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notes on ...

Notes on "Hold Me Tight"


Notes on ... Series #39 (HMT)
  by Alan W. Pollack
       Key: F Major
     Meter: 4/4
      Form: Intro | Verse | Verse | Bridge | Verse |
                  | Bridge | Verse | Outro (complete ending)
        CD: "With The Beatles", Track 9 (Parlophone CDP7 46436-2)
  Recorded: 11th, 12th September 1963, Abbey Road 2
UK-release: 22nd November 1963 (LP "With The Beatles")
US-release: 20th January 1964 (LP "Meet The Beatles")

General Points of Interest


Style and Form

  Next note This one's a good example of the standard two-bridge-but-no-solo formal model, and it's in the unusual key choice for the Beatles of F Major. And that's where the easy parts of it end. Granted, it has some mixed reputation among even the serious fans, and none other than Paul himself has been known to vaguely shrug it off as just a "work song". But, no matter, there is no escaping its technical sophistication. Consider the following three items for starters, and keep in mind we're not even getting anywhere near the finer details yet:
  • Chromatic "line clichés" are hidden throughout the song within the inner voices of the chord changes, sewn between the layers of fabric, as it were, to an extent that the device provides structure and unification, not just decoration.
  • The rhythm track features the similarly widespread use of an ostinato figure in the bass and guitar parts; i.e. the same arpeggiated riff transposed and repeated for many of the chord changes.
  • In between the end of the second verse and the beginning of the bridge there is a simultaneously melodic, verbal, and metric elision in which the measure containing word "you" serves as a pivot.
  Next note I don't know if it's just a side-effect of the growing number of songs in the Beatles' canon we've already covered in this series, or if "Hold Me Tight" really is that stylistically resonant, but I am struck by the extent to which it free-associates with other Lennon and McCartney songs. We observed widespread use of chromatic line clichés in "You Won't See Me", phrasing elisions in "It Won't Be Long" and "Any Time At All", and an ostinato bassline in "Day Tripper" and (eventually will when we get up to) "Lady Madonna". However, I believe that the most important resonance for "Hold Me Tight" is in its affinity with the emotional push-pull of "Please Please Me". Even though "Hold Me Tight" does not contain the same level of expository high drama as the latter song, it does seem to describe a similar tableau of hot pursuit at the brink.


  Next note The song is unrelievedly in the key of F Major. Though only seven different chords are used throughout, three of them (almost half the budget) are altered, or borrowed ones, not occurring naturally in the home key. In order of appearance these are V-of-V (G), minor iv (B-flat minor), and flat-III (A-flat). By now we've become quite used to seeing examples of the first two of these chords in Beatles' songs.
  Next note But the last one, flat-III, is a bit more rare and dramatic in sound. In theoretical terms, it's actually not quite as remote a neighbor to the home key as may appear at first glance. The textbooks describe it as the relative Major to the parallel minor — imagine the home key being f minor instead of F Major and you'll see what I mean. In context of the Beatles, we've seen this one used before in the bridge section of "You're Going To Lose That Girl" and as part of a little chord stream in the verse section of "Please Please Me". In any event, the special dramatic flavor of this chord is manifested in the way that, when juxtaposed with the I chord, we hear an implied melodic wavering between the Major/minor third degree of the scale; in our song which is in F Major, we're talking about the notes A-flat and A-natural.


  Next note The arrangement has an overall thick sound with husky sounding guitars, lots of cymbal sizzle, and hand claps.
  Next note Paul gets to sing the lead vocal solo, while John and George provide a backing part that features a tricky passage of syncopated antiphony with the lead in the third phrase of the verses. The same sloppiness of execution which brought take 22 of the song to a rapid halt may also be heard on the finished track for an instant during the third verse.
  Next note The backing vocals sound discordant to the extent that they are placed very close to each other pitch-wise, and for John especially, are high up in the voice range. This is actually a widespread trademark device of the group and perhaps the reason why some react to it here with less than their usual enthusiasm is because the combination of John with George in this context is just not as euphonious as it is with Paul.
  Next note And of course, there is the infamously repeated verbal collision every time the phrase "it feels so right so / now" appears. Though there are several other such mistakes littered throughout the official recordings, I tend to think of this as being not so much an error as what I can only surmise was an intentional albeit misguided experiment.

Section-by-Section Walkthrough



  Next note The intro is only two measures long yet it manages to quickly establish the key, expose the ostinato guitar figure, and introduce what emerges over the course of the song as one of its hooks, the phrase "it feels so right."
  Next note The whole thing sounds deceptively similar to the way the end of the bridge sections lead back around into the verses which follow them. However, a variation in the rhythmic emphasis of the backing track here makes for a subtle difference.


