alan w. pollack's
notes on ...

Notes on "I Want To Tell You"


Notes on ... Series #101 (IWTTY)
  by Alan W. Pollack
       Key: A Major
     Meter: 4/4
      Form: Intro | Verse | Verse | Bridge |
                  | Verse | Bridge | Verse | Outro (fade-out)
        CD: "Revolver", Track 12 (Parlophone CDP7 46441-2)
  Recorded: 2nd, 3rd June 1966, Abbey Road 2
UK-release: 5th August 1966 (LP "Revolver")
US-release: 8th August 1966 (LP "Revolver")

General Points of Interest


Style and Form

  Next note This is very much a typical Hari-song; replete with a hard and high anxiety in the lyrics that is further manifested in the musical fabric by dissonance, both harmonic and rhythmic. We're talking about serious illness of ease.
  Next note Harmonically, we have that persistent, somewhat mechanical (not to say irritating :-)) harping on the E-minor ninth chord in the piano, and rhythmically, there's those slow triplets, especially in the opening bassline ostinato, which create lots of challenging friction against the 4/4 back-beat. The lyrics, I hope, speak for themselves.
  Next note There's also a touch of the exotic, saved for the very end, where it is sung out by, what sounds to my ears like, Paulie, of all people!

Melody and Harmony

  Next note The verse tune opens with a jumpy pentatonic pair of phrases, though the remainder of it, as well as the bridge tune, is balanced out by completely step-wise motion.
  Next note The home key of the song is A Major throughout, established by a frugal budget of chords. However, the guitar ostinato that pervades the song contains, embedded within it, what I always refer to as the "Hey Jude"-progression (I -» flat-VII -» IV -» I), and this adds a modal flavor to the proceedings.
  Next note The other unusual harmonic feature is the off-center prominence given to chords that have the note B on the bottom.


  Next note The opening guitar riff is one of those all-time great ostinato patterns that sets the tone of the whole song right from the start. In contrast to the outstretched melodic arch of the "Day Tripper"-figure, this one is much more of a "saw-tooth" pattern, in the style of "Taxman". Note, here, the hard and reiterated floor on A, the repeated downward arpeggios in slow triplets, and the hard syncopation which places the origin of the pattern just before the downbeat.
  Next note The rest of the ensemble tends to play in a contrastingly groovy beat in which beats "two" and "four" are syncopatedly emphasized, and rapid triplets fill the spaces between phrases. The most interesting moments in the song are where this more swinging beat is superimposed, rather uneasily, over the agitated slow triplets of the ostinato.
  Next note We have a double-tracked lead vocal backed for bold-italic emphasis on the even-numbered phrases of the verse; shades of the syncopated beat on "two" and "four"!
  Next note And of course, they were seemingly never too busy to add those fussy little touches for the percussion section; check out the rattlesnake maracas at the end of each verse, the patterning of the tambourine swats in the bridge, and the hand claps saved for the final verse.

Section-by-Section Walkthrough



  Next note The last time I can recall a fade-in opening in a Beatles' song before this one goes all the way back to "Eight Days A Week", though you could argue that the mock disorganized opening of "Taxman" is a "logical" fade-in of sorts.
  Next note You become conscious of the music in the midst of the ostinato figure played out on only low strings of the lead guitar. The intro continues with three complete iterations of the ostinato, with other instruments making a staggered entrance: piano and drums come in on the second repeat, followed by the maracas and bass guitar.


  Next note In spite of the steady 4/4 back-beat of this verse, your ears do not easily grok it for a couple of reasons; in particular, the unusual eleven-measure length, and the manner in which the four vocal phrases, unequal in length, are rhetorically declaimed to neither start or end necessarily at measure boundaries.
      |A        |-        |-        |-   B    |-        |
   A:  I                                V-of-V

      |E        |-        |-        |-        |A        |-        |
       V                                       I

   [Figure 101.1]
  Next note And, as if that weren't enough, we also have the change of chord in the middle of measure 4; a move that is, in my humble opinion, very sophisticated.
  Next note The sneak reprise of the ostinato to fill the space between verses is a classic unifying gesture.


  Next note The bridge is eight measures long, and though it's much closer to four-square than the verse, (and well needed contrast to it by this point of the song) here too, we have three short phrases rhetorically suspended over the measure lines.
      Top: |B      |C#   B |B  A   |BA   AG#|
 Middle 2: |F#     |F-nat  |E      |F#      |
 Middle 1: |D-nat  |-      |C#     |D#      |
   Chords: |b-min  |b-dim  |A      |B-Maj   |
                    9 -» 8          9 -» 8

      Top: |AG#F#  |B A G# |B A A  |-       |
 Middle 2: |-      |F-nat  |E      |-       |
 Middle 1: |D-nat  |-      |C#  D  |C#      |
   Chords: |b-min  |b-dim  |A      |-       |
                            9-» 8
                            3-» 4 -» 3

   [Figure 101.2]
  Next note Harmonically, this bridge is a bit of a fake-out, seeming at first to hint of a possible excursion away from the home key, but in the end, all we get is a rather restless-yet-indecisive kind of chromatic leaning away from the A-Major chord and back to it; a feeling quite resonant with the affect of the lyrics. It's not really appropriate to give a whole lot of different roman numerals to all those different chords with B in the bassline; trust me, you will find a study of the creepy motion of the inner voices, as I've outlined them above, well worth the effort. The non-obvious call I'd make here is to name the diminished chord in measures 2 and 6 a vii-diminished (a surrogate for V), with the root on G#, in spite of the B on the bottom.
  Next note Note too, the way the "9-8" motif of the piano part from the verse is echoed, in part, by the number of "9-8" appoggiaturas in the vocal part of this bridge. You might also say that the "3-4-3" figure at the end of the section is resonant with something implied in the opening ostinato.
  Next note And if you feel the momentum beginning to sag toward the end of this section, dig how that sudden burst of rapid triplets at the very end of the bridge helps to re-jump-start your momentum for the verse that follows.


  Next note The outro is a cross between a varied reprise of the into, and a one-two-three-go! style of fade-out ending.
  Next note When the final verse ends, we are treated to three iterations of the ostinato figure, alternating this time with a repeat of the closing tag line by the full vocal forces. The last repeat features Paul bursting out into a surprisingly free Indian-flavored melisma reminiscent, say, of the sitar solo in "Love You To". This might seem out of place, or at least gratuitous, if it were not for George's having used as a motif throughout the song, that also very Indian-like slow melodic slide toward the end of the title phrase (on the words, "tell you").

Some Final Thoughts

  Next note In spite of his well known covers of Beatles' songs, it's not often that I am struck by any similarities between Jimi Hendrix' work and that of Our Boys. In this case, though, I find myself unavoidably free-associating from "I Want to Tell You" to Jimi's own "Manic Depression". Yes, I do.
  Next note "I feel hung up and I don't know why" pushes the same buttons in me, for whatever elusive reasons, as "I know what I want but I just don't know (how to go about getting it.") Of course, Jimi's song is a lot more hyper and "out" there, compared to George's. But is it, though?
  Alan (032795#101)
Copyright © 1995 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.