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notes on ...

Notes on "Ask Me Why"


Notes on ... Series #33.1 (AMW.1)
  by Alan W. Pollack
       Key: E Major
     Meter: 4/4
      Form: Intro | Verse (initial) | Verse (variant 1) | Bridge |
                  | Verse (variant 2) | Verse (initial) |
                  | Verse (variant 2) | Bridge |
                  | Outro (verse variant 2, with complete ending)
        CD: "Please Please Me", Track 6 (Parlophone CDP7 46435-2)
  Recorded: 6th June, 26th November 1962, Abbey Road 2
UK-release: 11th January 1963 (B Single / "Please Please Me")
US-release: 25th February 1963 (B Single / "Please Please Me")

General Points of Interest


Style and Form

  Next note This is just about the fussiest, most complicated form we've yet seen. You can sort of parse it as a mutant version of the two-bridge model, but what is most notable is how the verse material appears in three variations, each of which is tailored to suit a different purpose.
  Next note The initial verse is typically "expository" in nature but has an harmonically open ending on V that is unsuitable for leading into the bridge. As a result, the first variant, though very similar to the initial verse, is crucially amended to link smoothly with the bridge that follows it.
  Next note The second variant is a much-abbreviated affair that merely alludes to the other verses rather than fully recapitulating them, and it itself reappears three times in the song, always slightly different in content and formal context. It creates the impression of being like a refrain, in part, because of the inclusion of the title phrase in its lyrics.
  Next note All the phrases and sections of the song start off in the middle of the preceding measure. Compare this for example to "From Me To You" and "All My Loving"; also contrast it for example with "P.S. I Love You" and "Do You Want To Know A Secret".
  Next note The lyrics closely match the form. Lyrics of both "initial" verses are identical, as are the respective lyrics of both second variant verse, and bridge; the single appearance of first variant verse has unique lyrics.

Melody and Harmony

  Next note Most of the melodic material stays within an octave running from E to E, with the last phrase of each initial verse section breaking the mold.
  Next note Key-wise, the song is solidly, almost completely in E Major though the verse contains a momentary leaning toward the relative minor key of c#.
  Next note As with "P.S. I Love You", we have a strong presence here of chord streams, though this time the chords are jazzy parallel sevenths, not just plain triads.
  Next note The Major seventh chord on E (the I7) is one of those chords that has the coincidental sonority of two different triads superimposed; in this case, the I and iii. To the extent that both the I and iii are used so heavily throughout this song, I half suspect that the I7 was purposefully exploited here, analogous to the way in which added-sixth chord on I was used in "Do You Want To Know A Secret" for its sounding like the I and vi combined.
  Next note Note how this same I7, which was used to connote great tension in "There's A Place", feels so much more relaxed here because it is use in the midst of a chord stream of other sevenths, rather than appearing starkly head-on; indeed, context is all.


  Next note The two most conspicuous surface features of the arrangement are the pseudo-Latin dance beat and the harmonized "woah's" sung in slow triplets.
  Next note The backing vocal part for Paul and George is repeatedly cut off in mid-phrase leaving John exposed dramatically in the spotlight; in one such spot we hear his voice forced to cracking on the word "cry."
  Next note Just the smallest sound of silence is effectively used throughout the song as a leitmotif. Virtually everywhere you find a phrase or section commencing with a pickup on beats 3 and 4 of a measure, there is a neat pause "on 'two'", for the beat preceding. If you want to play this song nicely, you have to mind such details.

Section-by-Section Walkthrough



  Next note The intro is very short but within barely two measures it manages to set the mildly syncopated beat of the song in motion, establish the home key via a I -» V -» I progression, and set the stage for the entrance of the singers.
  Next note The harmonic rhythm of the first measure is unusual for a Beatles song, with the first chord (I) being sustained for three beats, and the change to V occurring on beat four; this trick is carried on into the verse.

Verse (initial) - "I love you ..."

  Next note The initial verse is thirteen measures, built out of three phrases. The first two are even in length, but the final one is elongated:
                m.1     [beats: 1, 2, 3, 4  ]
          E7  f#7 |g#7         |f#7      B7 |E           |-     E7 f#7|
      E:  I   ii   iii          ii       V   I                  I  ii

                m.5     [beats: 1, 2, 3, 4  ]
                  |g#7         |f#7      B7 |E           |G#          |
                   iii          ii       V   I            V-of-vi

     |c#          |-           |A           |F#9         |B           |
      vi                        IV           V-of-V       V

   [Figure 33.1]
  Next note The dramatic thrust of this verse doesn't truly start building until near the end of the second phrase at which point the melody mounts steadily towards an ultimate falsetto climax at the very end. In the first appearance of this section, John melodically descends from the high g# in measure 12 to an f# in the final measure. When this section is repeated later, he ascends all the way to high B; this admittedly small change both represents an avoidance of foolish consistency and is an object lesson in how one should always hold back a little something extra for the next event.
  Next note The harmony supports the climax in a number of ways: an eventually complete shift away from stepwise chord streams toward root progressions with a stronger feeling of transitive movement, the inclusion of a flirtation with the key of c#, a broadening of the harmonic rhythm, and the use of that intense 'V9' chord right before the peak.
  Next note The ending on V smoothly motivates the continuation to the next verse. What's subtle is the way in which the climax itself is the more potent because of this harmonically open ending; compare with the first variant below.

