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alan w. pollack's
notes on ...

Notes on "Getting Better"

 





Notes on ... Series #109 (GB)
  by Alan W. Pollack
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       Key: C Major
     Meter: 4/4
      Form: Intro | Verse | Refrain |
                  | Verse | Refrain | Bridge |
                  | Verse | Refrain | Bridge | Outro
        CD: "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band",
            Track 4 (Parlophone CDP7 46442-2)
  Recorded: 9th, 10th, 21st, 23rd March 1967, Abbey Road 2
UK-release: 1st June 1967 (LP "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band")
US-release: 2nd June 1967 (LP "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band")
 
1

General Points of Interest

 

Style and Form

  Next note In accord with the compositional advisory re: balancing contrasts, it is most fitting for abstract "Lucy ..." to be followed by the more representational "Getting Better" with its simple harmonic structure, steady beat, and mischievously clear message of hope.
  Next note The musical focus here is on the elaborately detailed arrangement and the conjuring of a particular Pop/Jazz/Rock aesthetic fusion that was a McCartney specialty; the latter characterized by long phrases on pedal points and the stylized instrumentation and recording.
  Next note The whole thing reminds me of "Got To Get You Into My Life" not just for the rave-up, vamping mood and long phrases, but also for the slightly elusive form. I've chosen to parse it as though the first refrain is "slightly lacking" and the other refrains are followed by a bridge. You could just as easily parse it with the bridge as an extension of the refrains, and labeling the first one as "extremely lacking". The point is that the usually clear formal dividing lines are blurry here, and not easily defined definitively.
 

Melody and Harmony

  Next note The home key of the song is clearly C Major, though it can be described as having its center of gravity leaning heavily toward the V chord, based on the large amount of air time given to G.
  Next note Both the tune and the chord choices are "pan-diatonic"; a fancy way of saying that no notes appear anywhere in the song that are not native to the home key, and that they are all considered consonant amongst each other.
  Next note Paul's improvisational bassline borders on the hyperactive and makes an accurate transcription of the detailed harmony very difficult. Indeed, recording of the bassline this prominently is reminiscent of "Paperback Writer" and might be categorized as one of the musical leitmotifs of the entire "Sgt. Pepper" album; at least "Side 1".
  Next note Though I generally do not shy away from digging down to that level of detail, in this case I'm going to restrict my analysis to the bigger picture. I'd rather move on to looking at other songs than obsess on this one :-) Besides, any time you have a sustained note in the bass part, it doesn't really matter what chords you play above it, to the extent that the bass note itself creates a transcending "envelope" of its own that sustains your attention.
  Next note In this song, for example, while you can spend hours trying to decipher exactly which chords are played over the G pedal tone of the verse, I don't think you'd argue against the notion that the entire verse is "parsed" in your mind as an elaborate V chord.
 

Arrangement

  Next note Though the final mix is very thick in terms of layered dubs, the musical texture is curiously spare with the bassline, percussion, vocals, tamboura, and a repeated chiming of piano and guitar on the G octave predominating. Yes, there are other instruments on the backing track, but they are restricted to a low profile.
  Next note They must have had much fun working out the details of this arrangement. Even if they were making it up as they were going along, the end result shows great attention to detailed patterning. Let's trace it by department:
 

Vocals:

  Next note The Beatles were renowned for their antiphonal and block choral use of backing vocals which appear throughout their songbook with regularity if not equal frequency. Here, they go to town:
 
  • Intro: Chorus.
  • First verse: This one contains the most complicated arrangement. In the first two lines, you have Paul solo with John/George antiphonally extending his comments in the same first person (as opposed to answering him in the third person.) For the next two lines, the backing vocals answer only with ahh/ohh phonemes (sounding very much like the chief Blue Meany), and on the final word, "rules," they echo Paul with "fools" [?] and throw in a final "wooh!" for good measure. And note how sharply all the backing parts are syncopated.
  • First refrain: Paul leads, but the backers join him with a parroting of the word "better" at a rhythmically strange location ("rhymes with station"), and continue on with a quip that belies the unmuddied sentiment expressed by the lead.
  • Second verse: The delicious complexity of the first verse is traded off this time for what sounds like Paul accompanying himself in parallel thirds. On the one hand, I miss the effect of the first verse, but I guess it would lose more than it would gain by a repeat. Do think that one over, Dimm.
  • Second refrain: Same as before.
  • First bridge: Chorus followed by a moment of staggered three-part counterpoint.
  • Third verse: Same as before.
  • Third refrain: Same as before.
  • Second bridge: Same as before.
  • Outro: Same as in the bridges.
 

