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notes on ...

Notes on "P.S. I Love You"


Notes on ... Series #30.1 (PSILY.1)
  by Alan W. Pollack
       Key: D Major (with Aeolian inflections)
     Meter: 4/4
      Form: Intro | Verse | Verse | Bridge | Verse | Bridge |
                  | Verse | Outro (complete ending)
        CD: "Please Please Me", Track 9 (Parlophone CDP7 46435-2)
  Recorded: 11th September 1962, Abbey Road 2
UK-release: 5th October 1962 (B Single / "Love Me Do")
US-release: 27th April 1964 (B Single / "Love Me Do")

General Points of Interest


Style and Form

  Next note The form is virtually identical to that of "Misery", with two bridges separated by only one verse. Even though "P.S. I Love You" uses a much richer set of chords than "Misery", its verse section is still quite bound to the home key, and for that matter, so is its bridge. Therefore, the same avoidance of harmonic claustrophobia would seem equally applicable to both songs, in terms of dispensing with an extra verse section before the second bridge.
  Next note An unusual and creative formal touch here is the way that the intro turns out to be a subtle variation of the bridge.
  Next note The lyrics of the four verses create a relatively clunky pattern of ABAB; compare with "In Spite Of All The Danger", of all things.
  Next note Rhythmic attack is virtually always right on the downbeat in this song. The little grace note ahead of the bar in the first syllable of the word "remember" stands out in contrast.

Melody and Harmony

  Next note The intro tune here has a melodic kink around the seventh degree of the scale (C#) similar to what we saw in the verse of "She Loves You". The beginning of the verse traverses an entire octave, scale-wise and with a couple of juicy appoggiaturas, only to balance it out at the end with an upward leap of the same octave.
  Next note The group of chords used in this song is much more exotic than what we've seen in the other very early period songs we've looked at. In addition to the standard fare of what is diatonically available within the home key, we have the chords of the flat-VI (B-flat) and flat-VII (C-Major), both of which may be said, in theoretical terms, to be borrowed from the parallel minor key of d. The very use of these chords lends an exotic mixed-mode feeling to the song.
  Next note The strangest chord of all in the song is the dominant seventh chord on C#, employed in the intro as a surrogate "V." The naturally occurring chord on C# in the key of D is a diminished seventh chord and that VII chord works nicely as a substitute V because it is the sonic equivalent of the V7 chord with the root note missing. In modifying the C#-diminished chord into a dominant seventh, the Boys throw us a curve ball in that you'd sooner expect the latter chord to resolve to the key of F#. Against all textbook rules and logic, they rely on the stepwise movement of all voices (C# -» D, E# -» F#, G# -» A, and B -» A) to make it "work." Still, coming right at the beginning as it does, it's an attention grabber.
  Next note In addition to the chord choices, we find that several of the chord progressions in this song are unusual. We're used to finding in the typical early Beatles song such as "I Saw Her Standing There", the pervasive influence of I -» VI -» V sorts of chord progressions which convey a strong sense of directed kinetic motion that is the musical equivalent of Hemingway's much celebrated use of transitive verbs. Here, in "P.S. I Love You", we find two different types of unusual chord progressions.
  Next note The first unusual type of progression is called a "chord stream", characterized by sliding, stepwise root movement from chord to chord. In the verse section, we find I -» ii -» I, and flat-VI -» flat-VII -» I as examples. This is a technique is most closely associated with either early twentieth century Impressionism or Jazz and it happens to break one of the standard old-fashioned rules against using parallel octaves and fifths between chords. Aesthetically, it suggests a languid sensuality.
  Next note The second unusual type of progression is called a "deceptive cadence", characterized by the V (dominant) being followed by something other than the I chord. In the verse section, yet again, we find examples of the V being resolved in one case to the plain vi chord, and later on to the flat-VI. Aesthetically, it suggests a last minute retreat from coming to closure; a musical approach/avoidance.