  Next note The verse is sixteen measures long and divides up into three phrases. The first two are a couplet of four measures each, and the last eight measures combine to make one long phrase which nicely balances out the previous two:
               ----------------------- 2X ------------------------
 Line cliché:  A            B-flat       B-natural    C
      Chords: |F           |B-flat      |G           |C           |
           F:  I            IV           V-of-V       V

 Line cliché:  F            E-flat       D            D-flat
      Chords: |F           |F7          |B-flat      |b-flat minor|
           F:  I            V-of-IV      IV           iv

      Chords: |F           |b-flat minor|F           |C           |
           F:  I            IV           I            V

   [Figure 39.1]
  Next note This section has a strongly dramatic arch-like feeling to it in the way it begins to intensify during the third phrase toward a clear climax on the downbeat of the thirteenth measure (on the phrase "it's you").
  Next note The setup of the climax is musically abetted by a number of factors. The first four measures of the long third phrase are rhetorically insistent in the way they repeat the same two melodic notes several times ("so hold me tight, tonight ..."). This is further supported by the way in which the root harmonic rhythm suddenly slows from a change every measure to every other measure and the syncopated antiphony of the backing vocal. The big moment itself is enhanced by the appearance of the long-awaited melodic high note on the downbeat of measure 13, and the sudden cessation of the agitated syncopation of the previous measures.
  Next note Even the sequencing of upward versus downward line clichés plays a dramatic role. One might say, in the same oversimplified language that allows us to describe the Major mode as "happy" and the minor as "sad", that upward line clichés connote such things as eager expectation, while the downward ones connote grimness or impatience. In that sense, the use of the upward gesture in the first two phrases, followed by the downward one at the beginning of the third phrase helps portray a dramatic development which has quite a bit of real-world experiential resonance to it. The cheerful coaxing of the first half of this verse might be said to give way to something a bit more desperate before it's over. I even hear this tension reinforced by the way the minor iv chord is inserted so quickly after what would otherwise be a moment of release following the climax; try that phrase with the more "natural" Major IV and see how different it feels.

Verse Variations

  Next note All the verses other than the first one contain an A-flat chord (flat-III) in their last measure; all the smoother to lead toward the bridge and outro sections.
  Next note Yet another small example of foolish consistency avoided can be found in the way Paul throws in a little vocal flip and stretches out the scanning of the words in the first phrase of the third verse.


  Next note This bridge is an unusual seven measures in length and its sub-phrases are not easily or neatly to be parsed. There is even some ambiguous possibility, created by the elision mentioned above, that this section is to be "heard" as eight measures long if you include the last elided measure of the verse as part of the bridge.
 Line cliché:  A        A-flat   A        B-flat   -        B-nat    C
      Chords: |F       |A-flat  |F       |B-flat  |g-minor |G-Major |C
           F:  I        flat-III I        IV       ii       V-of-V   V

   [Figure 39.2]
  Next note As a variation on the straight up-or-down line clichés of the verse, we have in this section a more snake-like inner line which lends an air of suspenseful indecision to the music. The slowing of the root harmonic rhythm toward the end reinforces that sense of suspense. Note though how this mood is shaken off by section's ending with another climax, this time assisted by an upward line cliché.
  Next note Other more typical sources of bridge-like contrast here are the change in texture (drumming without cymbals and slowly-strummed guitar chords on the downbeats — see "I Should Have Known Better"), and the backing voices being given a rest.


  Next note The outro is done as fake pass at a third repetition of the bridge that literally grinds to a stop, with the ritardando starting a full three measures before the end. Given the sort of emotional program of pursuit sketched out earlier, this sort of musical ending doesn't bode well for the fate of our hero.

Some Final Thoughts

  Next note In context of the rest of the Beatles' early output, this is clearly one of their hotter "touch" songs; more urgent than the sweetly pleading "I Want To Hold Your Hand" but also less confrontational than "Please Please Me".
  Next note Ironically though, "Hold Me Tight" also reminds one at the same time of the more innocent precursor songs of pursuit by other artists. In particular, I hear echoes in it of Carl Perkins' "Sure To Fall" which includes the line, "so hold me tight, let tonight be the night, darling, don't ever let me go."
  Next note In the final result, as we saw earlier in the case of "All My Loving" versus "It Won't Be Long", whatever parallels may be found between "Hold Me Tight" and "Please Please Me" also serve to underscore some of the primal differences in style between Paul and John. Just as in "All My Loving", the focus for Paul in "Hold Me Tight" is temporally on the present and future of the relationship to the love object (no past!), and is emotionally self-centered with no allowance for or representation of her feelings and actions. John, in contrast, always includes both allusions to the past and her actions, even resorting as necessary to some clever measures to work this into the lyrical narrative no matter how obliquely.
  Next note There's also a much simpler logistical difference between the respective endings of "Please Please Me" and "Hold Me Tight". Whereas the former would seem to end with the gauntlet thrown down and the situation beyond the point of return, the latter would seem to leave us with the poor hero "on my knees, beggin' if you please." But, oops, that's a different song altogether, isn't it?
  Alan (112091#39)
Copyright © 1991 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.