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notes on ...

Notes on "Good Night"


Notes on ... Series #156 (GN)
  by Alan W. Pollack
       Key: G Major
     Meter: 4/4
      Form: Intro | Verse | Bridge | Verse | Bridge |
                  | Special Bridge (instrumental) |
                  | Verse | Bridge | Outro (with complete ending)
        CD: "White Album", Disc 2, Track 13 (Parlophone CDS7 46443-8)
  Recorded: 28th June, 2nd 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 The style of this song would be pretty Schmaltzy based just on its chords, tune, and phrasing. The "possibly overlush" arrangement only goes to push it over the top. You'd think that this kind of sentimentality would be anathema to the Beatles, especially John. Then again, I've got a feeling it's intended as a as a campy spoof.
  Next note The form is built out of standard parts with the exception of the special bridge that appears before the final verse. The appearance of verse and bridge material in the intro, the doubled up verses, and the three-time appearance of the verse-next-bridge sequence makes the song feel longer, more complicated formally than it actually is.

Melody and Harmony

  Next note The prevalence of wide leaps in the verse tune belie its backbone of a simple downward scale fragment from G down to D. The bridge tune, similarly boils down to just F# -» G.
  Next note The chords are jazzy, many appearing with decorative (as opposed to "functional") sevenths and ninths. The chords often proceed in step-wise streams.
  Next note In terms of key, the song stretches out luxuriantly in a warm bath of pan-diatonic G Major.


  Next note On the backing track George Martin uses a string section that would be on the small size even for a Mozart period orchestra, plus a sparse complement of woodwinds and brass; ditto for the small choir. And yet, the arrangement and recording come out sounding like a "cast of hundreds". The latter trick, I'm told, is a stock in trade of the film composers guild.
  Next note The score, itself, is replete with little clichés of the Muzak genre: string tremolos and rapid upward scales, harp glissandos, chirpy flutes, and French horn inner voices. The choir alternately doubles and dogs Ringo's lead vocal, obviating the need for any double tracking. The stage whispered lines over the outro qualifies as a cliché all on its own.

Section-by-Section Walkthrough



  Next note The intro fades in like the rising dawn (only on the stereo version) to expose a complete bridge and an half a verse section. See further in for a diagram of the bridge. The verse fragment looks like this:
      |G       |b7      |a7      |D       |
   G:  I        iii      ii       V
                                  4 -» 3

   [Figure 156.1]
  Next note The trembling, sustained high D sure as heck sounds like it were produced by a Theremin (an antiquated electronic instrument). I have trouble imagining it as coming from any of the instruments listed in the bill of materials.


  Next note The verse is sixteen measures long in an AB-AB phrase pattern. The first appearance of the AB section moves the bassline in measure 4 from A to G, thereby implying a change of chord to C in the second inversion:
      |G       |b7      |a7      |C       |
   G:  I        iii      ii       IV 6/4

      |b       |a       |C       |D       |
       iii      ii       IV 6/4   V

   [Figure 156.2]
  Next note Every other time this section reappears, you can clearly hear the bassline holding on to A through measures 3 and 4:
      |G       |b7      |a7      |-       |
   G:  I        iii      ii

      |b       |a       |C       |D       |
       iii      ii       IV 6/4   V

   [Figure 156.3]
  Next note The bassline in measures 5 - 8 of each section runs scalewise downward all the way from B to D. The latter drives the harmony rather than the other way around. Note the elegance of this bassline especially in measure 8, where by running "F# - E D" it starts the V chord off in the first inversion, allowing it afterwards to change to root.


  Next note The bridge is eight measures long in a phrase pattern of AB, and harmonically consists of an elaborate pedal point:
   |F#    G |F#    G |F#     |-      |G      |-      |-      |-      |
   |B       |C       |B      |C      |B      |C      |B      |C      |
   |D       |E       |D      |E      |D      |E      |D      |E      |
   |G       |-       |-      |-      |-      |-      |-      |-      |
    I7       -        -       -       8       -       -       -
     5       6        5       6       5       6       5       6
     3       4        3       4       3       4       3       4

   [Figure 156.4]

Special Bridge

  Next note The special bridge section makes a fake pass modulation to the key of C Major. The rest of the song is so complacently in the home key of G that by this point of the proceedings, a diversion like this provides some needed relief and helps better motivate the final pair of verse and bridge.
      |G       |A       |-       |d       |
   G:  I                                   
   C:  V        V-of-ii           ii

      |G       |C       |D       |C   D   |
   G:  I        IV       V        IV  V
   C:  V        I

   [Figure 156.5]
  Next note Classical composers often use this kind of trick in the recap section of a sonata movement, where by formal convention, sequences of themes that were heard earlier in different keys during the exposition are now presented in the same key. By some or no coincidence, the orchestration of this bridge includes rather classical sounding scale work in the strings.


  Next note The outro contains a double repeat of the same half-verse used in the second part of the intro. The first iteration is for the usual full scoring, and the second one is played one octave up by sparer forces.
  Next note I believe the final chord has a Major seventh, ninth, and added sixth.

Some Final Thoughts

  Next note In order to fully appreciate the uncanny aptness of ending the "White Album" with "Good Night" you need to first back up and consider why the penultimate album slot is such a logical place for "Revolution #9".
  Next note Where else could you put "Revolution #9"? Too early in the running order would make the rest of the album seem a bit anti-climactic at best. At worst, you could lose your audience well before you've trotted out your rest of your best stuff. Putting it at the very end lends it too much emphasis. Maybe put it on the end of one of the other sides, but maybe no one will be sufficiently motivated to turn the record over. Next to last fells just right.
  Next note Now then, what kind of act, indeed, could possibly follow "Revolution #9"? You clearly need a sharp contrast, but exactly what kind? Virtually any other song from the album would sound a combination of anticlimactic, stylistically repetitive, underwhelming, or too weird.
  Next note "Good Night" has the simultaneous virtues of providing musically arch-conservative ballast, a change of style as refreshingly surprising as anything else on the album, and a clever, self-referential way of telling you the music's over; turn out the lights.
  Alan (092798#156)
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.