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notes on ...

Notes on "When I Get Home"


Notes on ... Series #54 (WIGH)
  by Alan W. Pollack
       Key: A Major / a minor / C Major
     Meter: 4/4
      Form: Refrain | Verse | Refrain | Verse | Refrain |
                    | Bridge | Verse | Refrain |
                    | Outro (with complete ending)
        CD: "A Hard Day's Night", Track 11 (Parlophone CDP7 46437-2)
  Recorded: 2nd June 1964, Abbey Road 2
UK-release: 10th July 1964 (LP "A Hard Day's Night")
US-release: 20th July 1964 (LP "Something New")

General Points of Interest


Style and Form

  Next note We wind up here completing our study of the Beatles' third album with this relatively less popular but nonetheless characteristically novel and interesting number. I believe that some listeners find in this song a tense agitation in the refrain and a fierce determination in the verse that are irritatingly out of proportion to the situation implied by the lyrics. For my own tastes, this contrast only goes to heighten a sense of irony and intrigue about the song.
  Next note After all, just why the forceful delivery? Is the hero simply worried that he'll be somehow prevented by the second woman from returning "home", or perhaps is it more the reflection of an inner ambivalence within the hero himself about wanting to effect such a return? I similarly wonder what in blazes he possibly means by the line "I'll love her more till I walk out that door again" — just going to work or out on errands the next day after his planned return, or is this some off-handed allusion to the inevitability of repeated philandering? Such wonderfully elliptical ambiguity! :-) But getting back to the music ...
  Next note The most unusual item found here is the key scheme. The relatively large number of songs on the "A Hard Day's Night" album which make conspicuous use of either relative Major/minor shifts (e.g. "And I Love Her" and "I'm Happy Just To Dance With You" ) or parallel Major/minor shifts (e.g. "Things We Said Today" and "I'll Be Back") has already been discussed in this series. But "When I Get Home" is the only example we've seen in which both gambits are used in the same song.
  Next note Secondarily, the form of the song is also unusual, starting off with a refrain, but also containing a bridge, as well. Compare this, by the way, with "Tell Me Why".

Melody and Harmony

  Next note The parallel Major/minor gambit is based on the keys of A, with the refrain starting out in A Major but ending in a minor. The relative Major/minor gambit is based on the relationship between the appearance of a minor just mentioned and C Major which dominates the verses as well as the bridge.
  Next note Surprisingly, barely six different chords are used within the entire song to exploit such a complex tonal situation, in which your sense of where the home key is is kept continually in flux. I'd suggest that this changeability is so strongly a subliminal hook element of the song that the final ending on C sounds a tad abrupt and forced; perhaps a fade-out would have worked better.
  Next note The melodic style here is essentially declamatory with short phrases of "3-6" notes repeated frequently repeated for rhetorical effect; a Beatles' trademark running as far back as "Love Me Do".


  Next note The instrumental backing contains a fuzzy/boomy texture heard on several other tracks from the same album, though some of the fancier drum work (such as fills which bridge the gap between the ends of refrains and the beginning of verses) stands out nicely.
  Next note The vocal arrangement features John single tracked in the verses, double tracked for most of the bridge (sounds like they rather fussily omit the second track for the climactic "I love her more" phrase of that section), and accompanied for emphasis by the others in the refrain.
  Next note The refrain contains a rhythmic hook to be found in the recurring hard syncopations on the final eighth note of the measure (i.e. on "four-and"), unusually followed by no demarcation of where the downbeat of the next measure actually is; a special effect which only goes to make the syncopation feel all the more gut-wrenching.

Section-by-Section Walkthrough



  Next note The refrain is eight measures long and is structured out of two parallel phrases of two measures each that are balanced out by a single phrase of four measures:
      |A           |-           |-           |-           |
   A:  I

      |D9          |G           |a           |G           |
       IV           flat-VII     i            flat-VII
                                          C:  V

   [Figure 54.1]
  Next note The melodic use of G-naturals in the A Major context of the first two phrases lends a bluesy touch. The last phrase is especially tangy by virtue of the melodic E over the D chord in measure 5, followed by the F-natural over the G chord in the next measures. Lyrically, the opening of this section must be one of the earliest examples in the Beatles' oeuvre to feature wordless phonemes so prominently.
  Next note In terms of dramatic structure, this section strangely begins right off at a point of climax, giving us listeners the feeling of having walked in on something already well in progress. This effect is further heightened by surprising series of harmonic moves in the last couple measures; first the arrival of a-minor in a place where you expect it to be Major, followed immediately by the G-Major chord which punningly pivots as a dominant V chord over to the key of C Major.
  Next note Note too, how the uneventful harmonic rhythmic of the first half of this section contrasts with what happens in the remainder of it.


