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notes on ...

Notes on "Don't Pass Me By"


Notes on ... Series #142 (DPMB)
  by Alan W. Pollack
       Key: C Major
     Meter: 4/4
      Form: Intro | Verse | Verse | Refrain |
                  | Verse | Refrain | Interlude |
                  | Refrain | Outro (with complete ending)
        CD: "White Album", Disc 1, Track 14 (Parlophone CDS7 46443-8)
  Recorded: 5th June 1968, Abbey Road 3;
            6th June, 12th July 1968, Abbey Road 2;
            22nd July 1968, Abbey Road 1
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 Perhaps the only thing that's more astonishing than Ringo's officially releasing a song for the first time in 1968 is the evidence that the song already existed, at least in part, four or more years earlier.
  Next note Seek out the BBC Radio first-ever "Top Gear" program broadcast on July 16, 1964 (where were you on that date?), where you can listen to Ringo and Paul not just discussing the song with host Brian Matthews, but even hear them singing a few sample bars. In that context, you could imagine the song being delivered as a rocking bluesy number, in the manner of "Can't Buy Me Love". But wait four years, slow down the tempo, add a part for fiddler, and voila: we have it served up all countrified and back woodsy, as if it ever could be any other way.

Melody and Harmony

  Next note The harmonic vocabulary is limited to the blues trio of I, IV, and V.
  Next note The bluesy flat third scale degree (E-flat) shows up in the tune of both verse and refrain; near the very end of the section, in both cases.


  Next note The instrumental texture is quite thick (you might say "muddy"), the result of many overdubs, and special processing effects. For a Beatles' track, it's conspicuously unvaried throughout.
  Next note The obbligato part for country fiddle is an inspired effect and nicely executed.
  Next note Ringo's solo vocal part sounds auto-double-tracked throughout, as well as artificially sped up. Seek out, by the way, the mono "White Album" where this track is mastered a full half-step higher (and consequently runs faster) than the stereo version.
  Next note The track is bracketed at both ends by noodling; i.e. by a piano on the way in, and by the fiddle on the way out. This is a novel studio effect that falls somewhere on the spectrum between suggesting a live performance and exploitation of the recorded album medium.

Section-by-Section Walkthrough



  Next note The piano noodling of the intro is capped off by some attention grabbing drum fills, and then followed by four measures of vamping on the C-Major, I, chord.


  Next note The verse is unusually long and a prime-numbered nineteen measures in length.
      |C       |-       |-       |-       |
   C:  I

      |F       |-       |-       |-       |

      |G       |-       |-       |-       |

      |F       |-       |-       |C       |-       |-       |-       |
       IV                         I

   [Figure 142.1]
  Next note I'd parse the lyric into four phrases, the final one of which is both elongated and asymmetrical (seven-measure length!) in a manner unusual for our genre. The latter effect helpfully counteracts the otherwise almost deadly, unvarying and slow-paced harmonic rhythm.


  Next note The refrain section is also an elongated paragraph, this time a full 24 measures in length.
      |C       |-       |-       |-       |
   C:  I

      |F       |-       |-       |-       |

      |C       |-       |-       |-       ||(1 extra measure
       I                                     in final refrain!)

      |G       |-       |-       |-       |

      |F       |-       |-       |-       |

      |C       |-       |-       |-       |

   [Figure 142.2]
  Next note The music parses into six phrases even in length. The lyrics, though, while they start off with two phrases that follow the music, switch to some kind of free verse for the remainder of the section. The vocal phrases become increasingly interjectory, thus providing continually larger amounts of space between phrases for the obbligato part.
  Next note The final refrain adds one odd measure at the end of the third phrase, a gesture that resonates with the odd "missing measure" in the third phrase of every verse.


  Next note Ringo counts in a stage whisper from one to eight during the final four measures of the penultimate refrain. Then the beat suddenly stops for a few short seconds before drum fills, quite reminiscent of the intro, remind us that we've got a few more miles to go.
  Next note While the overall form of the track is pretty much standard, the sequence of a double refrain at the end is unusual, and also risky in terms of flirting with boredom; hence, I believe this pause serves to grant some helpful breathing room between the two refrains. I encourage you to ponder the compositional mystery of how effectively such a gesture articulates form in spite of its brief duration and seeming insignificance.
  Next note Check out the infamous Peter Sellers tape version of this track, on which a reprise of the first verse appears in between the final two refrains. You can clearly hear for yourself the boredom risk inherent in that path.


  Next note The instrumental outro grows directly out of the final refrain.
      |F       |-       |G       |-       |I       |-  .....
   C:  IV                V                 I6 -» 5
                                            4 -» 3

   [Figure 142.3]
  Next note Some people will parse the harmonic content of measure 5 as though it were a IV -» I plagal cadence, but I urge you (as I always do when we run into one of these) to hear the downbeat chord as simply a double appoggiatura to the I chord.
  Next note That final chord is sustained the equivalent of at least four measures but your mind stops keeping track of this as soon as the steady beat ceases.

Some Final Thoughts

  Next note This song provides an object lesson on how an almost painfully simplistic ditty can still be redeemed by virtue of an imaginative arrangement and delivery.
  Next note The fact that Ringo should opt for this in his first outing should not surprise us. If you look at some of the evidence from the Get Back sessions, you might conclude that this kind of thing is the limit of what the poor lad is capable of. Check out the bootleg audio fragments of "I Bought A Picasso" and "Taking A Trip to Carolina", as well as a scene in the film where Ringo struggles in real time to hack out a decent bridge section for "Octopus's Garden" literally with help from his friends.
  Next note On the other hand, you might argue that Ringo's mates didn't do very much to bring him along in the musical department. Review the list of songs for which they assigned him the lead singer! Not just the covers, but the originals of Lennon and McCartney as well: whether it's "I Wanna Be Your Man", "Yellow Submarine", or even the ill-fated "If You've Got Trouble", you might start to think they had some subconscious desire to keep him conditioned to a steady diet of simple strains. Who knows? If you're Paul's grandfather, you might even say this was all part of "their cruel unnatural treatment." Yes, I know that's ridiculous hypothesis, but I have difficulty with self control when a movie quote just seems to fit :-)
  Alan (020198#142)
Copyright © 1998 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.