alan w. pollack's
notes on ...

Notes on "Come Together"


Notes on ... Series #177 (CT)
  by Alan W. Pollack
       Key: d minor / D Major
     Meter: 4/4
      Form: Intro/Verse | Intro/Verse | Refrain |
                        | Intro/Verse | Refrain |
                        | 1/2 Intro/Verse (Instrumental) |
                        | 1/2 Intro/Verse | Refrain |
                        | Intro/Outro (fade-out)
        CD: "Abbey Road", Track 1 (Parlophone CDP7 46446-2)
  Recorded: 21th, 22nd, 23rd July 1969, Abbey Road 3;
            25th, 29th, 30th July 1969, Abbey Road 2
UK-release: 26th September 1969 (LP "Abbey Road")
US-release: 1st October 1969 (LP "Abbey Road")

General Points of Interest


Style and Form

  Next note "Come Together" opens the "Abbey Road" album with a stylistic gesture that remains, over the long run of their career as well as from our historical view of it 30 years later, one of the Beatles key strengths and accomplishments. Call it what you will: "stylized", "neo-classical"; maybe even "rubber soul" (read: music style, not album title). In essence it's a matter of ironically updating an old style such that even when the antecedent musical elements stand out as painfully obvious, the effect of the stylized writing and production values transcend the model. Think "evocation" as opposed to "imitation"; compare this song with the group's covers of songs by Mr. Chuck Berry.
  Next note The song has a frugality of material that is one of John's general songwriting traits. Resonances with specific Beatles songs by John abound from a variety of perspectives:
  • "I Am The Walrus" — patter/talking blues in surrealistic tongues.
  • "Nowhere Man" / "Mean Mr Mustard" — the portrait of an unsavory.
  • "Dig A Pony" — his exhortatory frame of mind divided between abstruse condemnation in the verses and encouraging authority in the refrains.
  Next note The song weighs in at a lengthy 4:20. Both the form and proportional assignments of time are quite expansive. The first refrain doesn't appear until 1:10, and the extended and harmonically static outro occupies a virtually equivalent amount of time at the end. In the meanwhile that intro recurs over and over. As a result, the mood is one of having all the time in the world, in spite of the fact that both tempo and backbeat are moderately driving. (By the same token, you'll note the detail-sweating wisdom exercised by shortening some of those intro reprises in the second half of the song.)
  Next note Until the release of "Anthology" volume 3, take 1 of "Come Together" was one of the Holy Grails of Beatlegdom. The latter contains a self-effacing humorous undercurrent not as evident in the comparitively grim finished track, as well as the relatively rare opportunity to hear John lead singing unretouched, something of which you should always run to avail yourself.

Melody and Harmony

  Next note The verse tune is in a pentatonic Dorian mode, with minor thirds, sevenths, and an avoidance of the sixth scale degree. The refrain opens the range upward a bit, and for an instant actually suggests the Major mode; i.e. the final syllable of the word "together" is sung as a F#.
  Next note The harmony is limited to the minor-mode blues trio of i, IV, V, assisted in the refrain by an appearance of vi. The music creates an "aural illusion" of containing more widespread minor/Major clashing than is actually the case. I believe this is a side effect of the heavy use of Major IV instead of the more naturally occuring minor flavor. Cleverly, the only place that F# appears unequivocally in the song is at the start of the refrain, where it appears as part of a b-minor chord rather than a tonic D-Major.