  Next note The verse is eight measures long and structured in a manner similar to the refrain. This time, the initial two-measure melodic phrase is repeated three times before blossoming out a bit the final time around:
       ---------- 3X ------------
      |C           |F            |G           |-           |
   C:  I            IV            V

   [Figure 54.2]
  Next note Instead of containing bluesy hints, the tune in this section is shot through with little chromatic scale riffs. In common with the refrain though is the melodic emphasis on the F-natural over the G chord near the end here.
  Next note The tone of this verse is hard-edged and determined, and it is effectively designed to not only contrast with the comparative turbulence of the refrain, but also, by virtue of its rhetorical repetitiousness and harmonically open ending on V, to build momentously toward that next section.
  Next note I'll leave the second chord of the verse simply labeled as IV, though I believe it could (and should) be more academically (and correctly) analyzed as the "ii 6/5"; i.e. d7 in the first inversion. Listen carefully and note how Paul plays a double stopped fifth (F -» C) in the bass, while the melody contains a D-natural against it. For further discussion of this type of chord, see our much earlier note on "No Reply".


  Next note This bridge is ten measures long, the only un-square section to be found in the entire song, and can be broken down into a series of five short two-measure phrases which coalesce into an uneven grouping of 2 + 3:
      |C       |a       |C       |a       |
   C:  I        vi       I        vi

      |F9      |G       |F       |G       |a       |G       |
       IV       V        IV       V        vi       V

   [Figure 54.3]
  Next note The tone of this section is closer in spirit to the verses than the refrains, though the internal shape of the bridge is more arch-like with an internal climax somewhere near the middle of the section (on those melodic octave leaps to the F9 chords), rather than ending, like the verses, just on the verge of a peaking.
  Next note Note how the final measure of the refrain which immediately precedes this bridge is modified to sustain the a-minor chord.


  Next note The outro of this song is in the form of a 'petit-reprise'-like extension of the final refrain. In measure 7, this time, an A-Major chord is substituted for the expected a-minor, which nicely motivates a repeat of the second of the second half of the refrain, starting from the D-Major chord; except, of course, for the final surprising ending on C!
  Next note As the final C chord reverberates and fades away, I detect a curious resonance of the note F#, which may or may not have been deliberate. Either way, the subtle appearance of such a dissonant and foreign tone in this context lends a connotation of something uneasily left unresolved which somehow surely seems to fit in with the spirit of what has preceded.

Some Final Thoughts

  Next note In considering the thirteen tracks on the "A Hard Day's Night" album as a whole and in comparison with the group's work which preceded this collection, a number of interesting trends and other observations come to mind.
  Next note First off, a number of earlier trademarks of the group seem conspicuously downplayed, if not entirely avoided. In particular, they would seem to have traded in their sinewy two-part vocal counterpoint for more in the way of solo lead vocals that get punctuated by antiphonal touches of three part singing. There also seems to be much less of the free-verse uneven phrasing here than before. And with exception of the Major/minor gambits mentioned above or the intro to "If I Fell", there also seems to be less than their typical level of experimenting with unusual chord progressions.
  Next note But of course, there are the undeniable signs here of stylistic development as well. In the absence of cover songs for the first time, it is particularly notable how many different moods, tempos, and instrumental textures are included in the mix; in additional to the obligatory rockers, we also have the likes of a ballad such as "And I Love Her", as well as a couple of semi or pseudo acoustic numbers (e.g. "Things We Said Today" and "I'll Be Back") which anticipate the folk rock style heard later on "Rubber Soul".
  Next note Just as importantly, there are also the examples of increasingly sophisticated word play and imagery, as well as the several ways in which the spirit and flavor of "the blues" are conjured with only very little if any direct reference.
  Alan (043092#54)
Copyright © 1992 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.