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notes on ...

Notes on "Cry Baby Cry"

 





Notes on ... Series #154 (CBC)
  by Alan W. Pollack
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       Key: G Major / e minor
     Meter: 4/4
                    ------ 4x --------
      Form: Refrain | Verse | Refrain | Refrain |
                    | Outro with complete ending
        CD: "White Album", Disc 2, Track 11 (Parlophone CDS7 46443-8)
  Recorded: 15th, 16th, 18th July 1968, Abbey Road 2
UK-release: 22nd November 1968 (LP "White Album")
US-release: 25th November 1968 (LP "White Album")
 
1

General Points of Interest

 

Style and Form

  Next note In a world where the archetypal lyrics for a lullaby are "hush little baby, don't you cry", John's title phrase here combined with "she's old enough to know better" conjures up some kind of perverse Anti Lullaby.
  Next note The fancifully surreal nursery rhyme verses are striking themselves, with their alternating King and Queen, Duchess and Duke. When the pattern is broken in the final verse you wonder if he's avoiding foolish consistency, or like Paul in "What You're Doing", he just ran out of options. But in any event, it's the unexplained and ambiguous, just-this-side-of-nasty needling of the refrain that fascinates you in spite of yourself. Is John singing the song about "mother" in third person, or is he singing in the first person, in which case the offending line should be taken as self-mocking?
  Next note We have a standard folk song form with an introductory refrain. The proceedings are enlivened by the prevalent number of elisions between sections. Imagine how flat and four-square it would sound without them.
 

Melody and Harmony

  Next note The tune is primarily pentatonic (G - A - B - D - E) with a touch of the blue third in the little instrumental interlude that punctuates the verses.
  Next note The song maintains a vacillating ambiguity as regards home key between G Major and its relative minor key of e. On the one hand, it's an effect very similar to what we saw in the previous "Savoy Truffle", but if you compare them side by side you'll be astonished just how differently two individuals can solve the same puzzle at the detailed level.
 

Arrangement

  Next note John's simple acoustic strumming is at the heart of the backing track, though drums, bass, piano, organ, accordion [?] and lead guitar all get in the act before its over.
  Next note Generally speaking, the texture is thickened and the mood intensified during the first half of the song and backs off slightly during the second half. Trace it on your own; you're old enough to do so :-)
  Next note The arrangement contains two examples of word painting of an obvious sort you don't often find in the Beatles: the piano playing Queen and the politely tittering Duchess.
2

Section-by-Section Walkthrough

 

Refrain

  Next note The refrain is eight measures long with two loosely parallel phrases of equal length:
 
      |G             |a             |F             |G             |
   G:  I              ii             flat-VII       I

      |e             |A             |F             |G             |
       vi             V-of-V         flat-VII       I

   [Figure 154.1]
  Next note The home key is established by the modal flat-VII cadence; there's not a V chord to be found in the entire song.
  Next note Not only does flat-VII create an implied cross relation with the F# of the key signature, but the use of an A-Major chord in the second phrase creates an explicit cross relation (between C# and C-natural) with the flat-VII that follows it.
  Next note The introductory refrain ends on an e-minor chord, and elides with the start of the first verse.
 

Verse

  Next note The verse is twelve measures long and consists of the same six-measure phrase repeated twice:
 
            ------------------------ 2X -------------------------
   Chords: |e       |-       |-       |-       |Cb7     |G       |
 Bassline: |E       |Eb      |D       |Db      |C       |G       |
        G:  vi                                  IV       I

   [Figure 154.2]
  Next note It might be more accurate to call it a four-measure phrase followed each time by a dramatic two-measure flourish in the accompaniment. The latter effect exudes Anti Lullaby Values that are at least as strong the ones to be found in the lyrics of the refrain.
  Next note Yet another cross relation is created by the blue B-flat of the C7 chord with the B-natural of the G chord that follows.
  Next note In every case, the twelfth measure of the verse elides with the first measure of the following refrain.
  Next note The chromatically descending bassline in the first four measures of this section is a worthy object lesson where roman numerals for the resulting chords are not appropriate. Yes, we have (in sequence): e-minor, E-flat-augmented, G-Major in 6/4 position, and a half-diminished seventh chord on D-flat but the four chords make no harmonically significant "progression." If the e-minor chord moved to C-Major in the course of a single measure where the descending bassline unfolded more quickly, you'd never dream of talking chord changes here. What makes it a special suspenseful effect in this case is the time scale; the extent to which each chord is prolonged for a complete measure.
 

Outro

  Next note The outro contains a classic three-times-you're-out repeat of the refrain section.
  Next note The elision technique is further exploited by having the end of the first two repeats overlap with the first measure of the second and third ones.
  Next note Enigmatically, of course, the song ends on an e-minor chord, instead of G-Major which has otherwise dominated the song. It sounds to my ears, too, like John leaves the tune hanging with an unusual fourth (A) suspended over the final chord.
3

Some Final Thoughts

  Next note As usual, there's what to learn from a check of the outtake and demo versions in spite of the similarity of both of them to the official version.
  Next note The outtake on "Anthology", Volume 3, handles the introductory refrain differently, with a couple measures of guitar vamping, and John singing only 50% of the lyrics rather than the 75% you're used to. The musical text is otherwise identical, and the arrangement is slightly plainer in a way that makes you appreciate all the more so the value added by the small details.
  Next note The demo omits the intro and starts right off with the first verse; an uncanny parallel with the home demos and earliest studio take of "Strawberry Fields Forever". For the outro, John attempts to shift to a 3/4 waltz beat for the last couple refrains. It's an effect realized with only partial success in this performance but intriguing nevertheless in terms of intimations about what might have been.
  Regards,
  Alan (072098#154)
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Copyright © 1998 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.