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notes on ...

Notes on "When I'm Sixty-Four"

 





Notes on ... Series #114 (WISF)
  by Alan W. Pollack
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       Key: D-flat Major
     Meter: 4/4
      Form: Intro | Verse | Bridge | Verse |
                  | Bridge | Verse | Outro (with complete ending)
        CD: "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band",
            Track 9 (Parlophone CDP7 46442-2)
        CD: "Yellow Submarine Songtrack", Track 13 (EMI 5 21481-2)
  Recorded: 6th December 1966, Abbey Road 2;
            8th December 1966 Abbey Road 1;
            20th, 21st December 1966, 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 This song is Paul's first official foray into the carefully put-on nostalgic-cum-vaudeville stylization that would become a stock part of his compositional arsenal for the remainder of his career as a Beatle. In context of "Sgt. Pepper"'s running order, it provides a well-needed and right contrast to the preceding track.
  Next note The song is mastered in the key of D-flat, nicely resonating with the C# drone of "Within You Without You", though I believe it was recorded in the more "readable" key of C in order to sound higher on playback and give Paul's lead vocal that tremulously earnest quality.
  Next note The form is an unusual perfect arch; there is no doubling up of any sections, and the intro and outro are identical. There is no specific refrain section, though the verse here is of the type whose last phrase is refrain-like.
  Next note I am puzzled, in the lyrics by the comment in the first bridge about: "If you say the word, I could stay with you." Without a doubt, the rest of the song bespeaks of a long-married (at least long-cohabiting) couple. Does the hero somehow envision them inexplicably separated in their autumn years, or merely sleeping most of the time in separate beds?
 

Melody and Harmony

  Next note The tune is built primarily out of triadic (bugle call-like) riffs and chromatic (half step-wise) runs.
  Next note The harmony is almost clunkily straightforward on the one hand, yet as consequence of the chromaticism of the tune, we also find a strong showing from "added note chords" (e.g. V13), "secondary chords" (e.g. V-of-whatever), and harmonizing of chromatic bassline motion.
  Next note Grammatically speaking, I believe the diminished chord of the final verse phrase (on the words "want" / "need me") is one we confront for the first time in a Beatles' song. Yes, we've seen diminished chords before, but they functioned as VII-based dominant surrogates; see the refrain of "Strawberry Fields Forever" as an example. The one we have here functions as a surrogate sub-dominant, built on the raised second degree of the scale:
 
            Db        -         -
            Bb        -»        Ab
            G         -»        F
            E         -»        F
   D-flat:  #ii-dim7            I6/3

   [Figure 114.1]
  Next note The salient different between the so-called subdominant diminished seventh and its dominant counterpart is that in the former, one of the voice voices is sustained when the chord resolves whereas, in the latter, all four voices make a move.
 

Arrangement

  Next note Whatever typical Beatles' instruments are used on this track, you're bound to walk away remembering the piano part, those guest appearances of clarinets (both a pair of regular ones plus a bass model) and those tubular bell chimes. If you have any doubt that Paul is putting you on with this arrangement, you need only to dig how flat the high B-flat is on that clarinet each time it comes round in the bridge; and if you cannot tell that it is really flat, you need some ear training :-)
  Next note Paul's sped up lead vocal is single tracked. John and George provide tasteful, intermittent backing.
2

Section-by-Section Walkthrough

 

Intro

  Next note The contents of this intro are certainly of the same cloth as the rest of the song, but they do not directly quote from it. Surely, though, you can't say they don't establish the home key with efficiency:
 
           |D-flat        |-             |G-flat A-flat |D            |
   D-flat:  I                             IV     V       I

           |-             |-             |

   [Figure 114.2]
  Next note Architecturally, this intro is four measures long; the verse could easily begin on the downbeat of measure 5, but in true vaudeville style, the band "vamps" for a couple measures "until singer is ready."
 

