Notes on the "Reprise" and "A Day in the Life" (ADITL)
- We already took a preliminary look at both of these songs; the latter, way back in a meta-view of John's more experimental work (the "Triple Crown" article, #23); and the former, in our detailed look at the album's eponymous title track, #106. And yet, because of the novel manner in which they bring this already novel album to its stunning conclusion, it behooves us to linger over them in the orderly progress of our studies.
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band Reprise
KEY F Major -> G Major
FORM Intro -> Refrain -> Refrain (w/complete ending)
GENERAL POINTS OF INTEREST
Style and Form
- In context of the pop/rock album format I dare say that such a reprise is unprecedented. The concept is a sufficiently familiar one from the world of opera and musical stage show, but on a Beatles album!? And, as is typical with Beatles innovations of this sort, the gesture is not gratuitously novel; in the current instance, the reprise of the title track serves two critical functions: a unifying element for the album overall, and a boundary marker that importantly sets the following ADITL off by itself, as it were, from the rest of the album.
- The formal layout of the reprise is in strong contrast to the opening track: this time we have only an intro followed by two iterations of the refrain.
Melody and Harmony
- The gameplan here is to modulate one step upward in the transition between the two refrains. If the goal is to wind up in the overall home key cluster of the album (just as arguably here G Major/e minor/ E Major as is the second side of _Abbey Road_ in the cluster of C Major/ a minor/A Major), the cute trick is starting off in the unexpected key of F Major just in order to wind up in the correct place at the end.
- The Beatles had always gone in for what I call staggered or layered arrangements. And, as with the preceding track (GMGM), the recently released early take of the rerprises backing track and (curiously mock bored-sounding) guide vocal from Paul neatly demonstrates just how stratifiedly these mid-to-late period arrangements were to be constructed.
- Although it has a clearly defined beginning and end, this reprise also has the distinguishing feature of being segued both into and out of. You'll have a tough time convincing me that the mono mix of this album is so authoritative that the sloppy handling of the chicken cluck-to-guitar lick on the latter is what they really wanted; to my ears, the smooth handling of the transition on the stereo mix must be, if not what they originally intended, what they wanted here in the final result. And at the other end of the track we have, of course, the cross fade of the final chord of the reprise into the oncoming acoustic intro of ADITL.
- The intro is 10 measures long and contains three distinct "strata":
Two measures of what would be supplied today by the "drum machine" stop of a synth, which includes Paul's crisp "1-2-3-4" and John's lugubriously inspired "bye ..." delivered at total cross-current to the predominating march rhythm.
Four measures with a fuller "real" percussion track added.
And four more measure with bass and electric guitar now added to all of the previous. All together, now :-)
- The modualtion between the two refrains is a simple pivot built on top of the fact that V-of-V had been used earlier in this refrain; we cut in below at the crucial point of transition:
|B-flat |F |G |D |
F: IV I V-of-V
A Day In The Life
KEY G Major/e minor -> E Major
FORM Intro -> Verse -> Verse -> Verse -> Bridge ->
Middle vocal section -> Middle instrumental section ->
Verse -> Bridge -> Outro (w/complete ending)
GENERAL POINTS OF INTEREST
Style and Form
- Though it deals with much of the same theme of existential Weltschmerz focused on in GMGM, the whole production of this following song is so much more powerful for its being so comparitively low key in mood, non- preachy in choice of words, with a visually deeper perspective if for no other reason than the wide angle created by the large form.
- This large form furthermore has a high-level A/B/A classical clarity that is ironically belied by its avoidance of perfect symmetry.
- The rather avant-garde-like deployment of a mid-sized orchestral makes it totally impossible to categorize the "style" of this track, as if it would have been all that much easier to pigeon hole without the orchestra :-).
- For years, we've been fortunate to have widely available a precious outtake of this song, the master tape of which was wiped, but which was miraculously preserved in acetate form. It is as if we are privileged in this recording to listen to something that fate would otherwise have not permitted to be heard in this world; pretty mystical :-)
More recently, Anthology II has provided us with a melange that includes the middle section of the acetate combined with two different outtakes of the outer sections; the first of which was first aired, in part, on the PBS/George Martin SPLHCB anniversary TV special. The more seriously musicological part of me is offended by this willy nilly playing around with primary sources, but the insatiable collector part of me is happy enough to hear the new material in whatever form we can get it. I still say the acetate in its pristine entirety is something which you MUST hear.
