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Notes on "I'm Down"


Notes on ... Series #69 (ID)
  by Alan W. Pollack
       Key: G Major
     Meter: 4/4
      Form: Verse | Verse | Break (guitar solo) | Verse |
                                        --- 3X ---
                  | Break (organ solo) | Refrain (fade-out)
        CD: "Past Masters", Volume 1, Track 18 (Parlophone CDP 90043-2)
  Recorded: 14th June 1965, Abbey Road 2
UK-release: 23rd July 1965 (B Single / "Help!")
US-release: 19th July 1965 (B Single / "Help!")

General Points of Interest


Style and Form

  Next note Tucked away on the lonesome B-side of the "Help!" single was this spicy little surprise. It's raucous, rough-shod, and in context of where the Beatles were "at" as of the time of its release, it's even a bit self-consciously regressive. We had heard Paul screaming several times before, "repeatedly", but never quite as primally this; at least not in an Lennon and McCartney original.
  Next note On the basis of the raw material alone it's tempting to assume that they threw this song together in less than a single afternoon. The musical style is derived from one of the archetypal cliché R&B idioms of the fifties; a semi-improvisatory rave-up in which the exact words don't quite matter as much as the angry or naughty tone they set. You might even say that this quality of sounding as though it's being made up on the spot as they go along is an essential part of the aesthetic.
  Next note That said, there's still an impressive amount of carefully staged and choreographed variety applied to both the arrangement and the blues form here. Nothing earth shaking per se, but indicative nonetheless of the type of care the Boys would take in sweating the details, even for a quick one-off.

Melody and Harmony

  Next note The song is extremely bluesy in both departments. The tune is shot through with flat thirds and sevenths, and the chords are strictly limited to I, IV, and V.
  Next note Even though the tone of the song is very similar to those Berry and Penniman numbers in which every section is based literally on the same chord progression and phrase lengths, it turns out that a couple of slightly different forms are used here in alternation.


  Next note The first and last phrase of each verse feature sudden syncopated accents that are followed by dramatic momentary rests in the back-beat. This effect provides a bookend-like symmetry to the verse itself. It also provides contrast with the rest of the bouncy texture that is otherwise used throughout and lends a certain amount of higher-level periodic rhythm to the overall composition.
  Next note The backing vocals sound more like the Stones (circa "Between The Buttons" or earlier) than the Beatles. Every time Paul sings the title phrase, someone (John?) doubles him on the second word in a sustained mock baritone voice, while two other singers (one of which is definitely George and the other might even be Paul overdubbed) provide a mockingbird like commentary in response ("I'm really down" / "down on the ground").

Section-by-Section Walkthrough



  Next note The verse is a fourteen measure long distortion of what would otherwise be a straight twelve-bar frame of the 4 + 8 model if only the middle phrase were not extended by a third repetition of the title phrase. If you don't believe me, imagine what the section would sound like with measures 9 and 10 excised:
      |G       |-       |-       |-       |
   G:  I

      |C       |-       |G       |-       |C       |-       |
       IV                I                 IV

      |D   G   |-       |D   G   |-       |
       V   I             V   I

   [Figure 69.1]
  Next note A couple of Beatlesque verse variants worth mentioning: Paulie starts off the song in the first verse entirely solo without even so much as a single bass note or drumbeat to help clarify to the listener the location of either key or downbeat; no matter how many times you've heard the song, it's an effect which retains the power to startle. In the second measure of the third verse he anticipates the syncopated downbeat with a little chromatic riff of F -» F# -» G; or is that actually George on lead guitar?


  Next note Both breaks are genuine twelve-bar frames though they differ on a choice of chord in one measure (the first break sustains the D chord through measure 10):
   |G      |-      |-      |-      |

   |C      |-      |G      |-      |
    IV              V

   |D      |C      |G      |-      |
    V       IV      I

   [Figure 69.2]
  Next note The first break features the lead guitar in foreground against a backing of fast organ triplets that is punctuated by Paul's screaming. The first phrase of this break carries through the dramatic pause concept heard in the verse sections.
  Next note The second break features the organ itself in the foreground, its rapid-fire triplets now punctuated by some wild off-beat glissandi and even more of Paul's screaming than heard before. In this break the dramatic pauses in the first phrase are dispensed with making the section feel quite a bit looser than the previous break; an effect which nicely sets up the jam-session feeling which prevails for the remainder of the proceedings.


  Next note The thrice-repeated refrain section is yet again a twelve-bar frame in the same flavor as the second break diagrammed out above.
  Next note The only differences among the three refrains are in the improvised scat singing and improvised lyrics heard in each section. From one repeat to the next, the mood gets successively wilder and less structured with the final round degenerating into the likes of "baby, baby, baby" and "I'm down, down, down, down, down, down ..."; the latter strung out nicely at cross-rhythm to the underlying beat.
  Next note Some kind of congas, bongos, or other kind of slapped drums sound as though either added new at this stage of the song, or else they were perhaps there all along and only now mixed a bit more forward.

Some Final Thoughts

  Next note As Lewisohn points out (and well he should), "I'm Down" was recorded on June 14, 1965 at the same session as "I've Just Seen A Face" and "Yesterday". Whether by coincidence or by design, it was indeed a day on which Paul's prowess in the versatility department was fated to be displayed with astonishing prowess. Given that our current subject was second in the batting order that day, maybe I'm still amazed that, with only a 90 minute break for dinner and a smoke, he was ready after all that earlier shouting to come back in to tackle Ol' "Scrambled Eggs". But that's Our Kid for you.
  Next note Of course such historic perspective and appreciative revisionism is a wonderful but curious thing. Memories of my own reactions to hearing "I'm Down" for the first time way back in the counselor's lounge at camp in the summer of 1965 are quite different. There, in spite of the reverent popularity accorded to the A-side of the same single, the lads would frequently gather round the juke box to listen to this one strictly for a giggle. We couldn't quite turn the sound down on him, but it never did stop us from saying rude things :-)
  Alan (110992#69)
Copyright © 1992 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.