Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds

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Cover versions and notes on The Beatles' song "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds".

Written By: 
Primary Recording
The Beatles
Lead Vocal: 
John Lennon
Cover Versions
Alan W. Pollack's "Notes On"

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)


Style and Form

- "Lucy ..." is comparable in many respects to "Tomorrow Never Knows" and "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 context.

- The song's three sections each have a distinct harmonic and melodic profile:

- 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 previously
  • 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 sections:

        |         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 meter.

        |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|
G:       V
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.


- 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 progression:

        |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| F-nat.-D-F|.

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.


Alan (

"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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