Melody and Harmony
- The song opens in the key of G Major though its true center of gravity is in the parallel minor/Major keys of E. Take a look as far back as "Not A Second Time" for a REALLY early example of the same gamibt; I direct this comment especially those of my friends and students who take a condescending attitude toward anything produced by the Boys prior to _Rubber Soul_, all of whom know exactly who you are. Even the verses, which are nominally in an optimistic G Major, wilt within their very first measures over to the sadder e minor, nicely underscoring the sense of the words.
- The curiously jumpy melodic material is the least of anybody's concern here; not John's, not Paulie's, not even our's; an interesting lesson in how over-rated, in some cases, is the importance of having a catchy tune in order to have a successful song. Think this over.
- The backing of the outer two main sections is made up of acoustic guitar, piano, electric bass, and drums, all four of which stand out in terms of tasteful restraint; but especially the drums.
- The orchestra appears intermittently throughout the track, seemingly out of nowhere. Keep in mind how, in the recorded medium, you have no visual clue to its presence. Your whole reaction to this track would be somewhat different if your first exposure to it was live with the full instrumental forces sitting before you.
- This sparing, overlaid use of the orchestra keeps the track from sounding over produced; it's good to have a large part of the time of the song consist of more unadorned pop/rock combo; but its cleverly repeated deployment is a subtle force of unity. The great effect at the end of the two verse section, a sweeping crescendo up a scale of indeterminate pitches is potent while also being obvious. More subtle is the orchestra's reappearance for the transition from the end of the middle section back to the return of the verse. This additional entrance keeps the use of it in those crescendi from sounding too contrived and isolated. What I'm trying to say here is that while the content of this orchestra part is novel and powerful, you should not under-estimate its formal contribution.
- The tempo is relatively fast; I parse it as one measure per sugarplum fairy. In spite of it, though, the leisurely harmonic rhythm (with chords changing every two measures, on average) instills a moderately measured pace for the procedings.
- The bassline is predominantly a walking one, though Paul does a nice job of disguising it in places with the trick of jumping down a fourth and then filling it back up step-wise. On the acetate outtake he plays out the scale minus any adornment.
- From a harmonically analytical perspective, I prefer to treat many measures in this song as a continuation of the chord in the previous measure combined with a passing note in the bassline. Yes, I know the "tab" of each measure is different, but we're not looking for the tabs per se in these studies.
- The intro is a neat eight measure long, and anticipates the music of the verse without completely stealing its thunder. You'll note that the chord progression only partly matches the verse, and the complete scalar bassline is not yet fully exposed. You might be surprised to note that the underlying chord progression is an old-cliche-friend of ours; none other than I-vi-IV-V:
chords |G |b |e |- |C |- |- |- |
G: I v6/4 vi IV
- It would have been somehow neater to synchronize the downbeat of this intro with the final chord of the reprise. The slight delay of the downbeat until after the reprise's end is more "offbeat," both literally and figuratively.
- All the verses start off with the same 16 measure (4-times-4, A-B-A-C) classic floor plan. I'm willing to go as far as describing the harmonic motion as including a modulation to e minor:
1 & 2 &
|G |b |e |- |C |- |a | D|
G: I v6/4 vi IV ii V
|G |b |e |- |C |F |e | |
I v6/4 vi
e:i vi flat-II i
- However, there are three (collect 'em all!) different variations in how the verses finish off this same 16-measure beginning. The first verse is unique in the way it cycles back for a repetition of the chord progression with the piquant F Major chord before pivoting back to the homekey:
"I saw the photograph ..." 2 &
|C |F |e |C D |
e: vi flat-II i
G: vi IV V
- The second verse is shorter by two measures. Its harmonic pivot back to G is more passive than that of the first verse. Not how *here* there is no V chord at the very end:
"... House of Lords"
|C |- |
- The third and fourth verses, both of which lead into the orchestral bridges, are similar to the second verse, but one extra measure is added. Here, to the extent that the bridge does NOT cycle back to the key of G, there is no modulation to speak of:
"... book. I'd love to||turn ..."
