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notes on ...

Notes on "Lady Madonna"


Notes on ... Series #127 (LM)
  by Alan W. Pollack
       Key: A Major
     Meter: 4/4
      Form: Intro | Verse | Verse | Bridge |
                  | Verse | Verse (instrumental) |
                  | Bridge (instrumental) |
                  | Verse | Verse (instrumental) | Bridge |
                  | Verse | Outro (with complete ending)
        CD: "Past Masters", Volume 2, Track 5 (Parlophone CDP 90044-2)
  Recorded: 3rd February 1968, Abbey Road 3;
            6th February 1968, Abbey Road 1
UK-release: 15th March 1968 (A Single / "The Inner Light")
US-release: 18th March 1968 (A Single / "The Inner Light")

General Points of Interest


Style and Form

  Next note As stylistic hybrids go, this is quite a novel blend Paul's recently much-favored pseudo-verismo slice-of-life portraiture with some of his always much-favored and much stylized hard-driven semi-blues. When you stop to think about it, you realize it had been quite a while, at this point, since any of the Beatles had published a song as out-and-out rocking as this one!
  Next note The fast tempo and the short length of the verse make for a large form here, in spite of the average song length.
  Next note Also, a relatively large quotient of the track is taken up by primarily instrumental interludes.

Melody and Harmony

  Next note The tune leans heavily on the two bluesy scale notes of the flat third (C-natural) and flat seventh (G-natural). At the same time, subtle tension is created by the tune's emphasis on the naturally occurring Major sixth in the verse (that's F# as it appears, for example on the first syllable of the word "manage") while the bassline at the end of the same section is allowed to run roughshod over the flat sixth (F-natural). You can hear this more readily with your ears than I can hope to describe it in mere words.
  Next note The home key of A Major is so heavily inflected by the melodic flat (or "blue") third that it becomes easy to effect a modulation to C Major in the bridge by way of the parallel minor key of a.
  Next note A relatively small number of chords are used, with the most novel effect coming from the end-of-verse cadence in which flat-VI and flat-VII (i.e. F-Major and G-Major) are used to establish A Major amidst a host of cross-relations; recall how A Major has a key signature of three sharps, none of which appear in the flat-VI and flat-VII chords! By the same token, the V chord of A Major (E) appears only at the end of each bridge.


  Next note We have an unusual mix of the familiar and the novel here: the rhythm track of piano, drums, and bass guitar with lead and backing vocals, and hand claps on the one hand; and the nasal vocalizing into cupped hands to approximate brass instruments, along with a cameo appearance of some real saxophones on the other.
  Next note The bassline here rivals the tune itself for your melodic attention. It is dominated, more or less throughout, by a saw-tooth ascending shape that has an uncanny way of grabbing you from down under. Yes, this upward spike tendency is nicely balanced out by that downward scale at the start of the bridge, but even that is followed by yet another persistently ascendant move. Better keep your legs crossed :-)
  Next note The bassline riff of the verse is eventually given the melodic foreground during the instrumental verse sections when it is doubled by guitars and saxophones, but if you look back to the beginning of the song, you recognize that it's been there almost all along.
  Next note And you want examples here of Beatles' typical attention to detail?
  • The intro starts off with just piano and drums. Entry of the bass is held back until the first verse. In spite of whatever other elements show up in the remainder of the track, the honors of the brief outro are reserved for this simple trio.
  • From the stereo mix, it sounds like two distinct drum tracks are used: a metronome-like ride beat on the left, and a more elaborate, nuanced treatment on the right; the latter entering together with the bass at the end of the intro.
  • Syncopated cymbal flashes appear on the third beat of the measure in all three bridges. The same rhythmic emphasis is provided by the hand claps in the two instrumental verses.
  • All three of the bridges are finished off with a smooth topping of lush vocal harmony and a momentary silencing of the steady clock-ticking pulse.
  • In the middle pair of verses, the bassline is doubled by guitar in the sung verse, and saxophones triple it in the instrumental. Paul ends his own solo with a nice octave flip upwards.
  • The second bridge is entirely instrumental and features a variation on the sung tune scored for "nose horns," accompanied by a solo saxophone obbligato that, listened to in isolation, seems to have little to do with the backing track in either melodic, harmonic, or rhythmic terms! This bridge and the final one introduce a little bit of an eigth-note guitar riff to glue the end of the section to the verse that follows it.
  • The doubling of the bassline and Paul's octave flip are repeated in the third pair of verses.
  • The third bridge, which is sung, uses the nose horns from the instrumental bridge as part of the accompaniment.
  • The final verse is the only place in the song where the saxophones triple the bassline during a section that is sung.

