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notes on ...

Notes on "Oh! Darling"


Notes on ... Series #180 (OD)
  by Alan W. Pollack
       Key: A Major
     Meter: 4/4 (12/8)
      Form: Intro | Verse | Verse  | Bridge |
                  | Verse | Bridge |
                  | Verse | Outro (with complete ending)
        CD: "Abbey Road", Track 4 (Parlophone CDP7 46446-2)
  Recorded: 20th April 1969, Abbey Road 3; 26th April 1969,
            Abbey Road 2; 17th, 18th, 22nd July 1969,
            11th August 1969, Abbey Road 3
UK-release: 26th September 1969 (LP "Abbey Road")
US-release: 1st October 1969 (LP "Abbey Road")

General Points of Interest


Style and Form

  Next note Paul gives us yet another one of those uncanny Beatlesque stylistic hybrids with this song: the emotional ethos of slow and heavy blues mixed with the form and chord progressions of the slow, wall climbing doo-wop oldie. It's kind of like Clapton's "Did You Ever Love A Woman" (from the Layla album, and coincidentally a song smoldering with Eric's obsession at the time with Mrs. Patti Boyd Harrison, but I digress) crossed with "In The Still Of The Night". Or closer to home, it's "Yer Blues" meets up with "This Boy".
  Next note There is a surpringly small number of songs in slow ternary meter in the complete Beatles songbook. Other than the two I already mentioned in the previous paragraph I can think of only "Yes It Is" and maybe "Norwegian Wood".
  Next note For all of its bluesy flavor, the fact remains that the form here is the classic pop two-bridge model with only a single verse separating the bridges. None of the sections matches the length or chord progression of traditional twelve-bar blues.
  Next note As a point of formal curiosity you'll note that this song has virtually no intro or outro.

Melody and Harmony

  Next note The tune is made bluesy by the heavy stress given to the flat third and to a lesser extent flat seventh. Scale degree 4 is conspicuously given short shrift. It's avoided entirely in the verse, and shows up in the bridge only at the end of each phrase; as an appoggiatura in the first case and as a neighbor tone in the second case.
  Next note The verse covers a full octave's range, but all stops are pulled out for the bridge, where things peak out successively at high C and C#.
  Next note The relatively large chord set includes I, ii (as well as V-of-V), IV, V, and VI.
  Next note There's also a very funky chord used in the bridge that is most conventiently labeled as an F7 ("flat-VI"), but which your Harmony 102 textbook (they don't cover this chord in Harmony 101 :-)) would feel more precise in labelling a "German (Augmented) Sixth."


  Next note The production is relatively a wall of sound by Beatles standards, relying more on local details, rather than formal layering, to add a dimension of textural variety.
  Next note The intensity of Paul's lead vocal and the extent of his personal preparations for it are legendary. The backing track of piano, guitar, drums and bass does a fine job of matching forces with that vocal.
  Next note Some interesting details:
  • The guitar provides aggresive "chops" on the off beats in the verses; playing for some reason with especial vehemence in measure 4 of verse 2. This switches to an arpeggiated figurate that places guitar notes on each eighth note of triplet backbeat for the bridges.
  • Macca's lead vocal is single tracked in verses, and has heavy echo applied (and may also be automatical double tracking) in the bridges. His performance gets noticeably looser in the second half of the song, varying the tune in the final pair of verses, and adding a spoken obbligato of "believe me darling"-plus-scream in the second bridge and final verse.
  • The drums momentarily shift to playing rapid triplets per triplet eighth note beat in the lead-in to the bridge. Do I hear an echo of "Come Together"?
  • A gentle wash of backing vocals appearing with similar material in all four verses, but enters in a different measure each time. Check it out; the voices enter in the following measure of each successive verse: 4, 2, 3, 1.
  Next note One of the secondary traits of the slow ternary style used here is long dramatic pauses in the lead vocal that routinely fall either between phrases or at end of sections. In a more purely bluesy context (look back at the Clapton song referenced up top) you're most likely to see those breaks filled in by elaborate solo instrumental commentary. Macca, given the same opportunity, opts for heavy scalar riffs in the bassline; which simply goes to show that each artist exploits whatever it is that s/he's got in particular.

