alan w. pollack's
notes on ...

Notes on "What You're Doing"


Notes on ... Series #63 (WYD)
  by Alan W. Pollack
       Key: D Major
     Meter: 4/4
      Form: Intro | Verse | Verse | Bridge | Verse |
                  | Verse (guitar solo) | Bridge | Verse |
                  | Outro (fade-out)
        CD: "Beatles For Sale", Track 13 (Parlophone CDP7 46438-2)
  Recorded: 29th, 30th September, 26th October 1964, Abbey Road 2
UK-release: 4th December 1964 (LP "Beatles For Sale")
US-release: 14th June 1965 (LP "Beatles VI")

General Points of Interest


Style and Form

  Next note The form of this song is a quite standard two-bridge model.
  Next note Although the overall instrumental texture bears an uncanny resemblance to that of "Every Little Thing", the arrangement does contain a number of features which, if not entirely novel and unique, we've not seen in our studies for a while.

Melody and Harmony

  Next note Though clearly in the key of D Major, the heavily syncopated tune makes emphatic use of the bluesy minor third scale degree (i.e. F-natural); it also contains an uncommon number of appoggiaturas, suspensions, and free dissonances. While some amount of dissonance is the life's blood of most musical styles, the extreme amount of it found in this song is noteworthy. On an almost subliminal level, it is one of the main ingredients that make you relate to the song as "jazzy" in contrast to Paul's more hymn-like songs, such as "Hey Jude" and "Let It Be" where the dissonance is handled much more carefully, almost quaintly so.
  Next note An average number of chords (five, count 'em, five) are used though this limited diet is rather spiced up by the high quotient of melodic dissonance turning many of the plain triads into added-sixths and "free" (i.e. non-dominant, non-resolving) sevenths and ninths.
  Next note The chord progressions of both verse and bridge sections give some prominence to the characteristic feeling of alternating between vi and IV (i.e. b-minor and G-Major). Interestingly, this device was something that Paul would come back to with increased fascination in "Drive My Car". Note how in the refrain of that later song, the extreme emphasis on vi and IV momentarily blurs your clear sense of what is the home key.


  Next note The solo use of drums here in the intro is a first for the Boys. The hard thumping is reminiscent of the timpani drums used in "Every Little Thing", though I believe in this song we are listening to the standard bass drum that comes along with the kit. Timpani are tuned to a specific pitch and the drums on this track, to my humble ears, have no pitch, only "thud". The other passing resemblance here to "Every Little Thing" is found in the heavy-on-those-lower-octaves use of the piano.
  Next note The second half of the intro offers up an ostinato figure that bears partial resemblance to the tune; generally, in terms of its syncopated nature, and specifically in the way that the last four notes of it echo the hook phrase "what you're doin'". This ostinato provides some overall unity to the song from the way it is deployed as a backing obbligato within the verses, though its execution there by George is a bit timid and awkward sounding in places.
  Next note Paul's solo is double tracked throughout. The backing voices though alternate between two functions. In the first instance, they are used to punctuate, exclamation-style, the first words of the first two lines of each verse. This trick anticipates what is likely the Beatles' most famous use of the technique in "Help!", though its worth noting that the gambit had already been tried by them once before in the much earlier "P. S. I Love You". In the second instance, the backing voices supply an "oohing" background wash to the soloist in the second half of the verse.
  Next note Since we're already doing more than the usual amount of free-associating between this and other songs, I'd propose that the layered handling of the intro and outro here, not to mention the ostinato figure, suggests an anticipation of some of what would later appear in "Day Tripper".

Section-by-Section Walkthrough



  Next note The intro is longish and layered; its eight measures split into two four-measure sections, the first of which is for solo drums that mark out a repeated drum-majorette kind of fanfare, and the second of includes the rest of the ensemble joining with a dual-statement of the ostinato figure:
                           »           »
Ostinato:  D - - F# B A F# E - - E D E F# - -
  Chords: |D                |G               |D           |G           |
       D:  I                 IV               I            IV

   [Figure 63.1]
  Next note The identity of the home key is established entirely by the I and IV chords. Looking ahead, it is noteworthy how only one other chord (vi) in addition to these two is used until the bridge section; indeed, the all important V chord is held back all the way until the end of the bridge!
  Next note An exceedingly subtle though important difference between the ostinato and the main tune is that the former starts off with a syncopation from the "four-and" beat of the previous measure, whereas the latter starts, bang, on the downbeat.


  Next note The verse is a standard eight measures which in turn breaks up into two four-measure phrases. The verse sections which are followed directly by another verse instead of a bridge are nine measures long, with a two-measure repeat of the ostinato figure that begins overlapping with the last measure of the eight-measure verse:
      |D      |G      |D      |G      |
   D:  I      IV       I       IV

                               -- ostinato ---
      |b      |G      |-      |D      |G      |
       vi      IV              I       V

   [Figure 63.2]
  Next note Examples of dissonance here include the following: the F-natural in the melody against F# in the D-Major chord every time the hook phrase appears (as on the word "you're"), the A -» G appoggiatura in the second measure (on the word "doing"), and the G on the downbeat of measure 5 against the b-minor chord.


  Next note The bridge is eight measures long and is to be parsed into three phrases which make an AAB pattern of 2 + 2 + 4 measures:
      |G      |b      |G      |b      |
   D:  IV      vi      IV      vi

      |E      |-      |A      |-      |
       V-of-V          V

   [Figure 63.3]
  Next note The verse was harmonically closed in shape, and this section contrasts sharply with that. The first half of the bridge is heard almost as though there had been a modulation to the relative minor key (b minor) in which case your ear interprets the b and G chords as i and VI respectively. One thing is sure in any event; this section opens away from the I chord and ends wide open on the V chord by way of a broad set up from V-of-V.
  Next note The quotient of melodic dissonance remains the same here as seen in the verse. To save space, I'll leave the finding of more examples as the proverbial exercise for the canonical reader :-)
  Next note One example, though, is worth pointing out, and that in the last two measures where F# on the downbeat of measure 7 creates an added-sixth, followed by the "4-3" (D -» C#) appoggiatura on the downbeat of measure 8. There is an interesting dramatic effect to be observed in these two measures as well. The sustaining of the A-Major chord for two measures coupled with the descending melodic melisma on the word "me" is an essentially relaxing or winding-down kind of gesture. In sharp contrast to this, the rhythm backing takes the opportunity to use the last beat of the last measure as an energetic springboard into the next verse, and the overlap of the two gestures makes an uncanny effect; kind of like your being pulled in two directions at once.


  Next note The outro is longer and more complex in organization than usual. We first start off with Paul's making an "old fashioned" triple petit-reprise of the final couple measures of the verse. This sort of gesture had been common in outros on the first two albums, but the most recent time we'd seen one like this before now was back on "I'm Happy Just To Dance With You".
  Next note The triple-repeat is followed by a reprise of the intro, more or less: first a single statement of the ostinato, followed by four measures of the drum fanfare, accompanied this time in mid phrase by the bass guitar, ultimately followed by a recap of the ostinato figure, repeated here not just twice as above, but implicitly ad infinitum into the fade-out.

Some Final Thoughts

  Next note Paul's decision to rhyme "blue and" with "doing" and "fun in" with "running" recycles a clever idea seen earlier in "She's A Woman".
  Next note I'm evenly divided on the question of whether the abandonment of this pattern for the third verse ("lying" rhymed with "crying") was a purposeful avoidance of foolish consistency, or something more in the realm of careless oversight or being fresh out of clever rhyming pairs.
  Alan (072292#63)
Copyright © 1992 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.