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notes on ...

Notes on "With A Little Help From Friends"


Notes on ... Series #107 (WALHFMF)
  by Alan W. Pollack
       Key: E Major
     Meter: 4/4
      Form: Intro | Verse | Refrain | Verse | Refrain |
                  | Bridge | Verse | Refrain |
                  | Bridge | Refrain | Outro (with complete ending)
        CD: "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band",
            Track 2 (Parlophone CDP7 46442-2)
        CD: "Yellow Submarine Songtrack", Track 9 (EMI 5 21481-2)
  Recorded: 29th, 30th March 1967, Abbey Road 2
UK-release: 1st June 1967 (LP "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band")
US-release: 2nd June 1967 (LP "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band")

General Points of Interest


Style and Form

  Next note The somewhat campy "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" overture wisely proceeds directly away to an even more frankly campy, feel-good tune for the second track. People take some time to warm up to room temperature and there is no sense putting the make on them before they have done so. In other words, the likes of "Mr. Kite" et al would be lost on your partner at this point, so bide your time, eh?
  Next note I think of "With A Little Help From My Friends" as similar to "Yellow Submarine" with its rather purposefully over-simplified musical vocabulary, minus the special effects but with a more advanced antiphonal vocal arrangement, and a much more serious lyrical subtext added. More on that later.
  Next note The form is, yet again, "creatively derived" from standard pop song formats, but is still unusual if you look at it closely. I was almost going to combine what I've called here the Verse and the Refrain into one sixteen-measure section; after all, we've seen other Beatles' songs in which the ending of the Verse has strong Refrain-like elements — take a look at "Please Please Me", "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and "Ticket to Ride". I decided against this parsing of the form because of the way the final Refrain follows the second bridge all by its lonesome.

Melody and Harmony

  Next note The harmony of the verse and bridge is from relatively straightforward E-Major chords, though the intro, outro, and refrain provide modal contrast.
  Next note The verse and refrain melody stays within a very small range of five notes. The bridge opens up the top half of the octave range, though the antiphonal "answering" part keeps reminding you of the melodic floor of the other two sections.


  Next note This is one of the more simply fabricated tracks on "Sgt. Pepper" in terms of a relative absence of new-fangled techniques, though Lewisohn points out some details that you'd otherwise probably never notice:
  • the backing track started with Paul on piano and John on cowbell (yes, Ringo on drums and George on lead guitar);
  • George Martin supplies a Hammond organ behind the intro;
  • the bass and tambourine were added later along with the vocals;
  • the crowd noise (taken from "Beatles at Hollywood Bowl") is cranked up at the start in order to "mask" the edit between the two tracks;
  • and the song was tentatively titled "Bad Finder Boogie" at some point.
  But all that color announcer/side-bar minutiae notwithstanding, still, the instrumental arrangement is rather simple.
  Next note The vocal arrangement, though, shows a marked step forward in terms of antiphonal sophistication, not just in terms of variety, but also in terms of the subtle mix of declarative and interrogative, both rhetorical and otherwise. At the very least, when you hum this song to yourself, you sing it as a single melody, not quite noticing how the single thread in the actual song is divided between solo and chorus:
  • Intro: chorus;
  • Verse: solo;
  • Refrain: solo, but with chorus joining on the third repeat;
  • Verse: solo alternates with chorus (both ask question);
  • Refrain: all (though solo starts each line by himself) (six measures!);
  • Bridge: chorus (questions) alternates with solo (answering);
  • Verse: chorus (question) alternates with solo (answering);
  • Refrain: all (though solo starts each line by himself);
  • Bridge: chorus (questions) alternates with solo (answering);
  • Refrain: all (though solo starts each line by himself);
  • Outro: solo with chorus adding counterpoint.

Section-by-Section Walkthrough



  Next note In context of the album, you experience this intro as though it is literally on the boundary between the title track and our current song. It's only in consideration of the way this phrase recurs for the outro that makes you realize how it really is part of the current song; oh, you never noticed this outro repeats at the end? :-)
      |C              |D              |E              |-              |
   E:  flat-VI         flat-VII        I

   [Figure 107.1]


  Next note The verse is eight measures long and consists of a single phrase repeated twice:
       ----------------------------- 2X ------------------------------
      |E      B       |f#             |-      B       |E              |
   E:  I      V        ii                     V        I

   [Figure 107.2]
  Next note The prominent bassline prances around all over the place, but never so much that you lose your clear sense of the simple harmony outlined above.


  Next note The first refrain is eight measures long and consists of a short, two-measure phrase repeated verbatim three times in a row, followed by a final two measures without voices; the latter, well needed in order to balance out the effect of the three-time literal repeat:
       ---------------- 3X -----------------
      |D        A        |E                 |
   E:  flat-VII IV        I

      |B                 |-                 |

   [Figure 107.3]
  Next note The subsequent refrains omit the final two measures, at which point, it is more important to keep the pace going than to provide an oasis from possible over-repetition.


  Next note The bridge finally opens up the melodic range dramatically ("could it be anybody") and provides something akin to a hinted-at modulation in order to relieve the tedium of being tightly tethered to the key of E:
       ----------------------------- 2X ------------------------------
      |c#             |F#             |E      D       |A              |
   E:  ii              V-of-V          I      flat-VII IV

   [Figure 107.4]
  Next note The hint of a modulation is toward the key of V (B-Major), though if you've been following our studies, it should come as no surprise to find the Beatles leaving a V-of-V chord begging (on my bended knees) for some kind of fulfillment, only to be deferred.


  Next note The outro splices one last iteration of the reprise to a disguised repeat of the intro:
      |D           |A              |C              |D         |E      |
   E:  flat-VII     IV              flat-VI         flat-VII   I

   [Figure 107.5]
  Next note The move from A to C provides a nice cross-relation, and overall, the modal shift at the very end here is welcome in light of the way in which most of the body of the song is so tightly bound to E Major.
  Next note The presentation of the final three chords in 6/4 ("second inversion") is a novel touch.

Some Final Thoughts

  Next note In my humble opinion, the subtext of this song is at least as precociously prescient with respect to themes of what are called nowadays "mid life crisis" as is that of "And Your Bird Can Sing".
  Next note Note the opening sensitivity to, and fear of, rejection; the willingness to allow friends to at least partially fill the place of lover. Deepest and most enigmatic of all is the fine distinction drawn in the bridge between "need" and "want" of a lover, especially with respect to the relative interchangibility or not of one's ultimate.
  Next note With respect to needing anybody, the answer is "I need somebody to love." But with respect to can it be anybody, the answer is "I want somebody to love." This won't be the first time I've quoted Zimmy, but you've gotta dig the parallelism:
  "Ruthie said come see here in her Honky Tonk Lagoon
Where I can watch her waltz for free beneath the Panamanian moon.
But I said, oh come on now, you know you know about my debutante.
And she said, your debutante knows what you need, but I know what you want."
  And, if you want a Zimmy quote that comes even closer to our Boys take: "Like it was written on my soul, "From Me To You".
  Alan (121095#107)
Copyright © 1995 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.