Notes on "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds" (LITSWD)
KEY G Major (but ...!)
METER 3/4 alternating with 4/4
FORM Intro -> Verse -> Bridge ->Refrain ->
Verse -> Bridge ->Refrain ->
Verse -> Refrain/Outro (fadeout)
GENERAL POINTS OF INTEREST
Style and Form
- "Lucy ..." is comparable in many respects to
"Tomorrow Never Knows"
"Strawberry Fields Forever."
It is less subtle than either of
those two songs, but it also all the more outrageous and not the least
bit less ingenious.
- It's also the most explicitly DRUGS-oriented of the three; even the
earlier precedents such as
"I'm Only Sleeping"
and "Dr. Robert" sound
tame in comparison. Don't ever forget that just because the title
of the song matches the name of picture painted by toddler Julian
doesn't mean that the song ISN'T's about the so-called "dreaded"
Lysergic Acid :-) Plasticene porters with looking glass ties, indeed.
- The music is certainly as mercurial and elusive as the imagery of the
words, especially in terms of the constantly shifting key structure and
the rhythmic alternation of 3/4 and 4/4 meters. There's also that
typically Beatlesque manipulation of form in the way the bridge section
is dropped for the final Verse sequence.
- The use of drone-like harmony in the verse and rote repetition of a
single phrase in the refrain lends an appropriate eyes-pinned hypnotic
feeling to the piece.
Melody and Harmony
- The melodic material is kept exceedingly simple in consideration of
the combined metrical and harmonic challenges which underlie it. Hum
it to yourself and listen to what it sounds like independently of the
accompaniment. I mean, there's not much there if you take it out of
- The song's three sections each have a distinct harmonic and melodic
- The verse is in the key of A and consists of a repeated chromatic
filling out of the I chord. The tune just noodles around the five
notes that outline the A Major triad.
- The bridge starts off in the key of B flat but finishes up in the
key of G. This seemingly remote modulation belies a loose relation
between the two keys: G is the parallel Major of g minor, and
the latter is the relative minor of B flat. The tune here is
almost monotonously stuck on the note D.
- In order to provide some well-needed ballast-like oases of
predictability, the Refrain is in G and stays close to home with the
old I-IV-V progression. Howeve, it also pivots on the D chord to
get back to the key of A for the verses which follow it. The
melody this time consists of a plain downward scale.
- Lewisohn says the opening ostinato lick is played on a special Hammond
organ stop that sounds like a celeste. Fine; the end result still sounds
to my ears sounds like a harpsichord played back with as much seasick
flutter as you'd get from my 35 year-old (and counting) Wollensak
reel-to reel tape deck.
- Paul's standout peformance on bass is ample proof of how the magical
collaborative abilities of Messrs L & M was extended well beyond the
arbitrary task divisions of words-versus-music, or verses-versus-
middle eights. I am especially impressed by the amount of variation
provided by the bass part:
- Verse 1: downbeats only
- Bridge 1: every beat, largely with repeated notes
- Refrain 1: running eighth notes in Baroque fashion
- Verse 2: downbeats only, again
- Bridge 2: every beat, with more in the way of arpeggio outlines
- Refrain 2: running eighth notes, again
- Verse 3: more active and in a less regimented manner than
- Outro: more running eighth notes, this time with arpeggios as
well as melodic runs
- The vocal parts show similar attention to structured variation:
- Verses: John solo; at first with so little ADT that
you can isolate a pristine single-track vocal
by blocking out either of the stereo channels.
Final phrase is more truly double-tracked.
- Bridges: John solo; heavily echoed with mild ADT, and
sounding like he's exhaling helium :-)
- Refrain 1: First phrase sounds like Paul solo but with ADT;
Second phrase has John & Paul singing in unison;
Third phrase has them singing in parallel thirds;
with Paul as usual "on top", so to speak.
- Refrain 2: The parallel thirds start right in the first phrase.
- Outro: First phrase has John & Paul in unison, but the
rest of the entire outro is in parallel thirds.
- Other instrumental details of note include the way the lead guitar
always doubles the lead vocal in the bridges, the prominence of the
organ during the outro, and the repeated, ultra closeup, yet sparing
use of the tamboura drone; "is that you buzzin?"
- The intro is a four measure presentation of the harpsichord ostinato
which happens to contain within it the complete design of the verse
| E | E | E | DC# |
| A | A | A | A |
| A |G |F# |F-nat |
|E | | | |
- It's very Baroque-like in the way it uses a single melodic line to
suggest a complete four-part linear texture. Play it at parties and
amaze your friends :-) And let me encourage ALL of you to sharpen
your listening skills by forcing yourself to transcribe such things
by dictation, rather than turning immediately to the sheet music!
