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notes on ...

Notes on "Sexy Sadie"


Notes on ... Series #149 (SS)
  by Alan W. Pollack
       Key: G Major
     Meter: 4/4
      Form: Intro | Verse | Verse | Bridge |
                  | Verse | Verse | Bridge | Outro (fade-out)
        CD: "White Album", Disc 2, Track 5 (Parlophone CDS7 46443-8)
  Recorded: 19th, 24th July, 13th, 21st 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 We have an intriguing mix of styles here that is not easily pigeon-holed; cutting edge lyrics on the one hand, and do-wop backing vocals and an almost Classical Era piano accompaniment on the other.
  Next note The form is the longer two-bridge model, with an unusual pair of sung verses in the middle, and variations on the verse section used for the outro.
  Next note Throughout, the music (by way of the harmonic choices) suggests a feeling of rallying ones energy to struggle up hill against tireless forces that would appear to be doggedly ready and willing to push you back and drag you down; an interesting effect in light of the lyrics.

Melody and Harmony

  Next note The tune has wide a range and an especially high tessitura with the melodic peak of the verse, in its final phrase, taking John all the way up to an A -» G appoggiatura in falsetto territory.
  Next note The home key is clearly established by the ample air time given to the old I, IV, and V, but other much less common chords such as iii, V-of-ii, flat-VII have more than just cameo roles.
  Next note The progression of the G- to F#-Major chord becomes a genuine signature of the piece, the gesture immediately and repeatedly suggestive of being pushed back. This kind of downward chromatic progression is further extended in the final phrases of both verse and bridge sections. The latter is uncannily balanced out by the rising (this time diatonically) chord stream at the beginning of the bridges.


  Next note The bass, drum, and guitar work is very nice, but the backing track remains dominated by the piano part, processed with surrealistically heavy reverb. Dig that surprise upward flash in the treble during the fourth verse.
  Next note The lead guitar takes over for the piano in the outro section, playing stepwise chromatic lines that resonate with the harmony.
  Next note John's lead vocal performance of the verses contains a larger than usual amount of free variation over the series of repeats. Even more unusual is the extent to which many of these variations appear already in the Esher demo! [**]
  Next note The backing vocals are "absurdly lush" for the context, and also surreal in their own way. "Wa-wa" for starters is pretty good, but when they switch to "see-see" in the second verse (seemingly triggered by the appearance of the secret word in the lead vocal), it truly goes over the top.
  [** 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.]

Section-by-Section Walkthrough



  Next note The intro is a single six-measure phrase that is harmonically open at both ends. It starts away from the home key, converges directly toward it, and finishes on the V chord, nicely motivating the next section, which starts on the I chord.
      |C       |D       |G       |F#      |F-nat.  |D       |
   G:  IV       V        I       (VII)     flat-VII V

   [Figure 149.1]
  Next note This intro also happens to match the third phrase of the verse section.
  Next note The intro on the studio outtake on "Anthology", Volume 3, interestingly turns out to be the chromatic descending chord stream from the end of the bridge. The Esher demo does not even appear to have any intro!


  Next note The verse is an unusual fourteen measures long in a 4 + 4 + 6 pattern:
      |G       |F#      |b       |-       |
   G:  I        V-of-iii iii

      |C       |D       |G       |F#      |
       IV       V        I        V-of-iii

      |C       |D       |G       |F#      |F-nat.  |D       |
       IV       V        I       (VII)     flat-VII V

   [Figure 149.2]
  Next note The IV -» V start in both second and third phrases adds rhetorical emphasis; an effect that is reinforced by the lyrics. Similarly, you subconsciously experience the G -» F# progression a bit differently depending on whether it starts (the first phrase) or ends a phrase (the second and third phrase).
  Next note Furthermore, observe how the F# chord itself feels different depending on what follows it:
  • The resolution to b-minor is the most "functional" of the three alternatives toyed with; your ears make sense of it.
  • The move to C-Major creates an unusual root progression of a tritone, but the rhetorical parallelism between second and third phrases causes to overlook it, in favor of hearing a comma-like phrasing break between the two chords.
  • The move to F-natural-Major is the most audacious of the three, putting the F# chord in the self-effacing role of being an intermediate step in a chromatic stream.
  Next note The move from flat-VII to V produces a classic cross relation. You'd be amused to see John using the same trick (and in the same key, no less) way back in "I'm A Loser". This gambit is not so uncommon that you should be "amazed" by this hyperlink, but it's hard to overlook completely.


  Next note If you'll buy my notion that the last two measures of this section elide with the start of the following verse (making that verse sound as though it begins on the b minor chord!), the bridge turns out to be twelve measures long in a pattern of AAB:
       --------------- 2X ----------------
      |G       |a       |b       |C       |
   G:  I        ii       iii      IV

      |A       |A-flat  |G       |F#      |
       V-of-V  (flat-II) I        V-of-III

   [Figure 149.3]
  Next note The run of four chromatic chords in a row is introduced by a C/C# cross relation in the transition from IV to V-of-V.


  Next note The fade-out is relatively gradual and allows for the exposition of two full verse sections plus a good half of a third one. The correspondence between these outro sub-sections and the verses is somewhat disguised by the alternation between instrumental music and occasionally sung interjections.
  Next note The studio outtake on the third volume of "Anthology" goes on for quite a bit longer than the official version, including a third bridge followed by a reprise of the first two verses performed, verbatim, into the fade-out. The Esher demo, by contrast, forgoes any verse repetitions at the end, opting for a couple repeats of the downward chromatic chord stream.

Some Final Thoughts

  Next note Looking back on it, it's hard to believe that none (okay, few) of us suspected that this song "a clef" had anything to do with one Maharishi at the time it was first released. Perhaps the use of the "sexy" word in the title (the one unique place in all of officially released Beatlesdom that the word is used in a lyric!) had something to do with it.
  Next note Compared to John's roast of Paul in "How Do You Sleep", this song clearly bears the passage of time the more gracefully because, in addition to its discreet protection of the victim, it remains remarkably well restrained in spite of its confrontational, ridiculing, and questioning stance; never an easy feat.
  Alan (052098#149)
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.