Verse (first variant) - "Now you're mine ..."

  Next note This first variant is thirteen measures long again, and the game plan is identical to that of the initial verse until the last three measures during which a number of important changes appear:
     |c#          |-           |a           |E           |E-aug       |
      vi                        iv           I            V#5-of-IV

   [Figure 33.2]
  Next note The ending of this verse is harmonically closed, and the climax is muted this time by virtue of a less flamboyant melodic line and the way that the peak occurs one measure earlier than where it appeared in the initial verse. Contrast how the first variant sounds as though it ends in measure 12 with measure 13 functioning like a transitional filler. In contrast, the climax in the initial verse runs right into the final measure of that section.
  Next note In measure 11, John's much favored minor iv chord — i.e. the one borrowed, as it were, from the parallel minor key of e — is substituted for the naturally occurring Major IV chord we saw in the same measure of the initial verse.
  Next note Also note how the E chord, which always has the potential energy to serve as a "V of IV", is nudged into this role here by the augmented alteration of the chord in the final measure of this verse.

Bridge - "I can't believe ..."

  Next note Typical bridge-like contrast is provided here by the use of simpler chords, a balanced eight-measure length — they don't call 'em "middle eights" for nothing! — and a convergent harmonic shape for each of the two phrases, starting away from the I, but moving toward it:
     |A           |B           |E           |E-aug       |
      IV           V            I            V#5-of-IV

                                  "mi-  ser-    y"
   m.5       Rhythmic emphasis: 1& 2         1  2  3  4
     |A           |B           |E           |   B  E7 f#7|
      IV           V            I               V

   [Figure 33.3]
  Next note The rhythm guitar triplets in measures 1 and 5 provide rhythmic continuity with the verses even while the abrupt syncopations in measure 7 and 8 enhance the sense of contrast.

Verse (second variant) - "Ask me why ..."

  Next note This refrain-like précis of the other verses makes the first of its three appearances relatively late in the song, not until after the first bridge. It's not only much shorter than the other verses, but offers a very different dramatic gesture from them; in place of the earlier climaxing, we get a chance to power down a bit here. This change is brought about by the relatively flat melodic shape used in this section as well as the reliance on "weak" chord progressions, such as stepwise chord streams and the plagal IV -» I cadence:
       E7 f#7|g#7         |A           |g#7         |
   E:  I  ii  iii          IV           iii

           m.4                               (next verse)
             |A7          |E           |-     E7 f#7|
              IV           I                  I  ii

   [Figure 33.4]
  Next note The fact that this section is closed harmonically makes for a slight and uncharacteristically inelegant move when the next section — a repeat of the initial verse — begins.
  Next note When the second variant returns for a second time, the last measure is modified to contain the E augmented chord. This is a clever move in that it creates a smooth lead-in to the second bridge without them having to repeat the entirety of the first variant, which at this stage of the song would have been a tactical mistake, making it start to drag.


  Next note The outro turns out to be yet another iteration of second variant verse, modified and extended this time to accommodate the triple repeat of the final lyrical fragment ("you-ou-ou").
  Next note The harmony gently fluctuates toward final quiescence on an extremely unusual voicing of an enigmatic sounding I9/7 chord; with B as the lowest note in the bass, and possibly all other notes of the chord present except for the root!
       E7  f#7|g#7      |A        |g#7      |A7       |E        |
   E:  I   ii  iii       IV        iii       IV        I

            m.6                              ??
              |A7       |E        |A7       |E9       ||
               IV        I         IV        I

   [Figure 33.5]

Some Final Thoughts

  Next note The quaint arrangement and corny backbeat of this song have a nostalgic power of sufficient magnitude to seriously get in the way of an objective assessment of its craft. On some level, the legitimacy of such first impressions is neither to be denied nor argued with.
  Next note Granted, this was a rather fledgling compositional effort of theirs. We know, for example, that they had it in hand at least as early as the June 1962 EMI audition for George Martin and as such, it's very easy to be condescending about it. But I'd dare to suggest that our analysis above clearly demonstrates that the music here is nowhere nearly as derivative as it may seem at first glance.
  Alan (032701#33.1)
Revision History
082691 33.0 Original release
032701 33.1 Add pass-two observations and copy edit
Copyright © 2001 by Alan W. Pollack. All Rights Reserved. This article may be reproduced, retransmitted, redistributed and otherwise propagated at will, provided that this notice remains intact and in place.