Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Close Your Eyes and I'll Kiss You

It's fascinating how many times the early Beatles started off their songs without an instrumental introduction, with a solo voice crashing into the song. Think about it: "Can't Buy Me Love," "It Won't Be Long," "Any Time At All," "No Reply," "You're Going To Lose That Girl," "Another Girl," "I'm a Loser"-- all these songs jump you right into the musical action, often leading with the vocal hook. It's as though they consciously considered it a part of the Beatle Formula, the thing that made the Beatles the Beatles. I think it's quite telling that when the group began to tire of being the Four Lovable Moptops, along about 1965, they began also to subvert the Formula; I can find only three songs from the second half of the Beatles' output that start that way: "Penny Lane," I Will," "Why Don't We Do It in the Road?"

(Huh. Whaddya know. All McCartneys.)

I'm sure the radio had a great deal to do with this musical practice. Deejays (back when we had such things and not corporate robots) like playing songs that start with a crash; it provides an effective punchline for their patter. The Fabs were never loathe to exploit the medium; they spoke often of "needle time," showing acute awareness of the need to get to the hook as early as possible in a song before boredom set in.

My favorite Beatle song that starts this way is "All My Loving." Listen along with me, won't you? I've put up the live version from the Sullivan show, for the simple reason that it's the only digital version I have:

"All My Loving" (pops).

When I was a teeny-tiny li'l Jingo, in that halcyon 1964 when this song -- and indeed the whole world -- was new, I didn't possess a particularly well-developed sense of human interaction. To me, this wasn't a boy-girl song at all; the lyric, it seemed to me, could only be a Mommy singing to her little boy who she's being forced to abandon. How could it be about anything else? (Excuse me, are my anxieties showing?) My first reaction, then, was that this song was ineffably, indescribably sad.

Later, when I'd grown up a bit and realized it was about lovers temporarily separating, I came to reconcile the gloriously cheerful setting with the lyric: It's not a sad song at all! But, listening to Paul 's lovely vertical melody, I still hear traces of melancholy, particularly in the downward-arching second line of the verse ("Tomorrow I'll miss you...": a beautiful match of lyric and melody).

Many factors combine to make this song so catchy. Paul's walking bass (surely an innovation: I can't think of an earlier pop song that uses one), Lennon's rhythm-guitar triplets (lifted, it would seem, from The Crystals' "Da-Doo-Ron-Ron," which was in the charts when they recorded "All My Loving"), Ringo's subtle swing (I've heard studio takes where it was more exaggerated; the effect in reining it in is enormous), and George's great Carl Perkins-inflected lead work; all these combine to create a frothy, joyous texture. I absolutely love how they reserve the Everly Brothers harmony singing (by George in the performance we're listening to; by a double-tracked Paul in the studio version) for the last verse; it gives the song new life just as it appears to be winding down.

Harmonically, the arrangement is utterly brilliant. Starting the song on the second degree of E major (F sharp minor) allows for all kinds of artful ducking and feinting as to where the tonic actually is; we don't finally get to know where "home" is -- that is, what key we're in -- until the last note of the verse.

I'm surprised to find two sources (one being the composer himself) that say it was written at the piano rather than the guitar. As John plays the rhythm, the harmony lays out with a perfect guitaristic logic. Here are the chords for the verse:

F#m B7
Close your eyes and I'll kiss you,

E C#m
Tomorrow I'll miss you;

A F#m D B7
Remember I'll always be true.

F#m B7
And then while I'm away,

E C#m
I'll write home every day,

A B7 E
And I'll send all my loving to you.

What utterly blows me away -- the Beatle Genius at Work -- is that feint in the direction of A/D in the third line. It's so goddamned unconventional a thing to do -- a IV of IV, who the hell does that? -- but it's exactly what you might try if you had noticed that that A chord was giving away the game of hide-the-tonic that McCartney plays with this verse. It's a musical head-fake, pure and simple. You think you know what key we're in? Think again, Chuck-o! Woop, where's your jock?

Notice also that the tonic E is played in the verse, on the words "tomorrow," and "write home," but it doesn't establish the tonic at all; it could be the seventh degree of F# minor, the dominant of A major, the subdominant of B major -- everything's gloriously ambiguous until that ending cadence, which resolves not only harmonically but lyrically as well. Fan-fucking-tastic.

They (literally) don't make songcraft like that anymore.

Oh screw it: You can watch the Sullivan performance if you want. I wanted you listening, not watching.

