Notes on "Come Together" (CT)
KEY d minor/Major
FORM Intro/Verse -> Intro/Verse -> Refrain ->
Intro/Verse -> Refrain ->
1/2 Intro/Verse (Instrumental) ->
1/2 Intro/Verse -> Refrain ->
GENERAL POINTS OF INTEREST
Style and Form
- "Come Together" (CT) opens the _Abbey Road_ album with a stylistic gesture that remains, over the long run of their career as well as from our historical view of it 30 years later, one of the Beatles key strengths and accomplishments. Call it what you will: "stylized," "neo-classical;" maybe even "rubber soul" (read: music style, not album title). In essence it's a matter of ironically updating an old style such that even when the antecedent musical elements stand out as painfully obvious, the effect of the stylized writing and production values transcend the model. Think "evocation" as opposed to "imitation;" compare this song with the group's covers of songs by Mr. Chuck Berry.
- The song has a frugality of material that is one of John's general songwriting traits. Resonances with specific Beatles songs by John abound from a variety of perspectives:
"I Am The Walrus" -- patter/talking blues in surrealistic tongues.
"Nowhere Man"/"Mean Mr. Mustard" -- the portrait of an unsavory.
"Dig A Pony" -- his exhortatory frame of mind divided between abstruse condemnation in the verses and encouraging authority in the refrains.
- The song weighs in at a lengthy 4:20. Both the form and proportional assignments of time are quite expansive. The first refrain doesn't appear until 1:10, and the extended and harmonically static outro occupies a virtually equivalent amount of time at the end. In the meanwhile that intro recurs over and over. As a result, the mood is one of having all the time in the world, in spite of the fact that both tempo and backbeat are moderately driving. (By the same token, you'll note the detail-sweating wisdom exercised by shortening some of those intro reprises in the second half of the song.)
- Until the release of Anthology 3, take 1 of CT was one of the Holy Grails of Beatlegdom. The latter contains a self-effacing humorous undercurrent not as evident in the comparitively grim finished track, as well as the relatively rare opportunity to hear John lead singing unretouched, something of which you should always run to avail yourself.
Melody and Harmony
- The verse tune is in a pentatonic Dorian mode, with minor 3rds, 7ths, and an avoidance of the 6th scale degree. The refrain opens the range upward a bit, and for an instant actually suggests the Major mode; i.e. the final syllable of the word "together" is sung as an F#.
- The harmony is limited to the minor-mode blues trio of i, IV, V, assisted in the refrain by an appearance of vi. The music creates an "aural illusion" of containing more widespread minor/Major clashing than is actually the case. I believe this is a side effect of the heavy use of Major IV instead of the more naturally occuring minor flavor. Cleverly, the only place that F# appears unequivocally in the song is at the start of the refrain, where it appears as part of a b minor chord rather than a tonic D Major.
- The track is produced to an exquisite fare thee well. Technological assistance is leveraged to register sounds that are larger, rather than "stranger," than life. The bass guitar never sounded so vibrantly resonant, drums never so smooth, nor a lead guitar so smoking.
- I encourage you to think of the way in which John's "shoot me" vocal blends with the backing track as a value-added orchestrational effect, rather than some kind of unfortunate obfuscation.
- The backing track features bass, drums (with a curious absence of snares), electric piano, and lead guitar. John's lead vocal is primarily single tracked (albeit distorted by heavy echo), backed up by Paul in places, plus a few patches of careful double tracking by John himself.
- The arrangement contains characteristic attention to pattern and detail. A sampling:
- You need a good pair of speakers to truly appreciate the way Paul's low G note is left vibrating at the end of each verse.
- First verse is completely single tracked by John. The rest of the verses have Paul's backing vocal entering always in the last part of the first phrase (allowing John to start alone), then dropping out for the last bit, leaving John exposed again. In all but the final verse, that last phrase has John single tracked.
- The refrains all start off with Paul backing John on the first couple beats, then dropping out, leaving John to double track the rest of it in unison. Actually, the second refrain has John single tracked for some reason on those last couple beats.
- The instrumental solo is split between electric piano (in its first conspicuous appearance on the track) and lead guitar. The piano part remains evident well into the intro that follows the solo section, then appears to drop out, only to reappear for the outro.
- The last iteration of the intro features an additional lead guitar lick at the end of each measure.
- The intro is four measures long and vamps on the tonic chord in a series of surging waves you could just about ride on with a surf board:
|d |- |- |- |
- I'm parsing the tempo such that Ringo's ternary drum fills come out to be six to the quarter note.
- The decision to twice use only half of the intro in the second half of the song prevents things from bogging down. By the same token, the return of the full intro just before the closing section is a way of telegraphing to you that it's getting very near the end.
- The verse is eight measures long and contains four short phrases equal in length:
|d |- |- |- |
|A |- |G7 |- |
- The harmonic shape is open in a novel way (IV, rather than V), as though we had a 12-bar frame here in which the middle four were ommited.
- The refrain is unusually short in duration, growing straight out of the verse that precedes it, trumpeting the title phrase, and leading straight back into the the next intro section.
|b |G A |d ...
vi IV V i
- For such a short little section, this is the moment in which the harmonic rhythm shows its only burst of speed in the song.
- The outro is just short of a full 24 measures.
- An antiphonal pattern between lead guitar and John's chanting of the title phrase starts in measure 3 and continues all the way into the fadeout which doesn't quite set in until rather late.
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS
- It's with a combined sense of relief and anticipation that we turn our attention from _Let It Be_ to _Abbey Road_. I'm left with the strong sense that AR represents the true and ultimate "getting back" by the Beatles to doing what they did best in the studio; that they miscalculated a bit with the LIB project and "got back" a bit too far in terms of their evolution as an ensemble and as songwriters.
- At the same time, our having reversed the order in which we've covered these two albums makes me to ponder the chronology of the last several Beatles albums, and leaves me a nagging question whose answer I don't quite rightly recall, despite that I was a so-called young adult at the time.
- The white _Beatles_ album was released in 11/68. _AR_ was released nearly a full year later; either 9/29 or 10/1/69 depending on which side of the pond you're on. And _LIB's_ release was delayed all the way until 5/70, despite the 1/69 recording origins of virtually all its material.
- Did we have any idea at the time of the magnitude of the Get Back debacle that took place in that gap between Whitey and _AR_?
- Did the appearance of the old original _Yellow Submarine_ album in 1/69, followed by two singles later that spring (GB/DLMD and TBOJAY/OBS) tip us off in anyway, or did it have more the effect of distracting us from any sense of foreboding that would have otherwise been inevitable?
"New Jersey Turnpike in the wee wee hours, I was rollin' slowly 'cause of
drizzlin' showers." 090599#177
Copyright (c) 1999 by Alan W. Pollack
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