Percussion:

 
  • Intro: Standard drum kit first enters in the second half.
  • First verse: Cymbal slashes on the syncopated half-beat before four.
  • First refrain: Drums playing four-in-the-bar.
  • Second verse: Cymbals as in Verse 1, with hand claps on two.
  • Second refrain: Four-in-the-bar.
  • First bridge: Four-in-the-bar.
  • Third verse: Indian "tabla" drums appear, and the hand claps this time are on four. Late in the section, the cymbals resume their erstwhile slashing on three-and; dig the "ka-chunk" effect created by the cymbals and hand claps appearing one eighth note apart. Note here, too, the heavy overlay of buzzing tamboura.
  • Third refrain: Four in the bar again, though the Indian drums hang in there.
  • Second bridge: Four in the bar again, though the Indian drums hang in there.
  • Outro: Layering applied in reverse — eventually only the Indian drums are left.
 

Chiming G Octave:

 
  • Intro: Yes.
  • First verse: No.
  • First refrain: Yes.
  • Second verse: No.
  • Second refrain: Yes.
  • First bridge: Yes.
  • Third verse: No.
  • Third refrain: Yes.
  • Second bridge: Yes.
  • Outro: Yes.
  In other words, this chiming is ubiquitous as long as you're not in one of the verses.
  Next note By the way ... once it was pointed out to me by the lyrical transcription found in "Things We Said Today" [**], I too noticed the muffled "four-five-six" counting in the intro, but I honestly don't know what to make of it. While it sounds much more genuine than the fake "Taxman" count in, it makes no sense in terms of the number of measures on the recording. Perhaps, this suggests that there is something at the very beginning of the master tape that has been edited out of the official mix.
  [** Campbell, Colin, and Allan Murphy (1980), Things We Said Today. The Complete Lyrics and a Concordance to the Beatles' Songs, 1962-1970. Ann Arbor: Pierian Press, 1980.]
2

Section-by-Section Walkthrough

 

Intro

  Next note The intro is just four prescient measures long. The first two consist of just the chiming sonority that will yet characterize the song, and the final two give us a foretaste of the choral refrain to come.
  Next note The implied harmony of this intro as a IV -» I plagal cadence, with a gratuitous, jazzy ninth applied to the F chord, a result of the G octave that is sustained for all four measures:
 
      |F           |-           |C           |F           |
   C:  IV                        I            IV

   [Figure 109.1]
 

Verse

  Next note The verse is eight measures and breaks into four short phrases of equal length. As I said up top, we could spend a lot of time transcribing the exact vertical sonorities one hears in these eight measures, but it's healthy, sometimes, for the Gestalt-grasping part of your mind to acknowledge that this entire verse is "experienced" as a V chord.
  Next note Shades of something out of John's "Rain", the final verse has an extra measure added between the two phrases; very strange.
 

Refrain

  Next note Paul's bassline does indeed make it difficult to precisely parse the chords of this section. This is my take on it, but I'll be the first to admit that the bassline does not necessarily support my root progression:
 
       ----------------------- 2X ------------------------
      |C           |d           |e           |F    (G)    |
   C:  I            ii           iii          IV   (V)

   [Figure 109.2]
  Next note Suffice it to say that the refrain is eight measures long and consists of an almost literal repeat of the same four-measure phrase that, no matter how you precisely parse the chords, is a harmonically simple phrase that helps establish the home key.
 

Bridge

  Next note The bridge is more of an extension of the refrain that it is a section in its own right. It is ten measures long, and after its opening two measures of almost Beethoven-like cadence, it proceeds with two repeats of a four measure phrase that is very similar to the refrain:
 
      |F  G  F  G  |F  G  F  G  |
   C:  IV V  IV V   IV V  IV V

       ----------------------- 2X ------------------------
      |C           |d           |e           |F           |
       I            ii           iii          IV

   [Figure 109.3]
 

Outro

  Next note The outro is an unusual "recombinative" reprise of material heard earlier in both bridge and intro:
 
                               ||chimes only with tabla ....
      |F  G  F  G  |F  G  F  G  |C     |      |      |      |
   C:  IV V  IV V   IV V  IV V   I     (implied V?)

   [Figure 109.4]
  Next note The last chord sounded is I, but the repeat of the G octave into the fade-out implies an indefinite harmonic ending on V rather than I. This ambiguity is nicely exploited by the intro to the next track; but more on that next time.
3

Some Final Thoughts

  Next note At risk of appearing to damn with faint praise, this song is by no means a "bad" one, but on its very own, it surely shines on less brightly than any of the three songs that precede it on the A side of "Sgt. Pepper".
  Next note This is not necessarily a deficit, and this "shining less brightly" is not at all a matter of "can't win them all" as much as it is one of the need, in pacing a continuous album side, of wanting to be able to relax the tension between accumulative peaks without allowing the pot to grow so cold that the overall continuity is lost.
  Next note As such a role player, "Getting Better" admirably fulfills its mission.
  Regards, Alan (123195#109)
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Copyright © 1995 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.