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alan w. pollack's
notes on ...

Notes on "Because"

 





Notes on ... Series #184 (B4)
  by Alan W. Pollack
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       Key: c# minor
     Meter: 4/4
                   ----------- 2X ------
      Form: Intro | Mini bridge | Verse |
                  | Full bridge | Verse |
                  | Mini bridge | Outro (with complete ending)
        CD: "Abbey Road", Track 8 (Parlophone CDP7 46446-2)
  Recorded: 1th, 4th August 1969, Abbey Road 2;
            5th August1969, Abbey Road 3
UK-release: 26th September 1969 (LP "Abbey Road")
US-release: 1st October 1969 (LP "Abbey Road")
 
1

General Points of Interest

 

Style and Form

  Next note This song represents a daring concept on a number of levels: style, form, harmony, and singing.
  Next note Stylistically it defies neat pigeon-holing in terms of genre. The finger picked arpeggios might suggest folk music, and the embellished A-Major chords bluesy jazz, but it's difficult to see how any other the other elements in the music and arrangement support either.
  Next note Formally you can make out the basic contours of a relatively standard Verse -» Verse -» Bridge -» Verse outline, but the recurring use of what I've labeled a "mini bridge" and the handling of the outro serve to blur your sense of formal articulation.
  Next note Harmonically the song has an overall insecure sense of home key because that infernal mini bridge continually leads the music to the threshold of D Major, in spite of the repeated establishment of c# minor as the home key throughout the song by standard I -» ii -» V -» I means.
  Next note The thrice overdubbed three-part vocal arrangement creates a mood of wide-eyed and unblinkingly rapt contemplation that is sustained wall to wall with almost unaturally calm intensity. Technique-wise it may pay hommage to the earlier Beatles efforts of "This Boy" and "Yes It Is", but there is a transcendent element here that reminds me more so of a piece such as Bach's "Air" from the Third Orchestral Suite; the movement well known as the one for the (you should pardon the expression) "G string".
 

Melody and Harmony

  Next note The tight interweaving of the three-part vocal harmony makes it difficult to speak of a definitive "tune" here. What sticks out are the triadic leaps made as if in sympathy for the arpeggios in the accompaniment, and the alternately twisty or oscillating melismas that turn up in the inner voices or the top voice toward the phrase endings.
  Next note Standard chords used here include i, ii (half diminished as it usually is in a minor key), IV (in Major form as occurs in the so-called melodic minor mode), V, and VI.
  Next note Unusual chords used here are the "Neapolitan" flat-II chord (D-Major in context of a c# minor home key), and the diminished seventh chord built on d which, according the poetic license of chromatic harmony, can enharmonically morph on you to resolve to as many as eight different places; in this song John exploits at least two of those alternatives.
 

Arrangement

  Next note The 3 + 3 + 2 grouping of the arpeggios figuration resonates nicely with the similar examples of the like in the previous track, "Here Comes The Sun".
  Next note The intro is layered in a manner that amounts for the Beatles to something of a mannerism. The first four measures are for electric harpsichord alone. The next four measures add a guitar doubling the harpsichord part, plucked near the bridge to sound as percussive as a keyboard might. Vocals and bass enter with the first mini bridge. The synthesizer, in the style of a brass ensemble, enters dramatically in the middle of the full bridge.
  Next note By the way, what indeed was Ringo doing while this track was being recorded?
2

Section-by-Section Walkthrough

 

Intro

  Next note The intro is eight measures long, breaks into two phrases of equal length, and has an unusual harmonic shape, opening out to the VI chord:
 
      |c#            |-             |d# half dim.7 |G#           |
   c#: i                             ii7            V

      |A             |c#            |A 9/7         |- 13         |
       VI             i              VI (a.k.a. V-of-flat-II)

   [Figure 184.1]
 

Mini bridge

  Next note The mini bridge is only two measures long. It harmonically starts off sounding like a pseudo modulation (think of the A-Major chord that ends the verse pivoting as a V of D), but chromatically slinks right back to the original home key by way of an unusually handled diminished seventh chord:
 
