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notes on ...

Notes on "Baby You're A Rich Man"


Notes on ... Series #119 (BYARM)
  by Alan W. Pollack
       Key: G (Mixolydian) Major
     Meter: 4/4
      Form: Intro | Verse | Verse | Refrain |
                  | Verse | Refrain | Outro (fade-out)
        CD: "Magical Mystery Tour", Track 10 (Parlophone CDP7 48062-2)
        CD: "Yellow Submarine Songtrack", Track 10 (EMI 5 21481-2)
  Recorded: 11th May 1967, Olympic Sound Studios
UK-release: 7th July 1967 (B Single / "All You Need Is Love")
US-release: 17th July 1967 (B Single / "All You Need Is Love")

General Points of Interest


Style and Form

  Next note This is a relatively simple song for the period, both in terms of the leanness of the material, and, as Lewisohn describes it, the speed with which it was put together.
  Next note By the same token, it does bear the earmarks of its period in the large number of instruments and effects used in the recording, and the consciousness-pricking themes in the lyrics of identity crisis, impatient dissatisfaction with wealth that is only material, and an ambiguity in the author's stance between tender encouragement and nasty ridicule. Consider it an intermediate point on the curve between "And Your Bird Can Sing" and "Hey Bulldog".

Melody and Harmony

  Next note I describe the song's mode as "Mixolydian Major" because the home key is established in the literally complete absence of the D-Major V chord in the harmony, and the similar absence of F# (the Major seventh scale tone) in the melody.
  Next note Instead, we opt for a mode in which the home key root note of G sticks around for much of the airtime as a pedal point, and the number of chords utilized involves, besides G-Major (I), virtually no more than C-Major (IV) and F-Major (flat-VII, or perhaps in this context IV-of-IV). You might even argue that the relatively large amount of weight given to phrase endings on C-Major, that the song has a perilously high center of gravity with respect to G being the home key.
  Next note The only unusual chord in the song appears in the refrain when the bassline moves chromatically toward C via B-flat and B-natural, to support the tangy progression of B-flat -» G; i.e. "flat-III to I". The Beatles used the flat-III chord more often than you might expect from its exotic label, because they must have liked the cross-relation it usually creates with its surrounding chords in a progression. Grep through this series of notes for flat-III or bIII (my own foolish inconsistency :-)), to see what I mean by this.


  Next note The instrumental track includes a large number of instruments, though you wind up paying most of your attention to just the piano, very strong bassline, percussion, and of course that "clavoline". I believe (and would appreciate confirmation from anyone out there who can do it for me) that Al Kooper first used the clavoline on the Blues Project's debut album; and if you have to ask me who's Al Kooper, then let's just drop this whole line of inquiry :-)
  Next note The melody stays relatively high, and mantra-like focused around the note of the home key, though both verse and refrain sections dip down by jump to the tonic note an octave lower. The multi-faceted "sculpting" of the vocal track, in terms of single tracking, double tracking, and solo-versus-backers merits closer, albeit tedious study, with which I dispense for now.

Section-by-Section Walkthrough



  Next note The intro is an eight-measure vamp on the I -» IV chord progression which is to characterize the piece:
      |G     |C     |G     |C     |G     |C     |G     |C     |
   G:  I      IV6/4  I      IV6/4  I      IV6/4  I      IV6/4

   [Figure 119.1]
  Next note The G is sustained in the bassline throughout, conjuring the drone-like harmonic style of songs such as "Rain".
  Next note The boxy quality of this intro is nicely broken up by Paul's bass entering in middle of third measure and the clavoline following closely on its heels. Imagine those entrances on the downbeat of the fourth measure if you want to see the faux pas alternative.


  Next note The verse is a blues-like three-phrase ABB section, though its first phrase is an unusual uneven, three measures in length. Note how the melody makes its sudden jump downward toward the end of each B phrase, punctuated by the dramatic switch in the vocal arrangement to John singing solo:
      |G             |C             |G             |
   G:  I              IV             I

       --------------------------- 2X ----------------------------
      |G             |-             |F      G      |C             |
       I                             flat   I       IV
   [Figure 119.2]
  Next note The first phrase remains harmonically closed off in the home key. The B phrases open unusually to IV, instead of the more typical V chord, making for a teleologically passive, weak effect. Indeed, when we get two verses in close succession at the beginning of the song, it's hard to know, on first hearing, that a second verse has begun, as opposed to a first amorphous verse merely continuing.
  Next note The C-Major chord in measure 2 of this verse appears in the 6/4 position (with the G in the bassline) for the first and the third verse. In the second verse it appears in root position. As much as I like to label such variations as an avoidance of foolish consistency, my intuition in this case tells me it's sloppy inconsistency; this, in light of the otherwise widespread, consistent use of the G-natural pedal tone in the rest of the song.
  Next note Speaking of sloppy inconsistency: the clavoline always appears in these verses in the middle of each of the B phrases and is otherwise silent; "always", that is, with the exception of the first B phrase of the final verse where it appears also at the end of the phrase! Allright, maybe it is intentional, not just sloppy, but I have difficulty comprehending the point that is supposed to be intended by the gesture.


  Next note In contrast to the eleven-measure ABB verse, the refrain, while also three phrases in structure, is an even twelve measures long, with a form of ABA:
      |G              |C              |G              |C             |
   G:  I               IV              I               IV

      |B-flat   G     |C              |G              |C             |
       flat-III I6/3   IV              I               IV

      |G              |C              |G              |C             |
       I               IV              I               IV

   [Figure 119.3]
  Next note Note how the tune, during the middle phrase of this section, swoops first down an octave and then back up. Here, in what is inarguably a good example of foolish consistency avoided, the choral vocal arrangement of the moment is not altered for the jumps in range.


  Next note The outro leverages the manner in which the refrain ends with a repeat of its A phrase, and provides an extra two repeats of that phrase right into the fade-out which begins immediately.
  Next note True to form, Paul steps lyrically out from the rest of the pack right in the first phrase of the outro, and from there proceeds to "whoop" it up.

Some Final Thoughts

  Next note The rumor that John secretly sings "rich fag Jew" (as a taunt intended for Brian) in some of the refrains' A phrases makes for an urban legend of the sort that is not authoritatively confirmable but which persists within the shadow of doubt not just because of audible ambiguity of the recording, but because of a streak of occasionally expressed cruelty and what we these days call political incorrectness on the part of the composer in question, acknowledged by even by those of his biographers who are most lovingly sympathetic.
  Alan (102096#119)
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.