  Next note The track is produced to an exquisite fare thee well. Technological assistance is leveraged to register sounds that are larger, rather than "stranger", than life. The bass guitar never sounded so vibrantly resonant, drums never so smooth, nor a lead guitar so smoking.
  Next note I encourage you to think of the way in which John's "shoot me" vocal blends with the backing track as a value-added orchestrational effect, rather than some kind of unfortunate obfuscation.
  Next note The backing track features bass, drums (with a curious absence of snares), electric piano, and lead guitar. John's lead vocal is primarily single tracked (albeit distorted by heavy echo), backed up by Paul in places, plus a few patches of careful double tracking by John himself.
  Next note The arrangement contains characteristic attention to pattern and detail. A sampling:
  • You need a good pair of speakers to truly appreciate the way Paul's low G-note is left vibrating at the end of each verse.
  • First verse is completely single tracked by John. The rest of the verses have Paul's backing vocal entering always in the last part of the first phrase (allowing John to start alone), then dropping out for the last bit, leaving John exposed again. In all but the final verse, that last phrase has John single tracked.
  • The refrains all start off with Paul backing John on the first couple beats, then dropping out, leaving John to double track the rest of it in unison. Actually, the second refrain has John single tracked for some reason on those last couple beats.
  • The instrumental solo is split between electric piano (in its first conspicuous appearance on the track) and lead guitar. The piano part remains evident well into the intro that follows the solo section, then appears to drop out, only to reappear for the outro.
  • The last iteration of the intro features an additional lead guitar lick at the end of each measure.

Section-by-Section Walkthrough



  Next note The intro is four measures long and vamps on the tonic chord in a series of surging waves you could just about ride on with a surf board:
      |d        |-       |-       |-       |
   d:  i

   [Figure 177.1]
  Next note I'm parsing the tempo such that Ringo's ternary drum fills come out to be six to the quarter note.
  Next note The decision to twice use only half of the intro in the second half of the song prevents things from bogging down. By the same token, the return of the full intro just before the closing section is a way of telegraphing to you that it's getting very near the end.


  Next note The verse is eight measures long and contains four short phrases equal in length:
   |d       |-       |-       |-       |

   |A       |-       |G7      |-       |
    V                 IV

   [Figure 177.2]
  Next note The harmonic shape is open in a novel way (IV, rather than V), as though we had a twelve-bar frame here in which the middle four were omited.


  Next note The refrain is unusually short in duration, growing straight out of the verse that precedes it, trumpeting the title phrase, and leading straight back into the next intro section.
   |b       |G   A   |d ...
    vi       IV  V    i

   [Figure 177.3]
  Next note For such a short little section, this is the moment in which the harmonic rhythm shows its only burst of speed in the song.


  Next note The outro is just short of a full twenty-four measures.
  Next note An antiphonal pattern between lead guitar and John's chanting of the title phrase starts in measure 3 and continues all the way into the fade-out which doesn't quite set in until rather late.

Some Final Thoughts

  Next note It's with a combined sense of relief and anticipation that we turn our attention from "Let It Be" to "Abbey Road". I'm left with the strong sense that "Abbey Road" represents the true and ultimate "getting back" by the Beatles to doing what they did best in the studio; that they miscalculated a bit with the Let It Be project and "got back" a bit too far in terms of their evolution as an ensemble and as songwriters.
  Next note At the same time, our having reversed the order in which we've covered these two albums makes me to ponder the chronology of the last several Beatles albums, and leaves me a nagging question whose answer I don't quite rightly recall, despite that I was a so-called young adult at the time.
  Next note The white "Beatles" album was released in 11/68. "Abbey Road" was released nearly a full year later; either 9/29 or 10/1/69 depending on which side of the pond you're on. And "Let It Be"'s release was delayed all the way until 5/70, despite the 1/69 recording origins of virtually all its material.
  Next note Did we have any idea at the time of the magnitude of the Get Back debacle that took place in that gap between "Whitey" and "Abbey Road"?
  Next note Did the appearance of the old original "Yellow Submarine" album in 1/69, followed by two singles later that spring ("Get Back" / "Don't Let Me Down" and "The Ballad Of John And Yoko" / "Old Brown Shoe") tip us off in anyway, or did it have more the effect of distracting us from any sense of foreboding that would have otherwise been inevitable?
  Alan (090599#177)
Copyright © 1999 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.