alan w. pollack's
notes on ...

Notes on "I've Just Seen A Face"


Notes on ... Series #74 (IJSAF)
  by Alan W. Pollack
       Key: A Major
     Meter: 4/4 (2/2, or "cut time", may be more accurate)
      Form: Intro | Verse | Verse | Refrain |
                  | Verse | Refrain | Verse (solo) | Refrain |
                  | Verse | Refrain | Refrain | Refrain | Outro
        CD: "Help!", Track 12 (Parlophone CDP7 46439-2)
  Recorded: 14th June 1965, Abbey Road 2
UK-release: 6th August 1965 (LP "Help!")
US-release: 6th December 1965 (LP "Rubber Soul")

General Points of Interest


Style and Form

  Next note Aside from the delightfully unplugged arrangement, and a greater than ever amount of attention paid to compositional detail, this song manifests a button-busting sense of energy that is timeless and most compelling.
  Next note The form is reasonably clear in some sense, but it's also unusually complicated and would appear to have absorbed the influence of several styles. The two verses in a row near the beginning are pure pop-rock. The strict alternation of verse and refrain in the second half is rather folksy. The triple refrain as an outro is reminiscent of the R&B rave-up. And the whole thing is lead off by an extraordinary intro that is not so easily pigeon-holed.

Melody and Harmony

  Next note Only four chords are used but this very limited number of them are cleverly deployed so as to alternately suggest two different styles: the pop-rock cliché of I -» vi -» IV -» V in the verses, and the bluesy V -» IV -» I in the refrains.
  Next note Melodically we find several trademarks yet again: the noodling around within a tight pitch range during the verses, with the headroom freed up somewhat during the refrain. The tune is also shot through with Paul's much favored appoggiaturas; I'll spot you "face" and "place" in the opening phrase, but you've got to find the rest of them on by yourself — have you no natural resources of yer own? :-)


  Next note The instrumental texture is most strongly characterized by the folksy sound of several crisply recorded acoustic guitars. And yet, the use of (what sound like to me as) jazzy wire brushes in place of the usual wood sticks for the drum kit, not to mention overdubbed maracas (in the refrains and guitar solo) create subliminal free associations with other styles.
  Next note Paul is closely single tracked for a change on the lead vocal, the more intimately for us to feel the slight quiver in his voice. During the refrains, he provides his own contrapuntal backing part in the same nasally affected C&W voice used to back Ringo in "Act Naturally".

Section-by-Section Walkthrough



  Next note This fully instrumental introduction is unusually long and musically involved. On the one hand, it features an oscillating motif in slow triplets that never shows up again for the remainder of the piece. And yet, the long scalar bassline whose full octave span stretches out over the complete length of the intro has embedded within its ending the ubiquitous "La-da-da da'n'da" hook phrase (i.e. D -» C# -» B -» A -» G# -» A).
  Next note The slow triplet pulse creates a deceptive sense of tempo. When the verse finally kicks in with its four-square beat that is sustained for the remainder of the song you have a gear-shifting feeling of acceleration as though the tempo had changed. But this is entirely an illusion, anticipating what would show up later, even more forcefully, in "We Can Work It Out". If you count the measures in "two half" time instead of the twice-as-fast 4/4 you'll more easily grasp the extent to which the underlying tempo is constant.
  Next note The illusion of acceleration is abetted by the phrasing. The intro has an unusual ten-measure length and is built out of three phrases, the last one of which is foreshortened and thus "hastens" the arrival of the first verse. In any event, this feeling of speed is one that is particularly effective in the song's album-opening context of the 'American' "Rubber Soul" line-up where you feel drawn straight into the entire LP by it, not just the first song.
  Next note Harmonically, the song opens subtly away from the home key but quickly converges upon it. Even though the bassline line starts off, unaccompanied, with the pitch of the home key, the first chord is f#-minor and until you reach the end of this section the sense of harmonic grounding is quite suspended; similar to, though not quite as intense as, the opening of "Help!".
  Next note In order to better elucidate the truly fine detail of this intro, I've included in the schematic below a précis of both the bassline and top voice along with the usual harmonic information. In the latter department note the unusual sonority created in measures 6 and 7 by the "non-harmonic" passing tones, and the handling of the E chord in measures 9 and 10 with an appoggiatura instead of the root note in the bass:
 Top-most line:      |F#   |A      |C#     |F#     |
        Chords:      |f#   |-      |-      |-      |
      Bassline: A G# |F#   |-      |-      |-   E  |
       A Major:       vi

