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Notes on "Martha My Dear"


Notes on ... Series #137 (MMD)
  by Alan W. Pollack
       Key: E-flat Major
     Meter: 4/4
      Form: Intro | Verse | Bridge | Bridge Extension |
                  | Verse (instrumental) | Bridge |
                  | Verse | Outro (with complete ending)
        CD: "White Album", Disc 1, Track 9 (Parlophone CDS7 46443-8)
  Recorded: 4th, 5th October 1968, Trident Studios
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 Don't be fooled: the gracious surface charm of this song is more substantively belied by novel touches in the departments of form, phrasing and harmony than you might ever notice without a closer look.
  Next note The form is complicated, albeit in subtle terms:
  • A larger than average quotient of precious bandwidth is monopolized by purely instrumental music; i.e. the long intro, mid-section break, and outro.
  • That instrumental intro encompasses one complete verse section, thus "forcing" the unusual deployment of only a single sung verse before the first bridge. Similarly, the instrumental verse section in the middle "forces" the final verse to be the only other sung verse in the entire song.
  • Though the piece includes two bridges, the first one includes an extension that is cavalierly omitted the second time 'round.
  Next note The verse includes a Charleston-like syncopated repeat of the first melodic fragment, thereby setting up an asymmetrical interpolation of two excess beats within the first line of the song. Paul would much later employ a variation of this same technique in "Two Of Us"; listen (I command you!) to the early run-throughs of the latter (the first track on the venerable "Songs From The Past", Volume 4) in which Paul adjures his colleagues to listen to how well "it works" as he "rhythms it" for them, demo style.

Melody and Harmony

  Next note The home key is a jazzy, blues-inflected dialect of E-flat Major in which a lot of different chords are used, a larger quotient than average of which appear with freely dissonant embellishments.
  Next note The bridge is set in the key of F Major, the modulation made out to sound more remote than it really is by the manner in which it is abruptly entered and exited.


  Next note The piano that opens the piece, played drily with no pedal and closely miked, runs beneath most if not all of the track, but the Beatles' convention of instrumental layering is also very much in evidence:
  • First verse: Add light strings to underscore piano solo.
  • First bridge: Add brass chords on the first and third beats of each measure, with string chords on every beat.
  • Bridge extension: Add drums (their first appearance on the track) and note how the bass, which just may have joined in earlier becomes more noticeable here.
  • Instrumental Solo: The tune is carried here by a trumpet. In the meanwhile the drums drop out but the bass continues on, and you can now hear hand claps in the backing part.
  • Second bridge: Similar to the first bridge, but note how the drums show up here this time around; previously, they were held in reserve for the so-called extension.
  • Final verse: No drums, no brass, but the bassline is ever more prominent.
  • Outro: For just strings and bass.
  Next note This arrangement features three enduring signature details; i.e. you'd recognize what song they came from no matter how brief the sound bite in which you might hear them:
  • The "A-to-B-flat" grace note in the piano part just before the downbeat to the third phrase of the verse.
  • The horn fanfare at the end of the bridge and bridge extension.
  • The bassline accented in "Bulgarian" rhythm (3 + 3 + 2) for the second phrase of the bridge. Paul's own precedent for this device to-date is "Good Day Sunshine", but on "Abbey Road" you'll find George using it in "Here Comes The Sun" and John using it in the intro to "Because".

Section-by-Section Walkthrough



  Next note The intro/verse section is an extremely unusual fourteen and a half measures in length, the first of its four phrases being foreshortened by six beats; the musical equivalent of a receding chin :-) In this case, the effect is motivated by the dog-chasing-its-tail motif with which the tune opens:
          |E-flat |-             |-      D      |
  E-flat:  I                             V-of-iii

          |g             |C             |F             |-             |
           iii            V-of-(V-of-V)  V-of-V

          |B-flat        |A-flat 9      |B-flat 7      |A-flat 7      |
           V              IV             V              IV

          |B-flat 7      |A-flat 7      |B-flat 7      |-             |
           V              IV             V

   [Figure 137.1]
  Next note Well before the true E-flat home key is established, the section veers off sharply in the direction of a possible modulation to the key of B-flat Major. Though the B-flat chord becomes clearly established by section's end as V, not I; you still might say that the tonal center of gravity is weighted deceptively more in favor of B-flat rather than E-flat.
  Next note The ninths and sevenths applied to all of the A-flat-Major chords above fall under the category of "free" dissonance.


  Next note It's the intro revisited.


  Next note The bridge, proper, is sixteen four-square measures long and appropriately makes "atonement" for the metrical imbalance of the verse section. By the same token, it makes its own very balls-ily abrupt harmonic shift to the key of F Major:
      |d7          |-          |g7          |-            |
   F:  vi                       ii

      |F-added 6th |-          |-           |-            |

      |**bass pedal tone on C ...
      |g           |C          |g           |C     A      |
       ii           V           ii           V     V-of-vi

      |d           |-          |g7          |-            |
       vi                       ii

   [Figure 137.2]
  Next note Freely dissonant harmony continues in this section with the large number of gratuitous seventh chords, the added-sixth embellishment of the new home key chord, and the pedal tone which is sustained through the first three measures of the third phrase.

Bridge Extension

  Next note This unique passage constitutes a quite natural continuation of the bridge from which it is spawned. The harmony is of the same fabric with its rampant free sevenths. The rather off-beat three-measure phrasing of the opening of this section somehow fits with that "receding chin" gesture of the verse:
     |d           |G9          |-           |
  F:  vi           V-of-V

     |d           |G9          |-           |
      vi           V-of-V

     |C7          |-           |B-flat      |-7          |
      V                         IV

     |d           |-           |g7          |-           |E-flat      |
       vi                       ii
                       E-flat:  iii                       I

   [Figure 137.3]
  Next note The abrupt transition back to the home key of the verse features that root move of a major third that we discussed back in of all places, "Wild Honey Pie". Note how the second bridge embellishes this gesture with a novel "3-4-5" hook in the toppermost voice.


  Next note The outro takes the rather simple way out, considering all formal and harmonic subtleties that have been dished out all the way through the rest of the song: the V chord that is left hanging at the end of the final verse is allowed to simply resolve to a prolongation of the I chord, sustained through the downbeat of the third measure, but with the remainder of four measures to the phrase clearly implied.

Some Final Thoughts

  Next note I'm not embarrassed to admit I'm of that generation for whom the suggestion that this song was dedicated to the composer's sheep dog was a disambiguating revelation.
  Next note Furthermore, I find myself the more mystified and more than a bit dismayed by Mr. Lewisohn's revisionist attempts to tell us all that it's not about a dog, after all.
  Next note Leave well enough alone and give us a break, I say. A dog may fine, Paulie, but you'll never connect with a real woman with that "hold your head up", "silly girl" kind of foolish line.
  Alan (120797#137)
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.