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notes on ...

Notes on "She Said She Said"


Notes on ... Series #12.1 (SSSS.1)
  by Alan W. Pollack
       Key: B-flat (Mixolydian Major)
     Meter: 4/4 but disrupted in the Bridge
      Form: Intro | Verse | Verse | Bridge |
                          | Verse | Bridge | Verse | Outro (fade-out)
        CD: "Revolver", Track 7 (Parlophone CDP7 46441-2)
  Recorded: 21th June 1966, Abbey Road 2
UK-release: 5th August 1966 (LP "Revolver")
US-release: 8th August 1966 (LP "Revolver")

General Points of Interest


Style and Form

  Next note How about from "Good Day Sunshine" we back up one track and do the final one on Side A. Okay?
  Next note Although the most conspicuous feature of "She Said She Said" is the metrical high jinks of the bridge, this song also provides us with object lessons about two other general compositional topics: how to experiment without things falling apart, and the special characteristics of modal harmony.
  Next note Experimentation! Among other things, this song teaches us yet another of the composer's trade secrets: whenever you are pushing one parameter of your musical grammar to the max, hold at least some if not all of the other parameters steady lest your meaning become obscured by sensory overload, or your composition come apart as though from centrifugal force. This principle potentially operates on many different levels to the extent that the "parameters" involved may include as diverse elements as form, rhythm, texture, harmony, even lyrics.
  Next note In our current song, I believe this principle is illustrated on the high level by the choice of form, and on a more detailed level in the way the arrangement pits rhythm and meter against each other. The issue of rhythm and meter will be covered as we go through the music itself, but I want to discuss the formal issue here.
  Next note In spite of the fact that "She Said She Said" flaunts inscrutably psychedelic lyrics, heavy limiting applied to virtually every instrument as well as the voice track, and of course, that wobbly meter, it also sports a positively buttoned down, classic form; i.e. the two-bridge model with a single verse intervening.
  Next note While this may seem obvious, it's a point worthy of emphasis: no matter how experimental they were in other aspects of composition, The Beatles with very rare exception, clung to such classic forms in their songs; it is as though they needed these forms as a bedrock on which to anchor their experiments lest they fall apart.
  Next note The usage of asymmetric, acyclic (albeit clearly articulated) forms are rare enough in their output that their identification and examination as a group would itself make an interesting study. Start with "Happiness Is A Warm Gun"" and "You Never Give Me Your Money" and see how many more you can find!
  Next note Going even further, I'm tempted to argue that it is no coincidence that the even fewer cases where they abandoned articulated form entirely, (e.g. "Revolution #9", "What's the New Mary Jane") have turned out to be among their least popular work over the long run.
  Next note All this is not intended as a criticism; I mention it to acknowledge that for all their glibly touted breaking of barriers, the Boys were really neo-classicists at heart.
  Next note The lyrics create the relatively common form of ABCC; i.e. new lyrics for the first three verses, with the third's set of lyrics repeated the fourth and final time around.
  Next note All the sections begin with the tune right on the downbeat.

Melody and Harmony

  Next note The tune is hypnotically anchored within the tight range of a fifth, from B-flat up to F. The only relief from this constriction is in the downward direction for the culmination of the verse section. The hard melodic ceiling, far from inducing boredom, uncannily suggests the not entirely unpleasant sensation you derive from repetitiously stoned conversation at a noisy party where you can barely hear the sound of your own voice.
  Next note Modal Harmony! The harmonic vocabulary of "She Said She Said" is purely from the Mixolydian mode; this mode being the scale with the Major bottom half, and a whole step instead of a half-step at the very top — think of it as the white note scale starting on G.
  Next note The key of the song is ostensibly B-flat but the key signature features an A-flat instead of an A-natural. This means that the key signature, scale, and chord selection of Mixolydian B-flat is identical to that of E-flat Major. It's worth noting that this phenomenon is somewhat analogous to the relative Major/Minor relationship. However, in this particular case, the scalar coincidence leads in turn to several distinctive harmonic characteristics:
  • The naturally occurring "v" chord in the Mixolydian mode is minor and does not make for an effective V-I cadence. As a result ...
  • The burden for establishing the key in this mode falls on the sub-dominant IV chord and the pseudo-dominant flat-VII chord; in our modal B-flat key, these are the E-flat and A-flat chords respectively. Although these chords can be used individually in apposition to the tonic I chord, they are often used together, as in the ubiquitous "Hey Jude" progression:
            B-flat      A-flat      E-flat      B-flat
   B-flat:  I           flat-VII    IV          I

