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notes on ...

Notes on "You Won't See Me"


Notes on ... Series #9.1 (YWSM.1)
  by Alan W. Pollack
       Key: A Major
     Meter: 4/4
      Form: Intro | Verse | Verse | Bridge |
                          | Verse | Bridge |
                          | Verse | Outro (fade-out)
        CD: "Rubber Soul", Track 3 (Parlophone CDP7 46440-2)
  Recorded: 11th November 1965, Abbey Road 2
UK-release: 3rd December 1965 (LP "Rubber Soul")
US-release: 6th December 1965 (LP "Rubber Soul")

General Points of Interest


Style and Form

  Next note Tucked away within the harmonic inner voice leading of "You Won't See Me"'s harmonic structure are descending chromatic scale fragments whose recurrence in all sections help unify the song with subliminal efficiency. I said "voices," George, not "lights." :-)
  Next note The form is the familiar two-bridge model with single verse intervening and no solo instrumental section. The moderate tempo drives the track's running time to 3:22, clearly discouraging any thought of doubling the verse between the bridges.
  Next note The verse lyrics are in a form of ABCC; i.e. unique lyrics for the first three sections, with the final verse repeating those of the third section.
  Next note The verses begin with a pickup, but the bridge (and even the title phrase, arguably) place their stress right on the downbeat, lending sense of grim pronouncement each time.

Melody and Harmony

  Next note The verse tune is roughly arch-shaped. The bridge is less clearly so, though it does end with an upsweep that provides the song with its melodic high point.
  Next note All the indigenous chords of our A Major home key are used except for iii and vi, and we have a chromatic assist from V-of-V.
  Next note The harmonic rhythm is predominantly one chord per measure, causing the few places where it is either faster (end of the verse) or slower (throughout the bridge) to dramatically stand out.
  Next note But what does "chromatic scale fragments" mean? A chromatic scale is simply a scale which consists of all semi-tones; e.g. c - c# - d - d# - e - f, etc. In our standard major/minor scales you never find even two such semi-tones in a row. However, the use of chromatically altered chords in a progression (the secondary dominant, "V-of-V", is an archetypal example) allows us to easily knit fragments of chromatic scales into a tonal harmonic fabric. It tends to connote a certain kind of sentimentality and can easily become a cliche. You've got to use it carefully.


  Next note The standard backing combo is conspicuously augmented by piano and tambourine. Paul provides an extremely active and melodic bass part, and Ringo provides unusually detailed patterning to the drumming.
  Next note Against the backing track's rock-solid backbeat Paul's double-tracked lead vocal is pervaded almost completely by syncopations that anticipate the downbeat. The only place in the entire song where Paul does sing on the downbeat is (no coincidence) the one place in the song where the backing track, itself, provides syncopation on the eighth note before "3." It's that singular break from the anticipatory syncopation that makes the title phrase sound as though it starts right on the downbeat, even though, literally, that's not true.
  Next note Variation of the vocal accompaniment each time the verse is repeated is another major point of interest in "You Won't See Me":
  • Verse 1 — Double-track Macca solo, no backing voices.
  • Verse 2 — Add single part, though double tracked, George singing "ooh la la-la".
  • Verse 3 — Add two/three part harmony to "ooh la la-la" including a constant pedal tone of A-natural in the top part.
  • Verse 4 — Same as Verse 3 but mixed further forward to sound "fuller," or perhaps that's just an illusion.
  Next note The overall effect is one of the musical texture increasing in density and complexity over the course of the song; this is somewhat curious in light of the fact that the instrumental texture (piano, bass, drums, and punctuating chords on the off beat in the electric guitar) is unchanged throughout. In other words, this perceived increase in thickness is entirely due to the vocals.
  Next note If you step back from it all and try and grasp the song "in the big picture" as a totality, I believe that this steady increase in complexity of the four verses stands in beautiful contrast to the otherwise balanced alternation of verses and middle-eights in the piece, providing a sort of formalistic counterpoint.
  Next note Some choice details in the arrangement:
  • Ringo's high hat fills: in the verses he does two sixteenth notes as a pickup to 4; in the bridge he does four sixteenth notes as a pickup to 4. All this is suddenly dropped during the outro.
  • Starting with the intro, the tambourine is hit twice at the end of every verse coinciding with the syncopated appearance of the words "see me" in the title phrase, and like the high hat fills, also terminating on the fourth beat; in every verse, that is, except the first appearance of this phrase in the final verse, where it's obviously flubbed.
  • At the end of only the second bridge Paul opts for jumping down an octave in the bass part to "lowest" E.

Section-by-Section Walkthrough



  Next note The intro is just two measures long, and though it seems relatively inconsequential when you hear it at the beginning, you later realize that this is an anticipation of the title phrase in the verse, minus the vocals.
  Next note It's uncanny how this characterizing shot of syncopation is first dealt to you right off the bat.


