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Notes on "Octopus's Garden"


Notes on ... Series #181 (OG)
  by Alan W. Pollack
       Key: E Major
     Meter: 4/4
      Form: Intro | Verse | Verse |
                  | Bridge (Instrumental) |
                  | Verse | Outro (with complete ending)
        CD: "Abbey Road", Track 5 (Parlophone CDP7 46446-2)
  Recorded: 26th April 1969, Abbey Road 2; 29th April 1969,
            17th, 18th July 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 The charm of "Octopus's Garden" lies in its simplicity and complete lack of pretension; the latter in spite of the typically Beatlesque lavish production values. Particularly irresistable here is the Peter Pan-like theme of youthful escape from the harsh realm of storm (no relation to Rory :-)), wave and being told what to do, to a place of shade, warmth, joy, happiness and safety.
  Next note The form is made compact by virtue of the relatively long Verse section which, itself, might be subdivided into a mini | Verse | Verse | Bridge | Verse | module of its own.
  Next note Simplicity in this song is operative one might say to the extreme of creating the musical equivalent of what is called "naive" in painting or sculpture. I am struck in particular by the barely concealed parallel fifths and octaves between the tune and the bassline and the way in which the instrumental break introduces no really new material in spite of the temporary change of key.

Melody and Harmony

  Next note The tune and lead guitar riffs are almost purely pentatonic, breaking the mold either to embellish the third scale degree, or to give the fourth scale degree its moment in the limelight by virtue of the A-Major (IV) chord in the third phrase.
  Next note Much of the melodic content is pattering and without distinctive contour, but the placement of the third phrase in a higher range does single-handedly give the overall tune an archlike shape.
  Next note The chord list is limited to the venerable cliché pattern of I, vi, IV and V.
  Next note A textbook pivot modulation to the key of IV helps break up the monotony though once we've arrived in the new key we find, with some small sense of disappointment, that all we now get is the same cliché chord progression, albeit transposed to the new key.


  Next note The basic backing track consists of bass, finger picking rhythm guitar, lead guitar, drums, and tack piano, but a very typical amount of Beatles attention to detail is applied.
  Next note The basic arrangement of the verse follows a pattern with Ringo bravely singing the first pair of phrases single track with just drums, rhythm guitar and bass accompanying. For phrase three, Ringo goes double tracked, the piano enters, and the drumming pattern is altered. The final phrase restores the original drumming, adds choral backing vocals singing the words along with the lead, and keeps the piano in tow.
  Next note The lead guitar gets a big solo in the intro, sits out the first verse, plays a limited role in the second, jumps back in for another big solo in the break, and then stays on through the final verse, for yet another solo in the outro.
  Next note Scat singing backing vocals (on the phonemes "ooh" and "ahh") enter in the second verse. In verse three they evolve into singing the lyrics antiphonally with the lead. And in the big finish outro, we find backing vocals overdubbed in both scat singing and antiphonal roles.

Section-by-Section Walkthrough



  Next note The intro is eight measures long and features two phrases equal in length:
                    1  2  3  4                1  2  3  4
      |E           |-  B9 E     |-           |-  A  B     |
   E:  I               V  I                      IV V

      |E           |c#          |A           |B           |
       I            iv           IV           V

   [Figure 181.1]
  Next note The first phrase establishes the home key with a syncopated, fanfare-like idea that reappears nowhere else in the song but the final measure. The second phrase introduces the infernal chord progression of choice for this song, though the chords are reeled out at twice the pace as they are in the Verse proper.
  Next note The chords at the end of measure 4 are more heavily inflected than I've labeled them; there's an F# in the A chord and a G-natural in the B chord.


  Next note The verse is an expansive thirty-two measures in length, with phrases of even length (4 * 8) that create a poetic form of AABA':
       ------------------------- 2X --------------------------
      |E     |-     |c#    |-     |A     |-     |B     |-     |
   E:  I             vi            IV            V

      |c#    |-     |-     |-     |A     |-     |B     |-     |
       vi                          IV            V

      |E     |-     |c#    |-     |A     |B     |E     |-     |
       I             vi            IV     V      I

   [Figure 181.2]
  Next note Harmonically the first pair of phrases is completely parallel and open. The bridge-like third phase starts off from vi (the result of a "deceptive" cadence from the V chord in the previous measure), but it too ends open on V. The final phrase is closed, however, on both ends.
  Next note The harmonic rhythm is carefully modulated over the course of the section; slow and steady in the first pair of phrases; slowed down in the first half of the next phrase, and accelerated for the end of the final phrase.
  Next note Ringo's rather limited natural resources in the composition department (sorry, guy) are most evident in the scene from the "Get Back" film in which he attempts to share the unfinished song with his mates for the first time. He appears to have arrived at the studio with no more than the first 16 measures in hand, and is genuinely at a loss for how to continue until his friend George lends a hand.
  Next note The parallel fifths I mentioned can be found if you trace the movement of the root bass note and tune from one downbeat to the next in the first eight measures. You'll find the parallel octaves the same way in phrase three.


  Next note The instrumental break is sixteen measures long and is a contraction of the verse, featuring only the first and last of the latter's four phrases:
      |A     |-     |f#    |-     |D      |-     |E     |-     |
   E:  IV
   A:  I             vi            IV             V

      |A     |-     |f#    |-     |D      |E     |A     |B     |
   E:                                             IV     V
   A:  I             vi            IV      V      I

   [Figure 181.3]
  Next note We have a complete pivot modulation to the key of IV (A Major) in this section.


  Next note The Outro parlays the deceptive cadence found in the verse transition to phrase three into one of those three-strikes-you're-out finishing gambits so much favored by the Beatles:
      |A       |B       |c#      |-       |
   E:  IV       V        vi

      |A       |B       |c#      |-       |
       IV       V        vi

                                  1 2 3 4
      |A       |B       |E       |- B E   |
       IV       V        I          V I

   [Figure 181.4]
  Next note Speaking of help from George, this outro is very much simplified shades of "I'm So Happy Just To Dance With You".

Some Final Thoughts

  Next note Cross track resonances this time include the key choice (E-Major as the V of A), the overdub of watery sound effects in the break, and Paul's standout scalar treatment of the oompah bassline.
  Alan (111499#181)
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.