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notes on ...

Notes on "It Won't Be Long"


Notes on ... Series #10.1 (IWBL.1)
  by Alan W. Pollack
       Key: E Major
     Meter: 4/4
      Form: Intro | Verse | Bridge | Verse |
                  | Bridge | Verse | Outro (with complete ending)
        CD: "With The Beatles", Track 1 (Parlophone CDP7 46436-2)
  Recorded: 30th July 1963, Abbey Road 2
UK-release: 22nd November 1963 (LP "With The Beatles")
US-release: 20th January 1964 (LP "Meet The Beatles")

General Points of Interest


Style and Form

  Next note "It Won't Be Long" is a raving album opener, rich in detail and elliptical in form.
  Next note On face value, the song is built out of three distinct, two-line phrases, each of which reappears at least once:
  • "X" is the couplet that begins with the song's title phrase.
  • "Y" is the couplet that presents different words each time.
  • "Z" is the couplet that starts off with, "Since you left me ..."
  Next note What's particularly interesting is how the normal, easy-to-recognize distinction between verse / bridge / refrain is rather blurred here by the repeat pattern as well as the particular content of each phrase. In my original look at this song, way back, I fretted at some length over how to parse the following mosaic:
   X  Y  X  Z  Y  X  Z  Y  X

   [Figure 10.1]
  Next note I think you can eventually reduce the form to the double-bridge model with a single intervening verse but in order to do so you need to parse the second half of the verse section as mini-refrain that also happens to be used as the song's intro; compare this with "You're Going To Lose That Girl". Even then, you'll notice that the song curiously does not double up the verse section first time around, and that the verse itself is one measure short of a balanced eight measures.
  Next note The mini-refrain and bridge open with a pickup. By contrast, the verse tune comes in after the downbeat.
  Next note The difficulty comes in trying to cluster these phrases into the sort of verse / bridge / refrain divisions you come to expect in this genre. Some of the following questions and options come to mind:
  • Is Z a bridge? Or perhaps, (ignoring the first, Y-only verse) is it joined to Y as the first half of a compound (ZY) verse unit? Under this last option, X does indeed fit the role of refrain.
  • Is X a refrain? Or perhaps, (ignoring its first appearance as an intro) is it joined to Y as the second half of a compound (YX) verse unit? Under this last option, Z does indeed fit the role of bridge.
  • Or perhaps, there are no compound verse units, and the structure is meant to be parsed by us at the level already diagramed above. Under this last option, Y (with it's ever changing lyrics) is the natural choice for verse, and I'd feel compelled to say that the rest of the form is a highly unusual hybrid in that we have both a refrain (X) and a bridge (Z).

Melody and Harmony

  Next note The tune covers more than an octave in range, is generally jumpy, and has a lot of downward gestures that eventually get balanced out by the upward flourish and high point with which the bridge comes to an end.
  Next note The opening lick is strangely reminiscent of Beethoven's Fifth in its hammering insistence, and ends unusually with the downward leap of a perfect fourth; sing it aloud and notice what doing so physically pulls out of you. You find another example of this, by the way, in the contemporaneous "I Want To Hold Your Hand", (both the hammering and the downward leap) on the phrase "... me be your man." Granted, in our case the leap is made from scale degree 2 down to 6, while in the other case it's made from 3 to 7. Still, I insist, the parallel is extraordinary. The rhythmic pattern, minus the melodic pattern, is again found in the abandoned contemporaneous version of "One After 909".
  Next note The harmonic diet is on the rich side, with familiar choices such as I, IV, V, and vi supplemented by a couple secondary dominants, the flat-VI, and another couple touches of purely chromatic harmony.
  Next note Melody challengingly intersects with harmony every time the I chord (E) in the verse changes to flat-VI (C), forcing the tune into a bit of a "C# - B - C-natural" kink; e.g. as on the words "... night the tears." Try singing that figure without the aid of the underlying chords!


  Next note The backing track is for the standard combo, though the lead guitar notably delivers its signature riff in the baritone range.
  Next note Ringo helps articulate form with his chewy drum fills on most of the section boundaries, and his muting of the cymbal sizzle factor at the start of each bridge.
  Next note John double tracks the lead vocal, starting off unaccompanied at the start of song with a delivery whose visceral impact just about knocks you out of your seat. The backing vocals are a combination of antiphonal and chordal in the verse/refrain, but provide a descending chromatic line against the lead during the bridge.

Section-by-Section Walkthrough



  Next note The intro presents the refrain-like second half of the verse section. It's eight measures long with a phrasing pattern of 2 + 2 + 4 (AA'A''), and an harmonic shape that converges on I, starting away from it on vi:
      |c#          |-           |E           |-           |
   E:  vi                        I

      |c#          |A     Fx    |E           |-           |
       vi           IV #ii-dim.7 I

   [Figure 10.2]
  Next note The use of the vi chord as a pseudo dominant is almost a signature device of the Beatles in this period; look at the very next song on this album ("All I've Got To Do") and note how they use the same chord progression, not to mention the same key!
  Next note The special chord in the second half of measure six needs no Roman numeral since it's the result of chromatic voice leading between the IV and I chord on either side of it. The chord sounds liked a diminished seventh chord of the "sharpened II" (in this case, that's a diminished seventh build on the unlikely note "F-double-sharp) placed on top of the static bassline note of A:
   S:  C#  -»  -   -»  B
   A:  A   -»  A#  -»  B
   T:  E   -»  Fx  -»  G#
   B:  A   -»  -   -»  E

