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notes on ...

Notes on "Any Time At All"


Notes on ... Series #17.1 (ATAA.1)
  by Alan W. Pollack
       Key: D Major
     Meter: 4/4
      Form: Refrain | Verse | Refrain | Verse | Refrain |
            Bridge | Refrain | Outro (with complete ending)
        CD: "A Hard Day's Night", Track 8 (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 "Any Time At All" is yet another one of those Beatles songs that tends to get eclipsed by the more popular hits of its period, that is still quite a pleasure to discover at whatever stage of your interest in the group's music you eventually encounter it. It's also a fine example of a song whose form and content on the surface seems so straightforward and familiar, yet once you get past the surface glitz, and the simpler pleasures, you find a wealth of more adventurous options to be explored.
  Next note I embarked on this series of articles fully expecting in short order to stumble occasionally — if not quite repeatedly — into examples of formulaic Beatles songwriting. But thus far, every one I've chosen reveals its own variations, once we look at it carefully enough. I am beginning to suspect that by the time we get through the entire repertoire, we'll still not have come across too many songs in total can be said to be playing it strictly by the so-called rules.
  Next note In "Any Time At All" the form is conspicuously not a variation of the more familiar one- or two-bridge models we've seen over and over again, and is noteworthy on three counts:
  • A frequently recurring refrain section dominates the song. This folk ballad-like design, while a common enough device in other pop and folk music and, is not often found in the early work of the Boys.
  • The song contains only two verses. I assume that the doubled-up length of the verses themselves, the number of repeats of the refrain, and the peculiar placement of the bridge so close to the end of the track all argue against inclusion of a late-breaking third verse.
  • The bridge itself introduces new, unique material — though the melodic material does link back to the appoggiatura stuff earlier — rather than recycling material from the refrain or the verse as is more common.
  Next note The two verses contain no lyrics that are repeated. Their rhyme scheme using the third and sixth line of each verse is novel.
  Next note In context of the refrain's starting with a long pickup and the verse's starting after the downbeat I think it's an effective — and not entirely coincidental — twist that the instrumental section starts right on the downbeat. Note how much flatter the whole song sounds if the break section simply opts for the same rhythmic gesture of either the verse or refrain.
  Next note It's a heavily syncopated little number. John sets the tone with his downbeat melisma on the word "all" at the start of the refrain. This answered in spades by the backing arrangement at the downbeat of the following measure. Here we find the more gut wrenching of the two flavors of syncopation that can occur on "4-and;" i.e. the one that's not followed by an explicit demarcation of the downbeat that follows. Compare this with the similar "When I Get Home". And contrast it to our recently studied "I Should Have Known Better" and "You Can't Do That" for examples where the downbeat following syncopation on four-and is marked out.

Melody and Harmony

  Next note The tune is somewhat pentatonic and arch-shaped. It is even more conspicuously shot through with appoggiatura's, enough so to bear comparison with "We Can Work It Out".
  Next note The harmony uses a small number of chords and hangs closely around the home key. Beatles trademarks show up here in the prominence given to both the vi -» I cadence — check out "All I've Got to Do" among others — and the chromatically descending bassline cliche.


  Next note The backing track is for a combo of guitars, drums, and piano. The is relatively thin, homogenized, and the recording — at least insofar as we are currently stuck with nothing better than the mono version on CD — is unfortunately noisy.
  Next note John's double-tracked lead vocal rules unassisted except for Paul's hocket-like provision of the second line of the refrain in place of John. The latter creates a novel textural effect and at the same time spares John from having to reach for a high "A" that is out of his vocal comfort range.

Section-by-Section Walkthrough



  Next note The track begins with a startling drum thwack on the second beat of the measure, though where this thwack fits into the meter isn't quite clear to the senses until you hear at least the next repeat of this refrain in context.
  Next note The refrain is a standard eight-measure length and has a closed harmonic shape. While the choice of chords is nothing unusual, take note of the unusually varied harmonic rhythm, the several hard syncopations, and the use of the vi-I progression at the outset; the latter an extreme favorite of Lennon and McCartney.
      |b       |D       |A       |-       |
   D:  vi       I        V

      |b       |G   A   |D       |-       |
       vi       IV  V    I

   [Figure 17.1]
  Next note The tune is quite full of appoggiatura's; such juicy leaning tones may be heard on each occurrence of the word "all" in this refrain, as well as on the word "any" in measure 4, and the occurrence of "call" and "I'll". The use of several bluesy f-naturals in the tune, which make for cross relations with the f-sharps of the underlying chords, only serves to enhance the effectiveness of the appoggiatura's.
  Next note The tune is constructed out of several short interjectory phrases with enough room between each of them for a series of antiphonal, commentary-like obbligato figures in the guitar and bass parts. These phrases themselves are noteworthy.
  Next note The first one is a sort of mirror image of the first phrase of the tune. The second one does a 4 -» 3 leaning-tone turn around the note C# over the A chord in measure 4. The last one — G-F#-E-D-F# — at the very end of the refrain, is not only also leaning-tone oriented, but is also a melodic motif which reappears both at the end of the verse — still shyly in the background — and later has the privilege of reappearing at the climax of the bridge.
  Next note Ringo appears to break the syncopation pattern in the second refrain by marking the downbeat instead of avoiding it. My gut tells me this was inattention to detail, not intentional avoidance of foolish consistency.


