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notes on ...

Notes on "Something"


Notes on ... Series #178 (S)
  by Alan W. Pollack
       Key: C Major
     Meter: 4/4
      Form: Intro | Verse | Verse | Bridge |
                  | Verse (Instrumental) |
                  | Verse | Outro (with complete ending)
        CD: "Abbey Road", Track 2 (Parlophone CDP7 46446-2)
  Recorded: 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 30th, 31st July,
            15 August 1969, Abbey Road 2
UK-release: 26th September 1969 (LP "Abbey Road")
US-release: 1st October 1969 (LP "Abbey Road")

General Points of Interest


Style and Form

  Next note "Something" is arguably one of the most intense-yet-quietly sustained entries in the Beatles songbook right up there with the likes of Paul's much earlier "Yesterday". Granted, "Something" has not achieved quite the level of culturally ready-made, supermarket-Muzak ubiquity of "Yesterday", but it has gotten around pretty well on its own. None other than Frank Sinatra included "Something" in his repertoire, referring to it often as one of the "best" (or maybe it was his "favorite") Lennon and McCartney song; as if George hadn't already suffered enough indignities and lack of individual identity in context of the Beatles.
  Next note It's a slow, passionate number in which the protagonist stands on the knife edge of likely and inevitably falling in love but without the complete certainty that he will yet arrive there. It's an exquisitely bittersweet state of heart effectively evoked in the music as much as it is specified by the words. The affirmative and optimistic rising hook phrase that opens and closes the song (as well as each of the verses) is more than amply balanced out by a constant, nagging undertow of literally "falling" motion in the bassline and tune. The decision to not set that rising hook to vocalized lyrics tells us the score with eloquent reticence.

Melody and Harmony

  Next note The verse tune keeps within the relatively small range of a sixth (G to E), with the bridge opening up at the top to complete the G octave. Melodic motion throughout is dominated by steps and thirds. One inconspicuous jump of a fourth appears in the verse plus two more in the bridge. But in keeping with the underlying mood of the piece, this is neither a time nor place for making precipitous leaps, be they ones of faith or melodic motion.
  Next note The key scheme here in which the bridge appears in the Major key of VI (the parallel Major key of the relative minor) is a longtime favorite of the Beatles, though George's implementation of it here is unusual in striking abruptness.
  Next note His harmonization of descending basslines also leads to some adventurous choices for individual chords.


  Next note The string orchestra, which enters for the second half of the first verse and stays in for the duration, adds a pleasantly lush finish to the arrangement though it functions as a relatively superficial facade to the Beatles-plus-Preston supplied backing track of bass, drums, guitar, organ and piano that is otherwise quite self sufficient. The piano part is most apparent on the finished track when it doubles the dramatically descending bassline solo in the bridge.
  Next note George supplies the entire vocal arrangement in a neat pattern of alternating sections of single tracking, double tracking at the unison, as well as singing in harmony with himself. We get single tracking for the first half of the first two verses, with double tracking for their second halves. In the bridge we get an alternation between harmonization and double tracking at the unison. This same pattern is repeated in the final verse.
  Next note George's impeccably executed slide solo has a melodic contour that is noteworthy both intrinsically and in terms of the contrast it makes with the verse tune which it momentarily replaces.

Section-by-Section Walkthrough



  Next note The song opens with a three measure hook that characterizes the entire song in your minds ear:
  Treble: |A                 |Bb        B-natural |C
  Chords: |F                 |Eb        G         |C
    Bass: |F                 |Eb        D         |C ...
       C:  IV                 flat-III  V          I

   [Figure 178.1]
  Next note The harmonic shape is convergent on the I chord of the home key by way of an unusual cross-relation filled chord progression whose harmonic power of persuasion depends on the stepwise contrary motion of its outer voices. The latter forces the V chord to appear in its second "6/4" inversion.
  Next note The last measure of this phrase elides with the downbeat of the start of the verse. You might otherwise expect two full measures of pause on C-Major at the end of this phrase before proceeding, though the latter clearly would become a drag if repeated in each section.
  Next note Drum triplets provide a two-beat pickup to the start of the music; i.e. Ringo starts drumming "on 3".


  Next note The verse can be subdivided into an opening twelve measures of verse "proper" followed by a six-measure refrain-like section whose second half is a reprise of the intro's hook phrase:
   |C             |-             |Maj.-7th      |-             |

   |C7            |-             |F             |-             |
    V-of-IV                       IV

   |D             |-             |G             |-             |
    V-of-V                        V

   |a             |Ab            |G             |D             |
    vi                                           V-of-V

