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Notes on "Can You Take Me Back"


Notes on ... Series #198 (CYTMB)
  by Alan W. Pollack
       Key: F Major / f minor
     Meter: 4/4
      Form: Verse | Verse (fade-out)
  Recorded: 16th September 1968, Abbey Road 2
UK-release: 22nd November 1968 (LP "White Album")
US-release: 25th November 1968 (LP "White Album")

General Points of Interest


Style and Form

  Next note "Can You Take Me Back" stands on the borderline for me in terms of whether it should be included in the official canon of Beatles songs. It's performed over a static single chord, presented to us in fragmentary form, and isn't even included on the printed track list of the album on which it appears. On the other hand you can't really argue that it is any less substantive or discretely distinctive than the other White Album fragments or bonsais that do appear on the track list.
  Next note Regardless, the song bears interest primarily for its melodic quality, free-verse phrasing, and its uncanny contextual affect.
  Next note Secondarily we learn from the 9/16/1968 "I Will" session at which "Can You Take Me Back" was recorded that horsing around in the studio with half-remembered older songs, or vamping around with songs being made up on the spur of the moment was a Beatles phenomenon hardly limited to the Get Back Sessions as one might otherwise suppose. Anthology 3 has eventually familiarized us with the fragmentary "Step Inside Love" and the improvisatory "Los Paranoias" from the same session.
  Next note The officially released portion of "Can You Take Me Back" was skillfully excerpted from a longer performance to isolate the best 28 seconds of the entire performance, and create the illusion that the remainder is as special; kind of like an artfully cropped photograph. What we experience as a haunting fade-out verse in mid-course of what we assume is a second verse turns out to be part of a dinky, complete ending coda if you bother to check out the readily available bootlegs of longer excerpts of the session. Indeed, those outtakes reveal that Paul did not have any more musical or even worthwhile lyrical material in hand for this number on that day beyond what we already know. If anything, the shorter excerpt is an improvement over the raw track; shades of "Dig It".

Melody and Harmony

  Next note The tune is based on a strictly pentatonic blues lick covering the relatively broad range of a tenth; i.e. F-Ab-Bb-C-Eb running from the F below middle C to the Ab above it.
  Next note The harmony is a pedal point of a dominant seventh on the I chord, with the A-flats of the tune providing the texture of a pervasive cross-relation.


  Next note We have just Paul on acoustic guitar, with Ringo and John providing light percussion effects.

Section-by-Section Walkthrough



  Next note The verse is twelve measures long. On some internal level Paul must have been keeping track of this as "3 times 4" but his scanning of the lyrics in terms of both actual phrase lengths and the placement of syncopated accents is artfully insistent:
    Can ...          where ...
   |1   2   3   4   |1   2   3   4   |

    can ...     back?
   |1   2   3   4   |1   2   3   4   |

    Can ...          where ...
   |1   2   3   4   |1   2   3   4   |

    brother take me back ----------------
   |1   2   3    4  &   |1   2   3   4   |

    -------------------  can.. take me back -
   |1   2   3   4   |1   2   ..3    4  & |

   |1   2   3   4   |1   2   3   4   |

   [Figure 198.1]
  Next note The first sung phrase begins on the downbeat of the first measure and ends with a hard accent just before downbeat of measure 4, leaving the guitar vamp to fill out the rest of it.
  Next note The second sung phrase also begins on the downbeat of the first measure, but pitches its sustained, mid-point high note in exactly the same rhythmic location as the end of the first phrase. This high note is tied all the way into beginning of the third musical phrase place and ties it over into the beginning of the second measure of the third musical phrase.
  Next note A brief third sung phrase is squeezed in starting right on the tail of the second sung. The third sung phrase places its ending accent just before the downbeat of the third measure of the third phrase though its melisma sustains to the end of the twelfth measure.

Some Final Thoughts

  Next note The album context of "Can You Take Me Back" is ambiguous, the song not being singled out per se on the track listing. Are we to consider it as a trailer to "Cry Baby Cry" or a curtain raiser to "Revolution 9"? For my money, the decision comes down unequivocally on the side of the latter regardless of where the CD puts it.
  Next note In context of what's about to follow, the protagonist of our little fragment comes off like someone being carried off to some new experience, location, or even a "reality" with strongly mixed feelings; say equal parts awe-struck anticipation, and the primal fear of possibly never being able on his own to get back where he came from. It's kind of a warm-up for, or a darker underside of "Golden Slumbers".
  Alan (020901#198)
Copyright © 2001 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.