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notes on ...

Notes on "Blue Jay Way"

 





Notes on ... Series #125 (BJW)
  by Alan W. Pollack
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       Key: C Major / modal
     Meter: 4/4
      Form: Intro | Verse | Refrain |
                  | Verse | Refrain |
                  | Verse | Refrain | Refrain | Outro (fade-out)
        CD: "Magical Mystery Tour", Track 4 (Parlophone CDP7 48062-2)
  Recorded: 6th, 7th September, 6th October 1967, Abbey Road 2
UK-release: 8th December 1967 (2-EP "Magical Mystery Tour")
US-release: 27th November 1967 (LP "Magical Mystery Tour")
 
1

General Points of Interest

 

Style and Form

  Next note The style of this song is surely derived from Indian music though, compared to the likes of "Within You Without You", the exotic influence is much less direct, as it is applied only to the use of a drone bass, and a somewhat modal, raga-like tune. For a change, no explicitly Indian instruments are incorporated, nor is there anything much in the way of fancy rhythmic or metrical fireworks.
  Next note The form again is the straight folk ballad, making for an interesting comparison with "Fool On The Hill" in context of the "Magical Mystery Tour" song lineup.
  Next note The decision by someone out there to place this song immediately following "Flying" on the US version of the "Magical Mystery Tour" album (not to mention the official CD!) does a real disservice to "Blue Jay Way". The two tracks are both in the same key, and both are slow paced and static in form. This winds up making the second of the two seem more lugubriously plodding and monotonous than it might otherwise seem.
  Next note I mean, let's not mince words — "Blue Jay Way" pursues a kind of plodding monotony to purposely make a point. I just think that "Flying" is a particularly poor choice of an animal act for it to have to follow. In both the film, as well as the original EP lineup (where it appears by itself on side D, it has much more breathing space in which to be.
 

Melody and Harmony

  Next note The mode is highly unusual; a Major scale variant with both a raised second and fourth degree:
 
        C       D#      E       F#      G       A       B       C
  The raised fourth sits at a tangy, off-center augmented fourth from the root of the home key. This has its precedents in both Indian ragas as well as the Western Lydian mode.
  The raised second sits at an augmented second from the root, which is equally as tangy though much less precedented than the augmented fourth. You're much more likely to bump into melodic augmented seconds that occur in scales that have a diminished second degree (e.g. D-flat), in which case, the augmented interval falls between the second and third scale degrees.
  Next note For the verse melody, George uses this scale in a manner more characteristic of nineteenth century European music than the classically Indian; outlining the diminished seventh chord that is inherent in his chosen scale to imply the romantic sounding ii-dim7 -» I chord progression. Compare this to the either IV -» I or ii7 -» I and note how much anxious tension is added by the two chromatic alterations.
  The ii-dim7 should not be confused with the perhaps more familiar vii-dim7 chord. The latter functions as a dominant V surrogate in which all four notes of the chord resolve stepwise in the move to I. The ii-dim7 chord is more like a subdominant IV surrogate in which three of the four notes of the chord resolve stepwise while the fourth one is sustained between the two chords.
  Next note The refrain melody has more of the Indian flavor you would have expected based on the sound of the track's intro. It provides the completion of the melodic arch that starts off in the verse and conveys unusual pathos by virtue of its stress, over the bassline drone, on the seventh and raised-fourth scale degrees; the latter being leaned on for a nice "raised-4-3" appoggiatura.
 

Arrangement

  Next note The arrangement is a veritable kitchen-sink mix of various special recording and mixing effects used by the Beatles over the course of the "Revolver" and "Sgt. Pepper" albums, with the texture generally increasing in thickness and intensity over the course of the piece.
  Next note The foggy atmosphere and texture created by the special recording effects are the best part of this song, for some; they certainly represent the most fully developed aspect of it. Yet, as I recently pointed out with regard to "Fool On The Hill", the effects are far from musically essential to the song, per se.
2

Section-by-Section Walkthrough

 

Intro

  Next note The intro is played "ad libitum", without meter, though in terms of duration it seems about eight measures long; more or less the same length as either a verse or refrain:
 
                                     1  2       & 3   &4   &
                                       "There's a fog upon L.
      |C              |.....     ...|d# dim7                 |
   C:  I                             #ii dim

   [Figure 125.1]
  Next note Electronic manipulation of recorded sound notwithstanding, the intro is layered here in a manner not at all atypical of your standard Beatles' song: the organ drone first as a single octave of C-natural, next the bassline fills out one octave lower, next the C-Major chord is filled in followed by a very soft intimation of the tune later heard in the refrain, followed by a solo cello anticipating the F# -» E appoggiatura that will later characterize the ending of the refrain. In the final measure, we get the pickup to the first verse.
  Next note There also is some (perhaps not specifically intended) tapping noise under the opening measures.
 