 Top-most line:      |D    |E      |F#     |-      |
        Chords:      |D    |- 9/6/4|- 7    |-      |
      Bassline:      |D    |-      |-      |-   C# |

                                   |verse ---»
 Top-most line:      |E    |D      |C#
        Chords:      |E 6/4|- susp |A
      Bassline:      |B    |A   G# |A
                      V             I

   [Figure 74.1]


  Next note The verse is blues-influenced to the extent that its form is twelve measures long, consists of three phrases, and its harmonic rhythm is mostly slow throughout. Note, though, that the chord progression used is distinctly pop:
      |A      |-      |-      |-      |
   A:  I

      |f#     |-      |-      |-      ||

      |D      |-      |E      |A      ||
       IV              V       I

   [Figure 74.2]
  Next note The first two phrases are virtually identically, tune-wise, though they sound different simply because of the chord change, not to mention the unfolding lyrics.
  Next note The bassline motif of the intro is continued here albeit abbreviated in length. In measures 3 - 5 the tune marches down the scale in parallel tenths with the bass, but note how the same basic idea idea in measures 7 - 9 makes for parallel fifths!


  Next note The refrain is eight measures long and parses into a couplet of two short phrases that are balanced out by one longer one (AAB):
      |E      |-      |D      |-      |A      |D      |A      |-      |
   A:  V               IV              I       IV      I

   [Figure 74.3]
  Next note The chord progression and the unique appearance within the song of a melodic minor third (on the first syllable of the word "calling") give this section a slightly more bluesy feel than the rest of what surrounds it.


  Next note The solo is an almost slavish replicate of the tune, but one that is cleverly transformed in character by the "countrified", rhythmically flat rendering of it.
  Next note The slight departure from the tune in the final three measures (the guitar melodically harmonizing a third below where the tune itself should be) is a most welcome variations, especially as it is followed by that 'bon mot' flourish one octave up right at the end.


  Next note The use of a triple repeat to signal the approaching end of a song is quite a well-worn Beatles' trademark. We're used to seeing this trick used on the scale of a "petit reprise" of a phrase no longer than two to four measures in length. The repeat here of an entire eight bar chorus is rather unprecedented.
  Next note There's an unusual and shameless bit of "stumbling" word painting in the final repeat where Paul throws in that extra "oh!" and sounds literally as though falling; but it works quite nicely.
  Next note The last refrain runs out into a little instrumental reprise that is redolent with associations to what we had heard earlier on in the song. Primarily, we have a snippet of the last part of the intro which adds a bookend formal symmetry and allows the song to be ultimately summarized by its "La-da-da da'n'da" hook phrase. But even that final strummed guitar chord seems to resonate with what I had described as the 'bon mot' ending of the solo section.

Some Final Thoughts

  Next note By this point they had been freely borrowing and blending various stylistic elements of pop, rock, folk, blues, and still other styles for quite a while. Still, this otherwise sweetly simple "folk rock" song really pushes the envelope in terms of the sheer number of diverse styles juggled simultaneously as well as the effortlessly seamless manner in which they are fused.
  Next note In the final result though, if resonance has any thing to do with why you find this song enduring, I'll bet it's not so much in scholarly terms of style, but rather in those not so easily verbalized ones of your own experience. If you are, let's say, of the type who, when romantically enthused (you should only be so lucky!), tends to start talking rapidly, getting all inarticulate and muckle mouthed about it in the bargain, then you're likely to find Paul's patter-song-like syllabic delivery of the words of this song, up to and including his momentary retreats into scat phonemes, rather apropos, maybe even truly inspired.
  Alan (010593#73)
Copyright © 1993 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.