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notes on ...

Notes on "I'm So Tired"


Notes on ... Series #138 (IST)
  by Alan W. Pollack
       Key: A Major
     Meter: 4/4
      Form: Verse | Verse | Refrain |
                  | Verse | Refrain | Outro (with complete ending)
        CD: "White Album", Disc 1, Track 10 (Parlophone CDS7 46443-8)
  Recorded: 8th October 1968, Abbey Road 2
UK-release: 22nd November 1968 (LP "White Album")
US-release: 25th November 1968 (LP "White Album")

General Points of Interest


Style and Form

  Next note This song is quite a vivid musical evocation of some unhappy inner state, alternating by fits and starts between enervated and unnerved. We also find here a substance-amplified unsteadiness (implied in both the lyrics, and more subtly in the moderato fox-trot back-beat) that curiously reminds me of the "tipsy" beat you find in some of Ravel's "Valses Nobles et Sentimentales".
  Next note The increased intensity of the refrain compared to the verse creates an impression of a parallel increase in the tempo, but it's only an illusion. One of the song's real charms is the manner in which the quietly ascending bassline leads into the third verse as though "nothing" had happened in the previous, ranting refrain section.
  Next note That ascending bassline pickup which opens the track turns out to be a mirror image of the bassline riff which ended the previous song. Chalk it to being either "no coincidence" or a very happy one, at the very least. The key shift between the two songs of a subtle half-step upward bears an uncanny (and also "coincidental") parallel with the half-step downward shift displayed by the transition of "Eleanor Rigby" to "I'm Only Sleeping"; even the specific keys involved are the same!

Melody and Harmony

  Next note The tune is replete with non-harmonic tones that create an overall dissonant feeling that is equally roughshod and pathetique.
  Next note The harmony of the verse is largely built on the old R&R cliché progression of I -» vi -» IV -» V while the refrain features the old bluesy in-out/in-out of I -» IV -» V. Note, however, that John throws two very un-cliché chords into the verse.


  Next note The finished mix, with its many drop-ins and overdubs, is thick and somewhat bottom heavy.
  Next note The lead vocal features a couple of monotony-breaking variations on the tune for the second verse and refrain, taking it up into a suddenly higher range.
  Next note The descending hook (played on, is it an organ, lead guitar, or both?) heard in the final two measures of the verses that directly precede a refrain is another one of those supporting signature details that make an indelible impression.

Section-by-Section Walkthrough



  Next note The verse has a blues-like twelve-bar form with an AAB phrasing pattern. The harmonic shape is quite open, with all three verses starting on I but ending on either V or IV:
      |A           |G#           |D           |E           |
   A:  I            V-of-III (?!) IV           V

      |A           |f#           |D           |E           |
       I            vi            IV           V

      |A           |G#-Aug       |f#          |d           |
       I            **            vi           iv

   [Figure 138.1]
  Next note The first harmonic surprise appears in the second measure. Some folks (e.g. Terence J. O'Grady's "The Beatles: A Musical Evolution. Boston: Twayne, 1983") analyze the first phrase as identical to the second, but without recourse to any written scores, I'm relying completely on my ears to tell you that the first phrase uses a cliché-busting G#-Major chord; not only delicious per se, but also for the way in which it prevents foolish consistency between the two phrases. The resulting root movement of a "tritone" between G# and D is not only very rare in pop music, but (another coincidence) is something in the Beatles' canon that shows up as peculiar to John's music; take a look at both "It's Only Love" and "I Am The Walrus"; the former, bearing a very close comparison with out current example. (And at risk of appearing to lack personal humility, the previous observation freaks me out when I make it, and I'll eat my hat if you can show me that someone else has beaten me to it :-))
  Next note The second harmonic surprise is the augmented triad in the second measure of the third phrase. Think of it as a voice-leading transition between the chords on either side of it, rather than in terms of it having a roman numeral of its own.
  Next note And yes, John Lennon did like using the minor iv chord in a Major key, especially when, as here, he can precede it with a chord that forces a cross-relation with the F-natural.


  Next note The refrain is also in a twelve-bar form with short phrases that create an AABBC- pattern. In contrast to the verse, the harmonic shape of this section is a closed full circle:
      |A           |-            |-           |-           |
   A:  I

      |E           |-            |-           |-           |

      |D           |-            |A           |-           |
       IV                         I

   [Figure 138.2]
  Next note Also in contrast to the verse is the different drumming style and the much slower harmonic rhythm.
  Next note The matter of fact way in which the ascending bassline riff helps restart the third verse that follows this refrain is remarkable for the dramatic image it suggests: the hero, having warmed himself up to let go with no small amount of pent up rage over the course of the refrain, suddenly pulls back and assumes the erstwhile withdrawn affect with which he opened the song; as though he were trying to make small of himself after momentarily losing some control.


  Next note The outro is one of those three-strikes-you're-out extensions of the second refrain. And you might say this effect nicely develops the dramatic scenario sketched out, above.
  Next note Think about it: the final phrase is repeated here three full times. For the first two repeats, the final two measures are filled with loud heavy drums and wild organ glissandos, as if rage has finally gotten the better of our hero and will no longer be so easily bottled back up.
  Next note But yet, listen further to the final repeat, where I dare say the sotto-voce muttering with which the track ends would seem to imply a modicum of control regained, no matter how precarious or temporary.

Some Final Thoughts

  Next note A comparison of this finished track with its Esher demo [**] provides some object lessons in the art of "tightening up" a piece of music:
  • The demo features two verses between the two refrains; definitely too much, too long. I think the only time you have two sections like this in the middle of a song is when one of them is performed as an instrumental break.
  • The demo also follows the second refrain with one more verse, this one featuring John reciting new lyrics in which "arms", "charms" and "funny farm" make the three-way rhyme. Not only, again, "too much" per se but also too close for comfort to the same gimmick used in "Happiness Is A Warm Gun".
  • The demo repeats the final phrase of the final section a clumsy four times.
  • The refrain endings of the demo are all filled equally with giddy shouting "woahs" instead of what I've described as the "dramatic" alternation in the finished track between forced calm and rage.
  Next note Ah, the centrality of making judicious revisions! The demo version in this case, while obviously much more of an informal run-through than the studio version, is hardly what you'd call an gestational/rough/primitive tryout. The chords are under their fingers and we hear no verbal collisions or flubs. And so I find it remarkable just how much fine tuning work is yet to be done on such a song even when its already well up on its legs.
  [** The so-called Esher demos consist of 26 demos recorded at George Harrison's Esher bungalow, between the return of Lennon and Harrison from Rishikesh, India, in April 1968 and the start of the recordings for the "White Album" on the 30th of May 1968. Some of these were released on "Anthology", Volume 3.]
  Alan (120797#138)
Copyright © 1997 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.