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Notes on "The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill"


Notes on ... Series #135 (TCSOBB)
  by Alan W. Pollack
       Key: C Major (with assists from A Major and a minor)
     Meter: 2/4
                    ------ 3x --------
      Form: Refrain | Verse | Refrain |
            Refrain | Outro (ending cut off)
        CD: "White Album", Disc 1, Track 6 (Parlophone CDS7 46443-8)
  Recorded: 8th October 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 here an example of the folk ballad, form notable in for the way in which the refrain is used as an intro, and is repeated several times ("Sing it, one more time, everybody!") at the end, conjuring the atmosphere of a live, rather than studio, performance.

Melody and Harmony

  Next note The key scheme is one much favored by the Beatles, using a three-key gambit, where both relative and parallel minor relationships are to appear. I grant the honors of home key to C Major even though it shares the refrain with the key of A Major. The use of a minor for the verse provides the tonal lynch pin, since it is the relative minor of C and parallel minor of A. This complexity of key scheme is in contrast to the happy simplicity evident on the song's surface.
  Next note The C/A tonality of the refrain forces its tune to be chromatically difficult to sing in absence of the chords that underlie it; try it, you'll see. The verse tune, by contrast, is in John's much-favored pentatonic style.


  Next note Both texture and tempo are used to articulate the form. The slower tempo for the verses is manifest, and I leave the tracing of textural details as an exercise for the reader.
  Next note The refrain includes a level of participation by so-called friends and family that you don't need Lewisohn's help to notice is there. Allright, I'll admit, back when the album was released, we didn't suspect necessarily that Yoko was "mommy" in the last verse. But still, you should contemplate why this sort of gesture seems so "right" in the "White Album" context, whereas you would have found it unfathomable if not unacceptable back on anything prior to "All You Need Is Love".
  Next note The lead vocal is fastidiously sculpted into an interesting single/double track mixture for the verses.
  Next note The backing ensemble is predominated by acoustic guitar, drum kit without cymbals, bass guitar, tambourine, and in the verses, some kind of tremolo guitar strumming.
  Next note And then, of course, we have a bassoon, of all things, showing up for the outro. Following all due protocol, it joins the ensemble several iterations before it needs to appear solo.

Section-by-Section Walkthrough



  Next note The refrain is an unusual eleven measures long, with a poetic form of ABA'B', the result of an interesting foreshortening of the second phrase. Note, how the Esher demo [**] for this song (vinyl "LLT", Volume 9, and other popular bootlegs) features an even more radical shortening of the phrase! The latter, by the way, is a marvelous "Beethoven Sketch Books" level example of how a composer revises his early drafts.
      |C       |G       |C       |f       |
   C:  I        V        I        iv

      |C       |f       |G       |
       I        iv       V
                     A:  flat-VII

      |A       |E       |A       |d       |
   A:  I        V        I        iv

      |A       |d       |E       |-       |
       I        iv       V

   [Figure 135.1]
  Next note I've gone to the trouble of analyzing the shift to A Major as a pivot modulation, though you may be convinced by your own experience that it is more likely borne more of the "abrupt key change" aesthetic.
  Next note The minor IV chord in a Major key is a fifties Rock 'n' Roll cliché much favored by John. Here, its appearance is both dramatically sad while, in the third phrase it nicely facilitates the shift to the minor mode.
  [** 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.]


  Next note The verse is in a slower tempo than the refrain and is a blues-like twelve measures long, with an AAB poetic form. The ad-lib halt at the end of the final phrase makes it difficult to sense where the downbeat is when the remainder of the last measure is performed "A Tempo" to announce the refrain that follows it.
       ----------------------- 2X ------------------------
      |a           |C           |F           |-     G     |
   a:  i            VI           VI                 flat-VII

      |E           |G           |a           |f           |
       V            flat-VII     i
                             C:  vi           iv

   [Figure 135.2]
  Next note The G#/G-natural shift between the chords in the first two measures of the final phrase provide a typical Beatles' cross-relation. The Esher demo definitely uses an A-Major chord in the third measure of that phrase, providing an additional cross-relation between C# and C-natural in the following measure, though for the official version, I believe that John opts for an a-minor rather than A-Major chord in the next to last measure.


  Next note The outro features approximately 4.8 iterations of the refrain before the track is rudely interrupted by the "Hey-ulp!!!" lead-in to "While My Guitar Gently Weeps".
  Next note Those many repeats of the outro feature an incremental thinning out of the backing track; Haydn had pulled the same trick in his "Farewell Symphony", no. 45 :-)
  Next note The bassoon, which is given the honor of ushering out the song, already appears in the ensemble at the start of the second repeat; a demonstration of a basic compositional/constructional principle, comparable to the way the that successive rows of brick are laid on the overlap.

Some Final Thoughts

  Next note You find John playing tigers here with as much energy and effort as Paul ever expends on the game. And yet, there is something knowingly adult and ambiguous in John's verbal pirouettes and understated social comments that elevates his finished product well above mere child's play.
  Alan (081797#135)
Copyright © 1997 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.