Verse

  Next note The verse is a four-square sixteen measures long, with four phrases that make for an ABA'C poetic pattern:
 
Chords: |D-flat          |-               |-               |A-flat    |
D-flat:  I                                                  V

                                Bassline: |Ab Bb B-nat  C  |Db        |
Chords: |A-flat          |-               |-               |D-flat    |
D-flat:  V                                                  I

Chords: |D-flat          |-               |D-flat7         |G-flat    |
D-flat:  I                                 V-of-IV          IV

Bass-
  line: |Gb      G-nat   |Ab      Bb      |Eb
Chords: |G-flat  e dim7  |D-flat  B-flat  |e-flat  A-flat  |D-flat    |
D-flat:  IV      #ii6/5   I6/4    V-of-ii  ii      V        I

   [Figure 114.3]
  Next note The effect of the harmonic design remains studiedly-stodgy in spite of the varied harmonic rhythm that accelerates toward the end of the section and the chromatically rising basslines of the second and fourth phrases; this, because each of the phrases commences with the same chord the previous phrase had ended with.
  Next note If you read these notes carefully, I'd expect you to probe me on why I label the chromatic bassline in the second phrase as just being a contrapuntal filling out of the V chord, while I give a different roman numeral to each step of the chromatic bassline in the fourth phrase. There are two reasons for this:
 
  • The first is a matter of time-scale. The final phrase sustains each move in the bass for two beats instead of one, allowing each "chord" to register in your head more explicitly.
  • The second reason is a mater of root movement. The second phrase really involves no more than a V -» I cadence. In the fourth phrase, even if you rule out the e diminished seventh and D-flat 6/4 chords as being contrapuntally incidental, I think you still are dealing with root movement of IV to ii by way of V-of-ii.
 

Bridge

  Next note The bridge is an unusual seventeen measures long; actually, a four-square 16 + 1, with the latter thrown in in the manner of the thirteenth pastry in a baker's dozen:
 
           |b-flat      |-           |A-flat      |b-flat      |
   b-flat:  i                         flat-VII     i

           |b-flat      |-           |F           |            |
                                      V

           |b-flat      |-           |e-flat      |-           |
            i                         iv
                             D-flat:  ii

           |G-flat      |A-flat      |D-flat      |A-flat      |
   D-flat:  IV           V            I            V

           |-           |

   [Figure 114.4]
  Next note The harmony in this section makes a modally flavored pivot over to the key of the relative minor, and then a comparatively textbook kind of pivot back to the home key.
  Next note The arrangement of the two bridges provides a clever tease as well as an avoidance of foolish consistency. The first one starts off with one whole phrase minus vocalist, by the end of which you start to half assume the entire section may be such an "instrument interlude." But then the vocalist comes in for the second phrase, yet he drops out again for the downbeat of the third phrase (allowing the sour clarinets to have their moment), and then he comes back in again; now you hear him, now you don't :-) Then, the second time around, the singer starts right in the first phrase, but still, he drops out at the beginning of the third phrase.
 

Outro

  Next note This is pretty much identical to the intro, don't ya think, except for the gratuitous-albeit-cute opening "Whoo!" from the lead singer.
3

Some Final Thoughts

  Next note Is it a matter of this song, per se, being over the top that cloys, or is it the result of Paul's including one of these stylistically studied posturing songs on virtually every album henceforth?
  Next note I'm reminded, in this context, of comments made by one of Waugh's characters in "Brideshead Revisited" about "charm" and "art". One Anthony Blanche describes a disappointing art exhibit he has just attended saying: "It reminded me of dear Sebastian when he liked so much to dress up in false whiskers. It was charm again, my dear, simple, creamy English charm, playing tigers."
  Next note Antoine then goes to explain how his own tastes go in for the "spicy" and "unhealthy". Gee, I wonder which of the Beatles he was thinking of in that regard.
  Regards,
  Alan (040296#114)
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Copyright © 1996 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.