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Notes on "The Inner Light"


Notes on ... Series #128 (TIL)
  by Alan W. Pollack
       Key: E-flat Major (Mixolydian)
     Meter: 4/4
      Form: Intro | Verse | Break |
                  | Verse | Break' (with complete ending)
        CD: "Past Masters", Volume 2, Track 6
            (Parlophone CDP 90044-2)
  Recorded: 12th January 1968, EMI Bombay;
            6th February 1968, Abbey Road 1;
            8th February 1968, Abbey Road 2
UK-release: 15th March 1968 (B Single / "Lady Madonna")
US-release: 18th March 1968 (B Single / "Lady Madonna")

General Points of Interest


Style and Form

  Next note Along with "Love You To" and "Within You Without You", this song is one of George's three most unabashedly Indian-influenced efforts. While all three songs present an ingenious-cum-tenuous merger of cultures, this one is particularly distinguished by virtue of its indigenous purity of instrumentation, "inwardly focused" lyrics, and almost strict formal alternation between instrumental and sung interludes.
  Next note By the way ... if you contrast this song with our previous subject, "Lady Madonna", you learn an interesting psychological lesson about the extent to which formal complexity in music affects your perception of musical "length", somewhat independent of empirically measured absolute real-time duration. "The Inner Light" is the longer of the two songs, yet one experiences "Lady Madonna" as longer than "The Inner Light" because the latter's form is longer than that of the former song. Think it over.

Melody and Harmony

  Next note In spite of the clearly Mixolydian mode and the florid ornamentation of the lead instrumental part, the melodic material on the backing track remains curiously regimented mostly into four-note scale patterns that move downward; always balanced out at the very end by an upward scale figure of three notes. George's sung tune contrasts by virtue of its large number of leaps by thirds, fourths, and even one fifth.
  Next note Harmony here is minimalistic with the I chord alternating with either ii or IV. There's no "dominant" progression to be found; no V, not even flat-VII. This is about as close as you can get to drone-like stasis and still use more than one chord. The manner in which the instrumental lead finishes all his sections with that upward riff toward the fifth scale degree endows the sense of home key with a precipitously high center of gravity.


  Next note I'm calling it "E-flat", but this is one of those rare Beatles' tracks mastered somewhere in the cracks with respect to so-called standard pitch. To the extent that this song is no "Rain" with its intentionally manipulated tape speed, I suspect the result here is an unintentional side-effect of poorly calibrated tape recorders in Bombay or something to do with differences in AC/DC frequencies between continents :-)
  Next note Yes, the instruments on the backing track are all authentically Indian, though for all their subtlety of timbre, beyond a point you might as well be listening to flutes, an oboe doubled by a violin, a harpsichord, and an organ pedal. What's frustrating is that the best Lewisohn has done for us with this song is to list a roster of players which clearly is a superset of what is heard in the arrangement. Oh well, please bear with me if I stick with Euro-centric instrument names infra.
  Next note Amazingly, you find that even on this track, which was clearly organized and executed with outside forces at a shall-we-say remote location from Abbey Road, that the Beatles demonstrate their favored gambit of using deft changes in texture to help articulate form without allowing the arrangement to lose its overall unity:
  • The instrumental interludes include a particularly deep bass note for the drone, tambourine-like percussion effects, and lead parts for what I call oboe and harpsichord.
  • The verses drop the low-pitched drone and tambourine, but add flutes, and reserve a return of the oboe for the last phrase of the section.
  • The addition of the backing vocals in the final break is a masterful unifying touch.

Section-by-Section Walkthrough



  Next note The intro starts off ad-libitum with just the drone and a couple beats of the anacrustic riffing from the harpsichord which leads into a ten-measure section in tempo. The harmony is all static, but our diagram below spells out the melodic and instrumentation patterns used:
   Oboe lead/Harpsichord backing --» Harpsichord solo lead ----------»
  |C   Bb  Ab  G   |Ab  G   F   Eb  |Bb  Ab  G   F   |Ab  G   F   Eb  |

   Duet in unison ---------------------------------------------------»
  |Bb  Ab  G   F   |Ab  G   F   Eb  |Eb  Db  C   Bb  |Ab  G  F Eb G Ab|

  |Bb              |-               |

   [Figure 128.1]


  Next note The verse is an unusual thirteen measures in length with short phrases that create a pattern of AA'A'A'BCC':
            A                         A'
           |E-flat      |f           |E-flat      |A-flat      |
   E-flat:  I            ii           I            IV

            A'                        A'
           |E-flat      |f           |E-flat      |A-flat      |
            I            ii           I            IV

            B                         C
           |A-flat      |E-flat      |-           |-           |
            IV           I

           |E-flat      |A-flat      |E-flat      |
            I            IV           I

   [Figure 128.2]
  Next note The harpsichord provides a mockingbird obbligato to the lead vocal for the four A phrases. The oboe doubles the final C' phrase with it in unison. George ends the latter phrase ends on the suspenseful fourth scale degree and leaves it to the oboe alone to assert the eventual resolution of "4-3".


  Next note The two break sections are virtually identical and built on more or less the same foundation as the intro, with some real changes in the details of melodic and instrumental patterning. The backing track of the two breaks, themselves, might as well be a copy of the same piece of tape:
   Harpsichord solo ---------------» Oboe solo/Harpsichord backing --»
  |Eb  Db  C   Bb  |Eb  Db  C   Bb  |G   /\/\/\/\/\/\|/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\|

   Harpsichord solo ---------------» Duet in unison -----------------»
  |Bb  Ab  G   F   |Ab  G   F   Eb  |Eb  Db  C   Bb  |Ab  G  F Eb G Ab|

  |Bb              |-               |

   [Figure 128.3]
  Next note The oboe riff in measures 3 - 4 (labeled above as "/\/\/\ ..." is the freest melodic moment in the whole track and you've got to savor it. I dare say the overall song would suffer without this instant of relief from the predominance of scale fragments.
  Next note The specific deployment of the vocals in the second break is classic avoidance of foolish consistency. First off, the three vocal interjections are asymmetrically placed in measures 2, 5, and 6. Secondly, the scoring features George double tracked in the first phrase, then single tracked in the second, followed by a choral treatment for the third phrase.


  Next note The outro simply extends the second break with a (what a surprise!) rhetorical triple repeat of the three-note upward figure from the oboe. Hey, this may be Indian music, allright, but apparently the same old "three-strikes-you're-out" kind of logic applies here as well as it ever did back in the days of "I Saw Her Standing There".

Some Final Thoughts

  Next note Next stop for us is the "Revolution" single and all that follows!
  Alan (030297#128)
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.