   |F             |Eb     G6/4   |C
    IV             flat-III V     I

   [Figure 178.2]
  Next note The harmonic shape of the verse proper opens out from I to V. The V chord resolves deceptively to vi at the start of the refrain, and the latter converges back toward the home key.
  Next note The harmonic rhythm is calculatedly slow enough to make you climb the walls. The D -» G root motion of measures 9 - 12 cleverly parallels the C -» F movement of the first eight measures, but takes only half the time to do so. Imagine the absurdity of reversing the effect.
  Next note Downward chromatic motion appears in the first phrase of the verse proper tune. The bassline picks up the same idea for the first phrase of the refrain.
  Next note I prefer to not place Roman numerals under the middle chords of that phrase because, even though you may accurately describe them as Ab-Augmented and C-Major 6/4, their reason for being in this context is as a side effect of harmonizing the descent of the bassline. The bassline motion implies an arrival on F# in the final measure of the phrase even though the bass elects to jump down to the root note of D at that point.
  Next note As with the intro, the ending of the first verse elides into the second verse. The same trick happens with the lead into the bridge though an important change of chord progression is made at that point:
   |F                |Eb       G        |A
    IV                flat-III V
                           A:  flat-VII  I

   [Figure 178.3]


  Next note The pivot modulation here from C to A makes perfect sense on paper, with the G-Major chord serving both V and flat-VII in each respective key. What catches you off guard and sounds "abrupt" is the appearance of Eb and A-Major chords (a root separation of a tritone!) in such close proximity to each other.
  Next note The bridge itself is a four-square eight measures in length and is built out of an an AA' phrasing pattern. Yet again, the last measure of the section elides with the first measure of the one that follows:
       |A       G#      |F#      E       |
    A:  I                vi

       |D       G       |A               |
        IV      flat-VII I

       |A       G#      |F#      E       |
        I                vi

       |D       G       |C               |
        IV      flat-VII
    C:  V-of-V  V        I

   [Figure 178.4]
  Next note Again we find a descending bassline (granted, this one is diatonic) in which alternate chords require no Roman numeral. Yes, I know that you can say the G# supports c#-minor 6/4 and E supports A 6/4, but as in the verse above, these chords are incidental rather than harmonically significant in terms of root movement.
  Next note We also have a dramatically syncopated and lengthy downward chromatic lick in the bassline filling the last measure of the first bridge phrase. The same rhythmic pattern is used to set a more soothing diatonic bass lick in the final measure of the bridge when the modulation back to C Major takes effect.


  Next note The outro grows out of the final verse, with a repeat of the A Major modulation, hinting at a possible repeat of the bridge complete, with a high pitched guitar lick reminiscent of the chromatically descending bassline. But that's quickly cancelled out with an iteration of the original hook, the version without the funky modulation. This is the only place in the song where the hook phrase is not elided, but rather is given its full two measures due:
      |F                 |Eb       G        |
   C:  IV                 flat-III V
                               A:  flat-VII

      |A                 |-                 |
   A:  I

      |F                 |Eb       G        |
   C:  IV                 flat-III V
   A:  flat-VI

      |C                 |-                 |
   C:  I

   [Figure 178.5]
  Next note In a single blow George manages to paraphrase two favorite coda gambits of one Ludwig van Beethoven. Yes, it's preposterous to suggest that George would be aware of this, but the correspondences are hard to deny in any event:
  Next note The fake pass at another repeat of the "trio" in the second ("Scherzo") movement of the Ninth symphony, Opus 123. A full repeat at this point of the movement would make movement overlong. By providing the quickly aborted snippet of such a repeat, the composer cleverly gets you to return your attention to that special section by allusion, without forcing you to sit through a complete recap.
  Next note The ending of the slow theme and variations (second) movement of the Eb String Quartet (Opus 127) provides a terse recap in its final measures an harmonic trick that earlier played a structural role in movement. The theme is in Ab Major, but Beethoven places several of the middle variations in the remote key of E Major (enharmonically the key of flat-VI) by use of a clever modulation. At the very end of the movement he repeats this modulation as a teasing deceptive cadence before immediately re-establishing the correct home key once and for all.

Some Final Thoughts

  Next note One of the hidden strengths of "Abbey Road" that we'll uncover in our studies of its songs is the unprecedented (for a "pop" album, even one by The Beatles) extent to which it contains subtle cross references between tracks, whether they be anticipations or flashbacks. The medley on side 2 is where these effects are most obvious and on the surface. But throughout the album, you find many others correspondences at the level of key scheme or even rhythmic motif.
  Next note You're more accustomed to appreciating this unifying effect in the visual arts. Two famous examples are the prevalance of angular v-shaped brushstrokes throughout Van Gogh's "Crows Over the Wheat Field" (not just for the crows themselves) or the way in which the attic curtains in "American Gothic" are the same fabric as the wife's dress. But you can accomplish the similar effects in music.
  Next note In "Something" the opening drum triplets are a surface level flashback to the drum fills in the opening track, "Come Together". The C/A key scheme hints at, and provides a first example, of an harmonic structure that at will emerge as the backbone of the entire medley.
  Next note The number, nature, and inter-relation of such resonances on "Abbey Road" increases naturally with the sequence of tracks. As with any other film or novel that exploits the same techniques, your ability to epiphanously draw those connections increases in direct proportion to the depth of your familiarity with the material. So keep listening.
  Alan (102499#178)
Copyright © 1999 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.