  Next note The look and feel here is decidedly not that of rock-n-roll. It's rather more like lounge-pop or Latin dance music, in large part due to the tempo, beat, and choice of percussion instrumentation.
  Next note The vocal arrangement presents Paul in the solo spotlight with a particular style of backing vocal from John and George. Though the backing part persists virtually all the way through, there is more interesting detail to it than initially meets the eye.
  Next note Note, for example, how in all verses except the last one, the backers sing behind isolated words only, making for a musically italic/bold effect. In the last verse, yet again to avoid foolish consistency, this effect is dropped in favor of them singing all the way through with Paul.
  Next note Similarly in the second bridge, we have the successive interjections by solo voices in between the phrases for the sake of some colorful variety.
  Next note The following piece of trivia is usually eclipsed by the "Love Me Do" story, but it should be noted that it is Andy White (again) on the drums in this song; poor Ringo plays only the maracas.

Section-by-Section Walkthrough



  Next note Even though the words of the bridge are repeated in this intro, the resemblance between the intro and the bridge is cleverly disguised by the addition here of the C#7 chord, and the fact that in the bridge, we're used to hearing an additional vocal part that harmonizes a third above the melody:
       ---------- 3X -----------
      |G     C#    |D           |D     A     |D           |
   D:  IV    VII 7  I                  V      I

   [Figure 30.1]
  Next note By the way, this is yet another convergent start away from the home key. The singers come right in on the first beat, without a cue.


  Next note The verse is not only an unusual ten measures long, but is made up of four phrases of several different lengths:
   "Treasure these few words ..."         "Keep all my love ..."
   «------ phrase #1, 3 measures --------»«- phrase #2, 2 measures -»
   |D           |e           |D           |A           |b           |
    I            ii           I            V            vi

   "P.S I love you ..."             "You, you, you ..."
   «--- phrase #3, 2.5 measures ---»«--- phrase #4, 2.5 measures ---»
   |A           |B-flat      |-  -  -  C   |D           |-          |
    V            flat-VI           flat-VII I

   [Figure 30.2]
  Next note Articulation of the phrasing is nicely aided by the harmony with its multiple deceptive resolutions of V, first to vi, then to flat-vi, then finally to I, but even then, only via the flat-VII!
  Next note The melodic arch of the first three phrases has a bottom-heavy asymmetry that is balanced out by the dramatic swing upward of an octave in the final phrase. Note the repeatedly expressive use of appoggiaturas; i.e. on the words "together," "forever," "P.S." and the middle "you" of the final phrase.


  Next note The contrast of this bridge to its surrounding verses is manifest in its simple chord choices and regularized shape. We're on a strict harmonic diet here of I -» IV -» V, and the eight-measure section is articulated into two phrases of four measures each:
    ---------- 3X -----------
   |G           |D           |D     A     |D           |
    IV           I                  V      I

   [Figure 30.3]


  Next note In typical fashion, this outro grows out of the final measures of the final verse and presents the formulaic triple-repeat of the little hook phrase in a relatively straightforward manner.

Some Final Thoughts

  Next note "P.S. I Love You" is ultimately an ironic blend of both backward and forward looking influences. On the one hand, the relatively soppy lyrics and the pop arrangement are reminiscent of their cover repertoire from the Decca audition period. By the same token, there's a technical sophistication here, especially in the harmony and uneven phrasing, which looks well beyond many of the other apparently more original songs from the early EMI days.
  Next note Aside from the sophistication of any specific technical device used here per se, the most creative touch of all — in my humble opinion — is in the way that the successive deceptive cadences in the verse provide an exquisitely realistic shyness and emotional "playing footsie" that otherwise belies the ready-made paper-cut valentine of the words.
  Alan (031101#30.1)
Revision History
080591 30.0 Original release
032001 30.1 Add pass-two observations and copy edit
Copyright © 2001 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.