Section-by-Section Walkthrough



  Next note The intro is eight very fast measures long, and covers one complete instrumental-only exposition of what will be the verse section of the song. This is fitting in light of the several instrumental patches that pop up throughout the rest of the track.
      |A           |D           |A                |D           |
   A:  I            IV           I                 IV

      |A           |D           |F        G       |A           |
       I            IV           flat-VI  flat-VII I

   [Figure 127.1]
  Next note The harmonic rhythmic is steady throughout with a deft touch of acceleration as the section draws to a close.


  Next note The verses are doubled up throughout except for the very end. You might even say they're "tripled-up" at the beginning, if you include the intro; the latter effect bearing an interesting comparison with "All You Need Is Love".
  Next note The melodic content of the bassline riff merits special attention if for no other reason than that it provides an object lesson in the unnecessarily albeit perennially confusing science of musical orthography:
   |A     A     B#    C#    |D     D     F#    A     |

   [Figure 127.2]
  The question you should ask is what the difference consists of, after all, in whether you spell the third note of this riff as B# or C-natural. The answer is that your choice of spelling should follow your melodic "sense" of what's going on, which I'll be the first one to admit is ambiguous:
  • Do you experience that third note as an expressively decorative appoggiatura that leans against the C# that follows it? (If so, then B# is the so-called correct answer.)
  • Or, perhaps, do you experience the transition of the third to fourth notes of this riff as a kind of minor/Major last-minute change of heart? (If so, then C-natural is probably a more correct answer.)
  In my humble opinion, the best answer is that this riff is inherently ambiguous to the ear, a kind of musical pun, in which both answers would seem to be equally correct, and at the same time, no less.
  This riff, by the way, is hardly unique in the Great Lexicon of Famous Musical Quotes. Consider the opening of Richard Strauss' "Also Sprach Zarathustra"; the latter made into a ubiquitous cultural ready-made by its usage in the prologue to the "2001" film.


  Next note The bridge is sixteen measures long, and is built out of a four phrase pattern of ABAC:
   Chords: |d           |            |G           |            |
 Bassline:  D     C      B     A      G     F      E     D
        C:  ii                        V

           |C           |            |a           |            |
            C     B      A     G      A     B      C     E
            I                         vi

           |d           |            |G           |            |
            D     C      B     A      G     F      E     D
            ii                              V

           |C           |B half-dim  |E           |-           |
        C:  I
        a:  III          ii           V4 --------» 3

   [Figure 127.3]
  Next note In the first half of this section, the harmony converges steadily toward C Major, only to turn in toward its relative minor key of a at the last minute. In the second half, the big finish is on an E-Major chord which is ambiguously the V chord of either A Major or a minor, and this nicely sets up the return of the Major home key in the next verse.
  Next note The harmonic rhythm is twice as slow as it was in the verse, and we have that dramatic use of a "4-3" suspension over the last chord.


  Next note The outro is a short and sweet reprise of an idea introduced at the very end of the final verse.
  Next note Try and sight-sing that chromatic lick in the last two measures, and savor the way in which the movement of the outer two voices in parallel tenths makes for such a cool-sounding cross-relation:
   C#      D       Eb      D       C#
   A       B       C-nat   B       A

   [Figure 127.4]

Some Final Thoughts

  Next note The lyrics are conspicuously clever. Friday night's arrival without a suitcase, for example, is a blend of the abstract and concrete reminiscent of a certain face kept in a jar by the door. Not to mention those stockings which, pun-like, run just like a child who has learned to tie his boot lace; wait a minute — or was it, "like pigs from a gun"?
  Next note My favorite consistency-avoiding detail, though, remains the omittance of Saturday from an otherwise complete listing of the days of the week. Perhaps, in consequence of her great piety, This Lady rests on the seventh; day, that is.
  Alan (021797#127)
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.