- The verse contains two long and roughly parallel vocal phrases
that sit on top of a limping uneven quatrain of phrases in the
accompaniment; note the 4/5/4/6 phrasing of the backing track:
melody: |C# C# C# |C# B A |C# B A |C# B A |
bassline:|A |G |F# |F-nat. |
|C# B A |C#
- C# |E D C# |A | |
|E |G |F# |F-nat C F|C D|
|C# D E |C# B A |C# B A |C# B A |
|E |G |F# |F-nat. |
|C# B A |E D C# |A | |
|E |G |F# A F |A F# A|
| | |
|D D D |C C C |
- The ostinato is allowed in to fill out the A Major chord in the
first and third phrases. In the second phrase, it ends with an implied
move to the flat VI ("Peggy Sue") chord, of F Major. This gesture is
stretched out in the fourth phrase where the bassline first lingeringly
spells out the D Major chord (the V of G Major -
- intimations of the
Refrain yet to come!), before it chromatically descends through d minor
to F Major. This time, the F Major chord is "given its head" to serve
as a V chord to the B-flat key of the Bridge which follows.
- The bridge "should be" 16 measures long with four phrases. At least
it starts off that way, but it is foreshortened at the beginning of
where the fourth phrase would be by a switch to 4/4, with the quarter
note of the 3/4 measures being equal to an eighth note of the new
|D |- |- |- |- |- |- B-f|lat |
|B-flat |- |C |- |F |- |B-flat |- |
B-flat: I V-of-V V I
|D |- |- |- C B |A - - - |
|C |- |G |- |D 2 3 4 |
G: IV I V
- The tune of this section rides roughshod over the chords with the
repeated note, D, creating a freely (i.e. "gratuitous") dissonant
9th chord on C and a 13th chord on F. The effect is one of I'm-So-Tired
(and can't be bothered) enervation; as if the singer didn't have the
energy or motivation to nudge the tune to move along more in lock step
with the chords.
- The Refrain is a spirited albeit deliberately paced rock march whose
energy level contrasts nicely with the other sections. The section is
an unusual 7 measures long with the opening phrase repeated three times,
followed by a one-measure transition back to the next verse:
--------------- 3X --------------
|G C |D |
G: I IV V
|D ||A 2 3|
A: IV I
- The outro grows directly out of the final refrain, turning it into
an eight measure section in which the meter is kept constant and the
A Major chord, which earlier had signaled a return to the key of A, now
is left hanging an unresolved V-of-V; certainly not the first or last
example of this particular chord left hanging.
--------------- 3X --------------
|G C |D |- |A |
I IV V V-of-V
- The fadeout starts relatively early and is done gradually, becoming
complete about half way through the third iteration.
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS
- This song maintains a sublte and paradoxical hold on the forces of
foundation-level deep (throated) structure in spite of the way it appears
on the surface to be caught up entirely in those equally opposing forces
of free-wheeling and unbound consciousness. In my analyses I don't usually
indulge in the music theory equivalent of Chomskian linguistics, but in
this case the evidence seems just too compelling.
- Cutting right to the chase ..., I think the harmonic structure of the
overall song is characterized by the following Moebius Strip of a chord
|A |F |B-flat |(C) |G |D |A |
A: I flat-VI IV I
Bb: V I
G: flat-III (IV) I V
- Most salient in this scheme is the repeated motif of root harmonic
motion by a 3rd (rather than along the cycle of fifths), creating in
each case a tangy cross relation; i.e. the move from A to F pits F#
with F natural, and the move from Bb to G pits B-flat with B natural.
- What really sparks my imagination here is the way in which this same
motif of motion in 3rds is carried through in the melodic material.
For example, in the verse you have triadic outlining (C#->A, C#->E),
and in the bridge you have that slide from D->Bb (on the two syllables
of "away.") For that matter, you can also point to those parallel
thirds harmonizing the refrain!
- And yes, I'll grant you that John was an essentially intuitive composer
working entirely without awareness aforehand of such precious internal
details. But that doesn't mean the effect is not implanted in the music.
Attribute it to, or blame it on, George Martin, if you will.
- I leave you with one final detail in the song that, intuition aside,
convinces me that what I'm describing is no random accident:
Did you ever notice how, in the transition from verse to bridge, the
bassline outlines a D Major triad (|F#-A-F#|A-F#-A|D ...|) and immediately
following, the so-called harpsichord part mimics the bass's melodic
oscillation over a minor 3rd using notes chosen for the extent to which
they emphasize the cross relation between F# and F natural; |E-C#-E|
Go check it out -- in the second verse/bridge combination they execute
it more sloppily than the first time around, but it's there both times,
no question. No coincidence.
"You're imagining it. You're letting things prey on your mind."
Copyright (c) 1995 by Alan W. Pollack
All Rights Reserved
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