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notes on ...

Notes on "Julia"


Notes on ... Series #145 (J)
  by Alan W. Pollack
       Key: D Major
     Meter: 4/4
      Form: Verse | Refrain | Refrain | Bridge  | Refrain |
                  | Verse | Refrain | Refrain |
                  | Outro (with complete ending)
        CD: "White Album", Disc 1, Track 17 (Parlophone CDS7 46443-8)
  Recorded: 13th 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 almost agonizingly exquisite in its restrained, laconic poetry, its combination of suggestive imagery with a reluctance to be explicit; "silent cloud touch me," indeed.
  Next note Though it is cast in an unadorned and folksy finger picking acoustic guitar style, the musical text is just as elusive as are the words.
  Next note The formal design is also equivocal; what I label above as "verse" and "refrain", you might prefer to call "intro" and "verse". I myself could argue it either way; heck, but I'll stick with "verse" and "refrain" because of the way the title is repeated like a mantra throughout all appearances of that section, no matter how many of the other words are varied.

Melody and Harmony

  Next note There's an ample enough supply of plain old V -» I in the harmony to clearly establish the home key, but the heart of the song is dominated by "impressionistic" chord changes that involve atypical root movements and a large share of dissonant tones. This effect is amplified by the way in which the particular string picking order often delays the appearance of the root note of the chord until the middle of the measure in which the chord has nominally changed.
  Next note The tune is confined within the relatively small range of a sixth, from D up to B, something which enhances that feeling in the song that something is being held back. Indeed, the leaning upward to that C# appoggiatura at the end of the final couple refrains (on the words "song of love" — an important tactical point that it is reserved for toward the end!) as well as the reach downward to G#, at the beginning of the bridge provide well needed respite.
  Next note You might say the effect of the restricted melodic range is, itself, intensified by the B-natural/B-flat cross relationship within the tune as well as the similar alternation of F# in the tune with F-natural, supplied as the seventh of the g-minor chord.


  Next note The arrangement is ultra-simple and recorded ultra sotto-voce. This kind of ending to the first of the unprecedented two-platter "White Album" is intended to be "ironic" in contrast with the manner in which the song order of the first side emerges. You passively accept the quiet ending it as inevitable, but if you think about it, you could just as easily have expected this side of the album to end on an orgasmic note.
  Next note The recording level of this track is so extremely low that, outside the confines of your own living room, alone in the dark late at night, you find yourself needing to turn up the volume for this song to a level that makes many of the other tracks on the album come out way too loud. The same thing happens with George's "Long Long Long" for the conclusion of "Side 3"; an effect that is partially lost in the transfer to the single-sided CD format.
  Next note John's lead vocal single-tracked for the most part and delivered with a curiously pale, dead-pan delivery. It is double-tracked only for the final phrase of each section, and where the formal overlap of one section to another calls for it.

Section-by-Section Walkthrough



  Next note The verse is nine measures long and built on an AA' poetic structure of 4 + 5. Note, though, how the final measure of this section elides with the first measure of the following section.
      |D       |b7      |f       |-       |
   D:  I        vi       iii

      |D       |b7      |f       |A       D
       I        vi       iii      V       I

   [Figure 145.1]
  Next note The b7 chord is a good example of so-called "free dissonance". The seventh comes into play strictly as a matter of the note, A, being sustained through the entire phrase; it otherwise serves no harmonic or contrapuntal purpose. The sustaining of the note A is reinforced by the guitar part's featuring of an "inverted cuckoo clock" motif reminiscent of the way the note F# is made similarly prominent in "Dear Prudence".
  Next note The root chord progressions are on the weak side, suggesting a mood of being too tired or upset to get up and fix yourself a drink; vi -» iii consists of a move of a fourth downward, analogous to the passive plagal cadence (V -» I has a more energetic teleological feel to it than IV -» I; in my humble opinion); iii -» V feels even weaker because the two chords share two out of three triadic notes in common.


  Next note The refrain is thirteen measures long, built out of three phrases in a 4 + 4 + 5 pattern. Just like the Verse, above, it elides with the section that follows.
      |D       |b7      |a   7   |9       |
   D:  I        vi       v

      |B       |-       |g7/9    |-       |
       V-of-ii           iv

      |D       |b7      |f#      |A       D
       I        vi       iii      V       I