  Next note The verse is an unusual fourteen measures long and, in spite of its apparently lopsided 6 + 8 phrasing pattern, is built out of two repetitions of the same phrase:
   Chords: |D     |f#    |b     |g     |D     |A     |
 Bassline:  D      C#     B      Bb     A      C#
        D:  I      iii    vi     iv     I      V

           |D     |f#    |b     |g     |D     |A     |D     |-     |
            D      C#     B      Bb     A      C#     D
            I      iii    vi     iv     I      V      I

   [Figure 17.2]
  Next note We have here an almost entirely chromatic walking bassline, which adds a not unpleasant undertow to the chord progression. Note especially how our example here of "the minor iv chord in a major key" is nicely motivated by the movement of the bass.
  Next note When the above phrase is repeated, the first measure of the second iteration is elided to the last measure of the first one. Hmmm, the last time we saw this special effect in these articles was in the verse section of "It Won't Be Long", which now that I think of it also has a chromatic walking bassline; no coincidence that the same composer might be involved, eh?


  Next note The bridge is an unusual ten measures long:
            ----------- 2X --------------
 Top line: |G    F#      |E              |
    Chord: |A    b       |A              |
 Bassline: |E    F#      |G              |
            V4/3 vi4/3    V4/2

           |G        |A        |G        |
            IV        V         IV

           |A        |D        |-        |
            V         I

   [Figure 17.3]
  Next note Though we eventually find an effective release at the end of the bridge, there is a high level of harmonic tension which accrues over most of its duration, due to the repeated approach-avoidance maneuvering with the V chord.
  Next note The build toward a climax is ably abetted by the use of those slow triplets in the lead part, so clearly a John Lennon trademark in so many songs. And as mentioned earlier, the familiar little phrase from the accompaniment to the verse, reveals another side to its character, so to speak, in the passionate context in which it now reappears.
  Next note The harmonic construction of the first two-measure phrase is based on the contrary motion of the outer voices, which factor place the otherwise garden variety seventh chords of that phrase appear in unusual inversions.


  Next note The outro is a petit reprise of the last part of the final refrain with a finishing flourish of guitar chords that sounds strangely "flown in" from elsewhere in terms of its tone quality.

Some Final Thoughts

  Next note I suppose you might say that this is a very typical "John song" of the period. Aside from whatever there is in the phatic subtext of both the words or music that would lead you to make such a statement, there is also the sheer number of compositional devices and tricks used in this song, which could rightly be, described as some of his songwriting trademarks.
  Next note What truly raises the repeated use of such techniques over the course of a career from mere mannerisms to the level of true elements of personal style, is the historical context of continual maturation and evolution in the music of the Beatles. For example, the walking tenor-line in "Dear Prudence" is, technically speaking, the same old trick as it is here, but look at the difference between the two songs! The same goes for the slow triplets in "We Can Work It Out" or "Don't Let Me Down". But let's not get started on this sort of list right here — it's the sort of topic worthy of a sidebar article or more in its own write.
  Next note In terms of verbal theme "Any Time At All" turns out provide an uncanny mirror image of what we saw in "Thank You Girl". In both songs, there is someone who offers him or herself up completely and unconditionally to support another should such help be wanted or needed. The only real difference between them is in the singer's point of view; here he is the offerer, and there he's the receiver.
  Next note The common denominator of the two songs rather casually provides food for thought about just how it is that mutual love sometimes begins. John seems to imply that when you offer emotional support to another who may have never explicitly solicited it from you that this may yet turn out to be a prime movement.
  Next note Read the lyrics of both songs carefully: in neither case is it necessarily true that the two people involved are aware of any mutual interest prior to the offer of support. This raises the profound question of whether love may indeed ignite based on this kind of sympathetic interest of a third party in absence of any pre-existing acquaintance or attraction.
  Alan (103000#17.1)
Revision History
050790 17.0 Original release
103000 17.1 Revise, expand and adapt to series template. Also
            fix typo in filename and correct bridge harmony.
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.