alan w. pollack's
notes on ...

Notes on "Mother Nature's Son"


Notes on ... Series #147 (MNS)
  by Alan W. Pollack
       Key: D Major
     Meter: 4/4
      Form: Intro | Verse | (spacer) |
                  | Verse | Bridge |
                  | Verse | Bridge |
                  | Verse | Outro (with complete ending)
        CD: "White Album", Disc 2, Track 3 (Parlophone CDS7 46443-8)
  Recorded: 9th, 20th August 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 is another one of those hymn-like folk songs, cast by Paul in a decidedly pop music formal scheme. It's a close relative of "Blackbird"; lyrically, perhaps the bit less profound but more elaborately produced of the two songs.
  Next note The form of the official recording is the small two-bridge model (i.e. only one verse between the buttons), with one ingenious variation: to separate the unique pair of verses that opens the song, the final phrase of the verse is repeated as a "spacer" in between them. Then, the same gesture is repeated at the very end of the song, this time, in order to provide the outro. Compare this with the Esher demo [**] of the song and the studio outtake on "Anthology", Volume 3, both of which contain a more folk-like final repeat of the refrain-like bridge at the end.
  [** The so-called Esher demos consist of 26 demos recorded at George Harrison's Esher bungalow, between the return of Lennon and Harrison from Rishikesh, India, in April 1968 and the start of the recordings for the "White Album" on the 30th of May 1968. Some of these were released on "Anthology", Volume 3.]

Melody and Harmony

  Next note Textbook melodic values abound here; e.g. rakish-not-slavish balance between up-and-down motion; motion via steps-and-leaps; the range is extended upward for the bridge. I dare say the upward phrase sung at the end of the verse is one beautiful pentatonic lick.
  Next note The harmonic rhythm is unusually slow, relying on pedal points in both verse and bridge sections.
  Next note The key of the song is definitely Major, though the harmonic vocabulary includes the inflections of both the V-of-V chord and some chromatic scalar motion in the so-called inner voices.


  Next note The acoustic guitar is a constant factor on the backing track, with a brass choir added in for much of the songs mid-section, plus an unusually small amount of percussion effects.
  Next note Even with such a spare number of disparate resources at play, the layering of the arrangement is subtly choreographed, with a couple of unique touches deftly "planted" in the cinematic sense of the term.
  Next note The schematic trace:
  • Intro: Guitar only, but notice the couple of drumbeats, which at this point of the track would seem to be random, out of nowhere; an example of "planting."
  • First verse: Still guitar only.
  • Second verse: Add brass. Note the "bricks laid on the overlap" manner in which the trumpet enters during the spacer that precedes this verse. Reinforce the E-Major chord with a rising arpeggio in the bassline, starting here and continuing for the rest of the song. In the second half, add percussive tapping.
  • First bridge: Add what sounds like a bass drum on the downbeats. Try to shift the tapping to just off-beats, but note how the pattern is not carefully maintained. The vocal part has no words.
  • Third verse: Drop the tapping altogether; though I fear some of it appears out of nowhere in the second half.
  • Second bridge: Drums again; this time, they even get to show off a small fill at the very end of the section. The tapping is back.
  • Fourth verse: Drop the brass, but add a second track for acoustic guitar. In sympathy with the bridges, the vocal part here also has no words!
  • Outro: Brass returns for the curtain call, and the final title line of singing is double tracked.

Section-by-Section Walkthrough



  Next note The intro is in two parts: the opening, played ad-lib, anticipates the what turns out to be the verse's propensity for the V-of-V chord, though this early in the proceedings, you're not yet sure just what it means. We then get eight measures of folksy vamping on the I chord including plenty of oscillation to neighboring tones on both sides; but in terms of harmonic bone structure, it's all a D-Major chord.


  Next note The verse is a four-square sixteen measures long in an AB + C pattern of 4 + 4 + 8:
 Inner voice: |A       |B       |-       |A       |
 Inner voice: |F#      |G       |-       |F#      |
      Chords: |D       |-       |-       |-       |
           D:  I

              |D       |C#      |B       |-       |
              |B       |A       |G#      |-       |
              |D       |-       |E       |-       |
               (vi6/4)           V-of-V

              |C#  D   |C#  D   |C#  D   |C#      |
              |E   F#  |E   F#  |E   F#  |E       |
              |A       |-       |-       |-       |
               V  (I6/4)

              |A       |-       |-       |-       |
              |F#      |F-nat   |G-nat   |F#      |
              |D       |-       |-       |-       |

   [Figure 147.1]
  Next note I've notated the two inner voices that account for most of the "harmony"; direct your attention to the brass overdubs to latch onto this. I've penciled in (in parentheses) the places in which a roman numeral-obsessed analyst might be tempted to put labels on 6/4 chords, though I emphasize my preference for leaving these alone in this context as the by-products of neighboring tones, not root movement.
  Next note The neighboring motion doubles in speed for the third phrase, creating an illusion of increase in the harmonic rhythm; rather a paradoxical effect, considering the pedal point.
  Next note That chromatic line in the final four measures is quite twisty; I dare you to sing it! It places an enigmatically overcast shadow on the otherwise "pretty sound of music"; a much needed hint of sadness behind the smile.


  Next note The bridge is an unusual fifteen measures long, parsing out as an AAB form of 4 + 4 + 7. You might say that seven-measure phrase is really eight measures long, overlapping with the final measure of the second four-measure phrase; an "elision" effect we've seen many times in Beatles' songs.
               --------------- 2X ----------------
 Inner voice: |A       |-       |B       |A       |
 Inner voice: |F#      |-       |G       |F#      |
      Chords: |D       |-       |-       |-       |
           D:  I                (IV64)    I

              |C#      |C-nat   |-       |
              |F#      |-       |-       |
              |D       |-       |-       |

              |B       |Bb      |A       |-       |
              |G       |-       |F#      |-       |
              |D       |-       |-       |-       |
               (IV6/4) (iv64)    I

   [Figure 147.2]
  Next note The descending chromatic line is another bitter-sweet touch whose deployment enhances the off-center phrasing by lingering asymmetrically over the C-natural for a second measure.


  Next note As mentioned earlier, we finish off with a repeat of the "spacer" phrase.
  Next note The song ends off on a D dominant seventh chord rather than a plain triad, the effect of which is somehow ambiguous and sad; a subtle allusion back to the same chord that was lingered over in the bridge.

Some Final Thoughts

  Next note As a foible of human nature we each tend to hold on to multiple self images, some sincere and realistic, some completely fantastic. And then there are some that may appear to originate from the fantasy side of the house, but which are capable of being fully actualized through the ineffable union with a true mate.
  Next note No matter how much Paul might have wished to see himself as a child of nature (yes, I am aware of the allusion to John's original lyric for "Jealous Guy"), I take a leap of faith here to suggest that he needed the participation of his Linda in order to let it be.
  Alan (050398#147)
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.