   [Figure 12.1]
By the way, I've been often tempted to label that A-flat chord a "IV-of-IV" when used in this context. I was gratified to recently learn that Beatles musicologist Walt Everett coined the term "double plagal" to refer to this.
  • The common pitch content between the tonic and the key of the IV chord makes it very easy in Mixolydian mode to effect a pivot modulation to that key. In fact, this key of the IV is actually capable of being established more firmly than the tonic (I) itself because of the following paradox: the I chord makes a stronger V-of-IV cadence with IV than does the naturally occurring minor v chord with the I.
  • Finally, I would re-emphasize the "modal purity" of our current song. There are many other Beatles songs with a strong Mixolydian flavor to them which nonetheless contain a fair amount of the regular Major mode added to the mixture; for examples take a look a "A Hard Day's Night" where the "pure" Mixolydian spell is first broken in the fourth line of the verse ("I find the things that you do ...") by the appearance of a V chord. Here in "She Said She Said" the only detail that comes even close to breaking out of the modal mold is the bent blue third in the vocal and lead guitar riff that ends each verse.
  Next note Leaving modality aside, the harmony of this song is also distinguished by its frugality. There are only four different chords used throughout, one of which doesn't even make an appearance until the climax of the bridge (on the word "boy") but I'm getting ahead of myself.


  Next note The backing track arrangement is relatively homogenized for the Beatles, with a kind of heavy limiting applied to everything including the drums that makes the track sound as if recorded surrealistically too close up. Almost subliminally far in the background of this soupy mix you find the organ, barely noticeable but for that fleeting tickling sensation you get on the high end of your ears.
  Next note The vocal arrangement is for John, alone, double tracked throughout; often in parallel thirds for interior phrases, but generally in unison for the opening and closing phrases of each section.

Section-by-Section Walkthrough



  Next note The intro is only three measures played out on the B-flat "I" chord of the home key. It introduces with elegant efficiency both the mocking-bird lead guitar riffing and the fancy-footwork drumming that so heavily contribute to the overall flavor of the song.


  Next note The verse section is ten measures long, built out of an eight-measure verse plus a petit instrumental reprise of the last two measures. The phrases are all short and make a pattern of ABB'C. The harmonic shape is closed at both ends:
            -------------- 3X --------------- 
           |B-flat  A-flat  |E-flat          |
   B-flat:  I       flat-VII IV

            -------------- 2X ---------------
           |B-flat  A-flat  |E-flat  B-flat  |
            I       flat-VII IV      I

   [Figure 12.2]
  Next note Measures 7 and 8 (on the words "making me feel like my trousers are torn" as they are found a rough and rare home demo of the song ) feature strong syncopation, and are given an immediate instrumental reprise. The syncopation is all the stronger for coming after three identical repeats of an unsyncopated, almost stodgy harmonic rhythm. Notice, in fact, how the fancy drumwork in the second half of the measures containing only the E-flat chord helps counteract this stodginess and effectively pushes the music forward; a Ringo signature going all the way back to "I Saw Her Standing There". The bassline, on a more subtle level, is also used to push things along here.
  Next note Other tasty details:
  • An additional source of rhythmic turbulence is to be found in measures 3 and 5 where we have slow triplets (3 notes against two beats) in the voice part; the same trick as in the bridge of "We Can Work It Out".
  • The drum part in the two measure reprise following the verse neatly reinforces the syncopations without fancy figuration; a good example of avoiding foolish consistency.
  • The lead guitar part antiphonally imitates the voice part in measures 3, 5, and the two-measure reprise.