   [Figure 145.2]
  Next note The harmony continues here to be pungent in terms of the coloring of individual chords, at the same time being unsure of its footing with respect to root movement from one chord to the next. Examples abound:
  • the reprise of the free b7 in the first and last phrases;
  • the move from vi -» minor v in a Major key; topped off, no less, by the free 7/9 embellishment of v;
  • the B-Major chord at the beginning of the second phrase leads you to anticipate a modulation toward e minor so strongly that you hear the previous a-minor chord as a pivoting iv in the key of e;
  • any expectation of the modulation though is abruptly dashed by the move, next, to a g-minor chord. The latter is, first of all, our old friend, the minor iv in Major key (an especial Lennon favorite). In this context it creates a double cross-relation with the previous chord (B-flat/B-natural, F#/F-natural), and another cross-relation (F-natural/F#) with the following chord. This g-minor chord is, itself, embellished by a yearning "2-3" upward appoggiatura, and is made initially mysterious by the way in which the root note is delayed until the third beat of the measure; for a couple beats you half suspect that the chord change is to d-minor; not g-minor 7.
  Next note By the way, this is probably an appropriate place at which to reiterate something you've heard me say many times before: Yes, I know that there's no way that John Lennon (or any other songwriter, for that matter) would compose the above thirteen measures with much, if any, of what I've analyzed in mind. But still, I stand by my conviction that what I've analyzed is part of what you react to in listening thoughtfully and sensitively to the music whether you can articulate it or not. Part of the music's charm is the extremely rapid pace and multiple layers on which all these details hit you; even if you can articulate it, it happens in real time, much faster than you could keep up with if you tried; kind of like sex in that way :-)


  Next note The bridge fills ten measures, introduced by a two-measure wind-down from the previous section. Scan the ten measures as 4 + 2 + 4:
      |D       |-       |
   D:  I
   f#: VI

      |c#      |-       |D       |-       |
   f#: v                 VI

      |b7      |-       |
   f#: iv

      |f#      |-       |-       |-       |
   f#: i
   D:  iii

   [Figure 145.3]
  Next note Starting with the unusual move to the c# chord, this section provides a rather weak modulation to the key of the relative minor, f#. I term it as "weak" because of the continued usage here of the minor v chord and the plagal cadence.


  Next note The remainder of the song following the lone bridge is mostly a repeat of material heard earlier, though some variations call your attention.
  Next note The subtext of being incapable of articulating one's message completely in words is nicely painted by the fragmentary nature of the vocal part of the final verse; completely silent for two separate patches, and wordlessly humming along for a third. The latter effect is strangely reminiscent of "All I've Got To Do". (Right, when's the last time you listened to that one? Quick — do you know, off the top of your end on which album it appears?)
  Next note Best of all, perhaps, is the very old fashioned (by Beatles' standards) three-times-you're-out outro. Note how, in the final verse John initially drops the f# chord from the last verse, only to restore it for the very, very, last time around. In hindsight, now that the f# chord is suddenly omitted, you realize how its presence all along the rest of the way was yet another wordlessly musical expression of yearning.
  Next note Let's pick it up at measures 9 of the last verse:
   "So  I  sing ...   Jul --i--a.
   |D       |b7      |A       |D       |
    I        vi       V        I

    Jul --i--a.
   |A       |I       |
    V        I

    Jul ---------- i--a.
   |f#      |A       |D7      |-       |
    iii      V        I

   [Figure 145.4]
  Next note The I7 chord at the end is a final, fitting example of free dissonance.

Some Final Thoughts

  Next note "Julia" makes an interesting comparison with "I'm So Tired", sharing much of the latter's enervation but at the same time replacing its marked tendency toward irritability with a yearning that is sad but also faithful beyond words.
  Next note You can have even more fun comparing and contrasting "Julia" with the immediately preceding track, "I Will". Could this be yet another one of those cases in which I fancifully hypothesize that John and Paul might set themselves the challenge of writing parallel songs based upon a single common denominator?
  Next note In this case the theme of a relationship that is at once paradoxically intimate-yet-remote, transcendentally essential yet somehow not yet (alas, maybe impossible to ever be) fully consummated is unmistakably at the core of both songs. And yet, if you start to consider side-by-side the musical style and details of the two songs, you find an insight into the personalities of the two songwriters, their differences as well as their interdependencies, that is as vivid and true as the most ample psychological argument you might chose to make from biographical sources. We've done this before with song pairs such as "Paperback Writer" / "Rain" and "She Said She Said" / "Good Day Sunshine". Try doing this pair on your own, or let's come back to it another day.
  Next note And on a related note, consider this: though you probably treasure your knowledge of the poignant personal history that underlies "Julia" do you ever stop to ponder how relatively incidental and non-essential that knowledge is to the effect that the song has upon you? Oh, I understand how knowing that Julia was John's mum unavoidably adds a new dimension to your so-called appreciation of the song, but what I'm asking now is how much less does the song speak to your heart in absence of that knowledge?
  Alan (030898#145)
Copyright © 1998 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.