By the way, if you like this Beatle jibber-jabber, check out Alan Pollack, whose shoes I am not fit to lick.


The Richmond Democrat said...

Great post.

I loved the Beatles' Anthologies for much the same reason: a chance to peek in at the Beatles' thought processes.

The anthologies have several tracks of early versions of Beatles tunes before the lyrics have been finalized. To me it's just fascinating to think that I listened to the Fab Four as they work out the kinks in songs like "Yesterday."

More like this please.

Linkmeister said...

Neddie, you're pretty good. That Pollack material is scholarly as the devil. Thanks for the pointer to it.

Simon said...

The very first records I was allowed to play by myself were selected from a pile of old 7" singles my father no longer wanted. The first that caught my eye was a cartoon illustration of a bull in a ring holding a red cape, so it was one of the first few I played.

It was 'All My Lovin' by Herb Alpert and his Tijuana Brass - which means whenever I hear the Beatles version, (which I eventually did a few years later), it sounds somewhat empty without the 'Mexican Hat Dance' horns.

The thing I really don't understand is that the Beatle's version sounds too fast to my ears for such a romantic lyric, even though I used to spin old Herb on '78. Go figure.

Bobby and I had a brief discussion about the power of Evading the Tonic about six months ago, since all the pre-sixties harmony books preach always starting on the tonic.

I'd mentioned how it really drives the resolution home when you finally sound it in the chorus and it makes a hook that much 'hookier' - ala my discussions of 'I'm Into Something Good'.

My most frequently employed 'trick' for Evading the Tonic? Start on the ii. In D, that's Em. In E, F#m. Maybe I picked up more from ol' Herb and the Beatles than I thought. Both 'Day To Day' and 'When The Fairytale Ends' from my old Blog used this trick - it gives the songs a melancholy, reflective feel without having to resort to a true minor.

I also am a fan of jumping straight in with the vocal - it makes the song sound wonderfully urgent, like the singer just can't wait to tell you what is going on. A childhood favourite was 'Hanging On The Telephone' by Blondie.

Love these discussions. More please.

Blowing Shit Up With Gas said...

Excellent read, Neddie! Funny, I happened to hear "And I Love Her" just a few hours after reading your post yesterday. Never thought to analyze the music this way, but there's something similarly funny going on in that tune, too. Man those guys were good.

The Viscount LaCarte said...

I had always thought that it was Paul double tracked on the harmony, but I read in Beatlesongs that it was George. Still skeptical (as my ears told me otherwise) I mentioned it to Xtcfan and he assured me that it indeed was George.


The Viscount LaCarte said...

-- all these songs jump you right into the musical action, often leading with the vocal hook.

Was going to add We Can Work It Out to the list because I thought the guitar strum was on 4 and (cheating I guess!) but after listening I think it is on 1 and the vocal starts at 1 and. Still feels like the same effect.

Kevin Wolf said...

As usual with these posts Ned, I'm in over my head, but that's why I always learn something.

I think they'll be some Beatles on today's sonic menu...

Paul Hunt said...

Great post, thanks.

However, I can't help thinking that walking bass lines were relatively ubiquitous around the time of AML's release, if not in pop then at least in boogie-woogie and early rock & roll. Also, the "stacked fourths" thing is also actually quite widely used, isn't it? Often it just masquerades as a seventh, but methinks the likes of, say, Radiohead have nigh on built their career on the VII->IV->I sequence.

That said, I loved being reminded of how ingenious and effective the "postpone the tonic and resolve to it both lyrically and musically at the same time" thing really is. I truly believe that techniques like that aren't used nearly enough in music. (I'm struggling not to end that sentence with 'nowadays', but I'm hopeful.)

Neddie said...

Thanks, Paul!

However, I can't help thinking that walking bass lines were relatively ubiquitous around the time of AML's release, if not in pop then at least in boogie-woogie and early rock & roll.

Yeah, I was perhaps a bit too, er, overemphatic with that point; it bothered me, too. I don't know if you're coming in from a direct link or what, but I spoke about that rhythm in this slightly later post. You're right, it was ubiquitous in R&B, certainly jazz, and in country music as well (which is what the linked post is about). The point I failed to make in the current post was that the Beatles took these widely disparate influences and made something entirely, ineluctably, and thrillingly new out of them.

Paul Hunt said...

That we can all agree on, Neddie!

Got the link from a friend

Devil's Rancher said...

Okay, I'm a month late, but I just realized that Girl was a Lennon example of this phenomenon.