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notes on ...

Notes on "Day Tripper"


Notes on ... Series #4.1 (DT.1)
  by Alan W. Pollack
       Key: E Major
     Meter: 4/4
      Form: Intro | Verse | Verse | Bridge | Verse | Outro (fade-out)
        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")

General Points of Interest


Style and Form

  Next note "Day Tripper", by virtue of its handling of harmonic rhythm, ostinato guitar riff, and subtle textures in scoring, is remarkably instrumental, even orchestral in gesture for a "pop 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.
  Next note Yeah, I know that Len and Mac were quoted in a 1966 interview that this was a "forced" bit of a pot-boiler, crafted under pressure of looming deadlines. You'd never guess it from the finished product.
  Next note The song has a somewhat compact form by virtue of its single bridge. It is more typical of songs of this period to repeat the bridge/verse one more time but, as we'll see later on, the nature of the bridge here argues strongly against that.
  Next note The bridge has no "words" per se, but all three verses feature new material. Note the avoidance of foolish consistency in the switch to "Sunday driver" for the final verse.
  Next note This is the first time in this series that we come upon a Beatles song that bears the signature of an unforgettable guitar riff used to both open and unify the whole production. Like most other musical devices we'll come upon in our studies, this kind of branding-by-riff may not be something the Beatles necessarily "invented," but there's no denying that it is one of several techniques by which they would be known.

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. "Day Tripper" conspicuously manipulates harmonic rhythm to dramatic effect.
  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. "Day Tripper"'s ostinato riff is among the most memorable of the entire Beatles catalogue.

Melody and Harmony

  Next note The melodic material is less tuneful than it is rap-like and jagged in terms of both contour and rhythmic syncopation. Most of the phrases, outside of the bridge, make an overall downward gesture.
  Next note The familiar I - IV - V trio of blues chords is supplemented by an equal number of altered chords, not indigenous to the home key: V-of-V (F#), V-of-vi (G#), and Major VI in a Major key (C#); the latter being the parallel Major version of the home key's relative minor.
  Next note Think of the chords from another perspective: there's not a minor chord in the bunch. Rather you have here the Major chords built on the first six scales degrees of the home key's scale.


  Next note The raw backing track is for bass, lead, and rhythm guitars, plus drums. Tambourine was added during the overdubbing phase.
  Next note Paul would appear to have the honor of singing double tracked lead vocal, with John harmonizing with him much of the way.

Section-by-Section Walkthrough



  Next note The song starts off with an unusually long intro consisting of no less than five repetitions of the ostinato riff, 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 second example here of an avoidance of foolish consistency.
  Next note An obsessive detail to look for in the arrangement: the tambourine in its accompaniment of the riff is double tracked only for its first two ostinato frames; with the more familiar offbeat (2 and 4) shots backed there by a unique piece of eighth-note shaking.
  Next note Taking a cue from Paul's count-in (as can be heard on the unreleased session tapes), 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.
  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 melodic shape of the ostinato and its syncopated rhythm are worthy of their own discussion, as is the manner in which the syncopations of the sung lyrics contrast with it:
   |1   &   2   &   3   &   4   &   |1   &   2   &   3   &   4   &   |
   |E   -   -   Fx  G#  B   E   D    -   -   B   F#  -   B   D   E
               (Fx = f-double-sharp)

   [Figure 4.1]
  Next note Paradoxically, the riff has both the overall shape of an non-symmetrical rising arch whose descent does not completely balance out its ascent, yet it makes an impression of upward bound saw-tooth angularity; note particularly the way it drops a full octave in the space of a single eighth note whenever it repeats. Harmonically it outlines a bluesy I9 chord (with the flat seventh!). Rhythmically, it places hard syncopations on the eighth note preceding both the first and third beat of the second measure, while its final three eighth notes provide momentum that effectively leads into the repeat.


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

      |A           |-           |E           |-           |
   E:  IV                        I

      |F#          |-           |-           |-           |
   E:  V-of-V

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

      |E           |-           |-           |-           |
   E:  I

   [Figure 4.2]
  Next note 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 harmonically off the dime. The long sustained chord of the first four bars is followed by only one change during the second four. The third phrase hangs 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 The first eight measures of this verse are quite bluesy, to the extent that they repeat the same lyrics over eight measures worth of I - IV - I.
  Next note Again, I don't want to digress here but some points worthy of further study in this verse:
  • The ostinato appears in only the first eight measures of the verse, but the arpeggio quality of the ostinato continues in the bassline even when the ostinato itself 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:
    Got a   good rea-    son                                     For
    Tak-ing the  eas-    y   way out
    Got a   good rea-    son                                     For
    Tak-ing the  eas-    y   way out     yeah
   |1   &   2    &   3   &   4   &  |1   &   2   &   3   &   4   &  |
   |E   -   -    Fx  G#  B   E   D   -   -   B   F#  -   B   D   E
                (Fx = f-double-sharp)

   [Figure 4.3]
Measure 1:
  • Ostinato puts the accent on 4&,
  • Vocal puts accents on 2& and 3& (the two syllables of "reason") and 4& ("out"),
  • i.e. they coincide only on 4& and in alternate lines.
Measure 2:
  • Ostinato puts accents on 2& and 3&,
  • Vocal puts the accent on 1& ("yeah") and 4& ("For") — i.e. no point of coincidence!
I'd argue that the two repetitions of the ostinato (four measures worth) which separate the two verses were intentionally put there, like a petit reprise of the intro, to rebuild suspense and 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 More obsessive arrangement details:
  • Tambourine plays on beats 2 and 4 in first eight measures, then switches to all four beats for the rest of it.
  • Ringo throws in a very subtle little sixteenth note figure on the downbeats of only measures 13 and 14; but he does this in all three verses.
  • Tambourine plays a fast roll in the first two measures of the intro reprise, switching back to the offbeats for the second half of it.


  Next note Right off, let's note that this "middle 8" is actually a size 12. 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/phrasing of the voices in the second six of the bridge. These six measures are sung in three phrases of 3, 2, and 1 measures respectively; the breathing literally gets heavier.
      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 4.4]
  Next note Two other examples of "rising" in the arrangement:
  • One of the guitars executes a twelve note scale over the course of this section, starting on B in the baritone range and ending up on F# and octave and a half higher. Listen for it on the second beat of each measure.
  • The top vocal part similarly sings a six note scale over the course of its six measures, starting on D# and ending on high B.


  Next note The petit reprise of the intro is repeated between the end of the bridge and start of the last verse. After all, you've got to catch your breath at some point, don't you, in order to be able to go on.
  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 Beatle 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.
  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.

Some Final Thoughts

  Next note The official recording contains a mysterious, awkward "gap" of an edit during the final verse, which bootlegs of the raw session tape reveal to be an attempt to retouch a stray bit of mechanical/instrumental noise.
  Next note But we also have an example here of an outright performance 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," and you can hear a small gap on the track just after the goof up.
  Next note Oh well, "it took me so long to find out."
  Alan (030600#4.1)
Revision History
062189 4.0 Original release
030600 4.1 Revise, expand and adapt to series template
Copyright © 2000 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.