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notes on ...

Notes on "I Wanna Be Your Man"


Notes on ... Series #40 (IWTBYM)
  by Alan W. Pollack
       Key: E Major
     Meter: 4/4
      Form: Verse | Refrain | Verse | Refrain | Break |
                  | Verse | Refrain | Outro (fade-out)
        CD: "With The Beatles", Track 11 (Parlophone CDP7 46436-2)
  Recorded: 11th, 12th, 30th  September,
            3rd, 23rd October 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 song is ravingly bluesy in a stylized but facile, simplistic way, representing a certain kind of triumph of style per se over content. If you're charitably disposed, you'll say that the heavy attention paid to external mannerism and evocation of mood more than adequately compensates for the otherwise minimalistic amount and quality of material used throughout. In any event, the song would seem to demonstrate just how it is that a pop song can, under some circumstances, be be written on the fly in what I'd wager must have been less than a single afternoon.
  Next note In context of the other contemporaneous Lennon and McCartney originals of the period, this one is formalistically notable for its bridge-like refrain, and the improvisatory instrumental break.


  Next note Very few chords are used at all, with the verse section being a jam session on virtually just one chord. A few additional chords appear in the refrain though they are all garden variety in nature.


  Next note Ringo, of course, gets to sing the lead vocal and he's accompanied by John and Paul in the refrain. The rest of the texture is quite fluffed up, perhaps even overdone a bit, with double tracking, overdubbed Hammond organ, and a lot of screaming.
  Next note We have the case here where non-official versions of the song, preserved as they are in unreleased recordings of BBC radio broadcasts and live concerts, present a revised arrangement which omits the organ but is in all other respects more effective. I'll single out such specific improvements as we come to them in our walk-through below.

Section-by-Section Walkthrough



  Next note You can hardly call it an intro by itself, but the hot little guitar lick that precedes the opening downbeat helps immediately set the wild and crazy mood of what is to come. Several live versions include four full measures of introductory vamping on E before Ringo's vocal entry.
  Next note The overall section is seventeen measures long and divides up into two eight-measure couplets, plus one additional measure to give a little breathing space for the long pickup into the refrain. This last measure is not strictly "required" in the scheme of things, and its presence does indeed create a slightly awkward metrical asymmetry. My guess is that they decided to include it as the lesser of two evils because if you try this section out without that seventeenth measure, the title phrase which commences the refrain gets garbled in a scramble to squeeze it into measure 16.
  Next note Only the I chord (E) is used in this section, though there is a brief hint of the V chord (B) in the second half of measures 8 and 15; this chord change is much more clearly articulated in the live versions.
  Next note The bluesy melody with its emphasis on F# and the flat-seventh (D) lends some indirect harmonic embellishment of that lone E chord.


  Next note This refrain is eight measures long and built out of four little two-measure phrases each of which declaims the title phrase of the lyrics:
   Riff: f#-f-e|d#         e-d#-d|c#         f#-f-e|
 Chords:       |F#      |B       |E       |C#      |
      E:        V-of-V   V        I        V-of-ii

               |f#      |B       |E       |-       |
                ii **    V        I

   [Figure 40.1]
  [** That f#-minor chord just might be F#-Major but I find the recording too muddy to tell for sure.]
  Next note The shift in this section to a distinctly non-bluesy style with those cornball chromatic-scale guitar riffs is the primary source of formal contrast.
  Next note On a more subtle level, the introduction in this section of a number of different chords with a concomitant amount of harmonic rhythm also contrasts with the monotony of the verses. Though this refrain doesn't actually stray at all from the home key, the large number of intensely functional chord changes (with root movements lying along the circle of fifths) make it sound as though it's very much on the harmonic prowl.


  Next note The break is twelve bars long and like the verse, it jams on just a single chord. The heavy blues style returns with what seems like a high water mark amount of shouts and grunting.
  Next note The guitar solo here consists of sound-bite-like short "licks". There is very little of the sort of melodic continuity or dramatic sense of direction seen in the solos of either "I Saw Her Standing There" or even "Little Child".
  Next note The live versions turn this section very clearly into a twelve-bar blues frame and feature more overall shape to the guitar solo.


  Next note The outro brings a return of the texture heard in the Break, only this time there is an adaptation of the vocal parts of the refrain superimposed over the backing track.
  Next note A small flash of the IV chord (A) during the fade-out hints at the real blues jam session that might have gone on in the studio after the faders had been lowered all the way; see the unreleased take 7 of "She's A Woman" for an example of what I'm thinking of.
  Next note The live versions of our song in fact replicate the twelve-bar blues form seen in the Break and thus take the song to an alternate complete ending.

Some Final Thoughts

  Next note Tony Barrow, whose liner notes on the first couple albums are surprisingly accurate most of the time in spite of their unabashed PR-perspective, gets caught in, not one, but two lies regarding this song:
  • the first one, saying the song was written "specially" for Ringo rather than the Rolling Stones; and
  • the second one, that it is John on the Hammond organ, not (as Lewisohn reports) George Martin.
  Next note There are a number of well known Dylan-Beatles connections out there, but one of the more obscure and unusual examples must be Zimmy's unreleased track from a late 1965 session done with the proto-Band; a song entitled "I Wanna Be Your Lover", in the refrain of which he humorously sends up our own "I Wanna Be Your Man". The existence of such a parody forces me to acknowledge, almost against my will as it were, that our song must have had, in spite of whatever its limitations, a sufficient presence as a ready-made pop-culture icon in order to draw such distinguished imitation, even if only in jest. But I guess that's what I meant to begin with, with my own wisecrack about the triumph of style per se over content.
  Alan (112491#40)
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.