"... Hall. I'd love to||turn ..."
|C |- |- ||e ..... E
e: vi i -> I
- The intro and first verse are scored for acoustic guitar, piano, bass, and maraccas. The full drum kit is added in the second verse.
- The bridge is twenty-four measures long and consists of the orchestra's free-form, glissando-like sweep from low E to the same pitch several octaves higher. It's quite a nitrous-oxide-like rush.
- Remnants of the original backing track heard on the acetate outtake, with its four-in-the-bar rhythm and Mal Evan's counting aloud, can be heard almost all the way through this section on the finished track. In spite of this, there are cymbal crashes in the last few measures of the orchestra track which come seemingly at random to challenge your sense of meter. Try counting 24-times-4 in this section and see what what happens to you.
- On both the acetate outtake and the finished track, Mal starts counting in the measure *following* the third verse as I outlined it above; i.e. on the word "turn." The outtake used for the first half of the version of this song presented on Anthology II shows him starting the count off in the previous measure; huh?!
- As with the Reprise segue at the beginning of the track, it would have been "neater" if the start of this middle section was synchronized with the downbeat of the bridge's 24th measure, as it does on the acetate.
On the finished version, again avoiding foolish neatness for its own sake, it appears as if the middle section is begun approximately one beat before the end of the bridge; either that, or the bridge is cleverly extended approximately a beat past the downbeat of measure twenty-four.
It's not easy to figure out which is the case because the challenging meter of the bridge's final measures mentioned above, is complicated by the alarm clock and a snippet of Paul counting "One" both of which are heard off the beat as the middle section begins. The one thing that is clear is that the intro of this middle section contains 4 measures of vamping on the E Major chord, and on the final track, a couple of these measures pass by you before you quite reclaim your sense of where the downbeat has gone to.
- The "song" portion of the middle section is melodically as jumpy as John's outer sections. It is 19 measures long and contains an ABAB quatrain, each of whose phrases except the last one is an unusual, rhetorically motivated 5 measures long. Both the lyrics and sound effects here reinforce the "Good Morning...but what a day" theme:
|E |- |- |D |- |
E: I flat-VII
|E |B |E |B |- |
I V I V
|E |- |- |D |- |
|E |B |E |B |
I V I V
- The orchestra portion of the middle section is 20 measures long and consists of two long parallel phrases whose harmonic rhythm is unvaryingly slow. This enhances the "dreamy" note upon which the middle section song abruptly terminates. The harmony of the section primarily shifts back toward G Major though the end of the first long phrase surely feels as if its back in e minor.
|C |- |G |- |D |- |A |- |e |- |
IV I V V-of-V vi
|C |- |G |- |D |- |A |- |e d|C D|
IV I V V-of-V vi IV V
- Only a single verse is used to balance out the weight of all that precedes it.
- The tempo remains the same as it is throughout the track, though the more active drumming fools you into thinking that this section is somehow "faster" than the verses in the first half.
- The repetition of the bridge is virtually a carbon copy, but its destination is very different, ending with the balance of one measure's worth of dramatic silence followed by that ready- made classical cliche of a final E Major chord.
- Coming as it does, at the end of the repeat of the bridge which the first time around had led into that cheery middle section in the same tempo, that final chord resounds with a frightful sense of bleak hitting-a-wall finality, further emphasized and exaggerated by the surprise element and the long fadeout to silence.
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS
- The outer groove can be seen, beyond mere prank, as further twist on the gesture of the final chord. By coming so suddenly out of total silence after you've assumed the show is over, it only serves to heighten in retrospect the sense of eternal desolation created by the final chord's dying away.
- In the final result, though, this outer groove is arguably another wakeup call of sorts to so-called reality; fits right in with the supersonic dog whistle :-) No joke: given the alternative of blowing your mind in one kind of vehicle or another, what's your preference?
"Never could be any other way..." 052696#117
Copyright (c) 1996 by Alan W. Pollack
All Rights Reserved
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