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alan w. pollack's
notes on ...

Notes on "Girl"

 





Notes on ... Series #84 (G)
  by Alan W. Pollack
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       Key: c minor / E-flat Major
     Meter: 4/4
            ---- 2X --------
      Form: Verse | Refrain | Bridge | Refrain | Verse |
                  | Refrain | Verse (instrumental) | Refrain (fade-out)
        CD: "Rubber Soul", Track 9 (Parlophone CDP7 46440-2)
  Recorded: 11th November 1965, Abbey Road 2
UK-release: 3rd December 1965 (LP "Rubber Soul")
US-release: 6th December 1965 (LP "Rubber Soul")
 
1

General Points of Interest

 

Style and Form

  Next note This predominantly acoustic, stylized folk ballad embodies many of the trends, themes, and techniques that characterize the overall image of "Rubber Soul". It often does seem unfairly lost in the shadow cast by certain bigger hits on the album. Yet, even though it may be neither as trenchant as "Norwegian Wood" nor as sublime as "In My Life", "Girl" does contain much to be admired; particularly in its intense yet oblique baring of the author's heart it lies directly along a vector from the earlier "You've Got Hide Your Love Away".
  Next note Considering that the Beatles didn't go in for full-fledged modulations all that much in their songs, this one is quite notable for the way in which it keeps changing key throughout. In particular, it makes use of the technique of alternating between a minor key and its relative Major towards ends that are both expressive and structural. Paul would appear to have as much a soft spot as John for this gambit over the long run. Off the top of my head we've seen it most before in "Not A Second Time", "And I Love Her", and "Yesterday".
  Next note The form is of interest for its inclusion of both a refrain and a bridge, as well as its placement of the instrumental solo so near to the very end; the latter, yet another connection with "You've Got Hide Your Love Away".
 

Melody and Harmony

  Next note The choice of chords is straightforward throughout. This allows one to more undistractedly focus in on the systematic changes of key which, as stated, are the arena of harmonic interest in the song.
  Next note The melody is similarly uncomplicated though a nice exotic touch is to be found in the augmented seconds (as in "girl who came to stay") made possible by the so-called "harmonic minor" scale.
 

Arrangement

  Next note The strumming acoustic guitar work oom-pah bassline of the backing track are, in large part, the sources of the overall folksy flavor of the track.
  Next note John's single track lead vocal has a quivering sincerity that is intensified by the placement of the tune so high in his range, and the rhythmic flexibility given to his scanning of the words against the underlying meter. Mark Lewisohn describes it as "sultry"; I relate to it more as "extremely direct presence".
  Next note In the refrain the backing voices provide a classically Beatles-like italicizing of title word. In the bridge they provide a uniquely "naughty" (again, nach ML) scat singing backwash.
  Next note With the exception of two significant momentary lapses the backing rhythm is carried by a rocking or lilting of implied fast triplets. The lapses occur in the bridge and final verse where a shift to exactingly even eighth note motion signals a mood change; the even motion connoting a "no mincing of words" kind of rise above the more relaxed and resigned feeling of the triplets. This use of surface rhythm as a combination leitmotif and articulative/associative device is (in my humble opinion) a mark of extreme compositional sophistication.
  Next note Layering the arrangement a bit had always been a favorite trick of theirs, but here it's carried a step more subtle. What sounds like either a mandolin or acoustic twelve-string adds a counter-melody to the lead vocal in the second verse. This idea is further developed in the final (and completely instrumental) verse section by the addition of a second counter-melody (this one sounding very much like a finger picked sitar!) played in counterpoint to the one that had already been heard the previous time around. The choice to recapitulate the "no mincing" rhythm in this verse, so late in the song and the only instrumental section of it to boot, is an uncanny and unifying stroke.
2

Section-by-Section Walkthrough

 

Verse

  Next note The song opens completely "in medias res" (recall your High School studies of Greek tragedy!) without any intro, fanfare, or even an instrumental cue for the start note. In the Beatles' oeuvre this is relatively rare, but when it happens it's always treat — look back, for example, at "She Loves You", "It Won't Be Long", "All My Loving", "Can't Buy Me Love", and "You're Going To Lose That Girl".
  Next note The verse is eight measures long and is built out of two parallel phrases; the melodies of which are identical but with a small different twist in the chord progressions:
 
      |c      G       |c              |f              |E-flat G       |
   c:  i      V        i               iv              VI     V

      |c      G       |c              |f              |c              |
       i      V        i               iv              i

   [Figure 84.1]
  Next note This section is entirely in the minor mode with a i-to-i closed shape, though the first phrase does end with a rather prophetic deceptive/fake pass at the relative Major.
 

Refrain

  Next note The refrain is brief and most bitter-sweet; just four measures built out of two short parallel phrases. Harmonically, I have some doubt as to what is intended as the second chord of the first measure. My gut and "mind's ear" tells me that the overall progression of this section is the R&R classic cliché of I -» vi -» IV -» V (E-flat, c-minor, A-flat, and B-flat respectively); indeed, there's at least one book in which I've seen this stated this with apparent confidence. What complicates life for me is Paul's downward scale-wise bassline: if D is the bassline note played against the second chord, it strikes me as more dissonant against a c-minor chord than what is heard on this recording; below I opt for a g-minor chord (in the 6/4 "second inversion", no less) with a "4-3" appoggiatura in the tune. Try it on for size and call me in the morning if it doesn't seem to fit:
 
          ------------------------ 2X -------------------------
 Chords: |E-flat       g            |A-flat       B-flat       |
   Bass: |E-flat       D            |C            B-flat       |
 E-flat:  I            iii6/4       |IV6/3        V            |
                                        f minor:  IV

   [Figure 84.2]
  Next note The lyrics consist of the title "word" plus a pitchless phoneme that is, with great calculation, executed indeterminately somewhere in between a hiss of frustration on the one hand, and on the other side, a sigh of deepest regret that is commingled with a moan of jealous, unquenchable desire. The key change in this section to the supposedly more cheerful Major mode works at ironic cross-currents to those ambiguously blue-mood phonemes.
 

Bridge

  Next note The bridge is structured similarly to the verse, being eight measures long and built out of two parallel phrases that have identical melodies with a slightly varied harmonization for the second one:
 
      |f            |C            |f            |C            |
   f:  i             V             i             V

      |f            |C            |f            |A-flat       |
       i             V             i             III
                                        E-flat:  IV

   [Figure 84.3]
  Next note The mood intensifies here in every way that you could measure it. There's a modulation to f minor. The tune shifts over to a rantingly rhetorical hammering style; not to mention the even eighth note rhythm and the "tit-tit" backing vocals.
  Next note The words too intensify. The attitude earlier in the song had been more on the side of sadness than anger, but starting here and continuing into the final sung verse a streak of bitter and not entirely becoming pique and anger exposes itself. How true to form it is, as well, for John's hurt to be revealed as critically linked on some level to humiliation in public by the words and deeds of his beloved.
3

Some Final Thoughts

  Next note The most intriguing aspect of this song is how it manages to forge an ultimately coherent statement out of what on the surface would seem to be a tangle of internally contradictory and changeable, confused sentiments. There's a restless emotional shifting of mood and perspective as we move from one section to the next as the song unfolds; this is reinforced on the purely musically plane by the extent to which the key and melodic style changes every time to match.
  Next note It is as though coherence is dynamically established here as a kind of tense truce drawn for the moment between the negative anxiety and hurt of the verses and bridge articulated explicitly by words, and and the ineffable certainty of desire of the refrains, left entirely implicit and embedded between the phonemes.
  Regards,
  Alan (062493#84)
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Copyright © 1993 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.