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notes on ...

Notes on "Wait"


Notes on ... Series #87 (W)
  by Alan W. Pollack
       Key: f# minor
     Meter: 4/4
            ----- 2X -------
      Form: Verse / Refrain | Bridge | Verse / Refrain | Bridge |
                  | Verse / Refrain | Verse (with complete ending)
        CD: "Rubber Soul", Track 12 (Parlophone CDP7 46440-2)
  Recorded: 17th June, 11th November 1965, Abbey Road 2
UK-release: 3rd December 1965 (LP "Rubber Soul")
US-release: 6th December 1965 (LP "Rubber Soul")

General Points of Interest


Style and Form

  Next note There's a higher than average level of formalistic interest in this song: it opens right in the midst of the action with an off-the-beat vocal pickup; there's no intro, not even an instrumental downbeat to give the singer his cue. For that matter, there's no formal outro here either; the song kind of just rhetorically grinds to a halt.
  Next note Furthermore, the main expository component of this song is curiously half-verse/half-refrain in style. It's almost tempting to parse the section as two discrete sections in their own right but that would lead to a rather over-busy reading of the form which I don't believe is supported by your experience of listening to it.
  Next note What's particularly fascinating is that not only have we seen both of the above formal features in other earlier songs of the Beatles, but in a couple of cases we've seen both features within the same song; to wit — "I Want To Hold Your Hand", "It Won't Be Long" and "You're Going To Lose That Girl". And if the strong John Connection doesn't yet strike you, consider the following punch list of songs which feature the verse/refrain concept, albeit without a midst-of-action opening — "Please Please Me", "From Me To You", and "Ticket To Ride". Granted, you can likely find me similar examples which are not all exclusively by John; Paul's "All My Loving" comes immediately to mind, for example. Nevertheless I believe the correlation I've cited bears some weight.
  Next note The music itself is highly syncopated to the max, the effect of which is emphasized by the non-four-square phrasing of the verse section and the almost constantly off-beat harmonic rhythm.
  Next note At the other extreme, the particular choice of form lays out the lyrics in an almost slavishly symmetrical mosaic pattern of of ABCACBA.

Melody and Harmony

  Next note The tune, in all sections of this song, is peppered through with fanfare-like triadic outlines and other long jumps.
  Next note The harmonic game plan features the same kind of minor/relative Major key alternation that we saw, most recently, in "Girl". Although the lyrics of this song superficially make for an almost mirror image of the story told in "It Won't Be Long" the rapid key vacillations of "Wait", taken in combination with a chance comment ("if your heart breaks ... turn me away") hint here of a last-minute twinge of self-protective anxiety that is totally absent from the earlier song.


  Next note Although there is something somehow "unfinished" about the strangely thin instrumental texture of this song, they appear to have still sweated the patterned deployment of percussion sounds with their usual fastidiousness. Look, for example, at the first three phrases of the verse: the first phrase features a syncopated tambourine; the second phrase adds a pair of maracas in even eighth notes; and the third phrase (introduced by a nice drum roll) finally brings in the full drum kit and the tambourine switching now to even eighth notes in sympathy, as it were, with the maracas.
  Next note John performs the lead verse vocal single tracked, though Paul harmonizes with him in not-quite parallel thirds for most of the section except for the pickups to the first couple phrases. Paul then gets to do the bridge in double-tracked solo.

Section-by-Section Walkthrough


Verse / Refrain

  Next note This compound section is an unusual fourteen measures long and breaks up into a six-measure "verse" (parsed 3 + 3) and an eight measure "refrain" (parsed 4 + 4):
                    ---------------------- 2X ------------------------
            Pulse: |1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & |1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & |1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & |
 Composite rhythm: |»   » »   » »   |»   » »   » »   |»   » »   » »   |
       Tambourine: |    »     » »   |    »     » »   |    »     » »   |
      Inner voice: |E     D#        |D-nat C#        |                |
           Chords: |f#7   B6/4      |b6/4  f#        |C#    f#        |
               f#:  i                                 V     I

                    ------ 3X -----
           Chords: |A      D       |A      C#      |f#             |
                               f#:  III    V        i
                A:  I      IV       I

   [Figure 87.1]
  Next note The schematic diagram of the chords and phrasing that I usually provide is embellished, above, to call your attention to two details of the arrangement:
  • The opening phrase features a typically Lennon-like descending line cliché which in theoretical terms argues against putting "roman numerals" on the second and third chords. To the extent that the note F# is a sustained pedal tone throughout the entire progression of the first four chords, one tends to hear the harmonic action of this phrase as a stretched out move from i to V.
  • The same phrase also features a composite rhythm that is syncopated in a cutsey yet seductive, belly-dancer sort of way; yet another Lennon' trademark of sorts, to the extent that the one used here is so reminiscent of a similar touch in the likes of "All I've Got To Do" and "Ticket to Ride".
  Next note The verse is firmly within the key of f# minor. The refrain starts off with an equally firm, even abrupt, modulation to the relative Major key of A before neatly pivoting back to the home key of f#.


  Next note The bridge is formally simpler than the verse/refrain section, and is built out of two rather parallel phrases that differ from each other in terms of instrumentation (note the increased prominence of the guitar strumming in the second phrase) and the chord choice of the last measure:
      |b              |E              |A              |f#             |
   A:  ii              V               I               vi

      |b              |E              |A              |C#4 -» 3       |
       ii              V               I
                                  f#:  III             V

   [Figure 87.2]
  Next note The harmonic strategy of this bridge, starting with an ambiguous sense of home key and converging back to f# by way of a climax on its V chord, stands in contrast to the more expository verse and refrain.
  Next note And speaking of tonal ambiguity, do you hear the opening of the section as a modulation to the key of A — in which case the b-minor chord sounds like ii and the f#-minor chord sounds like vi? Or ...., do you hear the entire section as being in the key of f# (in which case the E-Major chord sounds like the V-of-III)? The question itself is actually more interesting than either answer to it.


  Next note The song closes up with a final repeat of the verse which, in its last phrase, suddenly downshifts into dramatic, emphatic slow motion.
  Next note At the last moment all the percussion instruments used earlier are brought out (along with the jewelry), as it were, for a bow and a rattle, with the absolutely last word going to an arpeggio in the tone pedal guitar; this one, in the downward direction for a change.

Some Final Thoughts

  Next note "Wait" has the dubious distinction of having been the song that was left over from the "Help!" album, later to be dredged up in a panic to fill out "Rubber Soul" when the looming pre-Xmas deadline threatened to catch the Beatles with a shortfall of new material.
  Next note But do you really think it sticks out in context as something picked up off the cutting room floor? Or do we eventually fall victim to the so-called common or collective wisdom about such things?
  Next note While this song is far from being in the top tier of "Rubber Soul", I dare say that it's an exaggeration to say that it sounds grossly out of place there, either. And if you accept this observation for what it's worth, then it's only a small increment of will before you start to question the notion, become so deeply rooted over the years, that "Help!" and "Rubber Soul" exist somehow on opposite sides of some great musical divide. It's really closer to something like distinct yet neighboring distinct upon a continuum.
  Alan (101893#87)
Copyright © 1993 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.