  Next note If the gory details are too daunting at first sight, here's a high-level view of this bridge:
  Next note The f-minor chord is introduced for the first time in the song at what is possibly the moment of climax, and is used to help make a pivot modulation to E-flat, the key of the IV.
  Next note The meter may be erratic but it's not without its own pattern. This little chart indicates the succession of measures and the number of beats in each:
   She said "you don't understand what I said".  I said    [ 4 + 4 ]
   "No, no, no, you're wrong. When I was a boy,        [ 3 + 3 + 3 ]
   Everything was right.                                   [ 6 + 3 ]
   Everything was right."                                  [ 6 + 3 ]

   [Figure 12.3]
  Next note Our great illustration of the principle of keeping some musical parameters steady when maxing out on others is two-fold: rather than "fight" the changing meter (at risk of obscuring it), both the harmonic rhythm and the drumming are slavishly at the meter's service. The chords change on every measure boundary, and the drumming (and the bass as well) forgo fancy syncopation for strictly even eighth-note marking of the beat.
  Next note One detail you might quibble with me on are the measures shown as being six beats instead of two measures, each with three beats. I've chosen to go with six beats because of where the chord changes are, and because I hear the those six beats accented by the voice part as though they are broken into 4+2, not 3+3; i.e. I hear the words accented as "everything", not "everything."
  Next note Without further ado, here are those gory details! Without music paper, this will be a bit awkward to map out, but let's go for it. This is the notational convention used below:
  • Each group of lines enclosed within dashed lines below represents one measure of music.
  • The number in the left margin indicates the number of beats in the measure.
  • The beats in the measure are marked out in the top line of the group.
  • The lyrics are laid out across the measure in the second line of the group.
  • The chords are labeled in the third line of the group.
  • The "Roman Numerals" for the chords are labeled in the bottom line of the group.
           1           2           3           4
   4       She         said        "you don't  under-
           B-flat                  A-flat
   B-flat: I                       flat-VII
           1           2           3           4
   4       stand what  I said."    I           said
   B-flat: I
           1               2               3
   3       "No,    no,     no              you're
   B-flat: flat-VII
           1               2               3
   3       wrong.          When    I       was   a
   B-flat: I
           1               2               3
   3       Boy             -               -
   B-flat: v
   E-flat: ii  ** point of pivot
           1       2       3       4       5       6
   6       -       -        -      every-  thing   was
   E-flat: V
           1               2               3
   3       ri-             ght.
   E-flat: I
           1       2       3       4       5       6
   6       -       -       -       every-  thing   was
   E-flat: V
           1               2               3
   3       ri-             ght.
   E-flat: I
   B-flat: IV  ** point of pivot back

   [Figure 12.4]


  Next note Two details worthy of attention in the outro:
  • The canonic imitation in the split voice parts is a novel development of the idea originally presented by the lead guitar in the verse.
  • The sudden release of all syncopation is a final, rhythmic coup de grace, coming as it does at the end of two full minutes during which we're constantly bombarded by either syncopation, or a fickle meter. The tempo remains the same, but those evenly-pounded-out eighth notes in the fade out give me a strong feeling of acceleration; as though driving into a free skid on ice.

Some Final Thoughts

  Next note Anyone else out there struck by the underlying, albeit unlikely, similarities between "She Said She Said" and "Good Day Sunshine"? Consider it: each has metric changes, an unusually restricted harmonic vocabulary, and cascading vocals in the coda.
  Next note With all that we read about the "friendly" competition between John and Paul, it makes me wonder if they would possibly set themselves an abstract musical problem statement or recipe, then go off and develop their own personalized solutions to it.
  Next note Granted, this might be a totally fantastical notion, but nonetheless, the two songs compared in this instance are about as quintessentially typical of each songwriter as any you could find!
  Alan (080600#12.1)
Revision History
101889 12.0 Original release
080600 12.1 Revise, expand and adapt to series template
Copyright © 2000 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.