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notes on ...

Notes on "Day Tripper"


Notes on ... Series #4.0 (DT.0)
  by Alan W. Pollack
       Key: E Major
     Meter: 4/4
        CD: "Past Masters", Volume 2, Track 1 (Parlophone CDP 90044-2)
  Recorded: 16th October 1965, Abbey Road 2
UK-release: 3rd December 1965 (Double A Single / "We Can Work It Out")
US-release: 6th December 1965 (Double A Single / "We Can Work It Out")
  Next note "Day Tripper", by virtue of its handling of harmonic rhythm, the ostinato bass part, and subtle textures in scoring, is remarkably instrumental, even orchestral in gesture for a song. There are also several noteworthy examples here of one of a composer's trade secrets; i.e. avoid rote (read: foolish) consistency even when conveying homogeneity.

Some Terms Defined

  Next note "Harmonic rhythm" is the rhythm articulated by the chord changes in a piece of music. It affects one's perception of the speed at which the music moves forward more so than the actual tempo. For example, a piece with a fast beat and many sixteenth notes in the foreground will still feel lumbering if the chords change infrequently. The same is true in reverse. Furthermore, harmonic rhythm can be manipulated to lend a passage a feeling of acceleration and climax, or conversely, a feeling of relaxation.
  Next note "Ostinato" is the term applied to the repetition of a musical pattern several times in succession. While such a pattern is often part of a bassline, it may also appear as part of an upper melodic line; it may even manifest itself as a chord progression or rhythmic pattern.
  Next note Ready for a run through?

Formal Overview

  Next note The song has a somewhat compact form:
   Intro | Verse | Verse | Bridge | Verse | Coda (fade-out)
  It is more typical of songs of this period to repeat the sequence of bridge and verse one more time but, as we'll see later on, the nature of the bridge here argues strongly against that.

Detailed Synopsis



  Next note The song starts off with an unusually long intro consisting of no less than five repetitions of an ostinato bass motif during which the instrumental texture is continually thickened; first with just double-tracked guitar, second with bass guitar added, third with rhythm guitar and tambourine added, nothing changed in the fourth repeat, and finally those terrific drums and cymbals coming in on the fifth repeat. The lack of change in the fourth repeat is the first example here of an avoidance of foolish consistency.
  Next note Taking a cue from Paul's count-in; note that the tempo in one sense is quite fast, but the static harmony and the outspread arch of the ostinato itself (each repeat fills two complete 4/4 measures) are in stark contrast to the underlying beat. The melodic shape of the ostinato and its syncopated rhythm are worthy of their own discussion but I'd rather not digress here.
  Next note To sum up, we have ten full measures which consist harmonically of nothing more than a prolongation of the E (I) chord. The effect is far from boring. The thickening texture builds anticipation, plus, the verse commences unexpectedly following an odd (actually prime) number of repetitions, catching us by surprise. In comparison, four repeats would be simply too four-square, and six or more would make it all too long; think the song through in your head with these variations and notice the difference.


  Next note The verse is a standard sixteen measures all right, but the harmonic rhythm and the progression of chords is unusual:
      |E       |-       |-       |-       |
   E:  I

      |A       |-       |E       |-       |
       IV                I

      |F#      |-       |-       |-       | 

      |A       |G#      |C#      |B       ||-   E
       IV                VI       V             I
   c#: VI       V        I#3      VII