   S:  A              G#            |-
   A:  F#             F-natural     |E
   T:  D              B
   B:  D              D             |C#
      |D             |g# dim.4/3    |c#
       flat-II        ??             i

   [Figure 184.2]
  Next note Did I say "slinks"? From a trace of the voice leading it appears as if the D chord rather "melts" downward to the c# chord. This downward root movement of a semi-tone makes an effective mirror image with the upward movement from G# to A found in the verses.
  Next note The voice leading, by the way, implies that this diminished chord is "rooted" on G#, and with the D in the bass, putting the chord in its second, or "4/3", inversion. Please don't try to rationalize a Roman numeral for this chord
  Next note The vocals are always wordless in this section.
 

Verse

  Next note This section follows the intro exactly.
 

Full bridge

  Next note The full bridge is six measures long and is built as a clever extension of the mini bridge with an harmonic shape that opens up wide on V:
 
   S:  A              G#             F#
   A:  F#             E#             C#
   T:  D              B              A#
   B:  D              D              F#
      |D             |e# dim.6/5    |F#           |-             |
       flat-II        vii-of-IV      IV

      |G#7           |-             |
       V

   [Figure 184.3]
  Next note The diminished chord in the second measure "sounds" just like the one in the mini bridge, but rules of voice leading suggest it is rooted this time on E# [!], and with the D in the bassline, that places the chord in the first, or 6/5, inversion. The extent to which both diminished seventh chords are enharmonically identical demonstrates the unique harmonic power (as well as "danger") created by the ambiguity of this kind of chromatic harmony.
  Next note The wordless pattern followed by the mini bridge is dramatically broken in the second measure of this section.
 

Outro

  Next note The outro on paper looks like a verse section with a final mini bridge tacked on to it.
  Next note However, the decision to utilize wordless vocals for the entirety of this outro, aside from being a deft unifying gesture for the track taken as a whole, allows the mini bridge preceding the outro to bind with the outro into an interesting ABA substructure. It's internally symmetrical, though it upsets your expectation reinforced so many times previously in the song of the mini bridge as being more separate from the verse section.
  Next note The diminished seventh chord, in its appearance at the end of the earlier mini bridge the sections, provides a novel kind of harmonically "open" ending to a musical paragraph. Left hanging as it is at the very end of this track works on several levels:
 
  • The extent to which this chord has always melted back into c# minor makes the verse + mini bridge combo into a musical moebius strip. What better way to suggest the potential for this loop to continue infinitely than to break it right here? Compare with the ending of "I Want You (She's So Heavy)".
  • The diminished chord left hanging unresolved suggests a kind of expectantly bedazzled, trance-like state of mind, the rather mystical eventuality of so much sustained contemplation.
  • And when poetry won't pull you through you can hear just how smoothly this same chord enharmonically resolves (yet again with different voice leading) to the a-minor seventh which opens the next track, "You Never Give Me Your Money".
3

Some Final Thoughts

  Next note Lewisohn (Recording Sessions, page 184) is where I first learned that "Because" was supposedly inspired by John's hearing Yoko play the first movement of Beethoven's piano sonata, op. 27 no. 2, the "Moonlight":
  "John, in clearly inspirational mood, reversed the chords, added some simple but eloquent lyrics and the song was written. Simple as that."
  Next note The choice of home key and the triplet-like arpeggiation in both pieces are connections easily made between the two pieces. In terms of mood, Beethoven's tempo marking is "Adagio Sostenuto".
  Next note The harmonic parallels between them is much more subtle than the simple reversing of chords described by Mark Lewisohn, but they are there to be found if you look close enough. With the exception of the much discussed diminished seventh chord you'll find that every other chord used in this song can be found in Beethoven's first movement, including both VI and flat-II played in sequence as early as the third measure.
  Regards,
  Alan (121299#184)
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Copyright © 1999 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.