Verse

  Next note The verses are all one beat shy of a full, even eight measures; a gesture which subtly conveys the impatience of waiting longer than you think you should have to:
 
    1
    A." ...
   |C              |d# dim7        |C              |d#             |
    I               #ii dim         I               #ii dim

                                                    1   2   3
   |-              |-              |C              |-         |
                                    I

   [Figure 125.2]
  Next note The arrangement of the first verse is dominated by the thumping bassline and the electronically processed drop-ins of the backing vocals deployed in antiphony with the lead; the whole thing topped off with that cymbal slash at the end.
  Next note In the second verse, the cymbals and full drum kit play all the way through and the backing vocals sound even more processed. In the third verse, the backing vocals sing rhyming melisma's in antiphony with the lead. In the last measure of each section the thumping beat is suspended and haunting flashes of backwards tape effects are allowed to peep through for an instant.
 

Refrain

  Next note The refrain, in contrast to the verse, is a full eight measures long plus one additional measure to serve as a pickup to the next verse, more than compensating for that missing beat at the end of each verse.
  Next note The harmony of this section is entirely a drone of the I chord, except for the pickup ninth measure which serves as #ii-dim7.
  Next note The eight measures are filled with four phrases that make a poetic pattern of AA'A''B. The four phrases are more evenly distributed over the course of the eight measures than they sound because each of the three A phrases begins on a different beat of the measure.
  Next note Following that the cymbal crash at the end of the first verse, the drum kit stays in evidence for the complete remainder of the song. The drums are actually already there in the first verse itself, but they keep a low profile of merely reinforcing the thumping bassline.
  Next note Similarly, the cello becomes more of an equal participant from the second refrain forward.
 

Outro

  Next note The outro is relatively long in proportion to the rest of the song. It grows directly out of continued variations of the final refrain, but also takes on a life of its own.
  Next note The variational approach is already present in that third refrain and continues unabated from there to the end, though you barely notice it except in retrospect. I find this compositionally impressive to to the extent that it all "sounds" improvised, yet anyone who has played in a group knows that you can't just make this kind of thing up as you go along; it takes careful planning.
  Next note So trace it for yourself — each successive iteration gets shorter and less elaborate; a kind of musical equivalent of DaVincian perspective:
 
  • The third refrain is only seven and a half measures long; facilitated by the way the sung phrase, "or I may be asleep," starts two beats earlier than it did in the first two refrains.
  • The fourth and fifth refrains are also seven and a half measures long, but they entirely drop the singing of that final ("or I may be whatnot ...") phrase.
  • Refrains numbers six and seven are increasingly shorter, and they feature what you'd think is a new "don't be long" tune, but one that turns out to be introduced by the backing voices as early as the third refrain!
  Next note Just when you think the outro could go on forever, the plain drone reasserts itself, pianissimo, and the song is over. You can wait at the airport, seemingly, forever, but once you decide to turn on your heels, the wait is over.
3

Some Final Thoughts

  Next note The I'm-so-tired subtext of the song seems curious in light of the anecdote we know about the song's inspiration. Have you ever waited at the airport, like George did, late at night for someone on a flight that has been delayed by bad weather? Yes, I'll bet you felt just as impatient and ready for sleep (or bed, at least) as the author of our song expresses himself to be.
  Next note But then again, didn't you also feel, perhaps, some kernel of eager anticipation of whomever you were waiting for; something that elevated the drudgery of waiting into a so-called labor of love. I mean, after all, you'd expect our George to understand and accept with better grace that airplane flights, just like birthday greetings, sometimes arrive belatedly.
  Regards,
  Alan (010597#125)
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Copyright © 1997 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.