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Notes on "She's Leaving Home"


Notes on ... Series #111 (SLH)
  by Alan W. Pollack
       Key: F Major (Mono) / E Major (Stereo)
     Meter: 12/8
      Form: Intro | Verse | Verse | Refrain |
                  | Verse | Verse | Refrain |
                  | Verse | Refrain | Outro (with complete ending)
        CD: "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band",
            Track 6 (Parlophone CDP7 46442-2)
  Recorded: 17th, 20th March 1967, Abbey Road 2
UK-release: 1st June 1967 (LP "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band")
US-release: 2nd June 1967 (LP "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band")

General Points of Interest


Style and Form

  Next note The Beatles were uncommonly sharp at coming up with surprising, unlikely stylistic blends or "bends". But from this point of their career onward, Paul, in particular, would occasionally indulge a hankering stylistic "mimicry". The latter is much more difficult to pull off with artistic success because the attempt to sound "authentic" in such cases puts you at risk of sounding equally trite or "facile".
  Next note A definite pattern emerges in those endless listener polls of most or least favorite McCartney songs where you find his more ingenious blends, such as "Eleanor Rigby", "For No One", or "Penny Lane" high on the preferred list, and the more straight mimics, such as "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" or "Honey Pie", very much on the unfavored one.
  Next note "She's Leaving Home" is, perhaps, closer to the mimicry end of the spectrum than it is to the blend end; hence its lingering controversiallity among even usually strong fans, and the revisionist complaints about how it has not aged well. But, as we take our typically close look at the music, we find it's not at all that simply cribbed from clichés.
  Next note I know that I myself get a bit irritated by the extent to which the cloying arrangement for strings and harp seems rather heavy-handedly chosen to underscore the old-fashioned cluelessness of father and his wife's take on what their baby's done. But I dare say, the music itself provides a nicely intriguing, stylized spoof of that same semi-classical drawing room style, so popular at the turn-of-the-century, and to which it is said that ragtime and roaring twenties jazz were a direct and rebellious reaction.

Melody and Harmony

  Next note An intentionally overlush impression is created the operatic wide sweep of the tune, and the almost wall-to-wall usage of seventh and ninth chords.
  Next note It is by his including the unexpectedly modal flat-VII and minor v chords here that Paul subtly reminds us that this is a parody of sorts.


  Next note The backing track is one of the more homogeneous ones you'll ever find on a Beatles' track. The repeated sections show some amount of modernistic variation, but Mike Leander's hand here is more restrained and less inventive than was George Martin's in "Eleanor Rigby"; a shame the latter person's line was engaged when Paulie called him up for this one.
  Next note The backing vocals for the refrains feature an unusual kind of antiphonal counterpoint. It's neither a hocket (where a single melodic line is arranged over two or more parts), nor your typical polyphony where the two or more lines move at the same time. Did you ever notice how some of the string parts which fill the spaces between verse phrases anticipate some of the melodic by-play of this refrain?

Section-by-Section Walkthrough



  Next note I'm going to transcribe the song as a slow-spun 12/8, where four of what you'd otherwise parse as single measures in fast 3/4 make up one long measure.
  Next note The intro here consists of just one such measure with an elaborated arpeggiation over the I chord. If you want to get picky, you can argue that end of each half measure implies a shift to the IV6/4 chord, but I believe your perception of the big picture is limited to the I chord.


  Next note The verse is four measures long and parses into a three phrase pattern of ABB (2+1+1):
      |E     b     f#          |c#          F#          |
   E:  I     v7    ii7          vi          V9-of-V

      |B                       |-                       |
        4           3           4           3

   [Figure 111.1]
  Next note The harmonic rhythm continually slows down, making you feel by the end of each verse some combination of exceedingly relaxed and exhausted.
  Next note The use of D-natural in both the chords and tune of the first phrase adds an unexpected Mixolydian modal touch.
  Next note Off the top of my head, I cannot think of a more extreme example in a Beatles' song (that we've studied to-date) of a single chord being not merely sustained, but embellished simultaneously with an appoggiatura and a ninth as is the B-Major chord in the second half of this section.


  Next note The refrain is an unusual four whole measures and one three quarters measure long, and the antiphony of the vocal parts makes a challenge of trying to parse out its sub-phrases:
      |E                       |-                       |
   E:  I

      |-           D           |c#          F#          |
                   flat-VII     vi          V7-of-V

      |c#          F#    |
       vi          V9-of-V

   [Figure 111.2]
  Next note The end of this refrain is surprising both metrically (because of that dropped quarter measure), and harmonically because of the way the V-of-V is allowed to resolve directly to I at the start of the next verse, without the benefit of the V chord intervening.


  Next note The final refrain includes the missing quarter measure and proceeds with the following two measures:
      |c#          F#          |A           E           |
   E:  vi7         V-of-V       IV          I

   [Figure 111.3]
  Next note The V-of-V to IV is a much favored progression of the Beatles, though the "plagal" IV -» I final cadence seems chosen for its cliché connotations of faintly religious sentimentality.

Some Final Thoughts

  Next note The question of whether or not the "Mono Pepper" really has some authoritative precedence over the "Stereo Pepper" is sharpened by the fact that "She's Leaving Home" appears mastered a complete half-step lower and slower on the stereo mix of the album; we're talking what sounds like the exact take simply played back slower to sound in E rather than F Major.
  Next note Yes, I know Lewisohn's quote of Richard Lush about how the mono version is the "only real" version. I'm even willing to be swayed in the case of the current song by the way in which the faster tempo makes it sound less corny and cloying. And yet, I wonder.
  Next note I cannot believe that every single difference between the two mixes of the album is a matter of more care and forethought having been given to the mono version. The one detail that tests the common wisdom for me in particular is the awkward splice on the mono version between the last chicken cluck of the "Good Morning, Good Morning" fade-out and the opening lead guitar lick of the "Sgt.'s Reprise". For me, the mono mix here remains an amusing "outtake" which they had the opportunity to fix at the last minute for the stereo mix.
  Next note And if you're willing to admit even that one challenge to the Mono Legend, then you're forced to admit at least a shadow of a doubt with respect to the two tempi of "She's Leaving Home". Is the slower one in stereo to lugubrious, or did they think, in hindsight, that the higher version was simply too fast, too high, and too thin? Oh right; you're never too thin :-)
  Alan (012196#111)
Copyright © 1996 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.