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notes on ...

Notes on "Maggie Mae" and other "Get Back" session fragments


Notes on ... Series #172 (MMFRAG)
  by Alan W. Pollack
       Key: G Major
     Meter: 4/4
      Form: Intro | Verse | Verse ... (rough ending / fade-out)
        CD: "Let It Be", Track 7 (Parlophone 0777-7 46447-2)
  Recorded: 24th January 1969, Apple Studios
UK-release: 8th May 1970 (LP "Let It Be")
US-release: 18th May 1970 (LP "Let It Be")

General Points of Interest


Style and Form

  Next note "Maggie Mae" follows on the heels of the song "Let It Be", ending off side 1 of the "Let It Be" album with a surprisingly wry flourish.
  Next note That the song "Let It Be" needed a touch of levity to relieve the tension of both its coming (see "Dig It") and going suggests that someone though the song might be just a touch too heavy and serious, left entirely to its own devices.
  Next note That "Maggie Mae"'s location as the final track on side 1 of the album is part of its effect per se is both a fact and a phenomenon you're not familiar with if you know the album only from the medium of Compact Disc.
  Next note Back in the dark ages, you had to get off your ass and flip the record over if and when you wanted to listen to side 2. If you owned a plain turntable, the music stopped at this point. If you owned an automatic changer, you could remain in your seat and listen to a side from another album, or if you positioned the changer bracket a certain unadvertised way, you could continually replay side 1 of the current disk. But moving on to side 2 of the same album still took some effort of will, no matter how small. For the home listener, it also created a moment of reflection, and indecisive vulnerability. The unspoken questions you always had to answer were, am I ready for side 2 right now? Did side 1 pique my interest to go on with it? Or do I need to hear some other kind of music or peace and quiet in order to be quite prepared for that eventuality?
  Next note Polishing off side 1 with the fragment of a raunchy so-called "traditional" ditty performed in the overdone caterwauling style of amateur street corner buskers was an arch Beatlesque way of spiking the questions.
  Next note Contrast this with the handling of the two throwaway tracks on each of the two line-ups for the "Get Back" album:
  May 1969:
  • "Get Back" is last song on side 1
  • "Maggie Mae" and "Dig It" appear in-order in middle of side 2, between "Two Of Us" and "Let It Be". It's as if they felt "Two Of Us" also needed a touch of levity on the way out.
  January 1970:

Melody and Harmony

  Next note The ditty itself is nice enough music as such things go. The tune features the complete diatonic scale, and has a nice arch shape with a unique high point that balances an ascent predominated by triadic leaps with a scalewise descent.
  Next note The chords are the three chords to learn when you're learning only three: I, IV, and V.


  Next note The production values are suitable for a performance on the Harvard Square subway platform; just heavy strummed acoustic guitar, light drum kit, and Paul and John singing in roughshod vocal counterpoint, pronouncing the words with a set of working class diphtongs that would set Henry Higgins' teeth on edge.
  Next note The lyrics are a scant step up the foodchain of musical sophistication from a genre of smutty ballads we passed around the Junior High schoolyard in my days; e.g. "Barnacle Bill the Sailor" or "Bang Bang Lulu". At least the Beatles show the good taste here to cut it short before anyone pulls any strokes that Shake'll be sorry for.

Section-by-Section Walkthrough



  Next note We get just one chord to set the key and starting note for the singers:
      |G       |...
   G:  I

   [Figure 172.1]


  Next note The refrain is sixteen measures long in a totally squared-off 4 by 4 form:
      |C       |-       |G       |-       |
   G:  IV                I

      |G       |-       |D       |-       |
       I                 V

      |G       |-       |C       |-       |
       I                 IV

      |G       |D       |G       |-       |
       I        V        I

   [Figure 172.2]
  Next note The chord choices are very simple, but the changes and the harmonic rhythm are well varied. Note the acceleration of harmonic rhythm in the fourth phrase and the slow syncopation caused by the I chord spanning the end of phrase 1 and the start of phrase 2.
  Next note The gambit of opening such a refrain on a chord other than I is something quite rare in songs written by the Beatles; take a look at "And I Love Her", "Hello Goodbye", or the first section of "Happiness ...".

Some Final Thoughts

  Next note "Maggie Mae" bears the weight of all the song fragments performed during the "Get Back" month as much as "Dig It" bears the weight of the sloppy jam sessions. And in this case, I'm talking literally about fragments of songs, not to be confused with the relatively well rehearsed performances of oldies such as "You Really Got A Hold On Me", or "Mailman Bring Me No More Blues", or "Great Balls of Fire" that respectively appear in the film, on the "Anthology", and on bootleg.
  Next note Compared to the more fully worked out covers whose selection seems consistently made on the basis of Beatles nostalgia for their roots, what I call the fragments appear often out of "nowhere" as rapid fire musical free associations that sort out into an astonishing taxonomy of categories. A more exhaustive listing would demonstrate healthy helpings of Buddy Holly, Bob Dylan, Elvis, and many other direct influences. My personal short list below is oriented toward categories you might be surprised to find at all, in increasing order of unlikelihood.
  Pop Standards of the sort you don't usually associate with the Beatles
  • "Ach Du Lieber Augustin"
  • "A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody"
  • "Baa Baa Blacksheep"
  • "Chopsticks"
  • "Danny Boy"
  • "Frere Jacques" (alright, I know it's in the background of PW)
  • "Hava Nagilah"
  • "Hello Dolly" (Paul sings, of course)
  • "Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah" (of Allan Sherman fame)
  • "Tea for Two"
  • "Theme from the Third Man" (think "zither")
  Beatles self-parodies
  Songs they made up as they went along
  • "Fancy Me Chances"
  • "Negro in Reserve"
  • "Shaking in the 60s"
  • "Suzy's Parlor"
  • "Teacher was a' Lookin'"
  Next note Next time, it's on to side 2.
  Alan (080899#172)
Copyright © 1999 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.