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Notes on "Yer Blues"


Notes on ... Series #146 (YB)
  by Alan W. Pollack
       Key: Very bluesy E Major
     Meter: 6/8
      Form: Verse-A | Verse A |
                    | Verse B | Verse B | Verse B |
                    | Verse C (guitar solo) | Verse-C (guitar solo) |
                    | Outro (Verse A) (fade-out)
        CD: "White Album", Disc 2, Track 2 (Parlophone CDS7 46443-8)
  Recorded: 13th, 14th August 1968, Abbey Road 2;
            20th August 1968, Abbey Road 3
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 This is another one of what I call the Beatles' big "gesture" songs; those in which production and performance values rather overshadow, even overwhelm the underlying raw material; where the gesture is to be exploited for its suggestive connotations of the cliché and the cultural ready-made. John was particularly fond of doing these; I leave it to you as a classroom exercise or discussion topic to identify other examples.
  Next note In this case, it is a kind of intense, over-wrought and stylized Blues that is conjured, the sort that was quite popular in Britain at the time; the sort for which you need a sidebar here on the likes of the "Animals" and their influence-ee's to fully appreciate.
  Next note The form stays completely within the same variation of the standard twelve-bar blues frame, yet, manages to convey a sense of diversified form by altering details in the melodic and rhythmic foreground; compare this with "Rocky Raccoon", of all things!
  Next note In particular, this song exploits the subtle contrast inherent in alternately parsing the twelve-bar frame as 8 + 4 versus 4 + 8. Look back to our comparison of "Roll Over Beethoven" with "Money" in "'Cover Songs on "With The Beatles" for the background on this gambit.
  Next note There is also the uncanny way in which a "hiccup" of an extra beat added to most of the verses is balanced out near the end by that most rough and rude of splices.

Melody and Harmony

  Next note The form and the melody are true blue, through and through. Granted, in order to get the form to come out "right" I've parsed the meter as an unusual 6/8 that contradicts the ordinal numbers heard in the introductory count-in, but the melody, with its flat third and sevenths couldn't be more genuine if it tried.
  Next note Although the harmony is dominated by the old I -» IV -» V, it includes the rather optional flat-III and flat-VII for extra spice and tang. Allright, so maybe I'm "imagining" the latter chord, but I promise that if you use it in your own very personal cover of the song that it will not sound out of place.


  Next note The backing track sounds thick but also built up from relatively spare resources. Keep your eye on that lead guitar lick that sort of mimics the lead vocal.
  Next note The lead vocal is strangely recorded to sound some vague combination of double tracked, fed-back, and reverbed. Do I even hear Paul joining in at one point?
  Next note The rough edit for the outro has a visceral effect similar to that of accidentally, unexpectedly smacking your forehead against a hard surface, a brief seconds-worth of fainting spell, or if you like, a small but critical few frames of celluloid cut out of a film.

Section-by-Section Walkthrough



  Next note Ringo's count-in may be just as spliced as George's is in "Taxman" but here, at least, it's in tempo.
  Next note All the sections are built around the same slow pounded-out twelve-bar frame. All the Verse-A and the first two of the Verse-B sections feature one intentionally spastic extra beat in measure 10. The final Verse-B section omits the extra beat in the interest of seizing an opportunity to modulate the back-beat so that the measure lengths remain the same, but the eighth-note triplets in the two instrumental Verse-C sections are twice the speed they were in the rest of the song; suddenly the beat feels more four-square than ternary.
      |E           |-           |-           |-           |
   E:  I

      |A           |-           |E           |-           |
       IV                        I

      |G           |B           |E   G A   G |E   D B     |
       flat-III     V            I     IV     I     V

   [Figure 146.1]
  Next note Verse-A sections feature an 8 + 4 structure (AA + B), with the "wanna die" phrase echoed in the second half of the first two phrases. The Verse-B sections feature a 4 + 8 structure (C + AB), with the first phrase being declaimed with dramatic pauses, and the next two restoring the original beat. The true formal irony in this situation is the common factor of the AB phrase filling out the second and third phrase of all the sections!


  Next note For balance, the outro restores both the original back-beat and the Verse-A formal structure.
  Next note The obvious splice, aside from its special effect, would seem to make an eye-winking mockery of all those other occasions in which this very same group would exert a surgeon's level of control to imperceptibly audio-retouch a track using essentially the same technique.
  Next note John's vocal, either mixed way down or recorded like from another room adds just the right surreal balancing touch to the up close ranting featured in the rest of the song.

Some Final Thoughts

  Next note Lewisohn labels this song as simply "a parody of the British blues scene". Maybe so. But, when you contemplate John's track record over the long run, (from "Twist and Shout" and "Money" in the early days to "Don't Let Me Down" and "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" in the Late Period), you've got to acknowledge that this screaming style is also in equal measure a genuine part of his essential musical persona.
  Alan (032298#146)
Copyright © 1998 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.