   [Figure 4.1]
  The harmonic rhythm effectively mirrors the deferred gratification described by the lyrics; after a ten-measure introduction consisting of one chord, the verse still has trouble getting off the dime, harmonically. The long sustained chord of the first four bars is followed by only one change during the second four. The third four bars hang back again on a single chord. Finally, in the fourth four we get a change of chord in each measure providing long awaited kinetic relief.
  Next note The chord progression in the last eight measures also underscores the lyrics' description of being teased and strung along. The choice of chord for the third four is the V-of-V, a chord which badly wants resolution to the V. Not only is this V-of-V prolonged per se, but it is not allowed to resolve properly until all the way at the end of the following four measures; and before doing so, we have an intervening flirtation toward the key of the relative minor (appearing in Major mode, no less, which makes it sound even more remote than it really is). Incidentally, when the ostinato on E returns following the verse, it provides a pungent, albeit indirect, cross relation with the E# of the C# chord two measures earlier.
  Next note Again, I don't want to digress here but some points worthy of further study in this verse:
  • The arpeggio quality of the ostinato continues in the bassline even when the ostinato isn't present; another example of homogeneity without foolish consistency.
  • The ostinato which is flowing and arch-shaped stands in sharp contrast to the voice parts which are jagged and downward in gesture. The melody of the voice parts is very difficult to sing, particularly without the underlying chords to keep you oriented; have you tried singing this song in the shower lately? I believe that this is one of two major factors which create the overall instrumental flavor to the song.
  • The different though complementary pinpoints of syncopation between the bass and the voice parts are also noteworthy. An interesting exercise would be to write out the composite rhythm of the two lines; if you are unequipped to do so, try this — concentrate hard in listening and try to hear that composite rhythm.
  • I'd argue that the two repetitions of the ostinato which separate the two verses were intentionally put there to slow the pace of the game because of whatever momentum is picked up in those last four measures of the first verse. Imagine the song without them and see how the second verse feels like the music is starting to hurtle.


  Next note Right off, let's note that this middle eight is actually a size twelve. Furthermore, it's built on a prolongation of a single chord (B, the V chord); very reminiscent of the transition from end-of-development-to-recapitulation found in many Classical and Romantic symphonies. Melodically, we're treated to the familiar ostinato followed by wordless harmonization in the vocal parts. All this is very strange for the genre and the time period. I believe it is this bridge which is the second major factor behind the instrumental feel of the overall song.
  Next note The prolongation of a single chord serves a very different purpose here from that of the introduction. No subtly rising expectations this time; instead we have a powerful, total climax leading back to the final verse. Rather than continue to slavishly reflect the lyrics, the music takes us well beyond "half way there". (Sorry for the sophomoric vulgarity, but you've got to remember that in its time, the lyrics of this song were quite properly snickered over by many adolescents. Oy!) Given all of this, it's fairly obvious that a second repeat of this bridge within the same song would create an absurd anti-climax.
  Next note If you have any doubt about the climactic intention of the bridge, look at one specific detail: the breathing and phrasing of the voices in the second six measures of the bridge. These six measures are sung in three phrases of three, two, and one measures respectively; the breathing literally gets heavier. Schematically:
      Voices: |                        |Ah---------|Ah-----|Ah--|
 Instruments: |ost.   |ost.   |ost.    |lead guitar solo -------|
              |                        |                        |
  Measure #s: |1   2   3   4   5   6   |7   8   9   10  11  12  |

   [Figure 4.2]

Final Verse and Coda

  Next note The final verse is virtually identical to the first two and architecturally provides ballast and balance to the song overall. As seems to be a common Beatles' practice, the material for the coda is recycled from the intro. We have the same five repeats of the ostinato with the same plan for thickening the texture. The voices join in with a repeated pattern which carries us through the fade-out.

Foolish Consistency Avoided

  Next note Two last examples of foolish consistency avoided:
  • the falsetto variation in the fourth phrase of the verse;
  • in the coda, the voices start in on the fifth repeat of the ostinato, not after it.
  Next note ... And one final example of an outright mistake the engineers tried unsuccessfully to turn into a (second) gap:
  • There are two or more singers in the coda. The pattern in the lyrics is supposed to be "Day tripper, day tripper yeah!" but in the first statement of this pattern one of the singers accidentally blurts out "yeah" after the first "Day tripper".
  Oh well, "it took me so long to find out."
  Alan (062189#4.0)
Copyright © 1989 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.