   [Figure 10.3]
  Note how the outer two voices sustain their pitches going into the novel chord, while the inner two voices elect for chromatic movement through the progression. The overall effect is similar to the physical feeling of having your already-twisted arm tightened yet another half, painful turn. The intensification effect is enhanced by the fact that this chord marks the solitary moment in this phrase where the harmonic rhythm quickens.
  Next note One last "#ii diminished" related factoid. The same chord shows up in the following list of conspicuously unrelated, much later songs: "When I'm Sixty-Four", "Blue Jay Way", "The End", and "Her Majesty".
  Next note The "Day Tripper"-like guitar riff used in measures seven and eight reappears in what will turn out to be the first half of the verse section, and helps unify the song overall. Savor that bent F-double-sharp -» G#, but also contemplate the skill of the player in getting it consistent in each repeat; unless of course, it was recorded once as an "edit piece" and then overdubbed like a macro each time; yeah, as if! :-)
  Next note The antiphonal "yeah - yeah" vocals are really something; difficult to perform but fun to listen to even in mono. They are given a not-so-gentle syncopated feeling by the fact that John's voice, which is mixed forward from the others, sings his "yeahs" on the off beat. Kids: do try this at home with your friends to see what I mean.


  Next note The full verse length, including the mini-refrain, is fifteen measures because its first non-refrain half is an unusual seven measures long. Its phrasing pattern is actually "AA" but there's a funky elision effect where what should be the last measure of the first phrase overlaps with the first measure of the repeat. The closest John-like other example of the same trick I can think of is in "Any Time At All".
  Next note The section has an harmonically closed shape but relies on the flat-VI chord as a surrogate dominant:
      |E          |C           |E           |
   E:  I           flat-VI      I

      |E          |C           |E           |-           |
       I           flat-VI      I

   [Figure 10.4]
  Next note It's called the "flat-VI" since its root is a half-tone lower than what it would be for the vi chord that naturally appears in the Major key. Think of it as the VI chord borrowed from the parallel minor key. I myself am tempted to dub it "the Buddy Holly chord" because of the iconic familiarity of its appearance in the bridge of "Peggy Sue." John himself reuses the chord in the bridge of his roughly contemporaneous "I Call Your Name".


  Next note This section reverts to a square, eight-bar length and is harmonically wide open at its end, contrasting nicely the close harmonic shape of the Verse and mini-refrain.
      Chords: |E           |B-aug.       |b           |C#7         |
Middle voice:  G#           G-natural     F#           F-natural
    Bassline:  E            D#            D-natural    C#
    Analysis:  I                                       V-of-II

      Chords: |A            |B           |F#          |B           |
Middle voice:  E             D#
    Analysis:  IV            V            V-of-V       V

   [Figure 10.5]
  Next note The harmonically open effect is amplified by the use of V-of-V, presented as a ninth-chord, no less.
  Next note The descending, chromatic bassline is another device used by the Boys all over the map; "It's Only Love" and "Dear Prudence" are two widely spaced examples that come to mind.
  Next note Try to hear the middle voice which descends in parallel with bass at the interval of a third as well as the upper voice which focuses on the same note, B, throughout the phrase. This winds up creating an unusual augmented chord in measure two and a minor chord in measure three to which I wouldn't assign Roman numerals. As with the special chord in the mini-refrain, I'd describe the harmony here as being essentially a move from E (I) to C# (V-of-II) in which the two intervening chords are incidental structures created by the melodic motion which connects the first and last chords. Check out "Real Love", of all songs, for a similar usage of the augmented triad.
  Next note In the raving context of the rest of the song, the subdued, falsetto vocal backing combined with the change in drumming texture in this section provides an effective, contrasting oasis-like moment of relief.


  Next note The brief outro is setup by the final verse which cranks the already intense mood up another notch with a late breaking vocal variation during the refrain (John flips over the F#-sharp of the title riff and the backers wildly mimic his gesture), combined with a cliché "grand pause" of the sort John would eventually parody in "... Warm Gun".
  Next note In this single instance, the A-Major chord does not morph to the funky diminished chord, and the final cadence continues in a much subdued tempo, elaborated by a Barbershop Harmony cliché stream of chromatically descending dominant seventh chords (that need no Roman numerals):
   |c#          |A           |E  G7 F#7 F-nat7|E           |
    vi           IV           I

   [Figure 10.6]
  Next note The final chord, itself is freely dissonant, including "the works," in a manner similar to the ending of "No Reply".

Some Final Thoughts

  Next note Refer to the "Kissing Cousins" finale to my article on "All My Loving" for consideration of yet another pair of songs that reveals the paradox emergent when you compare or contrast Lennon and McCartney with each other at any detailed level.
  Alan (070400#10.1)
Revision History
090189 10.0 Original release
070400 10.1 Revise, expand and adapt to series template
Copyright © 2000 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.