alan w. pollack's
notes on ...

Notes on "Little Child"


Notes on ... Series #38 (LC)
  by Alan W. Pollack
       Key: E Major
     Meter: 4/4
      Form: Intro | Verse | Verse | Bridge | Verse |
                  | Break | Bridge | Verse | Outro (fade-out)
        CD: "With The Beatles", Track 5 (Parlophone CDP7 46436-2)
  Recorded: 11th, 12th September, 3rd 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 The form of this song is a bit tricky. On strictly musical grounds, I believe one hears it in the way that I've parsed it above, as one of the standard and familiar formal models. However, the repeat pattern of the lyrics would seem to argue otherwise; that what I've labeled a "verse" is more of a "refrain" because the words are unvaried over four repeats of the section. Similarly, that what I've labeled as a "bridge" is more properly a "verse" because it is only in that section that the words are varied. This alternate pigeon-holing scheme though would yield an unusual formal structure indeed:
   Intro | Refrain | Refrain | Verse | Refrain |
         | Break | Verse | Refrain | Outro (fade-out)
  Hence, I'll stay with my original analysis, though this formal ambiguity caused by the disposition of the lyrics is noteworthy. We ran into a similar dilemma on "It Won't Be Long" way back in article #10 of the series and the temporal proximity of these two songs makes me wonder if, on some level, John was consciously experimenting at the time in this way.
  Next note Another quite uncommon feature in the form of this song is the appearance of an honest-to-goodness instrumental break, in strict twelve-bar blues no less!


  Next note The key is decidedly E Major and the mood ravingly upbeat. However, the harmonic diet here is more low-budget than we've seen in a while, restricted to only four chords and very common ones at that. In order of appearance, there are the I, IV, V, and V-of-V; that's the Major chords built on E, A, B, and F#, respectively. Note how the lack of any minor, diminished, augmented or otherwise altered harmonies helps to project the uncomplicated emotional tone of the song.
  Next note Unlike many of the other songs we've looked at, in which harmonic rhythm tends to follow a fairly regular pattern (e.g. chord changes in every measure, or every other measure), the harmonic rhythm in this song is a bit more flexibly varied to help articulate shape of the sections; the verses in particular.


  Next note There's a lot of overdubbing on this otherwise simple track to the extreme that even the original British mix of it on "With The Beatles" has a Dave-Dexter-Jr.-like muddiness that becomes part of the experience of the song, whether or not you particularly like it aesthetically. Unlike the case of "Thank You Girl" I'm afraid to think that there's no clean/dry version of this one even in the vaults of EMI.
  Next note On the vocal parts, a double-tracked John is featured solo, with Paul joining him for little flashes of harmony. Instrumental overdubs feature Paul on piano and John on harmonica pretty much the whole way through.

Section-by-Section Walkthrough



  Next note Don't be fooled by those seemingly ad-lib and out-of-tempo harmonica chords at the beginning. They are precisely in tempo making the intro weigh in at four measures long:
      |E       |A       |E9      |-       |
   E:  I        IV       I

   [Figure 38.1]
  Next note Of course, your ear can't figure all this out until the accompaniment kicks with that piano glissando right before the third chord, but it's just this sort of ambiguity than enhances the fun of the music.
  Next note The spicy F# in the harmonica played over the E chord in the third measure sounds a jazzy, freely dissonant note that is picked up on again in the repeated appearance of Major ninth chords of the verses, and during a good part of the instrumental break.


  Next note The refrain-like verse is only eight measures long and built out of two phrases equal in length:
      |E             |-             |-      A      |E             |
   E:  I                                    IV      I

      |B             |A             |F#9           |B             ||
       V              IV             V-of-V         V

   [Figure 38.2]
  Next note The first four-measure phrase itself subdivides rhetorically into a ready-steady-go group of three short "phrasettes" (to coin a term :-)), quite reminiscent of the "move over once, move over twice ..." snippet in "One After 909", and it is harmonically closed in shape. The second phrase nicely balances this out by subdividing more neatly right down the middle of its four measures, and by its harmonically open ending on the V chord.
  Next note The second verse is a slight musical variant of the first one of the sort we've seen before in songs like "Ask Me Why", "There's A Place", and the slightly later "I Should Have Known Better". Here, the structural purpose of the change is to harmonically close up the ending of the second phrase:
      |E             |-             |-      A      |E             |
   E:  I                                    IV      I

      |B             |A             |F#9    B      |E             ||
       V              IV             V-of-V V       I

   [Figure 38.3]


  Next note The stylistic gesture of short phrases seen in the verses is perpetuated in this bridge as well, which is only six measures long, yet contains three phrases equal in length:
   |E       |B       ||E       |-       ||F#      |B       ||
    I        V         I                  V-of-V   V

   [Figure 38.4]
  Next note The usage in this section of a poetic triplet nicely contrasts with, and provides some helpful relief from, the quatrains of the surrounding verses.
  Next note Compared to a song like "I'll Get You", there's a virtual absence in this song of melodic appoggiaturas. However, in measure 5 of this bridge, above the F# chord, there's a stunner of a D# in the melody on the downbeat.


  Next note It's a rare early Beatles' song indeed that has such a break section as this one, both completely instrumental and not based on one of the preceding sections of the song.
  Next note The last two chords of this otherwise pure twelve-bar blues passage are modified to include the IV -» V-of-V -» V progression which by this point of the song strongly resonates with the end of the verse sections, and this tweak helps to unify the break section with its surroundings.
  Next note John's wailing solo is quite nicely done and as a little bonus he even throws in some slow triplets right at the climactic penultimate measure as though just to let us know for sure it's a "John song"; as if this fact were not already clear as an azure sky or an unmuddied lake. My only complaint here is the uncharacteristic roughness with which both the beginning and end of this overdub were edited in.


  Next note We have a very standard looping into the fade-out based on the final two measures of the verse with some clever handling of the duet vocals as they alternate in pattern on the "oh yeahs".

Some Final Thoughts

  Next note This song is the fifth one in a row on the first side of "With The Beatles" in the key of E. Though a comparison of the album's running order to a Baroque dance suite is perhaps a jesting overstatement, there is a certain amount of classic sensibility reflected in the way those five Beatles' originals are sequenced to provide a balanced and varied alternation of mood and tempo.
  Next note That said, "Little Child" is probably the weakest of those five songs; following on the heels of "Don't Bother Me" it's a case of "from the ridiculous to the sublime," or shall we say it the other way around? :-) On casual acquaintance, it's easy to dislike "Little Child" for what are, by today's standards, its condescendingly wise-guy/sexist lyrics. Even a closer look at the music itself might make you think of it as a potboiling throwback to the first album because of the small number of chords, the facile melody, and simple phrasing.
  Next note And yet, if you can get beyond your own hyper-serious reactions (hey, Alan, speak for yourself), I believe you start hearing this song actually as one feel-good rocker of no small "sincerity". In time, the words eventually warm up to strike you as the quite realistic braggadocio of a cool dude on the make. And what you at first reacted to as "rudeness" in that cool appraising stare of his is nothing other than his active compensatory factor, more or less.
  Alan (102191#38)
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.