Section-by-Section Walkthrough



  Next note The minimalistic intro consists of a single chord which is played as if on the third slow beat of the opening measure. I can just hear them in the studio counting: one, two, chord, Oh ..."
       1   2   3   4
      |-       E-#5    |
   A:          V

   [Figure 180.1]
  Next note The augmented chord on E functions here just the way a similar augmented V chord did at the end of the bridge in "From Me To You". Be sure to spell the chord E - G# - B#; the latter note pushes upward to the C# (of the A-Major chord) on the downbeat of the next measure for resolution.


  Next note The verse is eight measures long. The lyrics scan into unequal phrase lengths that belie the otherwise four-square form of the music. I parse the phrases as being 4 + 1 + 3:
      |A           |E           |f#          |D           |
   A:  I            V            vi           IV

      |b     E     |
       ii    V

      |b     E     |A     D     |A     E     |
       ii    V      I     IV     I     V

   [Figure 180.2]
  Next note The harmonic rhythm increases for the second half of the section. The harmonic shape is essentially closed. The first verse (the only one followed immediately by another verse) ends with a V chord to motivate the repeat. The verses that segue into a bridge sustain the A chord but exploit the ability of the I chord to pivot as though it were V-of-IV in order to just as effectively motivate that transition.
  Next note It's telling that Paul placed the exclamation point in the title phrase after the word "Oh!" rather than after "Darling." Regardless of whatever pangs the protagonist is suffering here (expressed by "Oh!"), he cannot resist from expressing the more tender poignance underlying loving feelings he still holds for his darling. Note the extent to which the F# -» E downward figure (which first appears on the word "darling" in the first measure of the song) is milked for all it's worth, appearing in the verse over four different chords, and sounding different each time because of the changing relation played by the two notes with respect to each successive chord:
  • 6 -» 5 appoggiatura on top of A-Major
  • 9 -» 8 approgiatura on E-Major
  • 8 -» 7 -» 8 neighbor tone figure on top of f#-minor
  • 5 -» 4 -» 5 neighbor figure on top of b-minor
  Next note The leaning melodic motif also occurs twice on B -» A:
  • 6 -» 5 appoggiatura on D-Major
  • 9 -» 8 on A-Major


  Next note The bridge is also eight measures long, but this time the phrasing is 2 * 4:
      |D           |F7          |A           |-           |
   A:  IV          "flat VI"     I

      |B           |-           |E     F7    |E           |
       V-of-V                    V  "flat-VI" V

   [Figure 180.3]
  Next note The harmonic rhythm of this section is even slower than that of the verse, though here too, the pace of the chord changes picks up toward the end of the section. The harmonic shape of this section is open on both ends.
  Next note That "flat-VI" is more accurately spelled with a D# on the top, rather than Eb, and that spelling forces you to consider the chord rooted on IV, with two of the four notes of the chord chromatically modified, and the chord voiced in second 6/5 inversion.
  Next note Think of it this way. Your indigenous IV7 chord here is spelled bottom up D, F#, A, C. In this special case, raise the root of the chord, flatten the third, and then place the chord in its first (aka 6/5) inversion. Voilá: F, A, C, D#.
  Next note The "Augmented Sixth" moniker describes the interval between F-natual in the bass and D# on the top. That interval enharmonically sounds identical to a minor seventh, but this Augmented Sixth has the unsual property of its two outer voices resolving chromatically in contrary motion. In this case, both voices resolve to the note E; as part of an A-Major chord in the first phrase and as part of an E-Major chord at the end of the second phrase.
  Next note Note how the appearance of this special chord in the first phrase of the bridge brings in its wake a descending chromatic over the course of measures 1 - 3; F# -» F-natural -» E.


  Next note The outro is parallel to the intro in its simplicity.
  Next note Harmonically, the flat-II (Bb7) penultimate chord bears direct analogy to the "flat-VI" in the bridge. And it finishes off the song with a dominant seventh chord on I that surely belongs in the paragon of genuine blues clichés.

Some Final Thoughts

  Next note Major points of cross-track reference and resonance this time:
  Next note The home key of A Major serves a triple role: as "the V" of the key of D which appears as the home of key of surrounding songs; an echo of the modulation to A in "Something" and an anticipation of the large amount of airplay given to A as a home key on side 2.
  Next note Yet again, both triplets and walking bassline licks appear embedded within the fabric of the piece.
  Alan (110899#180)
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.