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notes on ...

Notes on "Golden Slumbers"


Notes on ... Series #189 (GS)
  by Alan W. Pollack
       Key: a minor -» C Major
     Meter: 4/4
      Form: Intro | Verse | Refrain | Verse (segue al subito)
        CD: "Abbey Road", Track 14 (Parlophone CDP7 46446-2)
  Recorded: 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 30th, 31st July 1969,
            15th August 1969, Abbey Road 2
UK-release: 26th September 1969 (LP "Abbey Road")
US-release: 1st October 1969 (LP "Abbey Road")

General Points of Interest


Style and Form

  Next note "Golden Slumbers" combined with "Carry That Weight" creates a foolish-consistency-avoiding, compatible-if-not-exactly matching bookend for "... Your Money". Whereas the preceding "... Bathroom Window" provided some critically needed symmetry with "... Your Money" in terms of sheer weight of expository expression, the "Golden Slumbers" / "Carry That Weight" pair of tracks provide balance with "... Your Money" in terms of a similarity of mood and material; not to mention (in "Carry That Weight") a literal recap of some of the latter.
  Next note "Golden Slumbers" and "Carry That Weight" are as mutually integrated with each other as are "Mean Mr Mustard" and "Polythene Pam"; the two pairs of songs are even linked together by virtually identical drum fills. Both "Golden Slumbers" and "Carry That Weight" are built out of a relatively conventional A-B-A arch form which gives each track the impression of being more-complete/ less-fragementary than either "Mean Mr Mustard" or "Polythene Pam". But that sense of individual completeness is strongly undermined in the final result by their degree of musical inter-relation.
  Next note The ultra-sincere affect of "Golden Slumbers" is born of Macca's unique blend of anthem with show tune, similar to what we find in "Hey Jude" and "Let It Be".

Melody and Harmony

  Next note The completely diatonic tune is replete with wide-ranging arch-like gestures. The leap of a sixth is appears many times over as a motif.
  Next note The almost equally diatonic harmony uses six chords and moves primarily around a short cycle of fifths.
  Next note In spite of the obvious opening of each verse on what sounds like an a-minor seventh chord the fact is that a minor is never established as a tonal center (a.k.a. home key) in its own right. It's more accurate to identify the song as being "in" the key of C, albeit it with a verse that starts away from it but quickly converges.


  Next note The backing track features piano, bass (played by George!), and drums, supplemented by a later overdub of string and brass instruments. A moderate amount of fussiness is applied to the instrumentation:
  • The first verse starts off with piano alone, but bass (sparingly at first) and strings are soon added.
  • Drums and brass enter dramatically at the start of the refrain, but the texture is greatly lightened up toward its final phrase.
  • The second verse is similar to the first one, but this time the drums (in the form of gentle cymbal work) stay in the whole way, and the brass, too, can be heard softly in the background.
  Next note Paul's lead is single tracked with no added backing. His shift into a rather menacing third tone of voice for the refrain would seem be be cast perversely counter to the otherwise gentle lullaby context.

Section-by-Section Walkthrough



  Next note The intro consists of two measures of the piano vamping on the tonally ambiguous a-minor seventh chord in a rocking figuration. I'm parsing this with a rapid quarter note beat in order to avoid needing to resort to odd half measures when the phrase lengths become uneven later on:
      |a7              |-               |
   C:  vi

   [Figure 189.1]
  Next note Paul leaves the note, E, out of the chord, giving us just the sound of the open fifth (C - G) alternating with the single note A below it; only further heightening the tonal ambiguity of the moment.
  Next note Exploiting the vi7 chord's superimposition the triads of a Major home key with its relative minor is a special effect we've seen in a number of Beatles songs; start with "... Warm Gun" and work backward from there to "Ask Me Why", "Do You Want To Know A Secret", and of course, "She Loves You".


  Next note The verse is an unusual twenty-one measures long, and is built out of four uneven phrases whose lengths are 8 + 4 + 5 + 4. Think of it as a purposeful distortion of what otherwise could have easily been an ordinary sixteen measures (4 by 4) design:
   |a7    |-     |-     |-     |d     |-     |-     |-     |
    iv                          ii

   |G7    |-     |-     |-     |

   |C     |e     |a     |d9    |-     |
    I      iii    vi     ii

   |G7    |-     |C     |-     |
    V             I

   [Figure 189.2]
  Next note The harmonic rhythm is extremely varied; most liesurely in the first two phrases, speeding up radically in the third phrase, and settling for a middle ground in the final phrase.
  Next note The savory dissonance of the d9 chord in the third phrase is deftly set up by the sustaining of the pitch E-natural through the entire phrase; where it is a natural member of all the other triads used in the phrase except for d.
  Next note It's hard to tell if that E chord in the third phrase is Major or minor. To my ears, it is minor in the first verse, and Major in the other two sections. In any event, the chord appears in root position in both verses, but in the refrain, it appears with a B in the bass as part of the walking bassline introduced at that point.
  Next note Look out for melodic sixths, most of which are leaps:
  • down: back home ...
  • up: (lulla)by-ee
  • up: your eyes, you rise
  And one of which is a hidden upward scale; follow the bouncing asterisks below. In other words, I'm saying that you hear the note, B, that starts off the second phrase as connected, in hindsight, to the A that was left hanging in the first phrase:
   O/th/w/a/way to get back homeward, O/th/w/a/way to get back home

   G G  G G G   G  A   C    E   D     B B  B B B   B  C   D    E
                *  *                  *               *   *    *
                1  2                  3               4   5    6

   [Figure 189.3]


  Next note The refrain starts off with what would look like an AA (6 + 6) couplet, but the second line elides with what turns out to be an essential recap of the way in which the verses end. I still call this a "refrain" rather than a bridge because of its inclusion of the title phrase.
  Next note We wind up with yet another unusual section length (nineteen measures) that breaks up into four uneven lines (6 + 4 + 5 + 4). Just like with the verse, you can easily imagine how this could have been shoe-horned into a more mundane four-square, sixteen-measure pattern:
   |C       |-       |F7      |-       |C       |-       |
    I                 IV                I

   |C       |-       |F7      |-       |
    I                 IV

   |C       |E       |a       |d9      |-       |
    I        V-of-vi  vi       ii

   |G7      |-       |C       |-       |
    V                 I

   [Figure 189.4]
  Next note In this section the note, E, is sustained the whole way through except for the first two measures of the fourth line, where it steps up to F (to function as the "7" in G7). Train your ear, I encourage you, to zero in on, and isolate such phenomena in your head when you listen to this and other recordings.

Some Final Thoughts

  Next note Speaking of ear training, there is a widely available studio outtake of this song featuring the basic backing track and guide vocal that, if you have not yet ever heard it, I caution you to seek out at your own peril.
  Next note The source tape for this delightful rarity sustained some unfortunate damage at the place of the first line of the refrain, inevitably presenting Paul's vocalization of the dramatically declaimed title phrase with a painful, out-of-key, wavering of pitch and tempo.
  Next note Just the like the lost secret for how to get back home described in the lyrics, you'll find that once you've ever heard this outtake, you'll never be able to listen to the title phrase of this track on the official version with the same kind of emotional trust fall you're used to throwing into it. There's enough genuine quiver in even the official recording that you'll find yourself forever bracing against the eventuality of the dreaded awful wobbling of the outtake.
  Alan (010900#189)
  See also: The "Abbey Road" Medley
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.