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notes on ...

Notes on "It's Only Love"


Notes on ... Series #73 (IOL)
  by Alan W. Pollack
       Key: C Major
     Meter: 4/4
      Form: Intro | Verse | Refrain | Verse | Refrain | Outro
        CD: "Help!", Track 9 (Parlophone CDP7 46439-2)
  Recorded: 15th 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 The combination of textural soft-focus with a "moderato" tempo is a bit of a departure for John though the elliptical emotional stance of the lyrics is right up his alley.
  Next note The form is structurally both short and simple. To the extent that, as we'll see, the formal boundary between what I've labeled as "verse" and "refrain" is rather blurred you might argue that the meat of the song be even more compactly described as a repetition of a single larger verse and refrain "combo" section.

Melody and Harmony

  Next note Chromatic scale motion, always one of John's favorite hot buttons, has an influence on both melody and harmony in this song; creating here side effects as diverse as cross-relations, augmented triads, and harmonic root movement of a tritone.
  Next note In spite of the relatively small number of chords that are utilized throughout, the song deploys the mildly unusual flat-VII (B-flat) in two entirely different contexts; as we'll see, it's the same old chord but with a different meaning, the result of a change in the angle of approach.
  Next note The melodic hooks of the song feature a sighing "6-5" appoggiatura, whether it's the descending guitar lick of the intro/outro, or the main vocal line; in the verse, on the words "(be)side-you", and in the refrain on the word "hard", so to speak.


  Next note The overall sound of the piece is one that is difficult to pigeon-hole. You would expect the prominence of the guitar parts and relative absence of percussion to project a Byrds-ey folk rock image, but the hazy finish applied to the final mix works at cross-currents to that.
  Next note The acoustic and electric guitars remain well isolated from each other on the two stereo tracks in spite of all haze. The lead part consists heavily of choppy chords applied to the syncopated off-beats and short melodic fills between the phrases.
  Next note The vocals feature John all the way; single tracked solo in verse, and doubled up in the refrain. The double tracking here sounds more out of synch and less evenly balanced than usual, making me wonder if one of the two vocals is actually the vestige of a "guide vocal" left over from an early take of the backing track.

Section-by-Section Walkthrough



  Next note We have a four-measure intro which economically establishes the instrumental texture, tone, and tonality of the entire song:
       ------------- 2X --------------
      |C              |a              |
   C:  I               vi

   [Figure 73.1]
  Next note The intro, (as well as the outro and part of the refrain) place an almost hook-like emphasis on the I -» vi progression, which is an old Beatles' trademark starting back as far as "Misery" and running heavily through the "Side 1" of "With The Beatles".


  Next note Very much like what we saw last time in "I've Just Seen A Face", the verse here is a twelve measure section whose AAB phrasing pattern matches that of the blues even though such a connection is supported by neither the harmony nor the style:
            --------------------------- 2X ---------------------------
   Chords: |C     e      |B-flat   F     |G            |G augmented   |
 Bassline: |C     B      |B-flat   F ...
            I     iii6/4  flat-VII IV     V 4  -»  3    #5

                                            6  -»  5
           |F            |G              |C            |a             |
            IV            V               I             vi

   [Figure 73.2]
  Next note The downward chromatic bassline at the start "forces" a strange root progression of I -» iii -» flat-VII. The effect of this is somewhat softened by the linear logic of the bassline itself and the placement of the iii chord in so-called second inversion; try playing the same progression with the iii chord in root position and see how much more strange it sounds.
  Next note Some analysts might even argue in favor of not analyzing our e-minor chord here as iii with a roman numeral per se, as much as they would describe it more simply as the transitory harmonic by-product of linear motion between the two surrounding chords. Again, try imagining the phrase without any e-minor chord in it, just the C-Major chord sustained all the way through the entire first measure, and note how the overall feel of it is still the same.
  Next note The usage of flat-VII sounds here like the IV-of-IV variant most familiar to Beatles fans in context of the second half of "Hey Jude".
  Next note A constant low-level of harmonic dissonance abounds, rather evocative of the vague basal uneasiness described in the lyrics. Some of it is logically motivated and clearly resolved; e.g. the "4-3" suspension implied by the lead guitar part in measure 3, and the transient augmented chord caused by chromatic motion, this time upward for a change. Yet, some of it is entirely gratuitous; e.g. the added sixths implied by the vocal part over the F and G chords in the last phrase (on the words "so" and "to"/"it").
  Next note The first two phrases open out to V; not just a "vanilla" kind of V, but that intensified augmented flavor of it. And this only goes to heighten the sense of musical frustration and backing off that is inherent in the deferred gratification of moving onward from V to IV.
  Next note The ending of the section with our much favored I -» vi progression is so open ended in feeling that the dividing line between the verse and refrain is much less clearly articulated than usual.


  Next note The refrain is eight measures long and built out of two roughly parallel phrases that are equal in length. The first phrase leads into the second one exactly the same way it itself had been set up by the verse ending. The second phrase leads back toward the following verse with its ending on V:
   |B-flat         |G              |C              |a              |
    flat-VII        V               I               vi

                                    6   -» 5
   |B-flat         |G              |F              |G              |
    flat-VII        V               IV              V

   [Figure 73.3]
  Next note With the verse ending on the vi chord (a-minor), you'd much sooner expect the first chord of this refrain to be either IV (F) or ii (d); try this out and see how well it actually works. The move to B-flat, while not at all unsatisfying does work as a surprise, and furthermore sets up a cross-relation when the next chord after it is V (G). This use of flat-VII as a subdominant is something we saw for the first time way back in "All My Loving", of all places. As a device, you might describe it as similar in structure and effect to the gambit in which V-of-V is followed by IV, which also turns out to be a much favored harmonic trick of the Beatles.
  Next note No surprise, by the way, but a tambourine is added for this section to provide some contrast in the instrumental backing.


  Next note The outro is so smoothly handled that you'd never notice where the seams of it are unless you stopped to analyze it per se. It starts off with a single petit reprise of last half-phrase of the refrain that is stretched out for an extra three of measures by John's falsetto melisma, with the whole thing is capped by the intro redux:
                                    ----- 2X ------
   |F      |G      |C      |a      |C      |a      |C      ||
    IV      V       I       vi      I       vi      I
   |--- reprise ---|---- melisma ---------|
                                   |---- 2nd time: intro ---|

   [Figure 73.4]
  Next note The resonating reverb and tremolo applied to the final chord is striking; what more can I say about it?

Some Final Thoughts

  Next note The lyrics of this song are deceptively simple in their outlook and message. We've noted elsewhere (e.g. back in our study of "Yes It Is") John's talent for plumbing the poetic depths that are inherent in the bourgeois clichés of the vernacular, and this one provides yet another fine example. Indeed, if it's "only love", then why the exquisite pleasure pain over why it's "so hard"? Right !?
  Next note On a different plane, I seem to remember a possibly apocryphal tale that a certain Mr. Zimmermann has claimed to have been clued in to the fact that Our Own Sweet Boys had begun to "take Tea" by the opening line of this very song. Can one of the biographic friends of this group shed some light on this one? "I get high ...", really, now.
  Alan (011993#74)
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.