  Next note The verse is an unusual eighteen measures long, though it breaks down as a typical four-times-four measures (in a pattern of AABA') followed by a petit reprise of the last two measures of the fourth phrase. All four phrases are harmonically closed, both starting and ending on the I chord.
  Next note When we look closely at the harmony, we discover that every phrase has a downward, four-note chromatic scale fragment buried in an inner voice of the accompaniment; the piano part at first, and later, the backing "oooh la la-la" vocals:
                     --------------------- 2X ----------------------
      Inner voice:  |E          |D#         |D-natural   |C#        |
           Chords:  |A          |B          |D           |A         |
Harmonic analysis:   I           V-of-V      IV           I

      Inner voice:  |G          |F#         |F-natural   |E         |
           Chords:  |A7         |D          |d           |A         |
Harmonic analysis:   V-of-IV     IV          iv           I

                                             ---------- 2X ---------
                                             1& 2 &  3 4  1  2 3  4
      Inner voice:  |E          |D#         |D    C#     |C# D D# E |
           Chords:  |A          |B          |D    A      |-         |
Harmonic analysis:   I           V-of-V      IV   I

   [Figure 9.1]
  Next note Note the use above of the iv borrowed from the parallel minor, a chord we first discussed when looking at "She Loves You".
  Next note This is the same chord progression, by the way, that opens "Eight Days A Week" though the cross-relation between the second and third chords is greatly softened in this instance by the fact that the D# is followed by the D-natural in the same voice.
  Next note The third phrase ("We have lost the time") is built on a different chord progression, but we still have a hidden chromatic scale, transposed this time to fit the new chords.
  Next note Although I said that the fourth phrase ("And I will lose my mind") is essentially the same as phrases 1 and 2, there is actually a significant variation in the harmonic rhythm worth noting. Instead of the last two chords each filling a measure each as they do in phrases 1 and 2, the last chord makes an early, syncopated appearance in between beat 2 and 3 of the measure before the one in which it would seem more squarely to belong.
  Next note If you have any doubt regarding the "intentional" use of the chromatic scale as a unifying factor in this song, I direct you to these two syncopated measures ("if you won't see me" "you won't see me") in which the accompanying voices sing the same four-note scale fragment, this time in the mirror image, upward direction! They even repeat it in measures 17 - 18 for emphasis. Checkout George's "Something" for a surprisingly similar example of this.
  Next note You know there's a rehearsal of "Two Of Us" in which Paul tells George that "I'll give you a wink when she goes four in the bar." I can't help feeling that the end of this verse in "You Won't See Me" is metaphorically the same gesture.


  Next note The bridge is a true "middle eight" that is harmonically open at both ends, thank goodness, after all the close-to-claustrophobic harmonically closed verses:
   |F#          |F-natural   |-           |E           |
   |b           |G# dim. 7   |D           |A           |
    ii           vii4/3                    I

   |D#          |-           |D-natural   |-           |
   |B           |-           |E           |-           |
    V-of-V                    V7
                               4           3

   [Figure 9.2]
  Next note In this section we find a downward chromatic scale of six notes, running from F# down through C#, actually ending on the downbeat of the following verse.
  Next note Not only is the harmonic rhythm conspicuously slower here than in the verses, but we also find a very subtle ultra-slow syncopation in the way that the chord changes in the first phrase appear in measures 1, 2 and 4, rather than 1, 3 and 4. Note how much more obvious and equally less interesting is the latter alternative.
  Next note I'm labeling the middle chord in the first phrase as a G# diminished seventh chord in its 4/3 inversion (i.e. D in the bass), even though the G# itself doesn't appear until the tune supplies it in the following measure.
  Next note The V chord that ends the bridge decorated in a manner reminiscent of classical music by both a 4-3 suspension in the arrangement, and a slow turn around the chord's seventh in the backing vocals.


  Next note The outro consists of the verse section performed without lead vocal.
  Next note The fade-out is rapid, reaching complete silence by what would otherwise be the sixth measure of this section.

Some Final Thoughts

  Next note Faithful readers of this series will be familiar with my ironic postulate that John and Paul never appear so sharply characterized as individuals as when they adopt a common theme. This time it's "You Won't See Me" versus "No Reply".
  Next note The two songs present protagonists who either predict they will shortly lose their mind or have already nearly died because the object of their respective affections repeatedly avoids seeing them. As if that weren't enough of a correspondence, we find a prominent place given in each tableau to the telephone as a circumstantial prop. But look at how they diverge:
  • What is the girl doing to upset him?
    Paul: Evading contact (line's engaged, want to hide).
    John: Lies and betrayal, with bonus points because unnamed others are complicit in the crime (they said you were not home, with another man in my place). Additional bonus points because he knows that she knows he's caught her (I know that you saw me).
  • How long has this been going for?
    Paul: Repeatedly, though unspecified (time after time).
    John: He can fluently enumerate the specific occasions (this happened once before, saw you walk in your door).
  • What type of relationship has this been even on the best of days?
    Paul: Not necessarily requited (if I knew what I was missing)
    John: He's been thrown over (again, another man in my place).
  • Any hope for a better future?
    Paul: Mixed emotions: acknowledging both total loss (since I lost you) yet trying to coax another chance by making her feel guiltily responsible for his suffering (I will lose my mind if you won't see me).
    John: As grim as the situation seems, and in spite of his acute distress, the hope of reconciliation is expressed in the wishful subjunctive voice (if I were you I'd realize).
  Next note It's difficult to draw out such comparisons without appearing to making a value judgment. So I urge you, keep an open mind. Both approaches here are equally valid regardless of what you personally prefer. But they sure are different.
  Alan (060600#9.1)
Revision History
081689  9.0 Original release
060600  9.1 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.