - Avril Lavigne)
Jerry Springer (Two Weeks – Barenaked Ladies)
Ode To A Superhero (Piano Man – Billy Joel)
The Saga Begins (American Pie – Don McClean)
White And Nerdy (Ridin Dirty - Chamillionaire)
Word Crimes (Blurred Lines – Robin Thicke)

See also

Serious Like Weird Al (pt.2)

Ticket 19: Different Bar Blues
Ticket 33: Subvert A 12 Bar Blues By Altering The Chord Sequence
Ticket 34: Disguise A 12 Bar Blues Song By Avoiding The AAB Lyric Structure

See the full list of songwriting tips here - Tickets To Write


Friday, 10 July 2015

The Great White Experiment

The Beatles really began to depart from their general working practices during The White Album sessions. It's striking how experimental they got, especially when you remember this is the album they did the most preproduction on.

The sessions began on 30th May 1968, 11 days after Lennon recorded Two Virgins and hooked up with Yoko, with a 10 minute version of Revolution which, when split up, evolved into Revolution(s) 1 and 9.

The Beatles increasingly recorded multiple versions of songs. Revolution was rerecorded on 9-11th July and released as a single, almost the only time the Beatles released two completely different versions of the same song*. While My Guitar Gently Weeps was attempted three times, between July and September, Sexy Sadie was recorded twice, and Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da three times with the second version making the cut.

It was also rare for the Beatles to abandon songs, but Lennon's What's The New Mary Jane was recorded, then shelved, and George Harrison's Not Guilty was scrapped after a legendary 101 takes.

Around this time the Beatles really began embracing mistakes. When Paul accidentally sang “Desmond stays at home and does his pretty face” in Ob-La-Di they decided to leave it in, as they did with George and John ad-libs "Desmond lets the children lend a hand...arm...leg" (1:42 and also 2:33). They also left in the howling coda in Long Long Long inspired by the sound of a wine bottle rattling on top of the Leslie speaker.

The experiments didn't end there. Birthday was written entirely on the spot in studio, Wild Honey Pie was spontaneously recorded during the Mother Nature's Son session (it was labelled 'Ad-Lib' on the master tape) and McCartney recorded 9 semi-improvised takes of Rocky Racoon laying down his vocals live with band.

Driven crazy by the mundane surroundings of Abbey Road the Beatles had already started to experiment with other studios during Magical Mystery Tour. Lured by 8 track machines or because Abbey Road was fully booked; Hey Jude, Dear Prudence, Martha My Dear, Honey Pie and Savoy Truffle were all recorded at least in part at Trident Studios. But even within Abbey Road they moved around. McCartney recorded the drums for Mother Nature's Son in a corridor and the whole band squeezed into a small room next to Studio 2 to cut Yer Blues.

Though from the earliest days addition musicians appeared on the recordings, from George Martin and classical soloists to friends and family, Eric Clapton's appearance on While My Guitar Gently Weeps marks the highest profile guest.

The view that the White Album was a glorified solo album is highly debatable but there was a high degree of fragmentation at this time evidenced by the fact that Harrison, Starr and George Martin all felt at liberty to take holidays during work on the album and that Starr and engineer Geoff Emerick both quit. Even when everyone was around they were often working simultaneously in different rooms at Abbey Road.


It's debatable how beneficial all this experimentation was. On the one hand it undoubtedly resulted in some better versions of the songs. But the openendedness of the process, itself a response to creative and personal frustrations in the band, clearly helped to further damage already fragmented relationships between band members and production staff. George Martin's desired to create a really strong single album might have been a healthier way to go. Pre Sgt Pepper, the band had always alternated intense periods in the studio with touring. From '67 onwards their lives became pretty much a never ending recording session.

*Love Me Do (with and without drummer Andy White) and Sie Liebt Dich (She Loves You) were completely different recordings though very much the same arrangements. Across The Universe and Komm Gib Mir Deine Hand (I Want To Hold Your Hand) are radically different versions built on the same basic recordings.